sent in by Carolyn
How I wish there had been a world-wide web when I was a kid trying to sort this out.
I grew up in a nice French-Canadian Catholic family, though there were some complications. My grandfather had an objection to the church itself, so my immediate family was Anglican (as close as you can get without the same hierarchy). That same grandfather read to me from a simplified language Old Testament and, thankfully, let me know that Genesis wasn't literal, and most of the stories weren't 100% reliable. I believed because I had no reason not to. These were the adults and they were telling me the truth.
The New Testament was supposed to be the one that was really true, but I didn't understand it and my grandfather didn't have an easy English version.
I prayed, and didn't get a response, but I just thought it was a matter of time.
My father stopped going to church when I was very young. I think it was related to my brother's death, but he won't talk about it. He went back about a decade later.
In the way that children believe strange things, I really thought that religion was something you inherited, like a cultural value or national origin. I presumed that the actual beliefs were common to everyone, because they were reality, and slight differences were only on what could be called matters of taste.
Then in fourth grade, during one of my Moral and Religious Education classes (a compulsory thing in all schools when I was growing up, though mine were of the secular, religious comparison variety) we were all asked what religion were were, durning a class discussion. The teacher confronted (gently, but really, now I don't think anything in the situation was right for a school setting) students who said they were "half this, half that", especially the ones who said something like "half Protestant, half Christian", and gave a brief run-down of the Christian sects that I didn't really understand. I mumbled something about being Christian, I think. I was really confused.
Later, I asked my mother about it, and I'm sure I said something about a religion being what your parents were, etc. She gave a much more comprehensible run-down of religions, and though she didn't include Islam or any eastern religions, she added agnostic and atheist to the list, and said your religion was what you believed. I said "I think I'd be an agnostic, then," and she firmly told me I was a Christian.
Even at nine I thought there was something wrong there, but, well, she was the Mom, so I tried harder. I think that conversation led to one of our intervals of high intensity church attendance, actually.
I kept praying. I really envied the kids who really believed, who wore crosses and who seemed so sure. I really wanted God to let me know he was there, that the misery of being an awkward kid who just didn't fit in, the short kid with a hearing problem and too much love for books and puzzles, wasn't all for nothing.
Years passed, and I still felt uncomfortable with my lack of real belief, but I still thought the problem was me. I felt weird babysitting for the family with the religious kids' videos, and weirder really listening in church. I dated a religious man, and went to his church for a while. I finally really read the bible, and didn't like the God there at all. Still, I just said things like "No religion has a monopoly on truth," and "I just don't understand," but that still didn't fit.
Finally, I stopped going to church, and faced reality. I never believed, I never was a Christian. I had prayed long enough.
The first time I mentioned I was an atheist to a friend, she said that she had seen things she didn't understand. Well, so have I. I just don't think any of them mean there's a god out there who cares for me. I don't tell many people I'm an atheist, people may assume I'm Catholic since I put out a crèche at Christmas and have a few meaningful bits of Catholicism from my great grandmother. I guess that's OK, though I never lie about it. I just try and leave the conversation when someone tells me what a great movie "The Passion of The Christ" is.
My family still doesn't believe I'm an atheist, even after a completely godless, egalitarian wedding. Discussing that, ahead of time, my mother asked if I didn't believe in Christianity, didn't I believe in the ideas in the Bible, anyway? That was her code for, "You can still have a church wedding!" I think my response, that no, I didn't think there was anything of value there, really hurt her.
But maybe the truth hurts, sometimes.
How old were you when you became a Christian? Never became one, thought I just was one.
How old were you when you ceased being a Christian?9 then again 22
What churches or organizations or labels have applied to you? Catholic, Anglican, Christian, United Church, Unitarian
What labels, if any, would you apply to yourself now? Humanist. Atheist. Maybe Unitarian again.
Why did you become a Christian? I really never thought I had a choice, then I really wanted to believe, since everyone else did.
Why did you de-convert? I just couldn't try to fool myself anymore.
Email: carolynthenotsogreat at gmail dot com
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)