Every night I would go to bed fearing the same god

Growing up a good Christian.

For me, the idea of “god” was incredibly confusing, even though I didn’t admit it (even to myself). When you’re a child raised in the church, you’re taught all of the fundamentals from an incredibly early age. Jesus loves you. God loves you. Jesus died on the cross for you. You have to accept Jesus into your heart in order to be saved. You repeat these things over and over and sing songs about them. They’re completely imprinted in your head before you’re old enough (i.e. emotionally and mentally mature enough) to even begin to understand what they mean. You accept them as fact because they’re taught to you by people you love and trust; people who would never lead you astray. The idea that those people would lie to you, or even be ill informed, doesn’t cross your mind. To a young child, parents and teachers are good people and they know everything.

Which is exactly why adults shouldn’t teach children things they have no good reason to believe are true. It’s unfair; it’s taking advantage. The adults in question don’t usually realize this, of course…which is one reason it’s worth saying it a lot.

There was, however, a darker side. I knew that there was a hell. I knew that it was a place of fire and suffering where bad people were tortured for eternity; never, ever finding relief. I suppose I never questioned how a place like that could exist if god was a good god; probably because my beliefs had all been packaged so neatly for me. Everything good was from god and everything bad was from the Devil. In a religious upbringing, beliefs are presented in a way that leaves little room for questioning, unless you’re able to step out of your comfort zone and put ALL of your beliefs into question; something a little girl like me simply couldn’t do.

Every night when I went to bed, I would pray and ask Jesus into my heart. I knew it was only “necessary” to do it once, but I was terrified I had done it wrong, or that something I had done that day—some sin I had committed—would cause god to not love me anymore. To a shy little girl who was unsure of herself and still struggling to understand the world around her, the idea of disappointing her creator and being sent to a place of eternal torment was incredibly disturbing. (I suppose it’s probably disturbing to anyone!)

Every Sunday I went to church and sang songs about Jesus, laughed and played with my friends, prayed to god, and learned Bible stories. Every night I would go to bed fearing the same god I had been taught loved me and “had the whole world in his hands.” Every mistake I made—every “bad” thought I had—caused me to beat myself up inside and hate who I was.

Doubleplus ungood.

We keep being told atheism isn’t enough; people need more. Well sure they do, and sure it isn’t, but at the same time…Just getting rid of that train of thought would be doing a lot. A lot.


  1. michael says

    Stories like that have always puzzled me.

    I went to Sunday School for eight years and never believed any of the fanciful stories they told me.

    Oh sure, I believed David killed Goliath (that could have easily happened) but I never believed Goliath was a giant because giants don’t exist. I also believed that Jesus preached to his disciples, but I never fell for that codswallop about him walking on the water.

    I was only four years old when I decided that either Sunday School teachers were stupid, or (for some unknown reason) they felt compelled to deliberately tell lies to children. Either way, I didn’t buy it.

  2. says

    @michael: I’m always puzzled how some kids, like yourself, can figure that sort of thing out at such a young age. I couldn’t. I believed magic was real for a number of years because how else could it be a sin to be a witch? I had to first figure out that God must be an asshole if he exists to start questioning (what was that damn tree doing in the Garden in the first place?), and that was somewhere in the 10-12 age.

  3. Alison S says

    What clued me into the fact that the stories in Sunday School were just that, was when I discovered that Santa Claus was my parents at about age 5. Since that little bit of fiction wasn’t true, I concluded that it was likely that the other stuff was just made up too. Being the wee skeptic that I was, I found the sight of adults groveling in prayer somewhat ridiculous. The whole religion thing made me very uncomfortable intellectually and by the time I was 17, I was an atheist and have been, happily, for the past 49 years.

  4. Finbarr says

    This story describes exactly how I felt growing up Catholic. Even now, after years of happy atheism, I still get twinges of fear and guilt. Shows how deep the indoctrination goes…

  5. says

    I too compared God and Santa Claus as a child. A lot of people did – I’ve seen comments to that effect all over the place. At first I thought – similar – both magical and hard to believe – but if SC is real then God can be real too. Later on I reversed the terms of the last bit.

  6. The Lorax says

    I went to Sunday School as a child.. my mom was Christian but never really enforced it. Hell, my sister and I eventually whined our way out of it; what child wants to get stuffed up and sent to school on a Sunday morning? Wrong wrong wrong. Anyway. Myself, I was never really intelligent enough to critically and skeptically analyze the data that was being fed to me, but I loved questioning things for the sake of it, and I loved finding flaws in arguments. The biggest one for me was, “If God created everything, then he created Satan who makes bad things happen. Therefore, God initiated the system of evil and, through lack of interference, allows it to continue.”

    I was also highly, HIGHLY incredulous regarding the Noah’s Ark story. “… you mean two of EVERY animal? What about dinosaurs?”

    “If God gave us free will, why does he not want us to make decisions for ourselves?”

    “If we assume God didn’t want us to fly because he didn’t give us wings, why did he make us smart enough to invent airplanes?”

    Yeah, people didn’t like me when I was a kid… Thankfully, that hasn’t changed much. :3

    Slowly but surely, I realized that the questions I had regarding the whole thing had answers. Most of them were: it didn’t happen. Sorry, Noah, but logic wins over dinosaurs on a boat. Some of the deeper ones took longer; no, there is no “good” and “evil”, those terms are subjective and human. There is no universal morality.

    Eventually I realized je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là and became agnostic.

  7. brettvk says

    I was exposed to religion in childhood but I don’t think I ever internalized it, and I simply left it behind [ha] at age 11 or so when I told my mother I wasn’t interested in attending catechism class any more. She didn’t fuss about it, which confirmed my long-held suspicion that she was churching me out of duty rather than conviction. I can’t even remember if she and my younger brothers continued to attend Sunday services after I stopped going, but I don’t think so. My mother is still a theist but I think she became disenchanted with organized religion when it proved unhelpful in dealing with her life stresses.

    I can’t honestly say that I ever really believed in a god even as a very young child, despite church and parochial school attendance. It just never penetrated. I don’t think I was a particularly intelligent or cynical child, but I also didn’t much trust adult opinions and really resented their power over me. I felt I was being lied to a lot and hated having to pretend I believed them.

  8. theobromine says

    Neither my spouse nor I were raised religious, but we each made a choice to become Christians as teenagers (based on what appeared, at the time, to be an evidence-based rational decision). As (liberal – ie no hellfire and brimstone) Christian parents, we did not “do” Santa Claus with our kids, exactly because we wanted to avoid the situation where the kids figured out we were lying about Santa and concluded that we were also lying about God. We raised our kids to be independent critical thinkers, and fortunately they turned out to be godless, despite our earlier attempts.

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