After reading the post I wrote the other day about people sending me their stories, my wife felt the urge to share her own. As a rational person sentenced to an adolescence in the bible belt, her atheism was born of one of religion’s uglier and more terrifying faces; that of the Southern Baptist.
My Run in With Religion
by Lucinda Lugeons
As atheists, we all have a story to tell. Some of us grew up knowing, some of us came to it gradually and some of us were forced to face it through personal experience and tragedy. Often, we are just seen as angry people… and many of us have good reason to be angry. Here’s mine:
Growing up in Florida, religion was just there. My parents weren’t particularly religious; they’d led hard lives and only on rare occasions would I hear them acknowledge god or make reference to faith. There was a Baptist church bus that passed through the neighborhood every Sunday (and sometimes on Wednesday) to pick up their flocks of children. They would whisk them off to their temple with the big cross out front, the whole while singing about how Jesus loved us deep and wide, whether we are red, black, yellow or white. I found myself on this bus most Sundays, mostly because it was an easy way for my parents to get rid of the kids for a day. I sat in Sunday school and colored pictures of Jesus and sheep and crosses. I sang songs and heard the kiddie-versions of the Noah story.
The last hour we were all herded out to the “Big” Church to hear the preacher do his thing, and I don’t mind saying this was not my favorite part of the day. The red, screaming face with veins bulging and eyes all blood shot standing behind the pulpit did little to put me at ease, but there was one part that mesmerized me. There was a huge Glass “Box” that was much like a fish tank displayed over the Dias for the whole congregation to see where they did their Baptisms. Seemed pretty neat to an 8 yr old. I wanted to be the center of attention, I wanted to play in the cool aquarium!! It didn’t take much convincing to have them baptize me, they were more than happy to oblige. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.
See, I got really nervous right before they took me in. I’d never been in front of so many people and seeing as how the person waiting for me in said box was the scary red faced man that yelled and beat on his pulpit, I decided I really didn’t want to do it anymore. To make matters worse, when I made this known they tried to put me at east by telling me that it was just the devil trying to get inside me and scare me away… frightening.
With tears streaming down my face, they pulled me along on shaky legs and handed me off to the preacher. He sat me on his knee and immediately started going through his ceremonial nonsense, hardly even acknowledging me during this process. There were words and shouts, but I didn’t really hear them, I was still afraid. Perhaps that’s why when he dunked me I wasn’t prepared enough to be holding my nose and he wasn’t paying enough to do it himself. I was only under for a moment, but it was enough to get water up my nose and scare me even more.
So here I am, hacking and coughing and crying. Without sympathy, he pushed me off to the side and his helpers took me back to get changed. I never got on that Church bus again. That experience left me questioning everything and fearing many things. I went to church with different friends of many different denominations here and there over the next few years, still never finding comfort in any of them but seeing the differences and similarities they all had.
At 12 my life changed dramatically. Circumstances with my parents left my sister and I moving to a new town, a very, very small town in south Georgia to live with a grandmother we hardly knew and hadn’t seen in years; a grandmother who’s whole life revolved around Church and her God. She attended the Church of God and, of course, we were expected to do the same. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night, every Wednesday night (and sometimes Thursdays for Bible study) we had to dress up in dresses that went to our ankles and wrists and most of the way up our necks and go to church. It was sheer torture for me. In this church they yelled and screamed and hit pulpits too, but they also spoke in tongues and convulsed and hit people in the forehead and knocked people out.
Eventually, I became very ill every Sunday and Wednesday. I just couldn’t stop throwing up. Of course, I was making myself sick; making myself throw up as long as it took for my grandma to leave me behind.
At this point I was angry with God. What kind of a God would put people through this? Why would I want to believe in a God that encourages this? About the 4th week in row that I refused to go to church, my grandmother insisted I had demons in me and needed to be taken to the preacher to have them removed. Once again on shaky legs I walk up the aisle. My grandmother tugged me by one arm, the preacher’s wife tugged the other. And here at the front of the congregation, the crazy man was there to start screaming in tongues, getting all red faced and throwing in a ” cast these demons out, oh lord!!” from time to time. I tried to pull away; I tried to escape.
When he drew his hand back, palm facing out, to give me the holy tap to the forehead (which apparently sends the demons scurrying away) I jerked back. He still got me, but all this did was infuriate me… and I lost it. I knew then and there for certain that there was no God. I jerked away from those holding me and screamed in the preachers face that if there were any demons, I was looking at them. There is nothing wrong with me. I ran out of the church and all the way home, never looking back. My grandmother never asked me to go to church again and she never let me live it down. I was in a constant state of going to hell and being a bad person; a heathen, a slut, a sinner. I love my grandmother and I don’t blame her for it. I blame her religion. It’s who she was raised to be, it’s the only way she knows and it’s the only way she can function.
From then on, I took it upon myself to read as much as I could; to learn as much as I could about many religions. The main similarity I found is that they are all bad. Sure, on the surface they do many great things. There are some amazing and thoughtful and charitable people out there, of all walks of life, religious and not. The morals Christians teach are usually good, there are some beautiful tales in the Bible along with the nightmarish ones… But for me, underneath it all there has been, and continues to be, an underlying evil that seems to permeate them all.
They all start with our children. There doesn’t have to be a child sex scandal for there to be child abuse among them. How could one define telling a 12 year old girl she had demons in her as anything but abuse? They all corrupt and limit the minds of children every day. Luckily for me, I came to realize what they were trying to do before it was too late. I’ve met some of the most amazing people in the world because I didn’t believe what they wanted me to believe. I do not live in fear of life or of death because I did not believe what they wanted me to believe.
Many are not so lucky. Many can be seen on the news waving hate filled caustic signs and wishing death on people they’ve never met. Many become people like Fred Phelps, Ted Haggart, Pat Robertson, Roger Mahony and Benny Hinn. Many of them become like my grandmother; people who don’t know any better and were never taught to think for themselves. I’m not angry with them. I pity them. I blame organized religion. I’m angry because so many people spend their whole lives walking through life with their faces raised to the heavens or bowed in shame that they never get the chance to truly live their own lives.
I’m angry because our children aren’t given a choice. What’s more, in my opinion more people should be angry.