Here in middle Murica, being an atheist is not popular. I mean, everyone is just supposed to believe that God allowed Jesus, his illegitimate son with Mary, a supposed virgin, to be nailed to a cross and die a slow, agonizing death because Adam and Eve ate an apple, and now we are all dirty sinners. Seems legit. What would make anyone STOP believing that perfectly logical story and BECOME an atheist?
A lot of people think that something had to happen to make a person become an atheist. Maybe the atheist is just angry with God. Some people think that atheists are just ignorant and they should read the Bible or go to church. Then, they would have no choice but to believe the truth that is right in front of them. Religious people don’t realize that most of us have learned about various religions and read their texts. I know I’ve been to church and read my share of Bible verses. I spent kindergarten and half of first grade in a Lutheran school. Aside from the singing about Jesus and memorizing Bible verses, I loved the school. It was safe and nice, and we had cookie and milk time every day. I loved it, but my single mom could not afford it. So, off to public school I went.
Yawning and Counting
Aside from the Lutheran school, my mom never made me go to church. She wasn’t a churchgoer herself, but a friend of hers who watched me after school would sometimes guilt us into going to a Baptist church. I remember my mom rushing me to get dressed and get out of the apartment on Sunday mornings while the phone was ringing off the hook. This was in the mid 70’s, before answering machines and voicemail. If we didn’t answer the phone, my mom’s friend would just drive right over and pick us up for church. So, mom made sure we weren’t home most of the time. Sometimes, we just went to church.
When I think of being a kid and sitting in church, the first thing I do is yawn. The smell of the wooden pews and the musty hymns and Bibles made me want to curl up and take a nap. It was like the air was filled with archaic words and dust. Being forced to sing hymns, songs that have no natural rhythm, made me yawn uncontrollably. I sat there and tried to count to sixty sixty times because I knew church would last an hour.
Drowning for Jesus
My mom’s friend really wanted me to be baptized. My mom said no to that. I was glad because Baptists dunk people in a huge tub of water to “save” them. I have never been a fan of putting my head under the water so I was terrified to have some pudgy minister grab me, pinch my nose, and hold me under water. I saw a few baptisms; I knew how it happened. I wasn’t interested.
Years later, in college, I did get baptized. I went to a party school my first year because most of my high school friends were going there. It was the wrong place for an introvert who wasn’t a big drinker with a boyfriend back home. I became good friends with the girl in the room next door. She was nice and didn’t make fun of me for staying home and reading on Saturday nights. She went to an Episcopal church every Sunday, and then had breakfast at the cafeteria. I decided to join her.
The Episcopal Church seemed cool. The priest was married and gay people were welcome. It was nothing like the Baptist church. Plus, I got to have a chunk of bread and a sip of wine. In the morning! After visiting a few times, I decided to go ahead and get baptized. Why not? They weren’t going to drown me, just make me read a bunch of boring stuff and get water drizzled on my forehead.
I had to meet with the priest a few times before the ceremony. Each time we would talk about Bible passages and other religious reading I had done. I always felt like I was lying, and a little like I was going to yawn. He was a nice guy and all, but I just wasn’t into it. I went through with it anyway. I didn’t believe in hell or worry about going there. I still didn’t believe in God. I just really wanted to be normal. Getting baptized and going to church is something the average American does. So, I did it. I got baptized. I even have a Catholic godmother named Jennifer somewhere out there. Since Facebook didn’t exist in 1990, we lost touch.
I was never openly atheist until I got pregnant with my son. Until then, I just sort of played along with the church people. “Yep. Jesus died for our sins. Pass the Christmas presents.” That was my attitude as a young adult. I didn’t think I would ever really take a stand on religion. Then, when I was 8 months pregnant, people at my baby shower asked when I was getting the baby baptized.
“I’m not,” I answered.
Everyone looked at me as though I said I was going to sell him for meth. My aunt told me that I HAD to get him baptized. I told her that in fact I did not. I told her I didn’t believe any of that crap and I wasn’t going to push fairytales on my son. This really upset her and everyone else. His father was not religious, but even he wanted me to just baptize the baby like everyone else does. I refused.
My son is 18 now. He decided that he was an atheist when he was in middle school. Along the way, he asked me questions about religion, holidays, and various beliefs. I always answered with some version of “Some people think this, and others think that. You can choose whatever you want as long as you are not ignorant. Read everything.” He did, and like me, he chose the facts over the fairytales.