This post is biting, mean, and definitely not for the easily offended or faint of heart. If you are highly or remotely religious, I would suggest skipping this one. I have forewarned you. If you choose to read the narrative account of my deconversion from Christianity to atheism, and I say something that offends your religious sensibilities, I’m gonna politely ask you to shove it. Do not be mad at me for calling out the hypocrisy in Christianity on my own lame-ass blog.
I can espouse my radical belief that abortion could stop overpopulation and resource depletion without blinking—kill them babies, as I say. I can talk about how white people are just about the worst bunch of all on the planet with a smile. I can say I hate men and giggle in the white boys’ horrified face, flipping my frizzy curls like a slap of punctuation. I can make seventeen-point tirades with sub-clauses about the monumental failure that is capitalism without breathing. Voicing my radical beliefs has always come easy.
Nothing compares to the tortured and pained expression that comes across my face when somebody brings up religion.
I quiet down. Hell, I practically shut down. I make euphemisms. I make circumlocution look like a sport. I change the subject. Often, I just nod. I’m about the most shameless person on this planet, but religion is just one topic I feel shame or politic about.
Coming to terms with my atheism was easy. I just wasn’t buying what they were selling, and I never went through a crisis of faith or anguishing period about it. Maybe that’s because I came to smell the hypocrisy during the tortured years of middle school, when I highly doubt anybody believes in the Divine Glory. How could you? Middle school is right next to Dis, so said Dante.
I vividly remember when I told my best friends that I didn’t believe in God. I think I was around fourteen or fifteen. I just said it, blurted it out, laying crossways over my best friend’s quilted bed under the fluorescent light and paneling of the little ranch house. I was looking into her dresser mirror when I said it, and I think her and another friend just laughed at me. There goes Rachel again, they crowed from their side of her small bed, being a contrarian little shit.
I didn’t start opening up to my immediate family about me not getting down with the Lord until, I think, after college, and I come from one radical group of people. Although my extended family is moderate-to-highly religious, other than praying before family meals no one ever really talks about it other than my grandmother. That’s always been okay by me.
Religion in the South isn’t a passive thing. It’s breathing, or next to it, up there with Alabama Crimson Tide Football, judging people, and eating potato salad. You just do it. You go to church twice a week, say grace before family meals, give your tithe. But outside of church, only a select group of zealots really talk about it—unlike football. Yes, some people might post scripture on Facebook. They might go to ladies’ Bible study. Maybe they’ll get a bumper sticker or two, but for the most part it’s not what it is perceived to be. It’s just air.
Nobody pays much attention to breathing until you can’t anymore.
I was born into a Methodist family. As things seem to work in the South, my mama was Baptist and my daddy was Methodist, which made us all Methodists. I wasn’t there when this happened, or if I was I was too young to remember, but we converted when I was a child. This story is hazy and might be something my sister made up, but our potentially fabricated conversion story is too good to pass up. One Sunday, my parents and sister went up to the Methodist church as they usually did. My daddy, stylish as always, was wearing some fancy shoes—maybe blue suede. The Methodist preacher commented something like: “those are some colorful shoes you got on, son,” and we were Presbyterians from that day forward.
The Presbyterian church I grew up in was not like the Presbyterianism I learned about when I got older, other than believing that same elected-and-predestined-to-burn-in-Hell shit. And I was sprinkled, not submerged, when I was baptized, which my Baptist grandmother will bring up occasionally in disdain. Other than that, the explicitly Southern aspects of religion were all there. We met on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, the latter when people brought buckets of KFC and ambrosia salad. We sang hymns from a hymnal and, if I remember correctly, had a choir in white and red robes with gold embroidery every now and then, but less as I got older. When I was really young the kids performed plays and skits, “Down by the Creek Bank” being the only one I remember. For a few years I was devoted to going to Sunday School, where the sweetest woman on Planet Earth babysat me with unwavering patience that I can only attribute to the Lord.
By middle school I simply quit caring. They were lucky to drag me to church by my toes. I don’t think I went to church once in high school. My liberalism blossomed around the same time, when I fully realized that being Christlike is not compatible with Conservatism.
Despite my disdain for all religion, I do have a favorite Bible verse. It’s the most ignored and forgotten verse in the whole tome:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
When I went to college—a semi-Christian college with required chapel that I obviously studied through—I had to take six hours of religion courses. I chose to take Old and New Testament, if only to better spot Biblical allusions in literary texts. I was appalled. I excelled in both classes in my Freshman and Junior years, when I don’t think I studied for more than ten minutes and got soaring 100s on every assignment. Lifelong Christians in those classes rarely earned more than Bs with hours of studying and stress. Just growing up in a small Southern town and figuring out why I didn’t believe in God required knowing what it was I didn’t believe. These self-professed Baptists couldn’t spot a Canaanite if they were dropped in the damn desert, and yet they had devoted their lives to living in God’s Glory, while I put salt lines on my doors and windows to keep the Holy Ghost and all his friends up out of my house.
There’s one particular member of my family that has always exuded the hypocrisy of Christianity, who has perpetually sealed Peter’s gate for me. Let’s call her Mamaw. Mamaw reads her scripture every single night before bed, and probably has for her entire life. Mamaw doesn’t go to church that often because she gets her sleep out until two in the afternoon every day, but Mamaw loves her some Jesus. Mamaw tells anecdotal stories about her friends who have had relatives die without being saved, and shakes her head in sympathy, saying what a shame it is to know they’re in Hell. Mamaw thinks abortion is redrum, and that I can’t let all them liberal atheist university professors corrupt me.
When I talk to Mamaw I make sure to never ever let it slip that I’m an atheist. This is both why I am, in fact, atheist, and why I am, in fact, a liberal. When she says something particularly hateful, judgmental, and all around awful, I don’t answer with statistics, logic, or anything Enlightenmental. I say things like, “Jesus healed lepers. He didn’t take away their healthcare,” or if I’m feeling particularly bold, I’ll say something like, “Well I just like to live my life like Jesus did, and you know he was an Arab-Jew that hung out with poor people and prostitutes.”
The thing about the South is kind of simple when it comes to religion. My mama said it pretty eloquently: “The two things people care about down there are where you go to church and who your family is.” But the Church is no longer the community-centered beacon of loving neighbors that was once responsible for keeping kids in shoes and food on tables. It’s pervasive, hateful, judgmental, and one of the most un-Christlike institutions rooted in suppression and hypocrisy.
Here are a few examples so y’all don’t feel like I’m making general, shitty, and baseless claims:
Robert Lee IV, a pastor and direct descendent of Robert E. Lee, eloquently spoke out against racism and the use of his ancestor as a tool for white supremacy and was subsequently booted from his North Carolina church by the congregation.
“The Nashville Statement,” a dangerously conservative manifesto put forth by the Coalition of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, condemns any kind of sexuality besides hetero-boring, denying that it is possible to reconcile LGBTQA+ love and Christianity (and they also probably only approve of half-clothed missionary with the lights off).
A counselor from Daystar Christian Ministries and former employee of Brentwood Academy responded to a very young boy being raped on campus, and discouraged reporting the abuse by saying, “this isn’t how Christian institutions handle these things.”
I got called a whore outside of Belmont University for walking with a backpack, in my typical frumpy-ass wardrobe, by some dude wielding a “God Hates Fags” sign. Conservatives view Trump as a “God-fearing” man because he’s white, and call Obama a Muslim because he’s black. The Christian response to poverty and welfare, despite Jesus’ position, is “get a job.” Joel Osteen said his church was closed for almost three days while Houston was under water.
Your goddamn Vice President believes in electro-shock therapy for gay and transgender people.
Christians all over this country have spent the year committing hate crimes like jerking hijabs off of women’s heads in the name of God or screaming at non-English speaking people to “go back” to where they came from.
They have voted for Nebuchadnezzar for their president because they’ve never studied the Bible enough to know who that was, but rather follow faith blindly and out of fear. These are not bad examples. These people are not outliers or exceptions.
Don’t tell me those people aren’t real Christians. The problem is that they are.