Over Christmas break, I met with one of the few friends from high school I still talk to. It had been over a year since I’d seen her, we figured out, and it was nice to catch up. While we sat drinking coffee, we started discussing how each of us had changed since high school. As it turns out, neither of us are all that enamored with Christianity anymore. As we talked, I put something into words that I didn’t quite realize had occurred until that moment. I mentioned that one of the reasons I grew disenchanted with Christianity was honestly because college was the first time I realized that non-Christians can be good people. Imagine that, right? I know it sounds stupid (because it is), but that’s honestly what I thought. It wasn’t a conscious thing; it was just a very black and white worldview.
If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you might remember that I was homeschooled. Homeschooling is becoming more prolific these days, but there are still stereotypes — homeschoolers are all prudish, strict Christians who don’t trust the government with their kids, and all their kids are naive and sheltered, and none of them know what birth control is — okay, so it’s not that bad (at all — I’ll give you the side-eye if you actually believe that about homeschoolers). But I know it is easy to assume that we are more sheltered than kids who went to “real” school.
We can get into my thoughts on all that another time. But for me, the accurate description is not that I was sheltered, but that I was ignorant and self-absorbed (more so than now, anyway). Yes, the homeschooling community where I’m from is made up of a lot of Christians, but there were plenty of other religions and non-religious people in the mix as well, and there was never any hate against those who weren’t Christians. The large Christian presence had more to do with the fact that I live in the Bible belt than that I associated with other homeschoolers. Also, being a Christian does not mean adherence to one exact set of beliefs — some are more liberal and some are more conservative, like with any belief system. But in high school, I was more worried about my appearance and fitting in than I was about finding nuance in my community. It just wasn’t on my radar.
When I started college, I quickly met a core group of friends that I hung out with all the time, plus random acquaintances from classes. Again, because I live in the South, a lot of people do claim Christianity as their religion, but I quickly realized that not all of them really practiced. I joined the Baptist student ministry, where 90% of the students claim Christianity, and ended up not really liking a lot of them. Then I would meet other people in different settings, decide I liked them, and then realize they did not claim Christianity in any way, shape, or form. I also watched one of my friends from my core group kind of have her own falling out with religion, and didn’t appreciate her any less as a friend. I didn’t realize what was happening at the time, but it was sort of a wake-up call.
I had a few issues with Christianity before college even started, too. In high school, I kept an on-again, off-again pattern of reading my Bible every day and keeping a prayer journal. It was more of a discipline than an enjoyment, but that was okay because everything good in life takes work. My main problem was that I never felt good enough. I know that by traditional Christian belief, Jesus died for me, and nothing that I could ever do or fail to do could change that. But still, there are a set of moral principles that Christians are expected to live by, and I’m not perfect. I knew what I was supposed to do and not do, and I kept doing the wrong thing for one reason or the other. I was probably too hard on myself. But then I didn’t think I was hard enough. This led to feelings of guilt whenever I thought about my spiritual life, and that added on to insecurities about acne and my desirability to males and all those other things that characterize high school was not good. So when I started college with an already-fading desire to continue with Christianity, and then realized that there are a lot of types of people in the world, I kind of dropped it.
That I thought Christianity was the only “right,” “good” religion wasn’t an attempt to turn me against others. I assume I would have been the same way if I had grown up Jewish or Muslim or anything else. And I don’t regret or resent being raised the way I was at all — on the contrary, I respect my parents for instilling in me the set of morals that they thought would turn me into the best person I can be. Really, my regret is that I was actually naive enough to think that to be Christian equals everything good in the world, and everything else must be bad or wrong. I know now there’s much more nuance. I feel silly not to have known that then.