The need to be honest

For quite a while I had been lying to practically everyone with whom I’ve crossed paths about something so important that I really cannot continue to lie about this any longer: my religion. To those hopeful souls out there, no I haven’t seen the light and welcomed Jesus Christ into my heart. Far from it. Well not really.

For years I had been propagating the lie that I was previously a Christian. Indeed about six and a half years ago, the summer of 2004, the summer my uncle passed away suddenly at 44, I said in a letter to my (now ex-) girlfriend’s parents that I was "on a path that may lead me back to Christianity". This, too, was a lie. What I thought was a "path to Christianity" was actually my mind running itself in circles in my skull about many different things. Plus as I was never a Christian, I couldn’t legitimately say I was going "back" to it.

So here is the truth: aside from my baptismal in a Methodist church when I was an infant, I was never actually a Christian.

And part of the reason I’d been propagating this lie is because I had been bullshitting myself with that fairy tale. I never was a Christian, and I’m not sure why I kept saying I once was.

I never believed that Christ was the son of God. The closest to a theist I ever became was in middle school when I could be considered a deist. Indeed at that time I described any religious beliefs I had as believing God existed but not accepting that Jesus was his son. In fact, I outright rejected that notion.

In the seventh grade, my first year of middle school, in my honors English class, we studied select sections of the Bible as literature. In some ways that sealed a wall between me and Christianity forever: I could never look upon the Bible and consider any part of it to be truth. The summer prior, my grandmother purchased me a Bible — I think I still have it — simply because I wanted one. I never said I believed or intended to believe the words written in it. I just wanted a Bible.

In eighth grade, I believe it was, or maybe seventh as well, my mother gave me a cross, which I still have locked away in a lock box where it’ll likely stay until I give it to any child I have. I wasn’t a Christian, nor did I believe in Christianity. I just wanted a cross, so my mother gave me a small golden cross from her jewelry box along with a golden trumpet pendant. I still have both, and both are locked away right now.

Ninth grade was the first year I ever really had any direct confrontation with religion. Since seventh grade, I had been in band every year. Ninth grade meant high school, which also meant marching band. The director was a modestly religious man who insisted on gathering all of us into a group prayer before each performance, as we gathered in a circle, joined arms, and recited the Lord’s Prayer, something I now know was a violation of the First Amendment. I still remember the words to that prayer as well, having recited them in recent months at two funerals.

Those of you who’ve been in a marching band know this: it’s a tight group. If I had objected to that prayer like I originally wanted to, who knows what would have happened, not only with the band but also with my own parents, especially my mother. Instead I did the only thing I reasonably could: I just went along with it. Initially I didn’t know the prayer, but about midway through the marching season in ninth grade, after listening to it enough, I had it memorized.

Through the rest of high school into adulthood, I completely ignored religion. It was never really apart of my life with the exception of a time in my junior year when I managed to read about all of the occult section of the library in Fairfield, Iowa. I studied religion to go with it just to get some semblance to what many were trying to relate things. But otherwise I left it alone.

One thing that was interesting through this whole thing is this: while I never had any belief in any god, deity, or what have you, I never considered myself an atheist or agnostic simply because I had never heard those words. That, ironically enough, wouldn’t happen until I was 20, if I recall correctly, and I remember when that happened. Again I never considered religion a serious topic, so I had no need to know the existence of those words.

But when I was 20, there was a show on CBS called The District, starring Craig T. Nelson and the late Lynne Thigpen (who I used to watch all the time on "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?"). In one episode several of the characters, including one Detective McGregor, are sitting around a table at a pub after work and the topic of religion came up. McGregor was from Ireland, a country famous for it’s conflict between Catholics and Protestants. McGregor said he was an atheist.

I’d never heard that word before. No really, I never had, so next opportunity I had, I looked it up. Discovering the word fit with what I believed at the time, I adopted it to the dismay of my parents. It would not be until a couple months after that I would discover the word agnostic and discovered that to be an even better fit to what I believed. I use the moniker atheist periodically to avoid confrontation over semantics with other atheists, but I otherwise consider myself agnostic.

It wasn’t until my first semester at Peru State College that confrontation with religion, namely Christianity, became a daily chore. I got my first taste of active religious groups on a college campus — perfectly within the boundaries of the Constitution as they were student run and not sponsored by the college in any way. Indeed many with whom I had become acquainted and befriended are, to some degree, devout Christians.

My girlfriend at the time attempted to coerce me into attending several religious gatherings on campus. Much to her dismay, they didn’t do anything to sway me toward Christianity. She held out hope, though, and when I offered a blessing for her family during an Easter lunch, she and her mother took it as a "sign" that I might be coming around.

Sorry to disappoint, but I wasn’t even close.

My largest confrontation with religion would come with my next girlfriend, "Annika", or rather with regard to her family. Annika is four years younger than me, and she was 18 going on 19 when we first started dating, while I had just turned 23. The age difference alone was enough to make her parents a little nervous, but I was well acquainted with Annika’s brother, who introduced us, which quelled worries over the age a little.

Now one thing about me that made Annika nervous around her parents was my religious beliefs. Her parents are devout Christians, and she grew up in a religious, church-active household. One afternoon over the phone, she told her mother. Shortly after this, she spent the weekend at home to attend to some personal affairs, and during that time, according to Annika, her parents would heatedly confront her, saying some things that were downright disgusting.1

The summer of 2004, my parents would confront me about Annika, as they didn’t trust her at all, and they’d confront me about my religion, especially my father. Needless to say, pleased I was certainly not. Instead I got just a lengthy lecture that, in my mind, I all boiled down to this: my parents never exposed me to religion but instead expected that I would have found God on my own, and since I had not…

My fiancée, soon to be my wife, Elicia, grew up in a Catholic household. Her immediate family knows about my beliefs. We never speak of it, though, because we’ve come to a kind of unspoken agreement wherein as long as I respect the traditions of my mother in law’s house, there is no need to discuss that at all. And respect her traditions I always have, from the first day.

It was really only over the last few weeks that I came to the realization, looking back over my life, that I was never a Christian, well aside from the moments not long after my birth when I was being christened. And realizing the truth, it’s time I stopped lying to myself and to everyone else. So therein lies the truth: I was never a Christian.

References   [ + ]

1. Due to a confrontation I had with "Annika" in the fall of 2006 in which she made a rather startling confession to me, I have since called her account of those events into question and am unsure if they actually happened as she claimed.