Autonomy: The Greatest Gift

Sent in by Katie

I apologize in advance for the length this will probably reach. I tend to ramble. Also, as an extra but probably superfluous warning, I do not censor myself. If my language offends you…well, tough shit.

Let's start from the beginning.

I was born in August of 1988 in a smallish burg in northwest central Arkansas about sixty miles from Little Rock, nestled cozily in a river valley amongst three hills (I think there are about 30,000 people in it now). There are no shopping malls, but there is a Wal-Mart Supercenter (complete with Mickey D's) along with about seven major churches and countless small ones. Most are Southern Baptist (a.k.a. "I love Jesus and my .22") or evangelical charismatic (a.k.a. "He must have the Holy Spirit in him! Listen to him babbling nonsensically!").

Needless to say, my upbringing was quite religious.

My mother was and is still devoutly Christian, as was my father to a somewhat lesser extent. I was raised and coddled in an almost exclusively Christian environment, sheltered from the evil atheistic viewpoints that might have endangered the "childlike faith" needed to believe in an all-loving God. I even went to a tiny little Christian private school from kindergarten all the way to seventh grade, and in that kindergarten class the teacher led all of us in the Acceptance Prayer ©, even though I’m quite positive not one of us knew what the hell that was supposed to mean. I still have a pair of old textbooks written by A Beka Books, a religious publishing company that provides God-centric textbooks for home schooled children — a science book and a history book, eighth grade level. They're good to look through for a laugh.

I was a very rationalistic child. I never believed in the Tooth Fairy, Santa, or the Easter Bunny. There were never monsters in my closet. I never had an imaginary friend. I devoured nonfiction the way my peers devoured cartoons. If I were ever confused about something, I would look it up, or on rare occasions ask my parents. I was not content to remain ignorant, and that aspect of my personality has most certainly contributed to my de-conversion.

Unfortunately, all the information that was available to me was from the Christian viewpoint. My mother even took out a subscription to Creation magazine—a publication dedicated to stories exploring the fantastic designs of nature (and how they provided evidence for a divine Creator) and about…rock formations that formed really fast, thus showing evidence for a young earth. Sure. I wonder if any of those are still around… At any rate, because I was never exposed to an opposing viewpoint without first filtering it through the dorky-looking designer shades of Christianity, I had no idea what evolution really meant, or the mind-blowing things that scientists have theorized about the origins and nature of the universe. Thusly, my mind was narrowed to the acceptance of all things Christian, and no things else.

Entering public school in eighth grade was an enormous culture shock for me—I had been taken from a class of maybe twelve students, three combined grades, and shoved into a sea of people, a class of '06 that numbered almost 500. I was stunned, and scared. I struggled with a severe social anxiety, and with new ideas that started entering my brain after being exposed to people with different viewpoints. At first I just thought of people who didn’t believe in God as poor lost souls, but as my public school education went on, somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered.

I don't think I was very conscious of this wondering for quite some time; in fact, I’m fairly sure I consciously avoided it. Doubts are a natural part of the Christian’s life in the faith, after all—perhaps if I ignored them, they’d go away.

I was just beginning to face these doubts for what they were when, a year and four months ago, the sudden death of my father shattered everything in the little world I had built. The last time I saw him was on my parent’s bed with a thermometer in his mouth, the victim of a case of pneumonia. The next morning he was rushed to the hospital and succumbed to an enlarged heart shortly before I left for school.

His wake made me feel physically ill. I had to deal with the endless onslaught of hugs and sympathy from people I barely knew or didn’t know at all and probably hadn’t known my father that well either—I only stayed out of concern for my mother, who was going through the same thing. A small group of CSU kids that were on speaking terms with me but had never bothered to make friends with the quiet nerdy girl doodling or reading in the back of the class came, presumably to offer Christian support. It was, altogether, a very uncomfortable situation. If it hadn’t been for my best friend (another catalyst of my de-conversion, by the way), I would never have made it through that ugly event.

His funeral was interesting in that, instead of concentrating on the idea that my father was in heaven and presumably enjoying himself, the people who eulogized him told specific stories of the way he had made the world around him a better place—the pranks he had played on his coworkers, his ability to assess a situation and come to a good decision almost instantly (a good thing when you work in a nuclear power plant), the joy he had brought people. I slowly came to realize that his life had not been an effort to glorify God, but an attempt to better humanity, if only in some small way. That seemed to make much more sense to me than trying to do the will of an invisible being in the sky that had never really done anything for me anyway.

Christians are stubborn in their convictions, though, and I was no different. Some part of me wanted to hold onto something—anything—that would give me comfort in my grief. I held onto that last scrap of belief for a long time.

Several months later, I found myself lying on the floor in my bathroom after a shower and sobbing helplessly, wanting to die. I finally just said, "God, if you're there, give me some relief from this emotional pit I’ve worked myself into. If you're there, please, please help me."

Nothing. Not even afterward, not even slowly. I felt no spiritual comfort, no sense of the Father's arms around me, not even the sense of a rejection.

That cemented it. I realized I couldn't rely on the invisible. I would not get help from some being that supposedly lived in some alternate plane of existence but loved me no matter what—what God would bring his children such torment and leave them alone to fend for themselves? I had to start doing things for myself, or I would never be able to live the kind of life I wanted to: full of meaning and possibilities and the love of other human beings.

My father was a compassionate, intelligent man with a fantastic sense of humor and a healthy disrespect for authority that contributed much to my perception of the world. He was also Christian, staunchly Republican, and homophobic. That doesn’t change the fact that he affected my life greatly, and in his death did more to free my mind than he ever could have in life. Autonomy was the greatest gift he gave me. Were he still able to see me, I think he would be glad to know that.

10 comments:

Jamie Guinn said...

Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing.

bradley said...

God only uses brokeness for his plan. look at Job or even David who was called to be king but had his life threatened every day by Saul. Sometime God lets us be broken so he can take things out of us such as the tourment we can give others so he can put in love, think about it, you were probably pretty mad at the world when your dad died, God still belives in you.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading about your life. Too bad your dad was a republican and homophobic. Other than that he sounded like a great guy.

Anonymous said...

Welcome!

Like you, it took the death of a loved one to finally make me see that xtianity is a load of crap. Since then, a whole new word has opened up. I no longer fear things I cannot see, nor do I worry about some sky daddy being mad at me.

And to Bradley:
Sorry, but if having someone die to break me is in "god's" plan, he can shove it. I wonder, what was the plan of my loved one dying on my birthday? Answer me that.

Tyro said...

Bradley--

If that's the case, your God is a sadistic bastard. Have you ever lost a close friend? My father was a close friend, and his loss ripped me apart.

Luckily, therapy is a good thing. :)

And to the others, I'm glad you appreciated my story.

openlyatheist said...

Hey there! I too have been that far into depression and thought surely that there was a god to cry out to for help. But alas, no such luck. I think it's we atheists who truly have to be broken down so that we can learn that we are the only ones who can pick ourselves up.
Thanks a lot for the story.

Anonymous said...

bradley--

God knew job would not ever turn away from him.(read the story)So what you're saying is that god lets bad stuff happen to people whom he knows won't beleive in him afterwards? And THAT's part of his plan. Sounds moronic.

Anonymous said...

Listen, if there is God, and he did create the world (something that no one can actually disprove i'd keep in mind) and he does want us to be with Him, wouldn't you want to seek His will. Why does God's logic have to match human logic? That is not a logical thought. The one thing I can count on others for, is let down, and I care for deeply and love so many people who love an care for me. Faith means even if my human logic does not hold the concept of God, it doesn't denote the concept of God. All of your stories revolve around pain, but God never said he will provide an intant fix to your sorrows or pain. It takes brokeness and Willingness. God is a gentleman, and he will not intervene in your life until you trlly ask Him, and because He is God, the way He acts is the perfect way, whether you think so or not. Pain takes time to heal with God too in most cases, just like therapy. Read the stories of Christ's miracles, and the type of people they affected. Also, Christianity places a strong emphasis on the presence of evil in this world; that satan can evoke emotional, physical, and very painful dilemmas on our lives. In Jobs case, God allowed his pain to show the faith of Job, to satan and for you and I today who can read the story and understand what faith he expects. That isn't a tetimate of everyones stories though. If faith is a tool of the naive, then why do 80 million Americans alone daily work to live the Christian life, why do people put themselves all over the world in the face of danger and death to share the Good news of Christ. Many of you had rules and the bible shoved in your face without love, just with religiosity, but it is not about that, its about love, and faith. "It is by grace you have been saved, not by works..." not of any action you can do. God loves you even if you don't love Him. But don't rebuke Him unless you are fully sure, because it brings tears to the eyes of the almighty. He doesn't throw lightning bolts, he wants a relationship with us, to love us.

Steven Bently said...

To ignorant fundy anonymous of 6:32 PM

This may be news to you but the only place that an invisible God or a Satan or virgin births or ghosts and spirits and sin and faith and saviors exists are in a book.

A book written by men, to forgive men.

"God is a gentleman." Yes god is a ladies man and big man on campus.

Grow up, try it you may experience reality.

.:webmaster:. said...

Fundynonymous wrote: "if there is God, and he did create the world (something that no one can actually disprove i'd keep in mind)..."

No one can disprove the old Greek gods are really the ones who are running the universe, either.

No one can disprove there are not unicorns living on a planet orbiting Alpha Centari. No one can disprove that Santa Claus has a magical, invisible, undetectable city at the North Pole.

However, I think a healthy does of skepticism when it comes to lunatic rantings about gods, devils, and other highly suspect mythic stories, only makes sense.

Do you have any evidence for your god? I mean, other than your holy book written by other men who believed in your god, do you have any evidence for your god?

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