An abridged version of my deconversion story.
Forgive if this is beyond your tl;dr threshold, I know my story is convoluted.
I grew up with a nominally Christian mother (her family never really attended church, but believed in God and Heaven.)and a somewhat-practicing Buddhist father who had been raised in an Irish Roman Catholic household. He had been kicked out of his Catholic high school and was pretty bitter about the whole thing.
While I was never Christened, we did occasionally (I’m thinking mostly Easter and Christmas and baptisms) attend Mass. Daddy taught me how to say the Hail Mary and the Paternoster, and gave me a pretty green rosary(I wish I still had it…). I remember sitting on the floor in front of one of his bookshelves reading the comic-book-like Children’s Bible. I liked the battle scenes: David vs. Goliath, Samson beating the bad-guys with the donkey’s jawbone…
After my parents split up, my mom met this guy who, lo and behold, was the brother of a pastor. We went to their Evangelical, Pentecostal (UPCI) church a couple of times, where I attended Sunday School. It didn’t become a habit, but I liked the atmosphere – there were kids to play with and all kinds of attention. Any “divorced kid” knows how starved for attention you can get when the entire world is full of drama that doesn’t directly involve you.
Other neighborhood kids would invite me to their churches – “The bus is coming! Ask your mom if you can come!” and the answer would invariably come from my stepfather: “You’re not going to any heathen church. If you go to any church you go to the family’s”.
One day, I was running about the neighborhood with a bunch of kids, and we did a tear-through one of the girls’ houses. Her mom was having a Bible study done by one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. She was in a long blue dress and her hair was all the way down to her knees, and huge and curly… she looked like Rapunzel all grown up, and she had the most welcoming, warm, amazing smile. She invited me to sit down and listen to the story. She told me about heaven, and what a wonderful place it would be, and how much God wants us to be there with him, and all we have to do is read this book and believe what is in it – every word – because this is God’s word, and his instructions for how he wants us to live. And if we do that God will fill us up with himself, and we’ll never be lonely or weak because we’ll have God inside us all the time, and there’s no greater love than that.
I was sold. And I was all of ten years old.
Turns out, that woman just happened to be from my now-step-uncle’s church, so stepdad was sort of guilted into letting me go to church with her. That woman became a second mother to me – more mother than my own really – and I strove every day for ten years to be more like her. When she died at age 42 due to a heart defect, I was devastated but somewhere I knew it was okay, because she was in Heaven.
Her husband, who was one of the most pious men I could imagine, didn’t take it so well, and in a matter of months started distracting himself from the pain with another woman. Note: woman. Formerly married, divorced, mother, maybe a little young for him but certainly not scandalous (save for the short time lapsed since his wife’s passing).
The pastor – my step-uncle – completely ostracized him. He called a meeting of the tithe-paying members of the church – pretty much the whole church – and told them lewd tales of the assistant pastor’s indescretions. Publicly shamed the man in front of what should have been the support system helping him through his time of mourning.
If I had to choose one exact moment when I realised my church was not infallible, it would be that meeting.
Over time, it became harder for me to “pray through” – we were a Oneness Pentecostal sect, and believed in “speaking in tongues” as a sign of closeness with God. I found myself repenting my lack of faith more and more often, but never really feeling the Holy Ghost anymore.
I faked my way through for a long time believing it was my fault, some sin I didn’t know I was committing that God was upset with me about, and I’d fight back through somehow, but little doubts started creeping in. When the visiting “healer” completely failed to heal anything, three visits in a row, for example.
By this point I was married. I had never had a good relationship with my mother, but one day we got into an argument about something incredibly stupid, and she decided the best way to win was by pinning me against the wall by my throat and repeatedly punching me in the face. (Not the first time she had done this. It was known as the “mom maneuver) Well, this time I was 21 and living on my own, and no longer dependent on her charity for my survival. I called the cops, and she was arrested for domestic battery.
Two days later, I walked into the church, and people visibly turned away from me. Not a word was spoken. I was asked not to take my place in the A/V booth, someone else had it covered. And the sermon was about honouring your parents.
I did not return.
But I was a good Christian girl, and had to find a new church. I started attending our sister church. Found much of the same attitude there, so it didn’t last long. Not surprising, as my stepfamily had several other members in that church as well.
So, since I couldn’t go to either of the churches in the area that were our particular denomination (andcertainly couldn’t go to one of those heathen churches where women wear pants and cut their hair and paint their faces like Jezebels) I started studying the Word myself, at home, alone, and “fellowshipping” with other True Believers on the internet.
Eventually, I found my way to the Myspace Christianity chatroom. Since there was no “atheism” chatroom, atheists would congregate in Christianity and spark debates and discussions with the believers there.
Oh, how I loved those chat sessions. I’d spend hours and hours playing the apologist, explaining away biblical errors, defending the faith…
I managed to gain the respect of several of the hardcore atheist debaters because of my raw knowledge of the Scripture. Ha ha, no “Christians don’t know their own bible” crap would fly here!
But through those debates, I began to actually realise that the errors were there. That some things didn’tmake sense. Why would a loving God play Russian Roulette with Job’s family? what did he ever do to God?
I realised that if the Bible had this many errors and this much evil, it was not the word of my God (that loving, snuggly heavenly Father I had been drawn to). And if my god were real, he was no longer worthy of my worship.
For a time, I tried to find who the “real” God was. That didn’t last too long, as I had no better reason for believing in any god than I did for believing in the one I had just forsaken. So I tried pantheism – maybe God is all around us, in every thing that lives. But that just seemed unnecessary – why worship a tree? It’s not like the tree can appreciate the effort.
So, I became a self-proclaimed “apathist”.
Eventually, I visited the bookstore. I'm a shameless bibliophile, and this is something I do often, of course, but this time, I did my favourite thing – wandering aimlessly around the store, waiting for a book to “call to me”.
That day, I bought two books: “Celtic Magic” by D.J. Conway, and “The God Delusion”, by Richard Dawkins.
I was sold on “The God Delusion” from the title of the first chapter: “A Deeply Religious Nonbeliever”. Holy crap, this book is about me. I took it home and immediately sat down with it and a pen, underlining every word that resonated with me. I still have that copy of that book, and most of it is underlined. ^_^
One section that is not only underlined, but boxed, starred, and highlighted, is as follows:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
YES. I’m not the only one. This other, obviously intelligent person has come to the same conclusion as I have.
I’m not the only one.
The sigh of relief at that point was incredible. It still took me a year before I admitted atheism to my husband (and another two and a half for him to agree with me), but knowing that I was not alone was powerful in the extreme.
At this point, I'm close to five years gone from the church (Kind of funny, Seth of The Thinking Atheist and I deconverted right about the same time. He's taken it better than I, methinks) I've done what apologising I can - to the dear friend from high school who I insulted and cut out of my life when he came out as gay, for example. I still don't speak to my mother or stepfamily, and the relationship with my sister is just about nonexistent. My brother deconverted as well, and he and I get along better than we ever did as kids.
I'm ready to start becoming more socially active again. It'll be nice to become more aware that churches don't have a monopoly on friendship, goodwill, and community.
Greets and salutes, Alyson; we're glad you joined us!
Your own path to atheism reminds me a lot of Robert Heinlein's old saw about searching a coal mine at midnight for a black cat who isn't there. It seems as though everyone around us want us to believe that cat is there ... until we run onto ONE PERSON who says, "what cat?" Sometimes it's that one differing opinion which allows us to realize that what we thought of as being utterly necessary and essential simply ISN'T.
So it is with god.
Thank you, Loren.
What cat, indeed.
Welcome Alyson. Glad you're here. Always good to meet another "fellow traveler." When I initially saw the title to your post, I immediately thought of the old Michael Landon movie, I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Please don't take that the wrong way, since I used to be a Catholic altar boy - it could apply to me, also. And in case you're wondering, no, none of the priests ever bothered me. Guess I was the ugly one in the group.
Your de-conversion has many similar elements to mine. Abusive parent, raised in a hypocritical church, family members who look down their nose at you, etc. And the final realization that IT'S ALL BULLSHIT! Anyway, glad you're here and hope to see you around.
Thank you, Pat. Glad the priests behaved themselves in your presence. And I'm kind of a fan of Michael Landon, so no offense taken!
Thank you, Booklover!
~Another Bibliophile and Logophile.
Lovely and insightful. Thank you for sharing your story, it helped me grow.
Thank you, RonRon!
Many thanks, Mathew. I think I'm going to like it here. ^_^
That is true, I've noticed me and you get along better than anyone else. I also remember that guy that came in and did the "faith healings" Brother Clark(e). He was the greatest con-artist I know personally, whether he knew it or not, all he did was show up, do some mundane cold-reads for people and make anywhere from $400-$600 a night; that was when I knew god was a lie.
Welcome Alyson and thank you for sharing.