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The Bible Set Me Free

Blame it on my parents. They always told me to “think for yourself”.  I doubt they ever considered what would happen if I really did that. Now, I suspect what they meant was, “Think what we tell you but do it in your own words.”

Too late.

When I was 13, I began to question everything and soon the total absurdity of religion became apparent. Because I have been “encouraged” (forced) to read the bible several times, it was easy for me to see the contradictions in the book, what christians professed to believe, and how they really lived. When I refused to go with them to their church, they said they would “make me go.”

I asked them, “How are you going to make me? How will forcing me to attend church change my mind?”

Already, their attitude was starting to harden me against everything else about religion they would tell me. Their next idea was to have their minister talk to me. I told them it was a waste of everyone’s time. They persisted and had him come to the house to “talk some sense into me” (as if that ever works for anyone). After about 15 minutes of him quoting the bible to me and me pointing out that he was either wrong in his quotes or showing him how it said something else in another place, he became very angry and told me I was going to hell. I suspect it was because I knew the bible better than he did and was, at age 13, able to prove how ridiculous his arguments were.

I told him, “If there is a Hell I’ll see you there. Save me a nice place, OK?”

He said I was an impertinent, disrespectful child. By then, I was angry myself and for the first time, I told a christian that he was a hypocrite, a liar, and a fool. My parents insisted that I apologize. I refused and left the room to a lot of yelling and threats. For the next four years, I heard about this at least once a week. So the night I graduated high school, I left my parent’s home and didn’t see them again for well over a year. By then, with the credits I had accumulated in high school and summer school, I had completed a couple of years of college.

Fortunately, I was able to pay for this myself.

I was entering the army and wanted to try to make peace with them, but had to listen to the same old recriminations and arguments again. The next time I saw them was two years later when I was getting married. After several years of an on-again, off-again relationship they finally agreed to just not discuss it any more. I’d like to say that worked, but  subtle hints slowly became outright condemnation. Then I took a job transfer from Ohio to Arizona, so family meetings were rare enough to become occasions for something other than contention.

I do have to say that I appreciate the other things they did for me, like encouraging my education and equipping me with the work ethic and attitudes I needed to survive and thrive at that early age. In those areas, they were excellent parents and I am grateful for those things.

What did I learn?

Even your family can turn against you if you refuse to share in their illusions. There are times, if you are to become your own person, you must stand firm in what you know to be true.

My name is Kevin, I am a high school senior, and I am an atheist. My reason for submitting this story is that I haven’t seen any posts from fellow students, and I know there are many out there that are looking for some reassurance that they are not alone in their day to day struggles in being nonreligious, and I know from experience that hearing the “good news” so to speak from a fellow student is beneficial, as it was for me.

I come from a small town of Lexington, in the thumb of Michigan, on the beautiful shores of Lake Huron. I’m sure nobody reading this post has heard of it, it’s a very small town, so small that they school must combine the two neighboring towns of Croswell and Lexington, hence its name, Cros-Lex, as well as a great amount of the surrounding rural area.

I want to emphasize the diminutive size of the community because it contributed a great deal to the “aloneness” I felt in my coming to atheism. A rural community, as many of you are aware, is not often accepting of the kind of free-thinking that fosters ideas, such as atheism, that challenge long-held beliefs and traditions. And when an individual comes to such ideas, they are often made to feel isolated, as I was, and I’m sure many of my fellow students out there do as well.

The road to atheism wasn’t simple for me. It was a constant struggle starting back in the Catholic elementary school my parents put my siblings and I through. When I’d ask an honest question about some church doctrine, all I would receive was the old, ironed out responses of “god loves you” or “it’s a mystery”. And, like every other 10 year old, I would accept it as such, although I harbored grains of salt with them.

Through middle school, my first experience with public school, I was exposed to so much more than what my sheltered life before had prepared me for. My natural reaction was to hold close what was familiar, religion. However, the closer you hold something, the closer you can examine it. And we all know that religion has a tendency to crack under examination, even that of a twelve year old. But still the natural clinging to what was familiar kept me in the church.

High school was where the major transformation happened, as with many people. Sophomore year I gave up my Catholic label in favor of Agnosticism, and by my Junior year I accepted myself as an Atheist, but I held these beliefs in for fear of the repercussions from both the community and my still Catholic family. But I couldn’t hide them forever.

And the repercussions came! I first came out to various friends and in casual conversation with people to get myself used to the feeling. I received many dirty looks, many accusations of being a Satan worshiper, and was ostracized by the community in general. And to this day I still get odd looks from teachers when I omit “under god” from the morning pledge.

When I came out to my parents I had to face many facets of adversity I never experienced before. At first my mother wanted to throw me out of the house and take away any family money. She backed down from this, but she works to make me feel unwelcome in the house. Immediately after she bought many religious symbols (statues, prayer cards around the house, and even handbags) and made sure we were now going to church every Sunday. My parents both informed the aunts and uncles, and a few close friends, making sure I was there to be stared at. My only solace, as far as family goes, is that I’ll be off to college soon, and moving out.

I didn’t loose hope though. Upon coming out to my community, I discovered which friends were true, several of who also came out. I also found solace in a wonderful girlfriend, with whom I’ve been with for nearly a year, who has also come out as an atheist.

My message to my fellow non-believing students who are still hiding their beliefs, or have come out but don’t know where to go is that there is nothing to fear. Even if adversity is all you see when peaking out of the close door, you may be missing the full, wonderful picture of life after religion. For your own sake and the sake of others who may be hiding in your community, open the door, come out and allow others to see what an atheist looks like.

 

As far back as I can remember, I have viewed religion as a nuisance. It was only recently that I came to grips with the fact that religion is not merely a nuisance, but a parasite, milking the lifeblood of humanity.

I was raised by my mother to be a God-fearing Irish-Catholic, but we were not fundamentalists by any means. We went to church every Sunday and received all the sacraments.  My two sisters and I also attended CCD (Catholicism class) every Wednesday. In between, we attended public school, watched HBO and generally didn’t mention God. In fact, privately, mom would join us in some light-hearted ribbing of the more religious families in the neighborhood, likening them to the Flanders family from “The Simpsons”. My feelings towards Catholicism ranged from ambivalence to resentment. I hated having my Sunday play interrupted. I hated missing half of ABC’s Wednesday night TV lineup, which included “Quantum Leap”. I was always of the opinion that God would see me for the good person I was and not care if I worshipped Him. That was how I processed my Catholic guilt. By the time I finished high school I had become comfortable in my conclusion that anyone who claims to know anything regarding God or the afterlife is a con artist. On my eighteenth birthday my mother officially released me from my church-going obligations.

The years following were spent acquiescing to my religious friends and family. I became Godfather to my sister’s kids. I was married in a Catholic church. My two children were baptized. My family knew I was not devout, but I levied no outward protest to the occasional ceremonial requirements of my time. It was a period in my life I later referred to as ‘sleepwalking through Catholicism’.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I woke up. In recent years my sisters began detaching themselves from the church amid the sex abuse scandals, and my mother made whispers of doing the same. My wife had been raised in a much stricter Catholic household, and now even she began expressing reservations about the faith. When she opened up to me, it allowed me to acknowledge years of pent-up disdain for religious thinking. The crimes of religion are too numerous to mention here, including unfathomable abuse, miseducation, misogyny and terrorism. As a result of these discussions, we decided to allow no further indoctrination of our children.

My wife and I agree that life has taken a sweeter turn for us since we’ve left our religion behind. We’ve been better conversationalists with each other. I talk to my kids more about science and nature, trying to instill a sense of wonder in them. In general I treat people better, knowing that time is fleeting. Religious fanaticism is a genuine threat to the survival of our species and I’m no longer going to remain silent. Thanks to some great people on Twitter, I found out I’m not alone. There are plenty out there like me.

Follow @slowroast77 on Twitter.

Half way into high school I went to camp for the first time in my life. It was a Christian Science camp which would be a very odd choice if not for the fact that I was a Christian Scientist. The camp’s selling point to my parents was the promise to re-up my faith and to provide leadership opportunities as a Counselor-in-Training. The camp’s selling point to me was a canoeing trip in Canada and a three-day capture-the-flag tournament. That, and I just wanted to get out of the house.

I feel like a little background in Christian Science is needed here. CS is a religion that teaches the works of Jesus did could also be done by us providing that we have enough faith and live free from sin. In the Bible, the disciples healed and performed other miracles after JC’s death, the same premise applies to here. The implication is that, as Christian Scientists, material medicine should be avoided because using it diminishes our faith to heal thyself through God. If you need to see someone, CS has their own kind of doctors called “Practitioners” who basically talk the patient through the disease with prayer. The avoidance of medicine and the word “Science” in the name is why Christian Science is often confused with Scientology. This used to bother the hell out of me, but, in retrospect, I had little reason to be upset. The beliefs involved are no less crazy. Christian Science just seemed less crazy because it followed the legacy myth of Jesus rather than the start-up myth of aliens.

My first (and only) year at Camp Leelanau off the lovely coast of Lake Michigan happened to come at the transitional age between camper and counselor. Much of my days were spent in preparation of returning the following year as staff. Of course, that didn’t pan out, but all-in-all it was a better experience than I imagine it would have been as a proper camper. The camp’s official Practitioner was from my home church in Georgia. Both he and his two daughters were regulars of the camp and played no small part in my recruitment. I also noted upon arrival that the camp had a nurse on staff. Not so much a faith healing nurse as a nurse nurse. I remember thinking that was as odd addition. It turned out she was present to help with injuries during the camp’s more physical activities–broken bones, poison sumac rashes, the kind of stuff that leaves a mark. Although Christian Science teaches that God can heal anything, practically, it’s best to leave the invisible deity to the invisible ailments.

My class of CITs (counselor’s-in-training) was unusually small–five guys, myself included. This allowed for a tighter-nit fellowship and by the end I considered at least a few of them good friends. It also allowed for a more intimate adventure. We went to the middle of the Canadian wilderness where we canoed and camped all week. We never saw a trace of another human while we spotted wild moose, and had to hang our food and gear in trees nightly in case of bear (why we didn’t also sleep in trees is beyond me.) Every morning we’d hit the river, tie our canoes together and read from the bible and Christian Science’s companion book, Science & Health. I honestly didn’t mind the bible readings. Reading from a book about angels and demons made the trip seem more epic. Science & Health reads more like self-help than a holy text so it lessened that mood.

Long story slightly less long, we returned to camp and one of my new-found friends was hurt. He was cut up pretty bad while cutting wood or some such thing. I remember him rushing up the the nurse and being out of commission for almost the rest of our time in Michigan. Visits weren’t really allowed except for the Practitioner who, judging from the time my buddy was away and the very conventional stitches he returned with, did nothing in the way of faith healing. I imagine campers were discouraged to go see patients because the whole spiritual health scam would take a backseat to, “oh, hey, God isn’t doing anything for this guy.”

The camp experience was supposed to re-up my faith, but it only showed me reality. During one of our last Sunday meetings, a counselor enthusiastically testified that being a Christian Scientist was like being a Jedi; making the analogy that both we and the Star Wars heroes are small segments of the population who know how to demonstrate the power of their faith. After seeing failed demonstration after failed demonstration, I concluded that the real similarity a faith healing Christian Scientist has to a Jedi is that they are both works of fiction.

Read Grundy’s blog at Deity Shmeity, or follow him on Twitter at @deityshmeity

My mother and father were atheist, though probably didn’t advertise this too much, as we grew up in a very religious town in South Africa–a place with an average of 40 churches per square kilometer, if that tells you anything. I attended a normal grade school and eventually high school with the typical Christian-, Bible- or religion-related classes, and their obligatory pseudo-Christian seals/mottoes/invocations and other bullshit that nobody paid any attention to.

Not that I cared, mind you, because none of it was relevant to a young boy mostly interested in bike-riding, Legos and the acquisition of sweets. It didn’t register at all. At one point, growing up, I stayed with friends of my parents for a few months; a strictly religious family who “prayed” before bed each night. I had no clue what kneeling at the base of my bed was supposed to accomplish and what the fuck I was supposed to be asking for with my hands pressed together. Honestly, Father Christmas was more real to me.

Only when I was about 13 did I once casually remark to my dad “What religion are we?” He scrunched his face for a second, then said “Anglican, I think, but only your grandmother still goes to church.” I think I must have mentioned my consternation about all the god hubbub because then he asked:

“Do you agree that everything has a cause?”

“Yes, I guess”, I said.

“So”, he asked, “then what caused god?”

An easy evasion for a modern goddist practiced in lame god myth defense but, at the time, that was enough for me. The logic was simple and uncomplicated and confirmed much of what I had already come to find suspicious, unanswered and ultimately insufficient about all the stories I’d heard. Fish don’t self-replicate. Snakes don’t talk. People can’t walk on water or rise from the dead. God is not real.

Satisfied, I mostly forgot about it. In high school someone once described god as an emotion, which I found quite accurate, given the effect it had on believers, but otherwise it didn’t cross my mind again for years. I didn’t know the word “atheist” yet.

A couple of years later I emigrated to the States and went to college in Phoenix, Arizona. Religion central. Big trucks, big guts, big hats and big bibles. Outside of school I quickly became aware of a general sense of academic illiteracy; a kind of artificial intellectual apathy that manifested itself in a comfortable, affected acknowledgement that Jesus is behind all this.

I was studying music theory and composition and became fast friends with a close group from the choir. All were devout Christians. I instantly became very good friends with one person in particular; he came from deep Southern Baptist roots. Not that I knew what that was. We ended up as roommates in our very first apartment together and it soon became clear that whatever religious choke hold his family may have had, he was certainly not of that type. He was curious and scrappy; he didn’t back off big questions and was a gracious debater. Not at all an Arizonan.

I didn’t know it at the time, but his later writings would reveal an “awakening” in progress. A tadpole made it out of the shrinking puddle; good for him.

In Arizona I instantly knew I didn’t fit in; you can’t say “hell” or “damn” and certainly not “Jesus” or “Christ” unless you said them together, nicely, like “amen”. These words were staples where I came from, so it took some work to eradicate them from my curse word repository. Our little group of choir  friends had fierce midnight existential discussions, more often ending in uneasy stalemates, and once in a tearful admission by one that our debates were making her question her faith. So we stopped.

When you study music, you commit yourself to its performance. Most “venerable” traditional music literature is rooted in religious scripture and ceremony, particularly choral music and, thus, one comes to expect a great deal of meaningless mumbo-jumbo, even when the music itself is sublime. I even spent a year employed in a professional choir at the Saint Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix, where the Pope himself once stood. There I now stood, Sunday mass after Sunday mass, surrounded by gilded magnificence, breathing in noxious incense while glorifying a bunch of utter malarkey. I didn’t care; I was a good tenor and it was an easy paycheck for a student. And the people were nice.

(Ironically, one of the most skilled and prolific contemporary composers of liturgical choral music, John Rutter, whose works appeared, almost without fail, in every choral program I performed for those 6 years, is an atheist. Everyone needs a muse, I guess.)

I moved on to Los Angeles for my graduate studies, and away from the grip of ignorance and the vacuum of critical thinking that I had come to identify in almost all of the Arizonans I had encountered in my time there. It’s much like Neo in The Matrix: with myth-colored glasses, the world can but only appear wondrous. California and the East coast have been less innocent and more prone to scrutiny and suspicion. More human.

Here I sit at 41, reading the endless, wickedly misguided assaults on education by the “Texas Taliban” and the like, Christian, Muslim or otherwise, and the apoplectically stunted thinking of the religious bloggers, radio hucksters and Tweeters–the so-called “warriors for Jesus” who confuse ignorance with insight and fiction with fact – and I wonder to myself: is this where my little girl is going to grow up?

The horror. The horror.

I’ve concluded that the only defense against this intellectual apathy, this persistent, flawed folklore, this onslaught of stupid, is education. Or god help us.

I have been fairly fortunate compared to the many that have submitted their stories here and to my blog. I was never indoctrinated into superstitious beliefs. MY parents weren’t religious and we rarely ever spoke of God. I was allowed to explore my imagination and the wonders of the world. My curiosity of science always pushed me to attempt to understand things and when I didn’t, I wasn’t afraid to ask the questions. At 8 years old, when the belief in Santa and the other fairies began to fade, I took my curiosity one step further and began to question the concept of “God”. From that moment I never looked back, but that is not the story I am about to tell.

I grew up in a very liberal area of New York, never having to worry about biting my tongue. I was able to graduate high school without any problems related to me being an atheist. But shortly after I moved to the south for work, I began to hear negative rumors about the southern lifestyle. Since I was moving to Florida, I didn’t think anything about it. I was not informed that North Florida is also part of the Bible Belt. Within my first week I quickly realized what would be the norm. Everyone that approached me asked me the same three questions; What’s your name, your favorite college football team and what church do you go to? I remember the first time I was asked these questions, I answered them truthfully. When I got to the last question I answered with, “Oh, I don’t go to church. I don’t believe in God.” I heard gasps and even heard another man begin to pray for me. I chuckled at first, but then realized they were serious. My presence alone offended them. They never spoke to me again, and that is when I realized that if I was going to keep a job I needed to go into the “closet” with my lack of beliefs. That day I shut the door and locked it.

I remained in the “closet” for about 4 years, but the longer I lived here the more I could feel the urge to get out. For those that know me now, would not recognize that David. I was quiet and never wanted to ruffle any feathers. I was afraid, alone and scared of losing  my job. These feelings remained the same even when trying to escape to Facebook, scrolling through my feed of friends and loved ones constant status updates of “God loves you” or “Thank Jesus I found my keys.” I was going insane and had nowhere to turn. I was finally able to meet another atheist on my job. Not only was he out but he was outspoken. Not afraid to call out the ones around us. He introduced me to The Atheist Experience, Ricky Gervais and Bill Maher. I was blown away, by not only the information but to find out I wasn’t alone. Little did I know what I was in for next.

One day I decided to give Twitter a try. I can’t remember the reason why, probably because I needed a break from Facebook. I typed ‘atheist’ in the search bar. My screen immediately filled with accounts of thousands of people, different walks of life, parts of the world and different backgrounds. I remember jumping out of my chair with excitement and of course Matt Dillahunty was the first one I followed. (Still hasn’t followed me back, even after buying him a beer at the American Atheist convention this past Spring in Austin!! LOL) That day was a little over a year and a half ago, and I can not put into words how thankful I am for it. I have met some of the greatest people I will ever know, because of Twitter. So many have educated me, helped me gain courage and because of them I was able to come out of the closet. Not only did I come out, I kicked the door down, immediately speaking out against anything and everything. When friends were crying to me on Facebook that I was offending them with a Hitchens quote, others on Twitter were retweeting it like crazy. I lost many friends and lost the support of some family members when I came out, but in the process I have met thousands of real friends. I am here because of those on Twitter, and I owe them so much.

I understand many can not come out, and it hurts me that they can’t. I can’t be the voice for all of them, but I will definitely try. It is important for all of us to speak out when we can, support those around us and push ourselves to be more. Without those that helped me, I would most likely still be in the closet, scared and alone. I have accomplished more this past year than ever before. I started a blog, went to my first conference (American Atheist), helped with statewide activism including the first atheist monument on public property, created a local atheist group with 90 members and counting, current intern at Foundation Beyond Belief, recently nominated for Board of Directors for Humanists of Florida and started a YouTube channel with the atheist hangouts. The exciting part is that the year still isn’t over and no gods were required.

I hope that you can read my story and gain some inspiration from it.  I think it is also important for the readers to know that I have no college degree, I actually dropped out.  My career is just a plumber, but I never let that slow me down or deter me from helping build a secular future.  We all have a voice, we all need to be heard.  When you think you can’t benefit or help out in anyway, I want you to use this piece as an example of how wrong you are.  Everyone of us is just as important as any other, think about how far Dawkins would be if we weren’t around to buy his books and refer them to people who really need to read them.  I appreciate Martin for putting this together and allowing me to submit my story, even if it only helps one person, it will be a success.

Check out David’s blog at gammaatheist.com or follow him on Twitter at @GammaAtheist.

I was lucky enough not to be raised by a “because I said so” mother. I was never discouraged from asking why, always allowed to entertain my interests (no matter how lame my mother thought Pokemon were), and if I ever asked a question I was given the best answer she could figure out. My mother went to church quite often, but I was always told “only go if you want to.” More often than not I wanted to go because who doesn’t want to go to heaven? As a child when you’re told “everyone in here is good, and everyone out there is bad” you definitely want to be “in here.” But no matter how many Sundays I spent chewing gum to stay awake in a pew, or how many bibles verses I read, something did not feel quite right. As a teenager I started exploring different churches thinking that maybe I just hadn’t found the right one. I got prayed over in tongues and sang more hymns than I care to remember before I realized it wasn’t them, it was me. Late in high school and early in college I started to encounter more and more homosexual people and developed friendships with them. Something felt so familiar. That was it! I was gay. What a relief right? Nope. That was not it at all. I didn’t recognize it at the time but that familiarity I felt was an acknowledgement of a mutual oppression. I saw the same pain in their eyes that I had in mine from knowing exactly who you are but always feeling like it was wrong and doing everything you can to change it. All of those years what I was really searching for was not a church community that complimented my beliefs, but instead someone to tell me it was okay not to have any. It has become less taboo to be a religion that is not Christian, but there is no home for the non-believers. You are bad. You are evil. You are unworthy, undeserving. Even if you don’t always hear these words, you feel them each time someone scoots their chair a little further away from you after hearing you say the “A” word. Even through all of the disdain I experience after politely declining prayer, I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life now that I know who I am and I know that it’s okay. There are still people in my life I can’t share this with (mostly my southern baptist family members) but even having the courage to share it with strangers gives me more joy than I can express in words. I look forward to the day when being an atheist won’t be of any more importance than the color of one’s sweater, but for today I am thankful that at least there are corners of the Internet such as this where I know that I am indeed not alone.