sent in by Colin Wright
I was brought up Catholic. We’ve got the VHS tape of my baptism, we’ve got little certificates saying that, yes, I did indeed go through my First Communion. I went to a private Catholic school in California before moving to Missouri, and I think that was the biggest ingraining factor for the longest time. The fact that all my peers were going through the same rituals and being told the same things as I was made them right and factual. Any time I would mentally triangulate something that didn’t seem quite right, well, I only had to look around to be reassured of its righteousness.
After moving to Missouri, I started attending a public school. That was a shock. There were kids of different ethnicities (there was one African American and one Philippino in my entire grade level at the Catholic school), different social background (not everyone here is loaded…whoa) and with different spiritual beliefs. That was the biggest shock. There were all these kids who came from families that didn’t push them to go to church on Sunday morning and Sunday School that night! I was absolutely amazed. Thus began my battle.
It started out as kind of an assumed loophole I had found. I never for a moment doubted that there was a God, and that he watched over me, etc etc etc. I did, however, start to develop my own view on things within that realm. I decided that God couldn’t possibly be so vain as to want all these people to go and worship him all the time. If I were God, I later told my mother, I wouldn’t make people skip overnights at friends’ houses just so they could come and kneel and stand for an hour with a bunch of overdressed Missourians. Well, my mother would have none of that. She knew my weakness. Being the good kid, all she had to do was say something along the lines of “That’s your choice to make, but I really wish you would come along with us.” That one always got me. Invariably I would be ready to go before anyone else, waiting to sit through another grueling mass.
While my battle may have had the quaintest of beginnings, or perhaps selfish would be the better word, they soon took a much more serious turn. After years of helping my mother set up for Sunday School classes (her job is to direct and run the Sunday School program at her church), and 3 more years of babysitting all Sunday morning during masses, I was 14 and finally entering the dating scene. Up to this point, I had focused my worldly energies on reading and schoolwork and games, not to mention the job at a local independent bookstore I had recently secured. My whole family loved Lindsey, and I did too. The problem about loving something is that you always get hurt. In my case, it wasn’t until later that she hurt me intentionally by breaking up with me. Before that, though, there was a more devastating realization: Lindsey was anoremic. Anoremia is what you get when you mix anorexia and bulimia. She would go without eating for long periods of times, only to binge on food for a meal or two before throwing it all up again. The scary thing about any eating disorder is that no matter how intelligent or logical the person may be, and she was very intelligent and logical with everything else, the victim can’t seem to break away from the disease. After she told me, I had to think.
I went out to the local state park and walked around. I don’t know how long I walked, but what I do know is that I walked into that park officially a Catholic and mentally a Non-denominational Christian, only to walk out a militant atheist. I couldn’t understand the concept of a supposedly loving all-powerful being who could conceive of such a horrendous way to torture its creations. It was that line of thinking that opened the floodgate. If one thing I was told is wrong, how many other things have I been blindly believing all this time that aren’t true as well?
I didn’t let my family know for a long time. It wasn’t until 2 years later that I let it all out. I was in the car with my mother and somehow religion came up and I just thought it was time to stop living the lie. I couldn’t keep going into that church and putting on the face of acceptance that everyone wanted to see. At first, I told her that I was agnostic, that I accepted religion and that there may be a god out there somewhere, but that there isn’t any way to know and no reason to participate in something I don’t fully believe in. For a while, she fought me on the subject. She constantly ‘invited’ me to masses and dropped hints that I should say the blessing before dinner and such. I constantly but politely refused. Eventually, she gave over. My father was a bit tougher to deal with.
To this day, I still don’t talk to my father about religion. For one, his side of the family has more roots in religion than my mother’s side. All of his brother (4 of them) were planning on attending or had attended seminary school at one time. My grandfather on his side lives a block away from the church so he can attend daily. The statues of Mary and Joseph outside the church were donated by him. So yeah, I knew from the get-go that my father would have a harder time accepting my revelation. I was right. The reason that I don’t talk to my father about religion stems from one moment in time I remember down to the smallest detail. We were in the car, driving home from the mall. My younger brother had been giving the whole family trouble for several weeks, misbehaving in a most annoying fashion and it was wearing on everyone’s nerves, so I like to think that a lot of my father’s reaction was due to that. In any case, we were driving and he just snapped, only for a moment, but there it was. I’ve never seen my father as anything but completely cool and collected, very often outgoing and humorous, especially with our family. His job is managing people in a governmental position, so he is very good at dealing with individuals. On that day, at that time, however, his eyes got wide, glistened wetly and he started telling me what a failure he is. Obviously, he must be a failure if one son misbehaves all the time and the other doesn’t believe in God. I felt as though I had been slapped. All my life I had aspired to succeed. I’d always been the good kid. The one who, the one time I was sent to the principal’s office, cried as soon as I sat down. I’d participated in activities like Boy Scouts and baseball and soccer and always got good grades. My older sister was in high school and a drunken lush who dated drug dealers, yet I, I, the child who had never done anything markedly heinous was suddenly the black sheep.
I don’t hold this moment against my father. I feel very grateful that it was the only run-in I’ve ever had with the man, and I continue to respect him greatly for all that he is. In fact, the moment itself helped me achieve another insight that until that point I had been blind to: my militant atheism wasn’t the right thing for me to be holding onto. If I had held onto the hate and derision that I had for the church, I would have been no better than those who would condemn me for my beliefs. My beliefs were right for me, just as my father’s are right for him. He’s a very successful man, and a very good man. I believe I can be the same. I plan on taking a different path completely, but the idea is still the same. If something works for someone else, despite what I may think about their belief, I have no right to call them down for it.
This new trait has helped me in more spheres of life than I could have possibly predicted. Socially, it’s much easier to make friends when you don’t ridicule others for their personal beliefs. Educationally, I find it far simpler to put myself in the shoes of someone from another cultural background and therefore expand my knowledge of the world, mostly because of my total avoidance of conscious ethnocentrism. True, when I was up-in-arms against the ’plague of religion,’ I felt I had a cause. But isn’t personal development far more important than trying to change what others think? I think a world where no one tried to force their beliefs on someone else, no matter how pure their motives, would definitely be a world without religiously-tied violence, and most likely solve many other problems as well.
Just thought I would throw this story and what I believe to be it’s moral out there. Take from it what you will. I’m definitely NOT trying to make anyone think the same way I do.
Country: United States
Became a Christian: 1
Ceased being a Christian: 14
Labels before: Catholic, Christian, Non-Denominational
Labels now: Open-Minded Atheist
Why I joined: No other options were given
Why I left: I opened my eyes
Email Address: ouphe at hotmail.com