How to Lose Your Religion in 12 Easy Steps
- Grow up in a church. Go to Sunday school at Bulverde United Methodist church in San Antonio, Texas, where you cut out pictures of doves, sing along to “Jesus Loves Me,” and then whine to your parents about how boring your teacher is. At home, read a children’s Bible with illustrations of Adam and Eve, who are modestly covered by leaves. Say the Lord’s Prayer and say it with your family at the dinner table on Sundays, hands held and eyes closed. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
- Listen to your parents fight about religion. When you’re ten and your dad decides to be Catholic but your mom is stays Protestant, eavesdrop them yelling “hypocrite!” and “sacrilege!” across the island counter in the kitchen. as they argue over which church to attend on Christmas. Try to decipher the differences between the two religions, when as far as you can tell they are both all about Jesus. Wish we could go back to the same boring church and not two different boring churches.
- Pray and wait for an answer. In fifth grade, when Jordan tells the other kids that you’re a lesbian for trying to hold her hand one time, go home and kneel in front of your window sill and ask God to make you feel better. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Even if the evil is a bully in your class. When weeks go by and you feel nothing, lay in bed wondering if God can’t hear you. Consider the possibility that maybe He loves everyone but you.
- Go to a Bible Study. Every Monday night, instead of reading Harry Potter and playing with your dog, attend your local Bible Study Fellowship with seventh graders from a different school. Sit quietly and do your Bible worksheets, but wish you were at home. Listen to the other kids gossip about Concordia Christian School, the private school they attend. Be somewhat offended when no one, not even your teacher, notices that you got braces and cut your hair.
- Have a really, really religious phase. Like church-three-times-a-week-religious. Please-Lord-I-want-to-be-a-pastor religious. Go to the Chrysalis Retreat, feel “filled by the spirit,” an feel smug that you are a better Christian than the rest of the ninth grade, like Ryan Gabelmann who has sex with her boyfriend. Watch them walk past and think hypocrites! and then remember that God doesn’t love you anymore than He loves them, and go sit in a graffitied bathroom stall for a while, feeling a little bit lonelier than before.
- Become a feminist. Learn about the National Organization of Women from your eleventh grade English teacher, Mrs. McDonald, who has a pixie hair cut and Maya Angelou quotes pinned on her bulletin board. Peruse articles online about the pay gap and slut shaming. Remember when your father explained why Catholic priests are all men and your boyfriend said that you drive “like a girl.” Look up Ephesians 5:22, which boys at school love to quote when girls get bossy: Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Decide that you’re a Democrat, even though you’re not sure what a Democrat actually is.
- Get really depressed. In your final year of high school, sink into the shame you feel for liking girls, for not getting all A’s, for not being pretty enough. Pray sometimes and sing back-up in the worship band, but wonder what the point of praying is when it feels like yelling at a brick wall. In youth group, when the 23 year old youth pastor with a pierced nose explains that sadness and loneliness are a sign of distance from God, ask if the same is true for depression. When she says yes and suggests prayer and study, think of the ways you have tried. Think that it shouldn’t be this hard.
- Have a super religious best friend. Walk into your bedroom on a Friday night to see Caitlyn, seated with an open Bible in her lap. Watch the fire in her eyes when she tells you that she’s afraid for your soul because she heard that you and Ashley Samples kissed at a party. Try not to laugh while she reads Leviticus 18:22: You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. Thank her for her concern and quietly decide that after graduation you probably will never speak to Caitlyn again.
- Date a religious boy. Bask in your parents’ approval. When he tells you that your bi-sexuality is sinful, but that you can still go to heaven because you’re dating him, consider whether he’s been brainwashed or has just lost his damn mind. Come up with too-late retorts, like I may be half gay, but is your chronic masturbation the picture of Biblical morality? The night you finally leave him, scream in an empty parking lot outside of your dorm that you like girls and don’t fucking care what anyone says about it. Flip off the sky and toss a full styrofoam Whataburger cup onto the pavement. Then clean up the pieces of the cup, because you may be gay, but you don’t litter, for Christ’s sake.
- Attend your childhood church on your summer break. Roll your eyes when the pastor insists that humans are helpless without God. The next Sunday, tell your mom you’re too tired to get up for church. Stay in bed and binge watch The L-Word on Netflix.
- Go to yoga. Dismiss asanas and chakras as just more religion with rules and rituals you don’t want to follow. With every mention of the spirit, remember the Holy Trinity and feel resentment. Imagine spirituality that belongs to you, unregulated by some misogynist dude in robes and unhindered by kissing girls or smoking weed or being yourself. Breathe in the freedom.
- Give praying one more try. The day after your college graduation, after your friends and family have gone home and you’re left alone again, sit outside of your apartment in the grass, even though it’s slightly damp and you can feel mud soaking through your shorts. Look up at the sky. Stretch. Try praying again for the first time, differently now. Okay, Universe, you’ll think. Giggle slightly at yourself, but continue anyway. Let’s try this again.
Leta Rebecca Cunningham, an essayist and poet, is an University of North Texas alumni from Denton, Texas. She is a graduate of Pacific University’s Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Her essay “My Mother’s Bread” won 1st place for personal essay at the 2016 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference as well as 1st place in the Humanities devision at UNT’s 2016 Scholar’s Day Student Conference. You can find her work in Ten Spurs Journal of Nonfiction, LiteraryMama.com, The Write Launch, The North Texas Review, and Transcend: A Literary Magazine. You can find her in bed cuddling her dog at almost anytime.