CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.
HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Hannah’s blog Phoenix Tat Girl. It was originally published on July 2, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.
My Personal Story About Growing Up Religious and How That Ended
I currently live in a sunny, tropical location where I feel privileged to be able to daily observe the waves crashing as they roll in to shore. I use the waves as a metaphor for how I came to be the person I now am. I grew up in a conservative, fundamental, patriarchal, Calvinist, creationist, quiverfull, single-family income family. All of the -isms and ists and such slowly grew into our family until they reached their peak right about a year after I finished my 12th year of homeschooling/co-op/independent learning/community colleges.
At first, my family wasn’t too radical about religion. My parents knew they wanted to homeschool us from the beginning. I was the oldest, and with my father an officer in the military, I’m sure our moving around every 2 years probably played a factor in it. They wanted to give their children a religious up-bringing. I loved my childhood. My mother would take us on great and unique field-trips. We lived on the east coast then, and visiting Monticello where Thomas Jefferson lived and invented, and running on the field where the Wright Brothers first flew their plane, and seeing where George Washington carved his name in a natural bridge in the Appalachian mountains brought American history alive to me.
Then, when I was around 12, a new pastor was brought in by the church, and my dad started to become even more “religious”. He started leading bible studies, and every drive to church would quiz us on Bible trivia. He insisted we have personal devotions every morning as soon as we woke up, and we’d have family devotions every night after dinner. I enjoyed learning about the Bible; I didn’t mind memorizing long passages and worked up to memorizing entire books of the Bible (his requirement before we could learn how to drive). A few years later, when I was around 16, he started taking me to creationism, evangelism, and worldview seminars. I enjoyed going to the seminars because I learned new things. I’d read the Bible countless times; I knew what it said, so different material was fascinating. I thought I wanted to be a missionary, so we took in-depth Islamic studies similar to what missionaries would learn. I went on a couple short-term mission trips, and I realized I loved traveling. I made lasting memories meeting the local people in third-world countries. I particularly loved hearing their stories and seeing how they lived their life, trying to understand their culture.
My father believed everything built on each other, and the Bible and God should impact every part of your life. Christianity was the one thing that my dad and I shared.
I was a “rebellious” child, so I was in trouble frequently, but religion was the one thing that I knew I could talk about with my dad. Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christianity and A Case for Christ made a huge impact on me. I liked having all the answers to life’s toughest questions tightly sewn up in a book. Lee’s life story, that he used to be an atheist and he turned to Christ, was powerful and spoke volumes to me. I was baptized in my late teens, and while I had the occasional desire to “be more worldly” for the most part I was content with my faith.
***Far from the ocean shore, a small ridge forms past out-cropping of rocks. It didn’t know it, but the ocean behind it is telling it it’s going to do something big, eventually.***
Fast forward to the couple years after I graduated. My family (prodded on by my father) switched to a new church. The smallest church we’d ever attended. It was 40-50 people total I believe. My dad liked the pastor because he was staunchly Calvinist, patriarchal, and believed in hard-core evangelism. We became even more religious with church all day Sunday, Wednesday night Bible study, and Friday night evangelism. I had mixed feelings about the church. Since it was super small, there wasn’t an eligible guy in sight (let’s face it, every good Christian daughter gets married sooner rather than later). But I did get on board with the evangelism. I told myself it was preparation for the mission-field.
But still, asking pure strangers “Are you good enough?” never quite sat well with me.
I felt like I was guilting them into something. Shouldn’t a genuine faith not require guilt and fear? I preferred an exchange of ideas, friendly debate, explaining flaws in people’s logic.
I was able to go to community college, and I had a few part-time jobs that kept me out of the house a few days of the week. I loved working and earning a paycheck. Babysitting was easy for me, and better yet, when the babies went to sleep, I could try to catch up on the social culture that I felt so far behind in by watching cable TV, and even an occasional R-rated movie. I’d listen to current music on the radio, and even a couple late-night shows that I knew my mother would never approve of, so I never told her.
***The ridge of water gathers strength, and form. It grows higher and seems to move faster. Even it doesn’t know where or when it’s going to break. It doesn’t know if if it’s going to be majestic and break cleanly, like glass, or tumble over-itself in a mass of foam.***
It starts in a worldly place, with a Christian friend. Of all things, I was trying to explain Carbon-14 dating to her. A tall, dark, handsome and mysterious man who has a couple of classes with me walked over and joined the conversation. He was obviously one of the “others”. The non-believers, the worldly people. We begin conversing, he starts asking me questions, and I tell him I don’t know, but I’d like to do more research. He’s very clear that he doesn’t want me to lose my faith; he just wanted me to think and explore some more. I tell him I don’t mind. It’s a good thing. I like researching and expanding my knowledge. So I go home and pull out every single book in our library that might possibly have to do with creationism apologetics. I read the sections on Carbon-14, and then, like the good scholar I am, I look at the reference pages.
I am shocked to find the vast majority of the references were from obviously other Christian scientists who obviously believed in Creationism.
I had a hard time accepting what I saw there, plainly. The books had been there the whole time, but I hadn’t seen the obvious deception. Their circular and erroneous logic.
***The wave quickly peaks, its crest perfectly formed in the crescent and the face of the wave crystal clear for a nano-second before it crashes and the rest of the wave folds into itself.***
Looking at that reference page was the beginning of the end for me. I’d decided that I’d need to move out. I had to reassess everything that I thought about my life, especially my spiritual life, and I couldn’t do it while living with my family, so I told my parents. My dad arranged for an intervention for me. They took me against my will to his pastor where they guilt-tripped me until I gave up my cell phones. The pastor wanted me to give up my “worldly” jobs, and quit going to a “worldly” school.
He pushed for no internet, no phone, no friends, only family and church until I stopped doubting my faith and returned to the fold.
That was when the wave crashed for me. I viewed it as essentially brain-washing. I told my father “If all you say is true, why do you need to brainwash me? Haven’t you always said the Truth is there? If I dig more, are you that uncertain that Your truth won’t hold?” It was a wave crashing. Because my father had taught me that everything depended on each other, every spiritual belief I had crumbled into a wide swath of bubbles and foam and nothing-ness. And it crashed fast and hard – I had moved out of my family’s house within 6 weeks of looking in that first creation apologetics book.
Then, because my spiritual beliefs vanished, my life choices adjusted. I realized what I truly loved: learning and adventure. Traveling and meeting people and seeing how people lived their lives from their eyes, their culture, their values. I was free to work on my career because I sincerely enjoy earning a paycheck and providing for myself. I realized I could enjoy an intimate relationship without the vows of marriage, because, I reasoned, someone who’s not sure of themselves personally, emotionally, spiritually, or sexually should not commit themselves for a life-time to someone else.
But most important, I was free to be me, and to figure out what life meant to me, not someone else’s interpretation of something that I should live by.
My wave crashed. Because it crashed, my life changed, but it was necessary, I believe it would have happened sooner or later. The ocean that is my life had the tremors all through my childhood. But it opened me up for my own personal journey, and that’s what matters in the end.