My family has been secular as far back as we can remember. My great-grandfather brought his children to church purely for social reasons, and when my grandmother finally got up the courage to tell her father that she believed none of it and was an atheist, my great-grandfather listened calmly. At the end of the conversation he got up slowly and said, “Well, Hélène” – my grandmother – “I don’t either.” All four of my grandparents were out atheists. Both my mother and my father were out atheists. I was, too – it was kind of the default for my family – until I was about fifteen, and my friend invited me to join a church group. It was a group at one of those uber-liberal Congregational churches that we have scattered all over New England. I loved it – but after a while I decided it wasn’t really “Christian enough” and joined another group at a more conservative Baptist church in town. The irony was that in my family the teenage rebellion was becoming a Christian, not leaving Christianity.
In any case, when I went to college I joined another conservative church and became quite the little fundie. My parents were okay with this – but I was convinced they were going to hell, and every time I went to visit them things would escalate into a fight. I eventually stormed out of their house and told them I wouldn’t be speaking to them again.
It was five years I didn’t speak once to my parents or to my sister or brother. I got progressively more and more into the church at this time – and more and more depressed. I started secretly reading scientific books at this time – I say secretly because at that point I was living with a fundamentalist roommate who was at my church. I only read my books in the dead of the night and hid them under the bed during the day, dreading that she would find out and tell our pastor. I had troubles sleeping and didn’t eat much. I lost motivation for everything.
On Christmas a package arrived from my mother. I didn’t want to open it at first – but I did, in the end, and it was a copy of the newly printed The God Delusion. My family has always had a tradition of only giving each other already-read books – and this was one of them. There were pages that had been dog-eared, phrases underlined, words written in the margins – and over several passages, tear marks staining the page. I read it eight times in one week.
I drove down to my parents’ – I was living in Montreal at this time, and they were still in Boston – and knocked on their door. My mother opened it – it was the first time I had seen her in five years. We both started crying and hugging each other.
I left my church and moved out of my apartment very soon after. I have been a “closet atheist” for the past year, reading all the atheist/freethinking material I could get my hands on. Ebon Musings has been an invaluable source of comfort. I can’t even tell you how much my life has changed – I reestablished contact with my parents, strengthened relations with my freethinking sister, and revoked my church membership two months ago. I can’t say it wasn’t painful – I had forged strong bonds with those people over the years. But I did it, and in the end I was glad of it.
To freethinkers, secular humanists, and atheists worldwide – my brothers and sisters – thank you!