Confession: I feel weird when people around me talk about their “how did I convert to atheism/secular humanism” stories.
Most go like “I was involved in such-and-such religion for blah years and then I read this book/listened to this podcast/observed some non-believing person in my life”, which is inspiring and awesome and should be shared with the world.
…and I’m sitting there like, “Officially? I was 12. Read the Bible from front to back. It didn’t mention dinosaurs. None of the Bible stories I was told made sense.”
Not bragging. Just, it’s weird. It’s probably why I never had much of a connection or respect for the Four Horsemen. I didn’t touch any of their books until I started getting into atheist activism.
See, some people who talk about having to hide their atheism at first…when they were either adults or teenagers. I had to hide mine before my first period.
Having to go through the motions Sunday after Sunday after Sunday was, to be honest, was like Chinese water torture, except instead of water, it was boredom. Church services were so boring that I looked forward to someone ‘catching the Holy Ghost’, because at least that shit was different and sometimes funny (I was once knocked into the aisle by a much older lady trying to get to the altar. I had to hide my giggles.). It all just seemed like ‘let’s pretend’ for grown ups. They got to wave their hands in the air and act a fool, fall down with the preacher touched them, start babbling like they were possessed, cry, scream, laugh, all in the name of JaysusletthechurchsayAmen.
And I sat there, or stood there when I was one of the ushers, or had a front row seat in the children’s choir and just…I felt like the One Sane Person.
Not a brag, because that shit was lonely as fuck. Scary, too. I lived in fear of being caught not acting like the others enough.
There were times when I wanted to believe so hard, wanted to join the party. But I couldn’t even fake that sort of energy. My hands went up when I was told, I said the Amens when I was supposed to, I turned to speak to my neighbor in the pew when told, with a fake smile hiding my boredom.
I had a standard to live up to, you see. Grandma played the piano in our tiny little ‘home church’, the place were all of her children grew up in, the place were we drove and hour and a half for Communion, Easter (haaaaaam) and Christmas. On other Sundays, we went to the local Pentecostal Church. This was in a huge building, where some of the sermons were recorded for TV, so you’d better at least look right. Wednesdays were Bible Study, where I sat wondering why we only studied some of the Bible. Why not the ‘dashing babies against rocks” part? Or the ‘bitter water’ abortion test for infidelity? Or, my favorite chapter, all of those fucked up rules the newly freed slaves had to follow. Or how there is no archaeological proof that there weren’t even slaves from Israel in Egypt during that time?
And what about the fucking dinosaurs?
With that high standard came volunteering and doing ‘fun’ things – an all night slumber parties at the church, joining Step Ministry and dancing to Carman with his can’t rap for shit ass, cleaning up the place. All while desperately wanting out of it all. I knew I didn’t belong.
I had no support, just the library’s computer where I could look up atheism in peace (and a lot more. I basically learned “The Talk” through books since that was another subject that was taboo in our household). Then with our home computer, where I could clear the cache out of paranoia that my folks would figure out that trick. For one hour in my life, I could feel like I wasn’t living a lie. All before I was old enough to get a job.
When I finally got a job at 16, first at a Dairy Queen that mysteriously closed without telling anyone, and then at the Burger King just under the Hwy 95 overpass, I begged my boss to put me on for Sunday mornings, then lied to my parents about them needing me on those days. The relief of waking up before anyone else and riding my bike to open and then serve people their Croisandwiches was amazing. I only had to pretend to be super friendly, and even got a free meal out of it.
Then I left home with the promise of No More Churches. I lied about what I did on Sundays when I was actually sleeping off a hangover from the night before or fooling around with my then boyfriend. I’d been living a lie for so long that it was easy. It was even easier when I dropped all contact with my family for 15 years.
Other than a minor brush with Paganism, which besides the parties and the sex and gathers with the running around naked in the woods, felt just like being in church during rituals, I’ve been a rather content non-believer. My Dad reached out to me recently, and we’re exchanging surface friendly texts and pictures of my now grown younger siblings, but he never asks what I’m up to on Sunday mornings (I’m usually at my local coffee shop writing smut and/or editing and/or responding to emails from my publisher).
But if or when he does, I won’t lie. I don’t have to anymore.