How I became an atheist part I  

Friday, April 06, 2007

I was raised in an evangelical Christian household. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher. I went to Christian schools. I wasn't allowed to wear shorts. I went to church 3 times a week at a minimum. When I grew up I wanted to be a missionary.

Christianity was something I fully embraced. I didn't know anything else. I was fascinated by other religions, but mostly as mythological stories. From an early age I was taught to believe I was special because I embraced God so whole-heartedly.

When I was 5 I was "saved" by asking Jesus into my heart. At 7 I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and baptized in water. Our church met at a local Day's Inn and I was baptized in the hotel pool. I spoke in tongues and I fell under the power of the Holy Spirit. I remember thinking that these things were real, but feeling like I had to pretend because I didn't know what else to do. It had to be something wrong with me not to experience it for real.

I remember once falling under the power of the Holy Spirit. I was too afraid to get up. I was terrified that someone would know I was faking it. I was too afraid to get up. One of my parents came in and started speaking to the children's pastor after a while and still I couldn't get up. I took that paralyzing fear as being under the influence of God. Eventually I just stood up, but I was down there a long time. That's the last time I did that. I was too afraid.

I went with our youth group to preach on the streets of our city. I was always polite and I felt weird being pushy, even though I wanted to be a missionary. My idea of being a missionary was like Ingrid Bergman in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. I would show by example.

But I never became a missionary. Even though I had a full scholarship to a Christian college, my parents didn't like the idea of me leaving home for college at 17. The plan was that I'd attend a local university for a year and then I would transfer. Except that it didn't happen. It was probably my parent's worst nightmare. I fell in love and got engaged to an atheist.

I remember our discussions about religion. I told him he just needed to have faith. He told me he wished he had faith, but he couldn't fake it. He couldn't have faith in something that he couldn't see. My friends all thought he was an evil influence on me. My youth pastor, who I saw at a revival, told me that I should not be seeing an unbeliever. Eventually the pressure mounted and I started to doubt him and us. We parted ways, not very well, but eventually became good friends.

By the beliefs of my church anyone who didn't accept Christ explicitly by asking him to come into their hearts was going to hell. Jews, Catholics, Mormons, and many other denominations of Christians were going to hell because they didn't explicitly give their life to Jesus and profess him the son of God. It always troubled me that people that had never heard of Jesus were condemned to hell, but I was assured that God let them know about Him through nature (with a lower-case 'N', of course).

Despite the break-up and subsequently dating a nice, Christian guy, I had too many doubts to return to my church. The chinks were there: the history of the compilation of the New Testament and the books destroyed in the process; the Sumerian and Babylonian myths that were so close to the early Old Testament myths, yet were written down long before; the fact that I had to be subservient because I was a woman; and many more.

But the fact that I had faked much of my spirituality lay locked up inside me. I didn't think about it until much, much later.

Other posts in this series:
How I became an atheist part II
How I became an atheist part III

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9 comments: to “ How I became an atheist part I

  • Sylvene
    Friday, April 6, 2007 at 3:36:00 PM CDT  

    I grew up attending a Catholic convent and sneaking into Catechism classes because I enjoyed listening to stories.

    I used to think that the nuns didn't push the "You'll go to hell if you don't have Jesus in your heart." bit because they were there in a multi-cultural society, but later figured that it was because they were a Catholic order.

    I've had arguments in my later life with friends that were of other denominations that believed exactly that... that if you didn't believe in Jesus, you went to Hell. Wait-a-minit.. what about the people in the world that have never even heard of him?

    Jesus said "Suffer all the little children to come unto me." (or somesuch). He didn't say only the ones that had accepted him into their heart. He didn't condemn the children that had never heard of him to everlasting Hell.

    Which is why... I believe in a higher being, but not in religion. :p

  • Venjanz
    Friday, April 6, 2007 at 10:11:00 PM CDT  

    Good post, O.G. I myself ran into that brick wall when I thought about the people that were going to Hell (the gate to which is currently located in Vernon, TX, FYI) whom never heard the gospel. I asked several ministers about this one, and usually the first response was something like, “That’s why we evangelize,” with a smile.

    I believe this unanswerable question is what brought about the pre-tribulation rapture apocalypse theory that started in the 19th century. The “true believers” would be taken up to heaven, and the rest of us would have 7 years to repent. This would be such a cataclysmic event, that nobody on Earth could fail to notice, and seek answers.

  • Thorne
    Sunday, April 8, 2007 at 1:51:00 AM CDT  

    but feeling like I had to pretend because I didn't know what else to do. It had to be something wrong with me not to experience it for real.
    I remember going through this several times in my attempts to be "saved" as a preteen. I really thought that I was so messed up that God wanted nothing to do with me. How cruel of adult theists to allow children to feel this way.

  • ordinarygirl
    Sunday, April 8, 2007 at 8:49:00 AM CDT  

    I think parents want to believe in the same way. I don't think they intend for their kids to feel the same confusion they do (if they do and I'd bet most do). I think my parents raised me in what they thought was the best way they could. I don't fault them for it.

  • The Truffle
    Sunday, April 8, 2007 at 11:17:00 PM CDT  

    I went to church on Sundays, even though my parents weren't too religious. It just never did anything for me and I've never had any patience for it. I find a lot of people I've met have been bored silly in religious services. Is it sacreligious to say this?

  • ordinarygirl
    Monday, April 9, 2007 at 2:40:00 PM CDT  

    The Truffle: I think that some people would say that's sacriligious, but I don't think it is. You're just being truthful.

    Sylvene: Thanks for sharing your background!

  • L
    Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 9:59:00 PM CDT  

    I grew up in a very Catholic environment and never believed because they kept saying all these things about what women were and did (which didn't fit anything about me at all)... so I never felt compelled to believe ANYTHING they said

  • VirusHead
    Sunday, April 15, 2007 at 4:45:00 PM CDT  

    To me, this was the heartstopper:

    "But the fact that I had faked much of my spirituality lay locked up inside me. I didn't think about it until much, much later."

    It rings.

  • Anonymous
    Thursday, July 17, 2008 at 4:48:00 PM CDT  

    You had an utterly bizarre childhood, or at least it seems that way to someone like me with a secular upbringing.


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