My deconversion

I would say the seeds of my atheism were apparent from a fairly young age. I grew up in a fairly liberal, educated family -- both parents and stepparents are college graduates (my mother even went back for two years for a teaching certificate and is in her second year as a middle school math and science teacher), my father has an advanced degree in busines, my maternal grandfather is an MD and my maternal grandmother attended two years of college before going to work for the FBI. In fact, I graduated from the same university as my great-grandfather. So while my family is religious, they are hardly fundamentalists and religious education was pretty lax around my household.

Of course, I went through the motions as a kid because I was weird enough already and it takes a pretty strong second-grader indeed to not cave to the looks you get in the Appalachians of northwest North Carolina when you profess that you don't know what "being saved" is. So I did children's church, sang in the choir (funny story -- most of my elementary years we attended this tiny, old, stone Presbyterian church of which the vast majority of the congregation was eldery and spent winters in Florida, meaning the winter choir was me and three old ladies), did a few VBSs and church camps. Thinking back on it, I feel there was only one time in my life when I truly believed.

In fact, there were a couple instances that probably pointed to my atheistic leanings early in life. I was about 9 when, during a the children's sermon (the children in the congregation were me, my two brothers, and the pastor's three kids), I answered the question "what's a prophet?" unhestitatingly with "the money you make after a job." It took me a long time to figure out what was so damn funny, too. A couple years later at Baptist church camp (I went with a friend, it was my first sleep-away camp) I made the mistake of mentioning at some sort of Bible study circle that my grandfather had told me that even if there was no god, it was a nice enough idea that it isn't so bad to believe something that might not be true. The counselor gave me this evil glare and said in what seems in my memory to have been a particularly nasty voice, "But there is a god."

The height of my religiosity came in the seventh grade. My softball coach died in a car accident in the middle of the season while driving the church van back up the mountain from a trip to Carowinds (an amusement park in Charlotte). Both she and a two-year-old boy were killed in the crash. I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about it, I recall, she was the first person I'd known that had died since my grandfather when I was 8, but I do remember quite clearly the PE teacher who took over our team calling us all in for a meeting and informing us that the last thing she said was "I see Jesus." Yeah, I think that qualifies as "lying to impressionable children," but I dreamed about it for weeks, and it seemed to be a sign that after a subpar season to that point, we didn't lose a game the rest of the way out.

Of course, my higher-level thinking skills probably weren't fully developed at the time, so I don't think I can be blamed. The surge of belief faded in eighth grade as I began to have more of an understanding of the world around me (I prefer to think it not coincidental that this was also the year I started Algebra 1). I became cognizant of issues that this tiny, homogenous, rural community had sheltered me from (I don't fault my relatively worldly mother for this -- I distinctly remember her being appalled one day coming back from school when I was 12 that I didn't know what AIDS was): abortion, homosexuality, racism, evolution.

From that point on the faith began to fade away. Once I realized that it wasn't actually a requirement for existing on the planet, I felt free, at least in the intellectual sense. My early high school rebellion didn't have anything to do with drugs or sex. I started refusing to go to church or, alternatively, agreeing to go to Sunday school and then arguing vehemently about the age of the earth or evolution with the somewhat taken-aback teacher. I wasn't necessarily debating the existence of god yet -- just the church tenants that seemed to be contradicted by known fact.

The turning point was late in my sophomore year. I had been accepted to the North Carolina School of Science and Math for my last two years of high school and was beyond thankful to leave the mountains. In my world humanities class, our final project was to pick a song, any song, analyze the lyrics and do a visual and verbal presentation, including clips of the song, to interpret those lyrics. I chose "Ants Marching" by DMB and talked about falling into the trap of doing the same thing every day, blah, blah, I can't even remember my own presentation, really.
What I remember was a classmate of mine, a guy I'd never had any particular conversations or disagreements with, picked a song by Carman, a Christian singer. Searching the lyrics now, I'm amazed and a little appalled at the drivel contained therein. At 16 and likely a bit hormonal, I remember being completely stunned at the approving nods of my classmates as he played a snippet with the words "when you eliminate the Word of God from the classroom and politics, you eleminate the nation that Word protects". And when I heard "when it gets to the point when people would rather come out of the closet than clean it" I was nearly crying in anger. It may not seem like such a big thing now, but for me, at that point, it was the last straw. I almost left the classroom, but I forced myself to sit through his speech, though I don't think I heard much of it because I can't remember now. But the hypocrisy of religion was never so apparent to me as this teenager trying to talk about Christianity as a faith of peace and love while the very song he chose was advocating hate.

And the blind, earnest faith of this kid at such a young age just struck me. It had taken just the smallest amount of contemplation on my part to come to the conclusion that the whole organized religion thing was a lot of crap (I used to read Revelations during church, and I mean, seriously?). But here was an entire class of kids that I'd grown up with who would likely never bother.

I left Avery County, and I have to say I haven't really been back. Tenth grade was the instant I was absolutely certain that not only was religion stupid, the whole premise was false. There was no god, and from then on I was secure in my atheism. I've been happier for it.

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