… and how I got here …
You see, I was raised in a Catholic church. When I was thirteen, I went to a few Southern Baptist church services with a friend on the mornings after sleepovers because, well, we lived in a small town in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and that’s just what you did on Sunday mornings.
Over time, I really started to think that more of what I heard in the Baptist church made more sense than what I was hearing in the Catholic church. A lot of people like to believe that was because I followed my friend, but actually, my very best friend (who, after almost twenty years, is still my best friend) attended the church I went to with my mom (it was just my mom and me growing up). Mostly, it was the fact that the Protestant Church seemed to spend a lot less time standing on ceremony and more time worshiping freely. That seemed to be more of the point of church.
I told my mother I wanted to convert, and she told me that she would let me… when I turned sixteen. Until then, as long as I attended the early mass with her, I could head to the late service at the Baptist church. And I did. I don’t think she expected me to – she thought I was following a friend, too, and the desire would die away.
When I turned sixteen, I left the Catholic church, but I’d been through all the catechism classes, and the First Communion deal, and took the Eucharist every Sunday, and all that jazz. I know what Catholicism is about. I walked away because it did seem very ritualistic, and I didn’t believe that was what God was all about.
I was very active in my new church until I graduated from high school. We went on mission trips every summer, I taught Vacation Bible School classes, and I sat front and center in every service – Sunday mornings, evenings and Wednesday nights. I believed in and loved God with everything I had. There wasn’t a college-aged group in my church; there were only two of us that age, so we were lumped in with the young adults – mostly married and starting careers. I couldn’t relate to this new group, fellowship and support were hard to come by, so I started looking for a new church home.
I never really found one that I meshed with, but during this time, I began to realize that I could worship God on my own; but it was difficult for me to contribute to the spiritual growth and nourishment of others, and that’s what the fellowship part was all about.
I spent the time between my 18th and 29th birthday claiming God, loving him, talking to him regularly. But finally, the cognitive dissonance won out. I’d always philosophized about why Christianity had to be the right way, about why I’d never really heard God when I prayed, about why evolution and creationism had to be mutually exclusive, about all sorts of things.
It was the evolution question that got me. I really couldn’t understand the big debate – why couldn’t God have been great enough to use evolution as a tool of his creation? So I started to research the information on evolution, and I began to see that a God wasn’t necessary in the origin of life. All the pieces were there. No divine ‘abracadabra’ was needed. But I still wasn’t ready to let go of God. I called it a test of faith and went on.
It wasn’t until I had to take the last class required for my two-year degree – I needed a science credit. The reason it was my last class? I really hate science. I’m a liberal arts major – math stretches my brain beyond its capacity. Yet, I chose Astronomy, thinking I’ve always liked the stars… I ended up loving the class (although I could have done without the Trig and Physics portion), and I learned more than I expected. The day the professor put up a slide of the Hubble Deep Space image with thousands of tiny galactic specs, then told us that calculations based on that photo indicated the existence of at least 156 billion galaxies, the dissonance was gone. I couldn’t fathom a God who could create such a massive, gargantuan, beautiful universe, and then populate one speck of dust within it and care about all the creatures that rose from it.
Faith was not enough to answer the questions anymore. When I acknowledged later what this realization meant, it was a painful, agonizing decision. I had loved God, I had relied on God, and now I was 90% certain there wasn’t one out there. I still find myself starting to pray when I hear an ambulance go down the road, or when I see any sort of victim on the news.
I lost friends over it when I ‘came out.’ They, like me, had been taught that ‘atheist’ was a dirty word, equal to ‘satanist.’ But guess what? Even without a god in my life, I’m still capable of love, kindness, consideration, morality and purity. I didn’t suddenly started cheating on my husband because I believe there’s no god to judge me (or for any other reason – the point is, I don’t cheat on my husband). I still care about treating someone with kindness. I still want to contribute to a better world for everyone in whatever ways I can. I’m not a different person because I don’t believe in a god.
I’m still astounded by the lack of tolerance that I’d never really noticed before And that is what I’m fighting when I blog about religion.