My story is different from a lot of the others i've read here, and also different from the stories i heard at the local atheists' group gathering i went to last month. Here's why: I wasn't raised religious. So i guess that makes this more of a nontimony than an extimony. Maybe it's both. I dunno. Before i get any further, i won't use anyone's real names.
My mom and i had neighbors that were religious when i was real young. I remember seeing them go to church on Sundays when my mom would get home from work. Their kids were about my age, and we played together. Aside from the college kids that came and went, and an older girl that lived up the street from us, we were the only ones who weren't school age in that neighborhood. I was too young to remember much of anything about the neighbor kids' parents, but my mom told me that they were rather weird, to say the least. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they looked down their nose at her for being a single parent, since that's the reaction i saw from people i met at the churches i used to sit in on when we'd run into each other around town.
We moved out of that neighborhood when i was 6, not even halfway done with first grade, and i never saw those kids again. In the new neighborhood, there were several other kids about my age, and several of them came from single parent settings. Throughout this time, there were some people in my life who proved themselves beyond untrustworthy. Without going into detail, they knew my mom couldn't be in two places at once, and they took complete advantage of it. For the record, everything that they did to me happened at their house, not mine. They haven't been in my life for well over 10 years, and if anyone's wondering, i told my mom about the worst of it not long after we parted ways with them. I've told her the rest of what went on, though there are still a couple things i haven't told anyone about.
It was because of what was going on in my life that i started wondering if church would have helped me. I'd heard church was the place to go if you were feeling bad about yourself. And i was. I was 11 when a group of people on the sidewalk outside my middle school were handing out these little orange buybulls. I was in 6th grade, and waiting for my mom to come pick me up from school. I started flipping through it, hoping to find answers, but all i got was confusion. In addition to the stuff going on with the untrustworthy people, i didn't fit in with my classmates, and a lot of them picked on me. Some of them would befriend me, but it never lasted.
That was part of why i was so interested in church. I thought they'd never make fun of me, i thought they'd accept me for me, b/c that's what xtians do, after all. They accept others and respect differences, right? Fast forward to 8th grade, when a girl i'll call Tracy invited me to come to church with her on Sunday. She was in one of my classes, and we kind of befriended each other at lunch. Up until then, i'd only set foot inside a church twice, once for a great uncle's funeral when i was 2, and the other time for the family reunion when i was 10. I was looking forward to it, and the church elder picked me up in their van. I thought i'd be home in an hour and my mom and i could go to breakfast. Nope, i was there all day. It was the same thing the following Sunday, and the elder, whom i'll call Eric, was saying all these nice things to me, he knew how bad things were for me at school, he knew about my home life, and i was sucking it all up like a sponge. No man had ever said nice things to me like that before! It was even later when i got home, and my mom and i agreed that i wouldn't be back for a third. Fine with me, i'd had enough. Tracy was pretty sad that my mom wouldn't let me go back, and we drifted apart.
So i went on with my life, and once we got to high school, Tracy wasn't there. She was supposed to go to my high school, but she'd moved. She came over to my house a couple times shortly after the beginning of the school year, and it was like a 180. She was different somehow, but i didn't think to ask. We were 14. I never saw her again after that. After high school, this story comes on the local news about some church leader molesting kids, and it was none other than Eric! Some of the girls he molested shared their stories in the shadows, and naturally his mom blamed them. She was the pastor, and she had to have known. Eric's now a registered sex offender. Dollars to donuts he's still there as "elder" doing the same crap as before.
Several years later, i decide to try church again, figuring that this would be somehow different. Eric's creepy church was definitely a non-option. I'd recovered from some health issues, and i wanted to make sense out of what happened to me as a kid, and find some friends. I wanted a place to belong. I was scared about what the future held for me, since i wasn't one of those who had their entire lives planned out since they were kids. So i start church hopping. The one i checked out, i only lasted there a matter of months. I try a different denomination after the last straw at the old one, hoping this would be it. And it seemed like this was it. I'd gone there for a couple years, briefly attending another church of the same denomination, but stuck around for a few months. I was there long enough for some people from this new church to befriend me, or so i thought. They all seemed so sure of themselves. They seemed like they had it all. They seemed like wonderful people. And they were giving me the time of day! Gary, and another one there i'll refer to as Julie, seemed like the kind of friends i never had. I was kind of under the radar until a year ago, when more of the people there noticed me. They all knew i was at a crossroads in my life, in this huge rut, and that i was so lonely for my longtime friend, Ivy, and they knew how frustrated i was with the lack of direction after i graduated from college. They all knew this.
Then the incident in the church basement happened, which i wrote about here not that long ago. Looking back, i'd say that was the real beginning of the end. Throughout the three years i spent church hopping, i overlooked a hell of a lot more than i should have. I noticed a common theme among them was to pry into others lives, and then act smug and superior towards them if their life wasn't so great. That happened with me. A LOT. Some asked me some truly inappropriate questions, giving the excuse that they've been around people like that before. I overlooked instances of racism about others, hoping it was a lapse in judgement. It wasn't. I had questions about the teachings and the doctrines, which i was told to "pray about" or "give it to god." Really dismissive! A month after Tom's contact with me ended, i got the guts to tell Julie about it, and she seemed so shocked and horrified. Julie was also quite the gossip, so i'm sure she spread it around. That's when i got the guts to talk to someone in the church office, i'll refer to her as Patty. Patty pretends to care, and says the right things, but it was so obvious she thought of me as a lying slut who brought this on herself. The look on her face said it all. From that point on, that's the way Patty treated me.
My great uncle died last summer, and that didn't help matters any. Patty gave me the "so what" attitude while saying she was sorry for my loss, blah blah blah, and Gary couldn't be bothered to be there for me. This was after he blamed me for what Tom did to me, of course. He waltzed back into my life when he felt like it, and gave me this halfhearted and empty apology while tearing me down over not doing X, Y and Z, and that when i have kids, everyone will make fun of them because of it, blah blah blah. Ivy was busy with her job, so she was pretty much unavailable. She had enough to worry about without my help, the way i figured it.
I was even going to join this church. After Patty's nth degree rudeness toward me for the umpteenth time, and after someone was making fun of his pregnant wife and sharing personal details within earshot of everyone, with Patty egging him on, i realized i needed to be done with them, pronto. I felt sick to my stomach every time i entered that church. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. The questions that others there refused to answer for me were still there, and i was still getting the same dismissive "pray about it" every single time i tried to talk about it with someone. Patty had loaned me a book (which i never read), and i returned it at the beginning of February. That's the loose end i'm referring to in my profile. Patty got pissed when i told her i was already swamped with books to read when she tried to heap more on me, but oh well. I was never formally involved with this church (or any of the others), so i could make a clean break. I dotted the i's, crossed the t's, and i left that bridge to burn.
Naturally after i left, Julie calls me a month later, claiming she thought i was "out of town" in an attempt to fish for gossip. I wrote about the phone call from Gary trying to guilt trip me into coming back, and i mentioned the phone call from someone else trying to recruit me for some random church choir i'd never heard of. Funny how not a-one of 'em could be bothered to give a damn about me while i was there and when they had the chance.
I realized there was no god well before i left. The questions that went unanswered are moot at this point. I was never gonna find any real friends in an environment like that. If what i endured in my three years in xtianity was any indication, there's no way god exists. Same thing for what i went through as a kid. If the way my mom was treated at the hospital affiliated with them was any indication, then the answer is clear: there is no god. My brother is rotting in a grave because of their actions, and that was in the back of my mind all along. What kind of god who's supposedly "loving" would allow the people who idolize it to abuse others in its name, get away with it, and then claim to be the pinnacle of morality? "Free will" won't cut the mustard. "Whatever-deity's plans" and "free will" are two totally different animals, it's either one or the other. And if they think Zeus, Buddha, Allah and Osiris are bullshit, then what's to stop the ones who believe in those gods from thinking the same thing about theirs? And how can anyone try to rationalize all the crap xtians have pulled over the years? If every single dogma out there claims THEY'RE the right one, then they all look like the boy who cried wolf.
I didn't need religion as a kid to give me a sense of right and wrong. I didn't need religion as a kid to tell me to help others in need. I didn't need religion as a kid to tell me to honor the people who matter in my life. I sure as shit don't need it now. I guess part of why i tried to duke it out for as long as i did was because of the "community" and feeling like a part of things. Since Ivy was real busy with work, and i was still in school, the crux of it was that i wanted to be around people who seemed to like me more than i liked myself. In hindsight, the ones who fawned over me at first didn't care about me at all. Out of sight, out of mind. No loss in the scheme of things. Gary and Julie weren't real friends. After Julie bragged about how she went apeshit at some clerk over the way a form was worded about married couples, no way. Patty was never on my radar screen as friend material, only as someone i thought i could trust in spite of her bitterness and propensity to spread her share of gossip. Part of me fears they'll somehow read this and try to suck me back into their lives, but i know they have no way of contacting me again.
So i'm now back to my roots. I've closed the book on that chapter of my life. My mom's a believer, but she has no use for churches or organized religion. Ivy dabbles in pagan spirituality periodically, but then again, it never occurred to me to ask about anything beyond that. We've known each other since 6th grade. Ivy and i have since picked up where we left off, and we're closer than ever. I thought i'd lost her, but it turns out life merely took us in different directions for awhile. My true friends and my family supersede antiquated fairy tales and victim blaming ideology by a long shot. Life is too damn short to throw away on some cosmic guessing game. I live my life in the here and now. I choose my friends and my family. I refuse to give up my integrity and intellectual honesty over some dogma. I am accountable to nobody but myself at the end of the day. And that's ok by me.