I was brought up with a sort of “good-stuff” version of Christianity: heaven, but no hell; Golden Rule, but no rules about homosexuality or masturbation; love, joy, and sweet treats at Christmas AND Easter, but no “original sin” or “he died for your sins.” My mom considered herself a Christian although she didn’t (and doesn’t) toe the line on almost any of Christianity’s teachings, and my dad considered himself an agnostic.
My dad leaned toward a more emphatic version of atheism when my little brother died of cancer while we kids were still in elementary school. Where some parents would turn more firmly to certainty of an afterlife when dealing with this sort of tragedy, I think my dad thought that my sweet little brother’s death was one more piece of evidence that prayer doesn’t work, good deeds buy you no consideration from the universe, and there is no God.
But he didn’t tell us kids that. Many, many people assured us that our little Stanley was up in heaven, with God and Jesus, and very happy. I had comforting dreams about him being up there.
Flash forward to me as a teenager. I was exposed to the hippie version of Jesus. You know, Jesus Christ, Superstar stuff. Jesus with long hair, long robe, and a lot of peace and kindness and acceptance no matter who or what you are. Still a good-stuff version of the religion—and very appealing. I didn’t want to be the kind of hippie that had rampant sex and took a ton drugs, so I became the kind of semi-hippie that sang Christian songs in huge groups of happy-hippy people. Big group hugs and acoustic guitars and circle folk dances and love and peace.
The next step was to actually learn something about the religion I’d adopted. Read the Bible. Find out about apologetics and church history.
At this point, having been a “Jesus freak” for almost two years, I was now in college, enrolled in The Bible As Literature, and part of a Bible study group that met every single night. There was so much appalling stuff in the Bible—I was shocked! Also, even though the kids in my group were really wonderful people, there was an appalling LACK of critical thinking when it came to the Bible and what they thought of as God’s voice (through the gifts of the spirit: prophecy and speaking in tongues and interpretation of such). I met my husband at these Bible study meetings—and we were the only two, often sitting opposite each other, saying, “That doesn’t make sense!” or “That’s a really rotten thing for Jesus to say!” We got together partly because of our shared shock about what Christianity was really all about, and we drifted away from the Christian group for the same reason.
I didn’t stop studying. The more I read about religion, including Christianity, the more I didn’t believe anything like that stuff. The more I turned away from Christianity and religion, the more I was interested in what science said about deep mysteries and complicated issues. It took a while for me to self-identify as an atheist—but really, about three quarters of the way through my freshman year of college, I became an atheist.