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5:4 Stories of De-Conversion

My need to look for answers

L. Stevenson

I was 16 when I deconverted/became an atheist.

My parents are and were christian. Not the scary or strict kind, just average lower middle class christians. I remember going to church only a short time in my youth. When I was six, they stopped making us go to church. (I was actually friends with the preacher's daughter. I remember playing hide in seek in the church and being terrified of the baptismal tub they kept behind the altar or pulpit.) When I asked why they stopped going, it is because they said they no longer believed in organized religion. The real reason, however, was they were tired of the hypocritical attitude of the church members who shunned us when we didn't make it to service. Having three young children, it seemed logical that we would occasionally miss church, but it is apparent that the other members did not see it that way.

I always say that even though my parents talked about religion and god, I never felt they were particularly forceful of those beliefs. Yes, we would do dinner prayers and my mom often told us about the christmas, easter and st. patricks's day stories. But in a way, their deciding to stop making us go to church on Sunday also meant they sort of kept those beliefs private. (My older sister is a pray along to get along sort. She had a Presbyterian friend, and wanted to become Presbyterian, then she had Jewish friends and almost converted to Judaism, and then finally converted to the LDS through her roommate and husband. She's the only member of my family to make me feel completely uncomfortable in regards to religion.)

So in my eyes, it's no great surprise that I started questioning my beliefs at age 15.

God, to me, always seemed like an absentee father. We would talk about him occasionally, but I knew very little about him, and he certainly had no place in my every day life. I remember feeling awkward and uncomfortable whenever the topic of religion was brought up. But as a teenager, that changed. I was a loner, picked on by my peers at school, and for a brief period, I wanted desperately to find answers and to find something I could be passionate about, something that would make me feel like the rest of the kids in school. It was being miserable at school, feeling like I was hated and an outcast, that originally drew me back to religious faith. The religion thing, the god thing, I needed to believe in something bigger than myself to get through the day without wanting to die.

But for some reason, I couldn't just accept it all blindly. I don't know what it was, my need to look for answers, but I just wasn't happy simply accepting the religion as it was. So instead I asked questions. I asked, and I asked, and I asked, and I had no answers. For six months, I prayed, and I asked questions, and I meditated, and instead of answers all I got were more questions. The more I asked, the more questions I had. It never seemed to end or to satisfy me.

Finally, a month after my 16th birthday, I woke up one morning and realized that I never actually believed any of it. I had wanted and needed to believe, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't lie to myself anymore. So before I even really knew what the word Atheist meant, I knew that's what I was.

I hid my atheism for two years.

The thing about my mom is, she was a teacher at one time a really long time ago. Because of that, she tends to think she knows everything, and liked to assign "homework". So being the obedient child that I was, I knew she'd try to make me go to church and make me participate in bible studies. As a minor, I knew I had no legal right to say no.

Two years later, at age 18, during a casual conversation about a tv program, it slipped out. I didn't know how long I had expected it to stay hidden, but out it was. And my mother gasped. I have rarely heard anyone actually gasp in response to something, but she did. Then she told me that I couldn't live in her house. I took it to meant she didn't want me living there anymore, so I packed my bags intending to move out. Luckily, the issue wasn't forced, and she later recanted saying that she had meant that she couldn't believe anyone living in her home could or would have become an atheist.

My family thought it was a phase. I was 16 when I realized my path, and 18 when I told the world. I'm 29 now. It was never intended to be a phase or to simply shock. Like everything else I do, it was simply a vocalization of who I am.

My mother once said she considers herself a failure because two of her three daughters aren't christian. (My oldest sister is a pagan, my middle sister is a Mormon and I'm an atheist. We are, I often say, a bar joke. A pagan, a Mormon and an atheist walk into a bar, ba dum bum..) But I will always believe that the greatest lesson she taught me was to ask questions, to be honest with who you are and never apologize for it. I don't know why she draws that line at religion, because it's a wonderful gift to give your children. It's not something she should be ashamed of because I'm happy and I have a good life, and I never needed religion or god to be or do so.