My upbringing was a casual blend of secularism in the home with Catholic and Protestant bits thrown in when friends and family took me to churches. I went to a Lutheran day camp with a family friend, Catholic mass with an aunt and Baptist revival with another aunt, etc. What I learned at home wasn’t anti-religion, but pragmatism, rationality and an appreciation for sense making. When my mom or dad took time to explain something to me, I would then be asked “Does that make sense?” I learned that sense making was a mutual effort, something people did together or not at all.
So during Sunday school when I first learned of the burning bush story and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, there was much sense left unmade. A talking, burning bush is one thing. Kids are expected to accept goofy talking characters, but I couldn’t accept the horror of a father holding a knife to his kid’s throat. When I blurted out in all innocence “I’m sure glad my dad isn’t a Christian” the Sunday school teacher reprimanded me. Later I found out that I was considered disruptive and asked not to return. That experience lead me to classify Christianity as something only adults understood properly, like bills, work, coffee and why my parents occasionally locked their bedroom door. The appeal of adulthood was there though, and I felt particularly grown up when we sang “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb” since I wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies at home due to my youth.
Enter adolescence. I became willing to forego logic for the sake of participating in social activities, travel and adventure with an evangelical youth ministry. For some time I was quite successful in ignoring the blatant hypocrisy all around, but ultimately the cognitive dissonance became a burden too great to bear. The evangelical Christian answer to coping with feminine sexuality is for the men to simultaneously guard against it as if it were wickedness and horde it as if it were a prized possession. Girls and women should be subservient, detached, receptacle like objects. I was entering a time in which I wished to be valued more as an adult human who could accomplish things, but was devalued based on the sexiness of all that I was becoming. Was I glory or was I filth?
The precipitating event leading to my whole hearted embrace of atheism came when one particular youth minister committed suicide. He was in his 50’s and was known to enjoy ministering to the young women. At his funeral, memorial service and afterward people cried when they spoke of what a good man he was and how happy he must be in heaven. How his holy father called him home early and such garbage. He was, in fact a predator who deserved a hell I wished I could craft. I was, in fact a whole human who deserved life, love and the freedom to explore the world without shame regardless of my anatomy.
The simple act of self-reclamation is a joy I have both struggled with and reveled in since. To command my own presence, indulge my own curiosity, demand sense making to my own satisfaction, be treated as a fellow human, and all the complications that follow are endeavors worthy of a life’s work without necessity for reward or punishment beyond.