Growing Up in Religion and then Growing Out of It
Freeing myself from the bonds of Christianity was the only decision I could make. Part 1 of…
I grew up in religion, and then I grew out of it. A couple of weeks ago I got a rather unhinged letter from my father. It was a little all over the place in telling me I was a disappointment and that Democrats are evil, but there were a couple of points that focused on religion. Specifically, that I need to repent and come back to Christianity. As a whole, that letter deserved a firm response, but it was also clear it was time to open this particular can of worms.
In the letter, my father used some techniques he might have learned from his religion, and perhaps some he learned by joining the Trump cult. What set me off and demanded a response was the manipulation; not the parts where he was trying to get me back into religion.
In the response I wrote, I decided to lay it all bare. I explained why I left his religion and why I wasn’t going back to it. It was a cathartic experience. I’m aware it likely hurt him a lot because I just rejected what is essentially the one thing to which he dedicated his life. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m sure I will at some point.
Writing down the abridged and concise version of departing Christianity to my dad brought up a lot of memories. Many that I had largely forgotten. These memories were only buried under general life events instead of my brain locking them away to protect me from past trauma. They aren’t particularly painful memories, but rather they weren’t important enough to keep in the active parts of my brain. I had just closed the door and went on living my life.
Now that I’ve dug those memories up, however, I think I might make good use of them. Maybe my experiences can help others as they navigate religion, life, leaving religion, and disappointing people you care about.
I’ve decided to write a series of essays digging into the recesses of my mind, pulling out my experiences, and sharing them with you for you to digest and dissect. I’ll also go into the logic or lack of logic within religion. I’ll look at questions I had as a child, like, “Where did God come from?”
I’m not here to de-convert you, though I do think that would help humanity out in general. I’m not writing to turn you into an atheist. I’m writing because I think my experiences are not unique, and they can help those who wear the shoes I once wore get through that part of their life with fewer scars. Selfishly, I also hope to rub a little vanishing lotion on some of my old scars I’m sure to unveil as I open up to you.
Born Into It
I was born into a religious home — Christian to be specific. To get even more specific, my father was a trained preacher for the Church of Christ. He went to a preacher’s college and everything in the 1970s. I’m a preacher’s kid. Which, I’ll add, is the same thing as a pastor’s kid, if your denomination uses that terminology. I didn’t ask to join that religion, but I guess it’s a normal human thing to automatically be a part of the religion your parents adopted, which in turn is generally decided by what country or culture they were born into. I was a Christian baby — the second of three born to these particular parents.
Even though I find religion to be abnormal in general, this aspect of it seems perfectly natural. I guess it’s kind of like if your dad was really into a particular sport, he’ll want to share that sport with you as soon as you’re old enough to throw a baseball, football, kick a soccer ball, and so on. It’s the same with religion.
This Stuff is Super Weird
Like most young boys, all I wanted to do was run around and play all day long. I even occasionally peed in the backyard so I wouldn’t have to go inside to relieve myself and miss out on some fun. I loved to climb trees and run and jump and scream for no reason at all.
When religion was pressed upon me I found it oddly uncomfortable, even at a very young age. After I started school and began having summer vacations, I remember hoping for summers off from church as well. I asked my dad if we had to go to church in the summer since we were off from school, and he just smiled and nodded his head yes. How silly of me. He seemed to find it amusing, but I was disappointed. I wanted to do anything other than go sit in some stuffy building with a bunch of stuffy people doing weird things. I was a kid, however, so those thoughts were fleeting and I just went along with whatever I had to do.
I never forgot that moment. Nor the moments before it, when I was younger. Once, I asked my father where God came from and got the typical answer that was along the lines of, “He’s always been there.” I didn’t press the issue, but I thought to myself that didn’t make any sense. I knew that things came from somewhere. Everything came from somewhere, so this god had to as well. Another time, my dad was telling me the Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah and talked about how men lay with other men (in the biblical sense) and that was bad. Bad as in sinful and God didn’t like it.
Why would you tell a little kid that story? A god murdered everyone in two cities because of their sexual activity. I was a little kid! If I’m remembering correctly, this was before kindergarten, so I was around 4 years old. Like I was supposed to understand what any of that meant! What I remember the most from that interaction is that I thought it was weird. I thought the explanation I was given was weird. It’s not that I thought sex was weird, or that sex between two men was weird — I’m pretty sure I had no idea whatsoever what sex was or that it existed. The whole concept seemed odd; it was just God mad at a group of people who were doing something and then killing them all.
However since I was so young, I just moved on from it and went back to playing. What I’m left with, now that time has buffed away the rough edges of that memory, is the feeling of it being super weird.
More Complications to What I was Being Taught
When I was young, my parents got divorced and my mom married another Church of Christ preacher. After that, my dad and mom seemed to hate each other to some degree, and that didn’t mesh well with what I was constantly being told about God being love and we’re supposed to forgive everyone and all that.
I remember thinking one day that since my dad (and now also stepmom) would go to heaven, and then my mom (the biological one) would also go to heaven, would they all hug and forget the hate or strong dislike they felt for one another? Since I was told there was no negative emotion in heaven, I guess they would all just get along. This was another instance of me thinking something about this religion I was born into was weird or just didn’t make much sense.
My father and stepfather were both preachers, but they weren’t the same. They were both some degree of fundamentalist, but my stepfather was a little more flexible in his interpretations of biblical texts. My father was very strict and legalistic. At least that’s how I remember thinking about it when I was a teenager. Which approach was right? Were they both wrong, or even both right? It was all somewhat confusing, and any answers I got did nothing to relieve that confusion. I learned that both religion and human relationships are complicated, but I figured God would sort it out in heaven.
Learning to See with Eyes Wide Open
Even though there was a time in my life I called myself a Christian, there was an earlier time religion made no sense to me, and I just wanted to sleep in or play on Sunday mornings. Once I de-converted, I realized how gullible I was for a large portion of my life at that point. I believed pretty much anything just because someone said it.
I started my life skeptical and questioning, but then I fell in line with religious thinking, which stunted my mind’s growth. After many years and much thought and study, I came out of my mental cage and saw things with open eyes. At one point in my life that I might get into in a later essay, I realized I wasn’t looking at anything as it was. I’d been adding mental filters and layers of nonsense to everything. What I really needed to do was strip away all that extra brain fluff and see things plainly. When I figured that out it was like lighting a match in a dark cavern.
Since that moment my mind has grown sharper, more skeptical, and better able to trudge through the muck. I like the way I think — the way I interpret and process information, seek out facts and evidence, and always look to learn new things. It’s helped me grow as a human being.
Not Trying to Hurt Anyone’s Feelings
I’m not writing this to try to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt my parents, family members, friends, extended family, strangers, etc. I’m also not making fun of anyone, but I will probably ridicule concepts and ideas that are worthy of ridicule.
Still, I’m fairly confident my essays will hurt people. If you’re one of those people, just realize that the hurt is coming from within you, and not originating with me. I’m just spilling my experience out onto the page, so how you take it from there is up to you.
Read part 2 here: