If you would have told my fourteen-year-old self that I would someday walk away from my Christian faith, I would have thought you were crazy. At that age I was such a strong believer that no amount of evidence or reason would make me believe otherwise. At age fourteen, I thought that I would never stray and never stumble. It was ingrained so deeply in my head that I never even thought to question it. But even then I knew that I didn't feel that strong bond with God that other believers described. I believed he existed wholeheartedly, but I didn’t have that “connection” that seemed to come so naturally to everyone around me in the church community. Looking around the room during times of worship, I would see people, hands raised, singing so loudly and passionately, and I just didn’t get it. Where did that passion come from? Why didn’t I feel that strong divine influence? I kept thinking that if I was patient and prayed hard enough it would eventually click, and I remember sitting in church praying, begging for the God of the universe to reveal himself in a way that would completely knock me off my feet and show me his mighty sovereignty. But that never seemed to happen for me, so at the end of sophomore year I got tired of waiting around and I think that was the beginning of the end for me. Realizing that that wasn’t going to happen for me was the first step in accepting that, if there was a God, he didn’t seem to care about me.
The next stumbling block came during my junior year of high school. As a kid, I had always loved animals, and the question that always haunted me was whether or not animals go to heaven. I liked to think they did, because the thought of any of my pets no longer existing was devastating to me, as it would be to any young girl. After voicing this belief, however, I learned that it was not the popular opinion among most christians. I was mocked relentlessly for believing that animals had souls all throughout high school. They’d make animal abuse jokes, talk about the “delicious cow flesh” they ate at lunch, and once even tried to kidnap a group of crawfish from the creek beside the soccer field just to spite me. Feeling much in despair, I went to the trusty Bible to find verses to support my stance, but boy was I surprised at what I found. Nothing. Not a single verse that satisfactorily backed up my claim that animals have souls. What I did find was some very discouraging Old Testament commands to slaughter, sacrifice, and pillage flocks of innocent animals at random, so I was very distraught. Why would God create cute little creatures with the abilities to feel and love just for them to have a lousy mortal existence on Earth without the prospect of ever seeing an afterlife? That just seemed cruel, and if the God of the Bible could be that cruel, was he really worthy of my praise?
The other things I saw in the Old Testament were just as disturbing to me. Even if I didn’t know I was gay at the time, I was deeply hurt by the way the Bible talked about homosexuality.
Sophomore year I sat next to a girl in bible class named Claire. She had short, vividly red hair that was shaved on one side, wore long bohemian skirts, and was always reading bizarre Russian literature. She talked a lot about art, obscure indie bands, and women's rights; She was unlike anyone I’d known at my school. I had first met her freshman year when she was a new student and she sparked a conversation about the oversexualization of the female gender in the middle of gym class. I thought she was weird and avoided her the rest of that year. Sophomore year changed that though. We first bonded over our mutual distrust of the divinity of Paul’s letters and we became very good friends. She was the one I could rant about anything to without judgement. We were usually the only people on the liberal side of any given argument and we teamed up to take down misogynistic or homophobic rhetoric whenever we came upon it. She was one of the first people I ever came out to. I could trust her with anything, and she taught me that I don’t have to keep quiet about who I am just because I’m in the minority. She switched schools senior year leaving me without a confidant.
Growing up in a very conservative religious school, unbelief really wasn't an option. Even if you hadn't an ounce of faith, you still better bow your head and give the “right” answers in bible class, because as soon as they suspected the slightest bit of rebellion, you're called out and given the imaginary label among the faculty as the “lost” child. Suffice to say, I spent a great deal of my high school career pretending. Pretending I wasn’t struggling. Pretending everything was okay. I saw what happened to others when they spoke openly about their problems with faith (mostly they were just expelled), but the looks of pity and disdain from their teachers and peers was painful to watch. There were a few times when I showed my true colors and debated a bit, but it usually ended up as me getting lectured by the teacher and me pretending to accept their side.
Year after year of this taught me to keep my mouth shut. I held my tongue and made myself scared to be truly honest, both in my writing and in my everyday life. When I went to college, I failed miserably. I was afraid to turn in work. I was afraid to ask for help. I was afraid to do anything that involved putting myself out there in any way. It was so ingrained in me to keep my mouth shut and suffer in silence. After one year I had failed out of school without so much as one credit. I was depressed. I was afraid. I alienated myself from my friends and family because I was so embarrassed of what I'd let myself become. I had always been the smart one. I graduated with honors. I had never failed a class. This was so unlike me that it was a shock to everyone who knew.
After distancing myself from my past, getting medical help, and discovering things that make me happy, like being creative, I have made a new and happy life for myself. I am about to move to NYC and try school again. I have a really fun job and amazing people supporting me and I can only hope that this time is better.