My Extimony: From Faith to Freedom

I was a PK for the first 11 years of my life when my family lived in Missouri. My parents had met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where my dad got his PhD in Theology, and my mom dropped out to start making babies after she met my dad and got married after only 8 or 9 months. She had been planning on going into foreign missions, reportedly, but I think she was looking for her MRS degree.

When I was 11, my parents had four daughters (I was the third), we were scraping by financially, and my dad started experiencing physical problems that were caused by his lifelong depression. My mom thought his stressful two-job lifestyle there was unhealthy for him, so we moved near my mom’s family in Virginia. My dad had self-taught himself computer programming and software development, so he found a really good job as a software developer in Williamsburg, VA. His health improved, and he was no longer preaching. My short-lived PK days were over.

My whole relationship with the church through all of this perhaps wasn’t typical for a PK. I don’t remember feeling any sort of pressure to perform or to be perfect just because I was the pastor’s kid. We had a relatively small congregation in Missouri, and the entire atmosphere was very friendly. My dad is the scholarly/intellectual type, so his sermons weren’t ever particularly fire and brimstone, though he did teach that hell is a real place.

I was saved at the age of 10 when I took it upon myself to say my own sinner’s prayer. I can distinctly remember knowing how important it was for me to make this step on my own and have it be a genuine confession. After my prayer, I felt that sort of lighter-than-air euphoria that I was told I’d feel when this time came, so I ran to my mother to tell her what had happened. She was happy for me but said that I’d have to go talk to my dad in his office at church on Sunday so that he could hear the account from me and assess whether it was a “true” conversion. I thought this was sort of silly since I lived with the man, but I went along with it. After my meeting with dad on Sunday, he proclaimed me saved, and he baptized me the following Sunday.

Throughout both middle and high school, I only remember positive experiences with church. Sure, I’d get bored during sermons. I also wasn’t very intense about evangelism and surrounding myself only with church friends. I had atheist friends as well as Christian throughout my life. Going into college, I had come to the conclusion that most Christians are hypocritical anyway, so I didn’t want to get involved with any campus ministries. It took a couple of months for me to even bother to find a church to attend when my mom started guilting me into it. I became pretty lonely and depressed that first semester, which I took as a sign of needing fellowship. That was when I decided to get “plugged in” to campus ministry and joined the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM).

That started a whirlwind 3.5 years of me becoming super Christian, leading multiple Bible studies and having younger girls look up to me, taking them out for coffee so that I could pseudo-mentor them, and I even worked as a Wilderness Counselor at a PCA Christian camp after my freshman year of college. I also co-ran a church service on campus that was intended to reach out to college kids who didn’t want to make the effort to get off campus to go to church but were willing to come to our service upstairs from one of the dining areas. That was actually kind of neat, though I did meet some people through that who were part of my process out of Christianity.

Throughout college (I went to a public university), I took religion classes and became exposed to a LOT of ideas that I had been previously shielded from. As expected, this sent me spiraling into doubt off and on, and by the end of senior year my doubt had grown so intense that I sunk into a deep depression. I could barely force myself to go to class, and I could rarely refrain from crying once I got to class. It was horrible. I managed to stick it out, though the last month was hell, and about three months after graduation, I officially realized and accepted that I was no longer a Christian. It took a few more months after that for me to conclude that I was an atheist.

I think that nothing in my story was marked by feeling burned by the Church or the church because the fading away of my faith was almost completely intellectual. Previously, I thought that I had been standing in the place of humility by confessing my subservience to God and feeling like I could learn about the actual character of God, but it turns out I wasn’t in a position of intellectual humility until I confessed that I couldn’t claim to know or even believe all of the things I’d been taught in church. At the time I lost my faith, it wasn’t so much that I thought the Bible was all wrong. It was that I didn’t know how to trust that it was right, and I no longer felt like I needed to believe it in order to love and pursue truth. I could no longer understand the virtue of faith when I stepped back and saw that I was believing for all of the same reasons as a Muslim, Mormon or Jew. Maybe I was wrong just like them. Nothing in the realm of spirituality was compelling to me anymore, and it hasn’t been since.

It took several months for me to mellow out from the initial trauma of losing my faith, and then I started working through my simultaneous realization that I’m probably at least partly gay if not very gay. I’m still in process with that, but I enjoy my life right now even though I’m in the heart of the Bible belt. 

Oh, and my family is all still really Christian, and they’re very sad about my atheism. We just don’t really talk about it. :D


Christian Perceptions of “the Backslidden”

Having been a person who was, for all intents and purposes, a “True Believer,” I think it’s important that I expound a bit on the stereotypes built up by believers about those who “fall away” from the Church.

I’d often hear growing up about people who stopped going to church and “fell back into sin.” The horrible catalyst would be something like a couple getting divorced and not coming to church anymore or a person leaving and getting involved with a non-church crowd, which undoubtedly meant that person was up to every form of debauchery. We’d assume this without evidence.

Now that I’ve become one of those people I would hear about and blindly judge in my youth, I’ve experienced that a lot of the struggle with no longer believing in what the Church believes is knowing that they think these terrible things about me that aren’t true. Sure, I could choose to keep a lot of those people in my life as friends, but it’s hard to be friends with people who think you are “choosing death” just because you can’t believe in something supernatural. It’s not that I dislike them or want them out of my life, but their beliefs are really just toxic to me now and don’t help me toward bettering myself and learning to love myself in the ways that the inherently self-loathing model of sin wouldn’t let me before. It’s hard for me to shut them out of my life because I know exactly how that looks to them. They see that I’m shutting them out because I hate God. I’m shutting them out because I’m ashamed of my sin and don’t need them to help me fix it.

Where is the balance? Do I keep them as friends and hold onto the guilt of letting them down? Will they ever see that “loving” a person doesn’t involve letting them know that they’re a piece of shit without “God”? What can I do to help the image of those who lose their faith?

Guilt of Philosophizing

I feel like such an asshole when I get all wrapped up in my existentialism. People are getting into car accidents and are being shot and children are starving and natural disasters are wiping people out, and all I can handle is laying in bed, fretting about the nature of our existence.

But then this doesn’t seem so problematic when I consider that we all die. Though sometimes peacefully and naturally, we all die. In a couple of centuries, none of us in existence will have a say about anything. We won’t have thoughts or feelings about the state of the world. Our passions will be gone. No input besides our recycled molecules perpetuating the existence of…something.

Growing up, I learned that I’m not supposed to think about stuff like this. I’d talk about death so casually as a child, and my mother would quickly divert my attention to something superficial before I could get too Sylvia Plath on her.

I don’t begrudge her that. She needs to cope, too.

For the sake of honesty–and because I know I can’t be the only one–I’d like to talk about my own form of depression that I don’t think is depression at all. I get “depressed” when in these moods because I am aware of ultimate finality. I don’t walk around with a cloud over my head, and these thoughts never get so debilitating that I absolutely want to die. However, I really do just think that life is depressing. It’s a big tease. You can make a lot of money, go on a lot of exotic trips, fall in love with a lot of people, and you can reach the end of your life pleased with what you’ve done. But no matter what, it will all be over. Eternity is a possibility, but it could just as well be an illusion.

So, do we need faith? Is our desire for a purpose at all indicative of a true purpose? Not necessarily, but I can understand why it might be needed. There needs to be some indication that this is all worth it, right? Otherwise, what the hell are we doing?

New New Year

I used to blog about music more often, but now I don’t pretend to know anything about what is “Good” and “Bad” about music. I am particularly attuned to the profound power of certain songs to soothe. 2012 was my first entire calendar year as a non-believer, and I can honestly say it was the greatest year of my life. This is not just because I have a different belief system. It’s because of how new friends have arrived to help me mend and find value in parts of myself that I used to think were supposed to be hated and altered. Human relationships offer so much more than unfounded hope in the supernatural. I know that’s a huge piece of blasphemy that would make many Christians cringe, but it’s nonetheless the greatest truth I’ve discovered.

“I Hurt Too” by Katie Herzig

“When the lies speak the loudest
When your friends are starting to leave
When you’re broken by people like me
I hurt too, I hurt too”

“Take Your Carriage Clock and Shove It” by Belle & Sebastian

“‘Night after day after night I’ve been working
Despite of you fuckin’ us all
Now I’m gonna die I don’t care if you cry
Just please leave me alone
And spare those tears for yourself
We’ve had those till we’re sick
You should leave while you still have the chance’
The others were shocked at this shameful disgrace
At the end of an honoured career
He paused in the silence to pull down his tie
And observe the melee”

“Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell

“But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all”

“The Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel

“The book of love has music in it
In fact that’s where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb”

“The Last Snowfall” by Vienna Teng

“This is not the last snowfall
Not our last embrace
But if I were that kind of grateful
What would I try to say?”

An explanation of apathy?

What does it mean to me when my president acknowledges and respects my lack of belief in God? What does it mean to me when my president supports and wants to legalize my potential marriage to a woman?

At face value, those things mean a lot, but when I really sit on those questions for a while I start to wonder when acknowledgement can overcome the dissension. No matter how much one man respects what I believe and how I love, one man can’t assure me that I’ll gain what I feel like I deserve.

I sat reading tweets by my former pastor tonight and glanced over social pages of Christians from my past. They’ve all but forgotten who I am at this point. They shout words that would be daggers to my heart if I truly cared about their opinions anymore. According to them, their words are Truth–even further–Truth in love. These people don’t know love. That’s not to say that I do, but after having set up camp on both sides of this fence, I think I have a little better perspective.

I’m not sure how much faith I have in Obama’s administration. I like that he wants equality. That’s what I want, too. But I get antsy in waiting and discouraged by the power of religious indoctrination to completely skew a person’s understanding of love. I want a better future, and I want to help build it. But when do our “HOPE” and “CHANGE” banners peel from their 2D form and take a three-dimensional lead into our future? What is this world we live in that makes people on all sides look at others as though their ideas are poison?

Though I’m no longer a conservative Christian, I don’t like feeling like I’m now at the other extreme. I didn’t leave so that I could fight. I left so that I could figure out who I am and what is important to me. With that comes a lot of expectations still. How dare I not vote in this election. How dare I post opinions on the internet that upset people. How dare I be passive about anything that should be important to me. I’m sorry, everyone, but I am perpetually shellshocked. I’m too stunned by my empathy for all sides to really charge forth with my pitchfork. For all my inactive apathy and for all my contradictory opinions, the truth is that it’s all too much. And I care too much about everyone. I wish things could all work out the best for everyone, but I don’t actually believe that’s an option.

Designing and Discovering a Moral Code

This is not a rant about how “atheists have morals, too!”

This is me figuring out how this whole morality thing works. It’s always been easy to be good in life because life has been good to me. I believe I’ve helped more people than I’ve hurt, and I am quicker to love than I am to hate. If morality were as objective as we all hope it is, I would say I’m a pretty moral person.

Recently, I’ve found myself in positions where I can be selfish to the deep detriment of others. I have had to make choices that look out for myself but find consideration for others, and they’ve been difficult to navigate. I believe happiness and goodness lie somewhere in this mix of selflessness and selfishness. I don’t believe one or the other is an ultimate virtue. I believe they are best employed in tandem. The measurement is not set, and we keep adding both, tasting the concoction until it makes that perfect choicetini. I want to help as many other bodies as I can when I help my own.

I don’t want anyone to lose when I win, but I think that’s going to happen sometimes. I think you just have to make sure that the loss is not so deep as to make another person’s situation irredeemable. Don’t destroy things unless those things are destroying others.

Room for Consideration: A Story of Atheist Queerness

Growing up a white, middle class, Christian, cisgender, straight, healthy, athletic, average-looking, American female in a small town in Virginia basically guaranteed that life would be easy for me. I was well-esteemed in my circles in high school, graduated with an effortless 4.2 GPA, and naturally relocated to college where I would continue to easily exist in all my privilege.

They say about privilege that you don’t fully realize you have it until it is threatened or lost. This is why my loss of faith came as such a shock and shook my world more than it probably should have. Suddenly, I started identifying with words like “victim” and “minority,” and painfully, my conservative mind was dragged through liberal realities. I felt abused.

What threw me for an even more surreal loop was realizing that I had also been struggling with my sexuality. And this is where my title comes in: Room for Consideration. As I left faith, I felt like there was no room for me to consider alternate beliefs. I was expected to have one belief and all other considerations only twisted me into vicious cycles of self-loathing. Likewise, I’ve been having to keep this struggle with my sexuality inside ever since realizing that I fell in love with a girl while I fell out of love with my spirituality. It’s not publicly acceptable, and even though I accepted my atheism and shouted it from the rooftops, I was absolutely terrified to even consider that I might not be straight, let alone that I might be very gay.

I don’t want to pull everyone through my entire queer narrative, so I’ll keep this brief. I had one serious boyfriend in high school, and I can’t think of any other guy I’ve been seriously interested in since that time. I had my first crush on a girl when I was 15, but I had no clue that what I had was a crush. I didn’t have the framework for understanding that I could even be attracted to girls in that way. By the time I got to college, I only had crushes on women and never on men. Again, I had no framework for understanding my attractions. At this point, I just assumed that I was straight. I mean, I had a boyfriend in high school, and I knew I’d eventually find “the one” and that would be all it’d take. But by the time senior year rolled around and my faith was almost to its breaking point, I fell so hard for a girl that it was impossible at this point to remain oblivious to my attractions. It was more than a crush, and it scared me so much that I was able to remain in denial about it for quite a while longer.

Once I had deconverted and decided to confront this weirdness going on with my sexuality, I still didn’t want to be disingenuous to the queer community. I didn’t want to be yet another person “trying it out” – some promiscuous “bisexual” girl who winds up with a man and a generally privileged life, setting the whole movement for gay acceptance back another notch. I thought maybe I could sit on the outside looking in for a while. I could just exist without sexuality. I’m not attracted to men, but maybe I don’t need relationships. Maybe I’ll just keep my life uncomplicated and derive joy from my singleness.

Until I arrived at where I am now, which is that this stuff I’m going through is mine, and it is very real for me. Whether or not it is socially acceptable, I’m going to make room for consideration so that I can sort this shit out. I hate that this process offends people or makes people think that I’m flaky or fake. I’m an extrovert who suffers when I keep myself stored inside. So here’s one step out. I am an atheist. I’ve loved a woman, and I hope to love more.