HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Savannah” is a pseudonym.
If you’re not going to go to a Christian college, you have to make sure your faith is rock-solid by the time you graduate high school. Because college—especially professors of the humanities like psychology and social studies—hates you. College is the epitome of “the world”. The second you mention that you’re a Christian, the non-religious students will mock you. Perhaps even ostracize you or censor you. Perhaps have you thrown out of school for your beliefs if you’re not “liberal” enough for them. Professors will openly mock your beliefs in class, even calling on you personally to make fun if they know you’re a Christian. They may even assign you projects that violate your religious beliefs and you will be obligated to do them, because colleges will give a free pass to other religions, but not you. If you’re not Superman-strong in your faith by the time you go to college, you’ll probably cave to the pressure and fall away.
This is what they told me.
Homeschooled for my entire life, I had no exposure to a classroom environment. Before anxiety got the best of me and made it impossible to deal with, the curriculum was religious. I’d never had a secular education—never even knew what it was like. And so I believed them. I believed the preacher who told me his professor declared in class that no gods were real and anyone who believed in one was delusional, and I believed him when he said the professor called upon him and other Christian students to berate them for their beliefs.
It would be even worse for us now, he said, in the 21st century. Our society was getting more and more liberal. Colleges, the Liberalest Places on Earth, were Ground Zero for trying out these new liberal measures, among them the normalization and acceptance of non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities and the stifling of free speech—for Christians and conservatives, of course; liberals could say whatever they wanted. We were on the front lines. We were, perhaps, five years away from the beginning of the end of the world, and it was soon to be open season on Christians.
When you are the victim of spiritual brainwashing, thought control, and other individuality- and critical thinking-quenching measures by your local church, a religious education, whether formal in a Christian school or informal at home, is utterly exhausting. When your genes predispose you to anxiety disorders and depression, a religious education combined with spiritual abuse can make you suicidal. So when I finally won and got to be taught from a secular homeschooling program for high school, half of that weight was lifted. And I excelled. Before, I had been an A-B student, but in my “worldly” curriculum, I had a 4.0. I still had to suffer through Sundays, but I could push it all from my mind as soon as we drove out of the parking lot. Eventually, I was even able to push my limits and leave the church.
But there was still the problem of college.
When I tasted the freedom of secular education, I knew that I could never go back. So after I took my first SAT and began receiving brochure after brochure from colleges in my state, I examined each of them for any hint of religiosity. Any college that even looked Christian got its brochure recycled. I memorized their names and blacklisted them. I’d heard about Bob Jones. I’d heard a story from a visiting youth teacher who said he got in trouble for touching his then-girlfriend’s head because opposite sexes were not allowed to be near each other. I remembered the frustration, the panic attacks, the nightmares I had at the beginning of high school. I could not even take the risk that I would suffer through that again.
The “excessive”, as the pastor called it, liberalism of secular colleges might have scared me if I’d been the same little girl that he frightened into believing I’d be vilified just for who I am. But I was not. The two years of secular high school education that I got changed me immensely—not that I wasn’t already changing before, but now I was allowed. The curriculum wasn’t constantly contradicting my own views, or guilt-tripping me. Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen I became exactly the kind of thing he’d warned me against becoming—one of those dirty, worldly liberals. And I love it. I love myself. I love the people around me.
As I write this, it’s the Friday of my first week of freshman year and I’ve already had several conversations on privilege and intelligent critiques of religious culture. Half my professors swear in class. I’m taking two classes in the social sciences right now, and I’ve yet to hear any mockery of any religions or their followers—in fact, the only religion-related degradation I’ve seen or experienced came from a street preacher who hangs out just feet from campus property so that he can scream at students without repercussion. (Seriously, dude, don’t you have some feeding the poor to do?) Had I not gotten, as a friend of mine says, “out of the box” two years before my first experience with such a free environment, where everyone I have encountered so far is radically different from the people I grew up around and the expectations I would have been held to if I had stayed, this might have seemed like a little hell. Instead, it’s a tiny piece of heaven. I feel no pressure to conform to a religious or moral standard too high to reach, or follow rules I don’t believe in.
Still, to my own surprise, I’ve retained some faith, in spite of the abuse, the nightmares, the panic attacks—despite not setting foot in a church in two years. Retained, by my own standard, anyway. Not by that of the preacher of my old church—my newfound liberalism would disqualify me from any sort of legitimate religiosity; I am delegated to the ranks of “fake,” “halfhearted,” “lukewarm.” But I have found many more interesting people here in the ring of second-class Christian citizens. And a hundred times more love.
And I can never see that as a coincidence.