If you haven’t read it yet, you should read this amazing article: Why I Miss Being a Born Again Christian
Oh dear god this hit me right in the feels.
I’m an atheist. I’ve been an atheist for a long time but i’ve only admitted it since I was 21. I grew up in a town where everyone is vaguely christian and they have the wall of crosses in their house to prove it (see this) and it’s just who you are. It’s definitely not what you do, but it’s the vague identity everyone has so they belong. I have a lot of feelings about the mentality of my hometown and as it gets rapidly bigger i’m glad to see some more diversity creeping in because growing up here a faithless heathen made me feel very very uncomfortable.
Growing up we didn’t go to church. We were Methodist in name, we had the ten commandments on our wall, and on Christmas we read about Jesus. I just grew up knowing that this was a thing we believed in. Why? Who knows, but we do. And boy did that cause a lot of turmoil for me because growing up it all just sounded like a bunch of phooey, but even so much as thinking that made me feel so unbelievably guilty and anxious I couldn’t stand it.
The anxiety was probably the worst part. When I was younger and didn’t really know how to cope with all my anxiety yet I had a lot of ticks. I still have a few but I can mostly control those, hand flapping and shoulder/neck rolling being the ones to come to mind immediately. Even typing that made me shoulder roll a few times and now i’m regretting even bringing it up! Oh well. But when I was younger I had those ticks plus things like counting, saying things repeatedly until it felt like I could stop, my little routines before bed, and the worst one, the ones I couldn’t control until I finally broke down at age 21, were all rooted in the anxiety I felt about religion. Namely that I was going to hell. Namely that not only was I going to hell but I was going to be possessed by demons and the devil would take me. Because no matter how many times I said “The Sinner’s Prayer” I knew in my little head that I was a sinner forever, because I was liar and a pretender. I can’t adequately express how awful it felt to feel like you are the only one around that doesn’t believe in something and that the consequence for not believing (according to those around me) was that I was going to hell.
For me this produced all kinds of weird ticks. Saying God Forbid for everything. Repeating my very ritualized prayers before bed every night as fast as possible for fear that I would magically be possessed before finishing (in my mind they protected me from demon possession. I was a fun 12 year old), and of course the compulsion to repeat the sinner’s prayer every single time it was even mentioned (I had it memorized). Essentially my whole world for as long as I could remember revolved around knowing I didn’t believe in Jesus and then trying desperately to do so. I sincerely thought I was broken and was terrified of the consequences.
Not only was I afraid of the consequences, I was jealous of those around me. Of how their faith eased their journeys, how it gave them comfort. I would hear people talk about their reassuring relationship with God and I would seethe with jealousy, it would also convince me more and more that I was broken inside because this should be easy, this should make me happy. I was trying to fake it until I made it, hopeful that one day I would just give in and magically believe! That one day it would all make sense! I tried reading the bible, watching church on tv, begged my mom to take us to a church, all the steps to try and make myself believe. And I just couldn’t do it.
Now growing up religion wasn’t all scary times for me, in fact I loved religions, I loved studying them, I went to college to major in Religious Studies for pete’s sake! It was just the singular protestant/evangelical/baptist mish-mash that was being hurled around me that terrified me. The insistence on hell, the vague belonging that everyone seemed to have but me, the lack of any clearly defined doctrine, and the ability to seriously interpret it whatever way you wanted, this all terrified me. It still terrifies me. I’m still confronted daily with this hive mind born-again/protestant faith that everyone says they belong to and the hatred it creates. I’m also still confronted with that seething jealousy.
Now as an adult, after my post sophomore year breakdown where-in I admitted my lack of faith and then somehow made it through the night and woke up the next morning (forced myself to abandon my silent but speedy prayer ritual, terrifying), after earning my degree in Religious Studies, after learning to appreciate faith even more, and then actually meeting Christians who were legitimate and thoughtful in their beliefs, questioned their teachings, had an actual relationship with their God, after all of that, I am still so jealous. I am still so so jealous of that peace. Even seeing them struggle with their faiths, seeing them in their “Dark nights of the soul”, seeing the pain that their faith often causes them, i’m still so jealous of their comfort, of their certainty.
I live with and love a man who is deeply certain of his faith. Maybe not of everything that goes into it, but that he believes there is no doubt. I get to witness his relationship, I see how the fluctuations he experiences, I see his dark nights. Being this close to faith is incredibly new to me, still after these 3 years. It makes my life interesting sometimes, it makes our conversations interesting too. Sometimes I veer a little too far away from remembering what it was like to believe (or try as my case was) and faith becomes a foreign concept to me, he makes sure I get my reality check and that I don’t start sounding too much like a ‘new atheist’ (barf). And I think I do the same for him.
It also proves difficult sometimes, especially in conversation about belief and lack of belief. It can be surprising. That’s what this article reminded me of. It reminded me of a not too distant conversation about faith when he had said something about how hard faith was, and how easy lack of faith must be in comparison (pretty sure we were talking about Dan Dennett) and in the middle of a perfectly rational sentence that wasn’t emotional at all I broke down into tears. I was simply trying to explain that loss, that absence, that void. That missing piece of you that everyone else seems to have, the lingering fear that you are still broken.
It’s been three years since I admitted my lack of faith to myself, but it hasn’t been three years since i’ve stopped wishing I could just believe. And as much as I try to distance myself from that pain, as much as i’ve tried to move past it, sometimes it just catches up to you, you don’t realize just how much it still pains you, sometimes you end up crying in the kitchen about just how hard it is not to believe anymore. How hard it is not to belong.
I had to try really hard to keep myself composed while reading this article because I was in public and that’s just embarrassing. But I wanted to talk about it and I wanted to share it and my experience because it just hit so close to home and according to the article it’s going to hit home for a lot more people now than it ever has.
I hope many of you know where you stand now with your faith, or are at least comfortable with where you’re at or going. I hope your journey has been worth it, and I hope no matter what that you know that there is no right way to be with or without faith.
Until next time,