That's me in the corner

by Jennifer

I have a vivid childhood memory from when I was perhaps eight or nine years of age. I was with my mom in our minivan. I think my younger sister was with us, but I'm not positive about that. I remember saying to my mom, "I'm scared that someday I'll reject Jesus and won't be a Christian anymore." My mother, wholesome and wonderful person that she is, told me that I'd have to be careful. "Just follow Jesus and you won't have to worry about it." I remember other times when she told me that she "worried" and "was concerned" about me, because I was intelligent. "I worry that your intelligence will lead you away from Jesus." As things stand, I suppose she had good cause for concern.

I was born into a fundamentalist Christian home. My mom was raised as a Lutheran, not one of the more liberal ones but one of the very conservative ones. My father was raised in the Assemblies of God. Somewhere along the way, my mom decided that she "wanted what they had", namely speaking in tongues. Before my birth, my parents attended AG churches for years. Beginning the year I was born, they began attending a Foursquare Gospel church, which is very similar to AG. When I was 11, we switched back to AG, because my older sister and I were involved in many of their programs with some friends who had left our Foursquare church.

I didn't do much questioning as a youngster. My child mind knew that things like parting the sea, a global flood, and a virgin birth weren't logical, but I didn't think much about it.

To protect us from the dangers of the big, bad, scary outside world, my mom began homeschooling my older sister and me when I started kindergarten. (My sister had gone to Christian school up until that point, but my parents couldn't afford for both of us to go.) Mom was a teacher by trade up until I was born, and so I did not miss out on basic knowledge, and I benefited from one-on-one instruction. The problem was that I was a painfully shy child, and keeping me home certainly did not help me break out of this mold. I believe that it has made relationships and social interaction difficult for me to this day, though I have learned how to handle it.

Keeping us at home, and restricting our social interaction to church and a Christian home school group, made it possible to indoctrinate us to the fullest extent. (I was permitted to join Girl Scouts and softball leagues, but being shy, I never tried to socialize with those girls outside meetings and practice/games.) We could not be exposed to outside ideas, so we were "safe".

I went through a great "spiritual crisis" at age 13, firmly believing that I had "committed the unforgivable sin", blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. In a rebellious moment, I had muttered under my breath that I hated him. For months, I wept and worried that I would burn forever and no forgiveness was possible. I sought out pastors for advice, and was told that nobody who cared as much as I did could have committed this sin. Nothing allayed my fears. Time finally moved it to the back of my mind, but I participated in church activities with increased fervor, in an effort to prove to God how sincere I was. From age 9-13, I had been the star of the church girls' program (Missionettes). In 6th grade I mastered Bible Quiz, where I memorized something like 536 questions and answers. At age 14, I raised money and went on a missions trip to Switzerland.

Longing to experience something of the outside world, I begged my parents to let me go to high school. Public school was out of the question. I might learn about evolution and have sex education other than abstinence - the only righteous way! (True, we did not live in a good area and the high school, with its fences and metal detectors, more closely resembled a jail than a learning institution.) They sacrificed for me to go to a Christian school, where I dutifully attended prayer group for the last 10 minutes of lunch every day. Because I had so little skill or experience in dealing with people, I was a virtual outcast my freshman year, and cried in the bathroom every day. I asked God to help me make friends, but he was deaf to my cries. I tried to tell myself that perhaps I was meant to learn a lesson from it, but I did not believe it. I was a good kid who was mocked for her shyness and awkwardness (though there were a few kind souls who occasionally reached out). What lesson did I need to learn?

Thankfully, the last three years of high school were much better. In fact, I categorize them as the best years of my life. This was due to good friends, though, not God. (Of course my friends were godly, though!) I continued to participate in youth musicals and such at church, though I felt unworthy. I still believed that everyone needed to be saved from eternal damnation, but I no longer believed that people who had a drink on occasion were awful sinners. I wondered if this meant I were turning toward a life of sin. Still, I wept when I found out that a lifelong friend of mine had become pregnant outside marriage at age 20. I was 16 at the time, and I remember crying to a friend, "People have always told me I was just like her! I wouldn't do that! Why would she do this? She was raised better!" The friend to whom I cried told me that I could mourn my other friend's lost innocence, but that God could forgive her and so must I. I did not have to follow in her footsteps. Looking back, I am astonished at how sick and twisted all this really was.

I also began to question the role of women in church during junior high and high school. I began to be angry over the treatment of women as inferiors, and was never satisfied with the pathetic explanation that we "weren't inferior, just had different roles." I remember once, around 15 or 16, listening to a sermon about how women were created to be "helpmates" and should be submissive. I sat there, clenching and unclenching my fists and taking deep breaths at how offensive and twisted and disturbing it was.

My path towards freedom from religion really came after high school. I went away for my freshman year and again was miserable (just like my first freshman year). I'd never been away from home, and I missed my family. I dutifully attended church weekly, and occasionally went to Christian groups on campus. Being exposed to other people, with other beliefs, began to open my mind. I still believed my way was the right way, but I think this is when I began to question it. After one year of homesickness, I moved back and transferred to the university in my hometown.

Towards the end of college, a "questioning" friend of mine (whom I met through my best friend from high school), was exploring Judaism. I went to synagogue with her and was intrigued. This led me on a journey of taking classes for conversion. I could see that Christianity had made a desperate attempt to twist Hebrew prophecies of the messiah so that Jesus would "fit" them, but they did a piss poor job of it. It was obvious. I met my boyfriend (now husband) shortly after college. He went away to go back to school; I found a job and followed him. This kept me from completing my conversion, which I now realize is a good thing. I would've been apostate from two faiths! LOL!

Over the years, as I read and sought knowledge, I came to the inevitable and unmistakable conclusion that there probably is no god or gods. If there is, he/she/they/it does not want to be known. He/she certainly isn't all powerful, and DEFINITELY not good or loving. I realized that the entire bible is full of contradictions that cannot be reconciled. How can this be the work of god? It obviously isn't the inerrant thing I was taught it was. More, the god of the bible is downright EVIL. He condones rape, child sacrifice, pillaging, conquering, slavery, treating women as animals and as vulgar, unclean, overly emotional, unthinking, vain, inferior possessions. It's despicable. I not only don't understand how people believe it, but I don't understand WHY anyone would want to. I'm not as familiar with other religions as Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Judaism. Yet the knowledge available to us says there is no god of any kind.

I have been chronically ill since I was 20, and it has reached a point that I'm not working because my health doesn't permit it. I could not go to graduate and law school as planned. Illness quite literally destroyed my life and dreams, and left me with little to live for.

I frequently am told that people are praying for me, but I wish their prayers would do some good. I know they won't. These well-meaning people tell me that if I'd just believe, then I could be healed. But plenty of people believe and AREN'T healed, and they just say that it "must be God's will." Sick god, if you ask me.

There are actually days that I consider going back to church. I sometimes long for the comfort of believing that, shitty as this life is, there will be something better after it. I know now that there isn't, and I find that very difficult. I cannot bear the thought of not being with my loved ones for eternity. The thought that we probably cease to exist after this life is horrific, because I love my family tremendously. Despite the religiosity, I had a happy childhood. I had everything I needed, and knew I was loved.

I am trying now to accept that there is nothing else, and that is hard, particularly because my dreams have been crushed in THIS life - the only one I have. Yet, painful as it is, I don't want to go back to false hope and false belief.

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