Why I’m No Longer Religious
My family is religious. Not the casual kind of religious where they go to church once in a blue moon and pray over the food, but the critical, life-changing kind. Their bibles are full of highlighted text and cramped annotations scrawled in the margins.
My parents pray daily, and they always consult God before making big decisions. To them, God is the most important aspect of their lives, and they love him with a ferocity and dedication I’ll never understand.
My parents taught me about the world through the lens of a Christian perspective — I viewed science and nature as works of God, not the result of evolution. Even my own life was temporary — my time here on earth was for the sole purpose of serving God and spreading his message.
Of all things in life, God’s existence was absolute — an undeniable fact. For all my hard work, my reward would be an eternity in heaven: this mystical, magical place with gold corridors and singing angels.
My dad used to be a pastor, and from the age of eight to thirteen, I was the “pastor’s kid”. I could recite the worship songs by memory, and I knew all the Bible stories by heart. There were slogans that I often heard from my parents that I parroted to other people:
“I love God with my heart, soul, and body.”
“Being a Christian is not about religion, it’s about having a relationship with God.”
“Christianity isn’t always about what God can do for you, sometimes it’s about what you can do for Him.”
As intelligent and insightful as these phrases must’ve sounded coming from the mouth of a ten-year-old, they were meaningless to me. I did not love God — and certainly not with my heart, soul, and body. Christianity was like a cute outfit I put on every once and a while because I knew it made me look good. I couldn’t bring myself to read my Bible outside of church, and I only prayed when I needed something from God.
Still, despite my empty devotion, I continued with this religious facade for one reason: I didn’t want to end up in hell. The Bible was very clear about what happened to those who didn’t lead godly lives:
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Rev. 21.8).
It didn’t exactly like sound like a picnic on a sunny day.
Hell sounded like a place out of my worst nightmares, and I thought that if I didn’t start praying and reading my Bible more, I might end up side-by-side with all the other sinners in that lake of fire.
I could picture it: I’m standing at the golden gates of heaven. A line of people stretches behind me, all of us eager to get inside. The man guarding the gate is holding a clipboard with a list of names, and his eyes roam the paper for mine. He searches for a while before he finally looks up at me with apologetic eyes, “Sorry, I don’t see your name on here.”
Before I can ask him why, a giant black hole opens up beneath my feet and swallows me whole. Just like that — I’ve been plunged to the depths of hell.
The older I got, the more my “perfect Christian” facade began to crack. In middle and high school, I was exposed to a larger variety of people — some of whom did not share these same ideas about the world. My beliefs, which I’d considered undeniable facts, did not seem so undeniable anymore.
There were so many questions I could not answer: if God loves everyone, why does he let innocent children die? If God is real, why won’t he talk back to me when I pray? Of all the religions out there, how do I know Christianity is even the right one? These questions seemed to hang in the air around me with no definite answer. To base my entire life around something I did not enjoy and did not even really believe seemed ridiculous.
Unlike me, my parents have no doubts. Their experiences with God are personal. My dad still recounts the story of how he chose to become a Christian while laying on the floor of a dirty bar bathroom.
I cannot relate to this kind of deliverance or intimacy. At the moments when I needed a divine being to help me out, nobody was answering the door.
When I was thirteen, after my dad resigned as a pastor, my family began to attend a small, homely church in town. At this point, I was just beginning to experience chronic pain in my feet, and one Sunday, the church leaders called me up to the altar.
They sat me down in a chair and explained that they wanted to pray for me. They believed that with the power of prayer, God would literally relieve my pain and fix the condition I had been born with. As if my feet would just magically straighten out and my scars would fade away.
The next fifteen minutes that followed were some of the most awkward of my life: their hands constantly caressed my feet as they prayed fervently. “I don’t know why it isn’t working,” one woman muttered, “The Holy Spirit is all over her.” When I left that day, my condition and pain were still as present as ever, but God was nowhere to be seen.
That wasn’t the moment I stopped believing in God, but it was the moment I stopped pretending to love something I clearly didn’t have faith in. It was like the magic lightbulb of adolescence had finally gone off: just because my parents believed something didn’t mean I had to believe it too.
I didn’t need to drink the kool-aid without first asking what’s in it.
To this day, I do not know if God — or a God — exists. There is a chance I may never know. What I do know is that I’m not going to base my religious or spiritual beliefs off of fear, and I’m not going to try and fit into a mold I clearly don’t belong in. I’ll never be the Sunday-best, bible-toting straight girl that my parents wanted me to be.
What I am and will continue to be is someone who asks questions. It’s easy to see the world from the perspective you’ve been taught to, but it’s another thing to put those beliefs under the microscope.
I’ll never tell anyone else what God they should worship, but I’ll always encourage them to ask questions. Religion is something you should believe in because you genuinely want to — not because you feel like you have to or you fear eternal damnation. If I end up at the gates of Heaven without my name on the list, so be it.