Sent in by Monk
I was raised in the Church of Christ. Both my mom and dad have attended the same church since before I was born, and my dad has actually been an elder (think bishop if elder makes no sense to you) there for over 20 years. It’s a family tradition, going there. Ever since I was a child, I hated going to church…not once in my life can I EVER remember wanting to go.
The bottom line: I never really believed, though I always pretended to. However, you can only live a lie for so long before it starts to eat you.
I finally succumbed to my family’s pressure to be baptized (a rite of passage in the Church of Christ) in March 2001 when I was 19 years old and a couple of months away from entering the Marine Corps reserves (since this was pre- 9/11, there wasn’t an over-riding fear that I might die in war…yet). For the next few years, I managed to balance my reserve commitments with college, and life generally went on as always. Going through the motions of being a Christian (praying, etc.) had made the boot camp experience much less traumatic, so religion and I declared a temporary truce.
Then in 2004, my unit was finally activated to go to Iraq. While there, I spent all my extra time thinking about my life, and religion once more took center stage. I used to stare at the desert and listen to the Muslim call to prayer, and I could actually see how this area of the world had been the cradle of so many world religions... so many lies. There was a magic to it all: the land, my thoughts, the calls. Indeed, it was not hard to imagine that a person could find what they deemed their own personal truth in that place. In fact, the seeds of what would become my own (atheist) truth grew there.
The more I thought, the more I realized that what I was feeling was not some innate religious power held by the land. Rather, I had come to love the desert itself. What little faith I had left began to erode with the sand. I came to see for the first time the ultimate source of religious belief: man's desire to explain the beauty and mystery of his natural environment. I did not feel the presence of any god... just the awe of standing in the cradle of civilization. It was a spiritual awakening, but certainly NOT religious. I felt alive for the first time.
What little faith I ever had died in Iraq... and so did one of my best friends, at the hands of an improvised explosive device. I resolved to live the life he'll never be able to experience.
When we came home, I switched my college major to history, partly because I wanted to learn more about what the secular world said about Christianity's origins. Outwardly, I remained a Christian, enduring countless hours of Sunday morning church services because I couldn’t bear to tell my friends and family how I felt. I love my parents, and I never wanted to hurt them. I knew the knowledge that I was an atheist would.
Boy, when you're right... you're right.
December of last year, I couldn't take the charade anymore, and I just stopped going to church (and haven't gone since). For two more months, I played off exhortations and questions, until one Sunday afternoon, I snapped and came clean. They were shocked, disappointed, hurt... afraid for my life and my "soul." Everything I had feared.
I began for the first time to outwardly show my atheist convictions. My parents played dirty for awhile, even stooping to using my dear 86-year-old grandmother (whom I possibly love more than anyone in the world) to try and guilt me back into church. I held my cool and tried to explain as well as I could why I felt the way I did. I didn't even make a dent. Now, they just mostly leave me alone about it except for the occasional exhortation to return.
I never will.
Christianity has never added up for me... not when I was a kid and certainly not when I became an adult. My choice to major in history helped provide me with the evidence and concrete reasoning I needed to fill in the gaps created by my intuition. I wish I could make my family fully understand that they are wasting their lives on a bedtime story, but I know I never will. You see, I lost one of my brothers to a car wreck when he was 18 (I was only 6 at the time, so I hardly remember). They are convinced they will see him again. They cannot contemplate otherwise.
I cannot shatter this illusion without shattering them in turn. Frankly, I haven’t the heart. I love them too much. I only hope that they never push me too hard…that they never really attack me and my beliefs. So much strife, fear, and doubt over something so ridiculous…it all makes me quite bitter.
This is longer than I meant for it to be, yet it is still very incomplete, and I don’t feel like I said everything I wanted to. I guess that could take a life time. I am grateful for this group and to the webmaster who founded it. I live in the South, the thick of the Bible Belt, and I am unashamed to admit that from time to time. I need all the help and encouragement I can get.
Thanks to you all.
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