As promised, here are excerpts from three more of the 22 women who wrote their personal stories of leaving religion in my upcoming book, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion. Hopefully you will agree with my assessment that it took strong doses of courage, will, and strength to share their stories with us. This is it. Now you will have to purchase the book to read the rest! P. S. You can pre-order the paperback on Amazon. Kindle should be out by October 1. Audiobook to follow.
Ruth was raised as a Christian in Zimbabwe. Her essay gives us pause to think of all of the harm done to other societies in the name of evangelism.
As a black woman, I often wonder why brown and black people are so devoted to Christianity when the Bible was used to enslave their ancestors. As an African, I am well aware that Christianity did not exist in Africa until white people showed up on the continent with Bibles. Our ancestors survived hundreds of years without modern religion. Christianity arrived and created a patriarchal and misogynist culture in Zimbabwe influenced by biblical passages that the man shall be the head of the household and similar sexist edicts. In my country now, many religious sects exist that permit child marriages in which young girls are married off to much older men in rural parts of the country, and these heinous acts go unchecked. My cousin’s grandfather belonged to an apostolic faith sect and had at least eight wives, the youngest of which was only fourteen years old. Yet no one saw a problem with this—it was simply what they did in their church. It is utterly heartbreaking, the things that religion has enabled and normalized in developing parts of the world. Sadly, many of these societies just happen to be brown and black societies.
Kay was raised as a Roman Catholic.
The first religious concept I remember feeling troubled about was that there was just one true religion and anyone who followed a wrong one was basically doomed. That seemed really unfair and also kind of random. Why would god blame you for following what your parents taught you? Why should a mean person who lucked into the one true religion get better treatment than a kind one whose parents picked wrong? I remember asking questions like that in catechism class and never getting satisfactory answers.
The question was finally resolved when I read The Chronicles of Narnia, a children’s book series by C. S. Lewis (who I much later learned was also a Catholic theologian). The final book in the series deals with the end of the world. In Narnia, the good god was Aslan and the bad god was Tash. When the world ended, all of the good people were pulled toward Aslan and the bad people to Tash. It didn’t matter which god they had worshipped in life, just how they had lived their lives. Of course, there was a fair amount of confusion as some people wandered about, unable to reconcile the doomsday reality with their dearly held belief systems. Others adapted pretty quickly and embraced the wonderful new world they had discovered. This all made perfect sense to me, so I adopted it as my version of heaven— complete with talking animals and at least one giant, heroic mouse.
Marsha was raised in the congregations of The Church of Christ. If you wonder why people don’t leave the church even if they no longer believe in the doctrines that are expounded, this quote gives you the answer—you can lose your friends and your family. Bravery is sometimes needed to be true to yourself.
My husband and I came to the same conclusion at the same time. We have always shared many similar viewpoints, and luckily we both agreed on the next step about religion. We left church again, and not by backsliding as before. We left purposefully, openly honest about our unbelief, hoping we could engage our friends in discussions. That never happened, with anyone. The people with whom we’d raised our children, done volunteer work, traveled, camped and hiked, shared our joys and sorrows for twenty years, all turned their backs. It was a shunning, which is not an official doctrine of this loosely organized denomination. No one would even go to a movie with us. When we called, our old “friends” were more than willing to preach to us, to say we should come back to church. And my father! My husband let it slip once, early on, that he didn’t “really believe all that” anymore. My dad pressured him to answer, “Are you an atheist?” Almost immediately, my dad and his wife packed up and left, going back to Texas a couple of days earlier than planned. Every communication from my dad from that day forward included entreaties to “come back to the Lord.” My final interaction with him, back in Texas for my aunt’s funeral, was very unpleasant. He died months later, angry and upset, seriously believing that his daughter was going to hell.
Next post will return to other topics about women and religion. I have been reviewing the notes I took for the many books I have read in the last two years about religion, mythology, and atheism. There are many topics I would like to explore and share with you.
Karen L. Garst
The Faithless Feminist