Monday, January 17, 2011 Login

“Dad, I’m an atheist.”

I’m a teenager so of course I live with my parents. I have been raised in a very conservative Christian family. I was taught from the age of four that Christianity is the Way and the only Way, Christians go to heaven and non-Christians go to hell, the works. I didn’t see any other way nor did I know any other way.

The bulk of my indoctrination has come from my father. He is very hardcore. I’ve tried all my life to be good enough for him. I went on a mission trip and to various Christian camps because I wanted to be his perfect daughter. But there is no pleasing my dad. No matter what I did, I wasn’t good enough.

I was always one to ask questions. If there was a word said that I didn’t understand, I would ask what it meant. Growing up, there were so many times I wanted to question the teachings of my Sunday school class or my father’s after-dinner devotions. I held my tongue because I knew I wasn’t supposed to question the church and my dad most certainly wouldn’t approve. But some things just didn’t make sense to me. The Bible seemed to contradict itself so many times. I couldn’t stand it.

I used to care so much for animals and the environment when I was a kid. I wanted to be a vegetarian and recycle and do whatever I could. But the church teaches that God put us in charge of this earth, that animals are meant to be eaten, etc. I was taught to grow out of it. I began to make fun of those environmentalists. I preached to my non-Christian friends. I openly expressed my disapproval of homosexuals. The questions I wanted to ask were slowly shoved from the tip of my tongue to the deepest area in the back of my mind, altogether forgotten. I was a hardcore Christian. The church was always right. I was a servant of God. And I still wasn’t good enough for my dad.

Then, about eight months ago, my life was completely turned around. I found out that I had a mental disorder. I have missed this entire year of school to get medication and treatment. It’s been an absolute nightmare. But I’m so glad it happened because it made me remember those questions that were gathering cobwebs in the back of my mind.

I’ve always been ‘moody’. I grew to think that everyone went through what I did, but they all just handled it better than me. I had very low self-esteem. Again, wanting to please my dad, I did my best to get control of my emotions. I built a shell around myself that only allowed in what I’m supposed to feel as a Christian, what I’m supposed to be.

But in August of last year, I had what you may call a minor ‘mental breakdown’. I couldn’t hide my emotions anymore and each hour seemed to present a new one. (I was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder). My protective shell had shattered. I was open and raw and I could no longer make myself something I wasn’t. I had no control over what I felt or thought so I could no longer dismiss those questions and doubts that entered my mind. I began to ask them. I researched until my fingers were numb and my mind could hold no more. At the beginning of March of this year, I finally came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in God and that I want nothing to do with religion anymore. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I stopped going to church January, much to my dad’s dismay. He tried many times to persuade me to go back and I always gave him a simple excuse. Such as that I don’t feel well or I can’t be around that many people. At the time, I still wasn’t sure what I believed. I tried my best to find the answers I wanted, but it is impossible to find them all. I knew I couldn’t truly worship God in church anymore and I refused to pretend and be a hypocrite. That is initially why I stopped going. I eventually told my dad that. He respected it for a few weeks and then began to try to persuade me again. I told him again how I felt, this time with a little more conviction, and he left it alone for another few weeks.

He started to show that he wasn’t pleased with me not going to church. I was so scared. My friend strongly advised me to talk to him before I go out of my mind (no pun intended). He was about to leave for his Monday night church group and I told him that we needed to talk. He said we could when he got back.

It was about nine thirty by the time we sat down together. My dad is very intimidating. I rambled on for about half an hour before really getting to the church subject. I pretty much chickened out. I wouldn’t have said anything about my now being an atheist if he hadn’t have brought God up. He got his fake godly face on (the one that makes you want to slap him) and gave me a speech about how my journey with the Lord isn’t over. How I’ve been on mission trips and to camp, but there’s more to it. He told me that all he’s asking me to do is to continue in the church until I’m eighteen and then I can say, “Dad, I’m done.”

-I’m wondering what he expects to happen from now until I’m eighteen that will convince me to stay with the church. You have to know my dad, once you agree to one thing, you agree to everything. He probably had various groups and trips planned for me so church would be my life twenty-four/seven.-

I seized this opportunity and said, “Dad, what if I’m done now?” It took him a bit to fully understand what I was saying. He started in on another speech, holding up his Bible and saying it is the Way, and all the religious statements you can imagine. He then asked me what my reason for living was and where I got my morals from. I went to answer but he interrupted me to compare my morals to that of Hitler and Stalin’s. “They made their own morals. They thought they were doing right.” So he’s comparing me to the slaughterer of the Jews and a totalitarian dictator? Thanks Dad.

He went on to say, “This will not affect Henry.” His name is Henry. Yes he used third person. “Henry will continue to believe in the truth.” He tends to take my issues and make them about him. Other comments that were thrown in there were “Your mind has been poisoned.” and “I’m going to spend the rest of my days or yours being an example and showing you that you’re wrong.” I listened to his speeches half tuning him out. I stifled laughter. It all seemed so ridiculous.

My dad ended telling me that he did not support my views and he will not respect them. I told him that I wasn’t trying to change anyone else’s views. I just want to make mine known. I also said that I don’t expect him to support or respect my views and that I do expect him to try and show me I’m wrong, with which he interrupted, “No. It is not my job to show you you are wrong, and you are. That is the Lord. The Holy Spirit.” He contradicts himself all the time. I then tried to end the conversation by saying that all I needed him to do was love me. He said he does. Then he said, “Nothing you do will make me love you less, nothing you do will make me love you more.” For those of you who don’t know, God says that in the Bible. But he wasn’t quoting it. He actually said it for himself. That seemed a little strange to me.

Well anyway, I told my mom the next morning that I don’t believe in God. She took it a lot better. She and I are really close and she told me she doesn’t want anything to come between us. She hasn’t treated me any differently. I haven’t told my sister, a devout Christian, yet. I’m rather afraid to. I’m scared she, as well as others, will think less of me, like I’m lesser of a person. I’m getting stronger and more confident, so eventually everyone will know.

My struggle now, besides avoiding what my dad may now throw at me, is to undo what I’ve been taught as fact all my life. When presented with a problem or situation that needs an answer, the Christian answer immediately pops into my head. I want to decide for myself now. I see these Go Green commercials and my first instinct is to roll my eyes, as my parents do. I’m starting to realize now that I think it’s a good idea. I want to be a vegan. I want to care about the environment. I want to be liberal.

I still don’t know what I think about so many things. It’s very frustrating, especially being surrounded by Christian conservatives. I know it takes time. I’m so excited to be able to think for myself. I love the freedom. Now that I’m out of the cage that is the Christian church, it seems so small. It once was my life. It seems strange now.

The church talks about that wonderful feeling of peace, that you get when you trust fully in Him. I experienced what they call the ‘peace of God’ in the church. What’s funny is, I’ve experienced the same feeling, without the God part, many times since leaving the church. It’s that feeling when something finally makes sense, or you realize how amazing it is to think for yourself or even when you ace that exam you studied so hard for. The church says you cannot be truly happy without God. I say you most certainly can.

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