After my grandmother had a personality conflict with the jovial and kind pastor, we went to a Pentacostal church for a few months. All I can really remember is that I didn’t like it and wished we were back at Calvary. A lot of non-church-related life stuff happened around that time, including me reporting a neighbor’s dad for sexual abuse, my brother moving to California to live with our estranged father, and my mom completing her PhD.
She took a job in Iowa, and she, my sister, and I moved. Grandma stayed behind to move in with her father into the two-bedroom trailer she would live in for the remainder of her independent days. For two years in Iowa, we didn’t attend church. My mom was burnt out on extremism and needed the break. Over the summers though, my sister and I would fly back to Florida to stay with grandma. We would go with her to a home church held in someone’s town house living room. The man who played guitar only knew about six hymns, so they were the same each meeting.
My mom, sister, and I moved a few miles to get me out of a school that refused to address the bullying I was put through. Church was back on the menu now. My mom joined a singles group at a Lutheran church, while my sister joined a Presbyterian youth group, and I joined a Methodist drama club. We put on a production of Elijah and the Valley of the Dry Bones, and my official credit was “assistant to the Voice of God”. The job entailed holding a microphone deep into a paint bucket while the Voice of God, another girl my age who could fake a deep voice, spoke into it.
We lived so close to a Community Church that I could and did walk there on my own on Sunday mornings. I’d never attended Sunday church without an adult before, and I felt independent and mature. The church was a simple country style, white clapboard with white lattice work around the bottoms of the wheelchair ramp that wrapped the front porch. The pastor was a gentle man who gave gentle sermons, focusing on God’s love for all humanity and the importance of showing that love in our actions with family and neighbors. There was a living nativity scene that Christmas and I got cast as a shepherd. After years of drama and choir, I really didn’t know what to do with a sheep that wasn’t a prop and the sheep tried to escape for the totality of the nativity.
We moved again, this time back home to Florida where our extended family lived. One of my aunts was the worship leader at a Vineyard Christian Fellowship and we started to attend Sunday service there. I still sampled other youth groups as the mood struck me. Over the years, more and more of my family members started to attend VCF and we began volunteering – playing in the band, teaching Sunday school, leading youth group, making cappuccino for new visitors, running the sound board and lyrics display, and serving as church elder. When the pastor I admired suddenly retired, my family members made up half of the new pastor selection committee. But I didn’t like their choice, and I stopped attending.
I started going to university and tried out the offerings there. I joined Chi Alpha, a campus ministry, and played guitar in the band. I visited the Methodist and Lutheran churches just off campus, but they weren’t an ideal fit for me. I ended up going to the Episcopal church my mother was attending at the time. I was later married in that church while seven months pregnant and had my baby baptized there as well. My infant found the church’s impressive pipe organ to much to bear so I stopped attending Sunday service, but stayed involved in quieter church activities like marriage counseling and an eight-week parenting class.
Two years passed by this way, in nominal attendance of a largely accepting and open-minded faith. The head of the church was a woman; gay bishops were allowed to marry each other; my priest was the one who dared recommend divorce to me when I really needed someone to suggest (and permit) it. I probably could have stayed happily in the Episcopal church for life if non-denominational was truly all I was. But one night I Googled my grandmother’s name and learned that, in addition to all the denominations I knew I had experienced, I’d also been raised in a faith healing cult my entire life.
I personally didn’t find a way to separate losing faith in my grandmother with losing faith in God. I certainly had exposure to lots of concepts of the Christian god, some more concerned with holiness and others more with grace. I had an almost religious double life, being both in a cult and simultaneously permitted to explore and engage in outside theology, so long as it was Christian and non-Catholic. When I rejected Christianity, I did so from a wealth of diverse experiences and at least a shallow knowledge of many different service styles and theologies within Christianity.
I don’t see a good reason for a scientist with a boring personal narrative to dominate the story. I have to think there are people with more fascinating, compelling reasons for coming to atheism and rejecting faith. I have to think anti-theism means rebelling against something worth fighting, not just fighting tradition for the sake of rebellion. I want to challenge anyone reading this who writes about atheism and atheists, for your own blog or a major publication, to find more interesting stories from more interesting atheists and stop writing about Richard Dawkins.