My religious upbringing was of my own doing.

I didn’t grow up in a religious family but I started going to church and youth group with a friend at the age of twelve, and I was a committed Christian during my teenage years. For a long, long time I tried to be the model Christian girl. The one who effortlessly showed the love of Jesus to everyone around her, the one who never caused a brother to stumble, and so on.

But the older I got, the less things seemed as simple as the church said they were, and the more I began to feel I’d been presented with a false narrative. My burgeoning feminism, for instance, contradicted a lot of things that I had been taught for years. Was I really meant to only be a “helpmeet” for a man who would wield divinely-given authority over me? Wasn’t I worth more than that? Was it truly a sin for someone to love another person of the same sex, and was it really a choice? Where was the proof of that?

And right in the middle of all this confusion, I started college, where I was encouraged to ask hard questions; where I was encouraged to be open to new ideas; and even to disagree with the opinions of authority figures. I felt as though I was finally coming alive.

By my sophomore year, I didn’t consider myself a Christian anymore. I knew that with this rejection of my belief system, I was beginning a new personal journey and I had a lot of hard questions to ask myself about what I really believed. I also needed time to work through the anger and resentment I felt toward the church as an institution.

To be completely, genuinely, honest, I blame conservative Christian culture and the Christian for a lot of mental pain and anguish that I have suffered.

For the teachings I internalized about sexuality and “purity,” which caused mental damage I am still attempting to undo now, at the age of 23.

For still feeling, in some dark corner of my brain, that I’m endorsing murder by supporting Planned Parenthood, even though I know better.

For implying, if not outright stating, that if something wasn’t affiliated with Christianity, it was harmful.

For teaching me that I have no individual worth without God and/or Jesus in my life.

For making me fear learning things that might contradict my religious ideology.

And yet.

My relationship with my old religion is complicated, because I still look back fondly on many church trips and youth group sessions. I appreciate the adults who took time out of their own lives to lead groups and go along on trips, because they loved us and were invested in our futures. I sing my favorite hymns because they surround me with a feeling of peacefulness, like Someone is watching over me. As an agnostic theist, I don’t know exactly who that Someone is, but I am certain of its presence.

Last Christmas Eve, I went to an evening church service with my mom and listened to the pastor tell the familiar story of the Savior’s birth. The lights dimmed and we lit candles, passing the flame from person to person until the entire sanctuary was illuminated. And I closed my eyes during the singing of “Silent Night” and simply felt the presence of all the people around me, and of whoever or whatever else was watching over us.

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