Your Stories of Atheism: You’ll Have To Get Baptized The Right Way

Your Stories of Atheism: You’ll Have To Get Baptized The Right Way April 23, 2018

I am fairly certain that had I ever been Christian, I would have questioned my out of it. I like to think that the breaking point for me would have been the thousands and thousands of different denominations. I often wonder why this isn’t the answer most ex-Christians give for “why don’t you believe anymore?”. There are over 40,000 denominations of Christianity – that’s 40,000+ different interpretations of the “inerrant word of god”. This alone cancels the whole damn thing out, does it not? If God’s word were truly inerrant and perfect as is claimed, then how is it possible for us, mere mortals, to interpret it in a way he did not mean for us to? I hear a lot of your stories of deconversion and there really aren’t very many that cite this as the reason they can no longer believe. Today, I finally have a story for you that brings this problem up briefly. Here is Anonymous with their deconversion story:

I was raised protestant by parents who were former Southern Baptist missionaries. Although by the time I was old enough to go to church (rather than the church-run daycare) they had largely shed the orthodoxy of Baptism, both of my parents were still quite religious.

My parents were musicians, and I think at that time in their lives the best musical outlet they had was through church choir. We moved a lot due to my father’s day job, so we jumped back and forth between a number of denominations – Methodist and Baptist predominantly.

Throughout all of this, I remember being very uncomfortable in church. I couldn’t articulate why at the time. The high-ceilinged buildings filled with hard, dark wood pews, massive ostentatious crosses and the same strange carpet cleaner scent just made my skin crawl. I have journal entries from when I was a child so I know I’m not just projecting backward in time. Church filled me with pervasive dread. It felt *wrong* to me.

When I was a teenager we moved to a town in southern Texas where the social landscape of the childrens’ lives was shaped significantly by which of the several different churches they attended. I cannot stress how odd it is to look back and realize this little one-stoplight town that had no businesses save two service stations and a sad, long-forgotten Dairy Queen managed to support not two, not three, but FOUR full-sized and relatively new houses of worship.

We immediately began attending the local Methodist church. It was literally on the other side of the railroad tracks which ran through the center of town. I didn’t realize until my first day of high school that this was both a physical and metaphorical divider.

As was common in the late 1980s to early 1990s in rural Texas, we had student-led prayer every morning on the loudspeaker peppered in with announcements about pep rallies and bake sales. I didn’t think anything of it, because Christianity was as ubiquitous to me as driving on the right side of the road. Why would anyone do otherwise?

I must confess that despite my dread of churches themselves, I wholeheartedly believed in the Christian message of a risen immortal being who would save me from the fires of hell. I simply chose to study scriptures on my own. This was the start of my difficulties.

I went through a phase where I decided my parents’ interpretations of the Bible didn’t gel with what I was reading. I pored over every word of my red King James Edition (that was given to me in primary school as soon as I could read) and ended up reading the whole thing twice in one school year.

At the same time I joined a contemporary Christian “rock” band, which played at church youth functions a couple of times before breaking up due to artistic differences (don’t they all?) Often before performing we’d sit in on a sermon by the youth leaders of the church, and since my band was non-denominational we played a couple of different venues with markedly different messages.

I remember being impressed by one particularly charismatic youth pastor and talking to him about possibly joining his church. He asked where I’d been baptized, and when I told him the name of the Methodist church across the tracks, his answer threw me so much that it burned itself into my memory.

“Well, you’ll have to get baptized again, the RIGHT way.”

Until that point in my life I had just assumed that although different Christian churches may disagree on the finer points of the faith they all essentially worshiped the same thing. I thought as long as we had the same god, it didn’t matter whether we dunked our heads in a bathtub or got sprinkled with a wet rose from a bowl. This leader of the church thought differently.

I didn’t join that church, and instead continued my own studies for the next few years and into my first year of college. There I met a wonderful person who became a long-time friend, and who also happened to not be Christian. She identified as Pagan at the time, and we had many late-night talks in our dorms about college-freshman-deep topics like gods.

It was during one of these conversations that she asked me point-blank, “So you honestly believe that because I don’t worship your god that I’m not only going to burn in hell, but that I *deserve* it?”

I swear I heard the gears in my brain grind to a halt. For the first time in my life, here was someone openly challenging the reality I’d lived in and never questioned. I loved this person dearly, and I very much didn’t think anything she’d done in her life merited eternal torment. Did I *really* think she’d be tortured after death for making what seemed like a perfectly reasonable statement of non-belief in the Christian god?

No, I decided not. It was the first step in my re-examining everything my parents had taught me growing up. Over the course of my time in college I gradually looked over and discarded belief after belief, until that last one (“god exists”) finally fell away. I remember about when it happened, because I felt an enormous existential weight had been lifted. I didn’t have to worry about remaining sexually “pure” or feel ashamed of exploring my own sexuality. I didn’t have to pity my friend for not believing in the gods my parents worshipped, and I didn’t have the constant gnawing fear of ending up in a lake of fire myself.

As an adult twenty years later, I still live near that small town and run into some of the folks I saw in church back then. The area is still heavily Christian and heavily evangelical, but I see the cracks forming here and there. Sometimes it’s something as small as a Flying Spaghetti Monster bumper sticker, or a Darwin fish T-shirt. Skepticism exists, and it’s growing.

I’m an “out” nonbeliever to my close friends and significant other, as well as my own parents (who took it surprisingly well, having discarded their faith in all but name years ago) but I still find myself hesitant to be “out” around folks over the age of 60, like my SO’s grandparents. Pro-Christian prejudice is very much still a thing here in 2018, and even those with faiths in the “wrong” god are looked down upon less often than the atheist.

Keep an eye out, fellow non-believers. We may still be hidden in some areas of the country, but we are here. You may just have to look a little closer.

Thank you, anonymous, for this beautifully written story. If you want to send me your deconversion story for this series, shoot me an email at mommy@godlessmom.com. You can read other entries in this series here. You can read even older entries on my old blog here.

The second story this week is from Christine:

I was born in the Deep South by German immigrant parents. I was raised with all the prejudicial ideas prevalent in the South along with being told that since I was of German origins more was expected of me intellectually.

When my father, a Marine, was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, my brother and sister, evangelicals, had families of their own, remained in the South. In 1956 I was in my junior year in high school, doing well in school except in my chemistry class. I didn’t dare tell my parents that I was not the smartest in the class; that honor went to a black girl. With every exam or test, I would ask Helen what her score was and it was always higher than mine. She was an honor roll student. Then one day she told me I had nothing to worry about—she was dropping out of school! “Why? “ I asked in astonishment. “With your grades, you are bound to get a scholarship to college.” Then she said those fateful words that I still recall today. She said, “No matter what degree I get I’ll never be more than a maid.” That hit me hard. I realized where we lived there were no black teachers, no black principals, no black policemen, or bus drivers, or judges. In fact, black women could work only as maids and black men were the gas station attendants, trash truck drivers, or in the Military. I realized that my parents had lied to me and it seemed the whole world was lying to me. Because of Helen, I lost all those silly prejudicial thoughts. I also realized that Germans are not “the master race.” It was a lie.

What else had my parents lied to me about? Was god a lie? Were vegetables really good for me? Who could I trust to tell me the truth? I gave up my prejudices and I gave up god (but I kept eating my vegetables). I eventually left home, married, and started a family of my own. But when my southern family learned I no longer believed in god, my sister went to a lawyer to see if she could have me declared unfit as a mother—it became a custody battle. Her reason? No child should live in a home without knowing the love of Jesus Christ. She failed. But we disconnected. I lost that entire part of my family: sister, brother, and all my nieces and nephews–forever. But I kept my daughter and she was brought up in a home where she could trust me: there was only one race, the human race, and there are no gods controlling our fates or waiting to punish us for disbelieving.

I often think of Helen—it’s been more than 60 years. I owe her a great deal. Because of her, I gained the ability to think for myself. And I have a deeper love of life than any religion could give me. Losing a part of my family is a small price to pay. But reality is so much more satisfying than placing all one’s values on an invisible, silent, and imaginary god.

I’ve spoken on many occasions about the discrimination some atheists face for merely being godless. So many people have balked in disbelief when I’ve mentioned custody battles that have been won or lost based on religion. Christine is very lucky the battle ended in her favour as I’ve heard so many stories that ended the other way. I’m sorry you lost your family, Christine, but you sound like a hell of a mother.

Thanks for reading this week’s Your Stories of Atheism. If you want to send me your deconversion story for this series, shoot me an email at mommy@godlessmom.com. You can read other entries in this series here. You can read even older entries on my old blog here.

Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Brian Curtis

    “So you honestly believe that because I don’t worship your god that I’m not only going to burn in hell, but that I *deserve* it?”

    This is one of the most powerful questions you can ask a believer. At this point, a “true Christian” has to either start questioning his/her faith or admit to being an absolute monster.

  • Raging Bee

    Actually, what most of them do is waffle about and start blithering about free will and how God REALLY REALLY REALLY wants to save us all from Hell, and how God doesn’t really want to punish us but we have a choice and Hell is the natural and inevitable consequence of the wrong choice and stop thinking about their horrible fantasy and look at their shiny happy fantasy of what happens when you make the right choice instead. Then maybe add some extra blithering about balance and how you can’t have good without evil, or eternal joy without eternal agony, just like you can’t have left without right. Then maybe they’ll cap off all that insulting rubbish by insisting that it’s not really eternal punishment because they just said it isn’t.

  • NelsonRobison

    The question that follows the first one is this, ‘ Since I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in a Satan, or evil being, and since the punishment for being anti-God, is another thing I don’t believe in, I’m simply not going to go there after I die!’ Let the Christians respond to that. How they answer that retort gives an idea of how far they believe an invisible deity is going to go to punish a finite crime with eternal punishment!

    Frankly, I have met many Roman Catholic priests who oppose any form of hell, figuratively or literally. To them G*d is eternally merciful and discards every sin and provides heaven for all mankind. So if this buybull is the inerrant word of an eternal deity, why are there so many interpretations of his holey book, full of myths, legends, fairy tales, and of course stories of derring-do, courage, feats of strength and other fabulous wonders. Lest we forget, there are approximately 50,000 different interpretations of the buybull, that are considered canonical, ready to be used as a teaching tool for all Christians to use.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    the response I have recieved a few times is more along the lines of ‘la la la “I can’t hear you” la la la’
    BTW, can somebody explain how I can paste a .gif or .bmp into a post after I copy? Found an awesome one of Golum that was priceless.

  • Raging Bee

    Download and save the pic to your local drive; then click “Reply” and click the little picture-icon button below the text-entry field; then select the pic from where you saved it, and hit “Post.”

  • Raging Bee

    Oh, and it’s spelled with two Ls. Don’t lose the second one, you know how possessive he gets…

  • Raging Bee

    There’s also “Who are you to question God’s justice?”

  • Then tell them G*d has a choice. If he loves us so much he shouldn’t send anyone to Hell.

  • Kevin K

    I remember as a little kid (probably first or second grade) getting into some sort of discussion as to whether you should baptize someone with spit “just in case”. The scenario was that you found someone who had just been hit by a car and they were dying by the roadside.

    We were taught that anyone could perform the baptism ceremony and that it would “take”. I think the question was whether spit would count or whether you had to find a puddle.

    Thankfully, I never came across anyone dying by the roadside, so didn’t have to test this important theological question. (I was, however, struck by a car when I was in the 2nd grade and was actually grateful that the people who attended to me did not spit on me.)

  • It is a powerful question. I’ve seen so many believers dodge it though. They do have to be willing to consider it honestly.

  • Kevin K

    In person, maybe. On the internet? Heh. They actively seek us out to declare how happy they’ll be to see us roasting.

  • Sadly accurate.

  • I think refusing to believe in Hell is a really good thing. It makes those people more moral than their own god!

  • Upon stumbling across a dying person on the side of the road, it is only religion that could lead a decent person to think the best thing to do is spit on them.

  • Raging Bee

    Or create it in the first place.

  • Raging Bee

    That reminds me…Tom cruise never specified what he absotively posolutely had to do if he saw someone dying on the side of the road…hope it didn’t involve spit, but with religions, ya never know…

  • Clancy

    My mainline Protestant pastor daughter is a universalist. How she explains it to me, when Jesus died he redeemed the sins for all people for all time. Hell was destroyed at that moment and all souls ascended to Heaven, then and afterwards.

  • Kevin K

    Of course, we were all about 6 years old. The next topic of conversation could have been about bugs or something. Or whether you should baptise bugs.

  • ORAXX

    I’ve long been of the opinion the staggering number of christian denominations should be a bigger problem for believers than it is. They can’t all be right, but nothing precludes their all being wrong. I think people have become so used to the multitude of denominations they rarely, if ever, stop to consider how utterly bizarre it is to worship a divine being who could will the universe into existence, but couldn’t get his/her/its story straight.

  • I think you’re right – they just accept and don’t question.

  • ORAXX

    Holy spit? 😉

  • (((Andy)))

    Growing up in the deep south, people always seemed more surprised by my lack of belief in Satan than in God.

  • NelsonRobison

    The fact that I refuse to believe in a place of eternal punishment for a ‘finite crime,’ that of not believing in Jeeeebus here on Earth. Which according to the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals is the second most abhorrent crime known here on Earth, is a crime in itself. But if their deity, G*d is so loving and merciful, why would he condemn someone using their mental faculties and abilities, who cannot believe in the Saviour Zombie Jeeeeeebus. At this point, it is hard enough for me to believe that this man named Joshua, with magical abilities, walking on water, feeding 5,000 men plus their wives and unknown number of children, from 5 loaves and two fishes, raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, cursing a fig tree because it had no fruit out of season, and the tree dying in less than a 24 hour period, shows a little more than a passing fancy of giving a unknown magician of the 1st Century, more magical powers than he had.

    I for the life of me cannot believe that this person actually existed nor can I believe in an anti-god individual named Shaitan, Satan, Lucifer, the Evil One, or whatever name you choose. The reason for this disbelief would be, nothing evident has made itself known to me in 60 years of life. I have never experienced pure evil, not even a little bit evil. I have seen and met people, who have no good in their heart, but that doesn’t mean that they were evil. I think that to be called ‘evil’ a person would have to show that they have a vile nature, some characteristic that had an overwhelming attitude to prove themselves to the world that they are evil in nature and without redeeming qualities that make someone or anyone human.

  • That is bizarre.

  • (((Andy)))

    I totally agree.

  • Martin Penwald

    I have maybe an explanation : they often conflates “not believing in their deity” with “being angry at their deity”. All stories of conversion of “former atheists” emphasizes how the renewed christians were living a life of debauchry because they hated god, so were following the path of Satan.
    Their NewSpeak could be a reason of their surprise.

  • Melody

    Universalism is for sure preferable over most of the other kinds of Christianity. However, it’s still a form of coercion/determinism. God decides still. It’s better he ships everyone of to heaven than hell, but it’s still in his hands that way. People and their own choice don’t come into it.

  • Melody

    It’s one of the things that caused me to become an atheist. Christians were not One, like the Trinity itself, and they were suppose to be. Jesus prays for that to happen (John 17) and it’s never been fulfilled. So even Jesus can’t make God listen to him. So they’re probably not even equal after all either – though the Trinity sort of implies it. There’s still patriarchal undertones, of course, Father, Son and Ghost. The Father tells the Son to go sacrifice himself, and the Son eventually willingly obliges.

  • Excellent point – I do hear religious people tell me often that I am just angry at god.

  • Martin Penwald

    I wonder if these people are angry at Freya, Cthuluh, Crom or Kali…

  • They have a lot of gods to harbour anger for.