I'd like to think that I came from a typical American family. We had a roof over our heads, although it was cramped at times. We had clothes to wear, but rarely anything brand name. We routinely had doctor and dentist visits. We always had enough to eat, thanks to my dad's hard work and later, my mother's as well when she didn't need to be watching the kids any longer.
I was more insulated than most from certain things; I only had one relative who had been divorced (an uncle). My little midwestern city was a short drive from Kansas City, so I got to experience a little of the benefits of urban life without the negatives. I went to Catholic schools and got a very solid education including the sciences, for which I'm very grateful. (This was in Kansas, mind you. It isn't a total loss.)
It was very difficult at that time to see how anyone could have a different opinion in that bubble-like environment. My whole community gave me one view of the world (the white American Christian one) and then my whole community verified that perspective on every occasion. Life was simple. You pray, you work, you please god by following his rules and being generally nice, and in the end you can expect he'll raise you into heaven. No one gets into heaven on their own merit, you will always be unworthy. But maybe he'll let you in anyway, so put on a good show.
The problem started when I started believing in the messages of Jesus and comparing them to what I saw in my community. People talked about being good Christians but they also talked about getting the most expensive cars, the latest video games, name brand fashion and judged each other by those things. We used more iconography for our local football teams than anyone had crosses and fish stickers. And despite Jesus' message of nonviolence, god bless the military.
As an adult and an atheist, I look back on these views from my childhood and I wonder. The "casual" Christianity that I learned is comfortable and lazy. It bows to consumerism and American culture. It is far less than (according to legend) Jesus expected of his followers but is condoned every Sunday morning from the pulpits.
These contradictions are one more reason I chose to step back and reexamine my faith. I possibly could have gone the difficult road of trying to embody what I thought was 'real' Christianity; giving up wealth, travelling and preaching the good word. I'm very glad I did not. I would have been destitute, miserable, alone, and no closer to feeling my salvation was assured. Because if anything stuck with me from church sermons, it's that no one is worthy of heaven, ever. It is only god's mercy and grace that might allow you in.
I am no longer interested in trying to live up to impossible expectations from an unproven source for a lottery ticket chance at an unverified prize. Instead, I've come to understand that I was taught, more or less, to live as a humanist. Be good to others. Live as you like. Don't fret too much about rules. If my community would just throw out the part about Sunday mornings, we would hardly have any differences at all.