A friend of mine emailed me her story about leaving religion, and I thought it was so revealing that I asked if I could share it. With her permission, please check out her story:
Leaving religion was a very hard thing to do and there are still people from my former church who still do not know that I have completely given up God; although since they know my husband is an atheist, I am sure it would not surprise them. I do know they still pray I return.
I grew up Catholic but was really apathetic about it once I got to college. I wasn’t very religious after college; but as soon as I got married and had our first child, I rejoined a church because I “just knew” I had to have our son baptized. We moved a lot when our kids were younger and finding a church home helped fill the void of not having family near. My husband travelled a lot as well and here was a great group of people offering to help out; a welcomed support for a mom of two children, eighteen months apart and in a new town. The MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group in my town became my life line as I met other young moms.
With church comes Bible study and I participated in one called The Excellent Wife. This book reinforces your hypothesis Jen, that as a woman our place is in our homes raising our children, taking care of our families and supporting our husbands and church. I fell into it hook, line and sinker. I was extremely grateful that Phil’s job gave us the freedom to allow me to stay home with our children. (Being a SAHM is something I would do again without any hesitation.) So I thought it best to do as this study taught and live by those guidelines. I did the woman work of the church: Sunday school teacher, vacation bible school leader, etc., and took the advice of this study and let Phil be the head of the household: not shared responsibilities. From the outside looking in I had the best Christian family out there. Inside looking in, not the greatest; that decision put a great deal of unnecessary stress on Phil.
Then three things happened: Phil became a vocal atheist, I am diagnosed with bipolar and Phil and I agreed to do a book swap. Phil left the church and of course this spreads like wild fire. I get pitied wife looks, lots of prayers, etc. Then I am diagnosed with bipolar. This too spreads like hotcakes but now I am told that this is God’s punishment for marrying an atheist. Here I thought God was going to help me through this horrible illness of up and down mood swings. My pastor even said so. An older member of the congregation thought otherwise. To be fair, my inner circle of friends at my church were amazing, understanding and incredibly helpful while I went through those early days of a correct diagnosis and figuring out the best meds to help stabilize me. However, cracks began to form.
The last thing that pushed me out of religion was a book swap. Phil asked me to read one of his books and I gave him one of mine. His choice was Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation. Another crack.
Through what would seem like a careful orchestration of events by my husband, I finally left religion completely behind. Those events involve TAM, Phil Plait, an LCMS church behaving like a Pentecostal one, and an insensitive pastor during my grandmother’s final days. Leaving God was easy. Leaving the church family, I had come to love, was not. My routine was hijacked, which threatened my stability. I had to go through the death of my grandmother without the comfort of God, and felt as if I had no real sense of purpose for awhile. I still miss a good potluck; Lutheran woman know how to cook (I just pretend the fruited jell-o mold isn’t there).
I have attended many skeptical/atheist events but I am tired of always hearing about god. I would much rather have a glass of wine and hear about your kids, your partner, your school work, your job, than about god. This is what Christians do very well; they have lunch with you before they try to convert you. I attended a leadership workshop on evangelism that pretty much said: have a picnic with someone, make a vested interest in their life before you bring up god. I was never a good evangelist, but I loved the getting to know people part.
I have a feeling that this is a common story for women. Like I said before, religious women often find their only source of power within the religious community. Leaving that can be shattering. Imagine how hard it is for women who don’t have a godless spouse to encourage them. Being aware of the particular difficulties women have in leaving religion is the first step to making atheist communities more welcoming and diverse.