Let The Chips Fall Where They May: Jonah’s Story

Let The Chips Fall Where They May: Jonah’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Jonah” is a pseudonym.

“That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough”
–R.E.M., Losing my Religion

I’ve tried to write this more times than I can count. Each time it’s been something different to derail it. What is the point? How can it help someone else? Do I need to detail everything that happened to me? Is it for me to air my grievances? Am I still angry at my parents? These and more are all valid questions I’ve had to ask myself.

While outlining events and their details over the last few months in my private scribblings, I’ve come to realize a number of things. First, it has done me good to really look over my childhood with a fine tooth comb. So many things I’ve tried to understand about why I am the way I am have started to come to light. Second, there were things that affected me that I didn’t realize until I started thinking long and hard about them. Whether you plan on sharing it or not, I recommend you write out your story. Detail it, tell it to yourself. You may not realize how many things about yourself you never realized.

I was homeschooled K-12 in an ultra conservative Christian home (note when I say ultra conservative, I don’t mean biblical law over the top fundamentalism conservative). I was the good kid and my parents never saw anything bad coming. Then, at age 21 I slipped into a deep depression. It got bad to the point where I lashed out at my concerned parents and told them I hated them. This came as a complete shock to them.

How did I go from not a problem to this? It was something that was building for years. A combination of isolation, my parents’ emotional unavailability, religious guilt and other factors played into it. I didn’t have a traumatic childhood, at least not compared to what many have endured. However, depression can be incredibly crippling regardless of the cause.

My parents sent me to a Christian counselor. For the first time in my life I found myself admitting to someone (I had not even admitted it to myself really) how much I resented my parents for the years of being isolated and having few to no friends. I resented my parents for being unable to listen or talk about things like sex, relationships and so on. This was just the start, after several months of counseling I was just starting to unravel what was going on inside my head.

Coming out of counseling I was no longer in a deep depression. I could function, going to school and work. But, the darkness was still looming over me. I wasn’t at peace, I had not been for many years. I began to get my life back in order but I knew there was still a long ways to go. I had told my parents what I was angry at them for and had forgiven them

Why wasn’t I at peace? Isn’t that what I needed? To admit to myself what problems I had, forgive and move on? There was still an elephant in the room, something I couldn’t even think to confront at the time. Religion. Ever since I was little it was pushed on me. I was to be the perfect Christian with my parents perfect conservative Christian values. I needed to ask for forgiveness every day because I was a flawed sinner. There was a deep rooted guilt that loomed over my entire childhood.

I had my doubts for years. It always ultimately shifted back to me feeling there was something wrong with me. In spite of accepting Jesus I never felt like anything changed. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I wondered if it really mattered. Then I promptly got angry at myself for questioning Christianity. Then one day, I found my peace. It wasn’t with Jesus, or some magical prayer.

I was sitting in Church in October 2008. This was weeks before the 2008 election, in which Christians had a very big investment in prop 8 (banning gay marriage in CA) as well as getting McCain-Palin (Christian values!) elected. Obama is the anti-Christ and gays are the most evil, vile people on the planet! While I’m putting a snarky little spin on those things, that is very much the message coming from the pulpit. Spewing straight hatred and political propaganda. This wasn’t what I wanted to be. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I stood up quietly and walked out of Church. I was in no way demonstrative about it, I played it off like I was going to the restroom or something. The reality is I was done. I had found myself questioning more and more over the previous six months. Things from having my first gay friend to seeing my co-workers who were struggling to eat, to spending a lot of time with a buddhist girl I liked were changing my perspective on such things. I was done being a judgmental Christian. I was done thinking gays were evil people. I was done mocking people who used food stamps. I was done trying to judge others because they subscribed to a different belief system. Done.

Letting go of my parent’s ideology was the magic bullet. Years of guilt, anger and confusion were lifted in a matter of days. Was I rejecting the notion of God outright? No. I simply realized that I didn’t know. Nobody knows and nobody really can know for sure. Why should I spend my life trying to argue one way or the other? It was time to live my life for me and not to appease anyone.

That day was nearly five years ago. Since then I am still a work in progress, but I haven’t felt the ‘darkness’ that loomed over my life since. I’ve become my own person with my own opinions. I’ve done outrageous things like having a one night stand, exploring other religious philosophies and voting Democrat. I’ve found what works for me.

Sometimes I still feel the ‘darkness’. At times when I was detailing out for myself a recap of my childhood, I could feel those emotions looming over my head. But, it always passes. That is the past and I’ve moved beyond it. At times anger may bubble up, but I’ve forgiven my parents for the mistakes they made.

Today I consider myself agnostic, moderately liberal and I’ve been in a stable relationship for over two years. I have a job I like and I enjoy my life. I have a good relationship with my parents. I’ve never directly talked to them about my ideology, but I think they know. I don’t feel it really matters. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is I’m comfortable in my own skin.

The ultimate point I’m trying to make is this. Be yourself, do what makes you happy in life. It’s not selfish to think of yourself, it’s called self preservation. If something (religious guilt in my case) is choking you and holding you down, ask yourself if you really want that in your life. I’m not telling you it’s your religion, it can be different things for different people.

Many homeschoolers turn out fine as the prototypical conservatives that our parents always wanted. Many of us did not, for a wide number of reasons. That doesn’t mean you turned out wrong or should be unhappy with yourself. Embrace who you are, whatever you want to believe and let the chips fall where they may.

4 comments

  • Great post, Jonah! Also great to hear that your parents didn’t shun you or cut off contact.

    Christianity was always a massive source of anxiety and stress for me. I never got the peace the surpasses all understanding, the abundant life, or the security of knowing I’d get to spend eternity in heaven. I thought I was defective for not “getting it.”

    This lead to extreme guilt and anxiety over not being able to live up to the standard imposed on me by my parents, church, and a book that has no basis in reality.

    It wasn’t like I was indoctrinated at a university at 21 or 22 either. I agonized over my eternal salvation into my early 30’s. It wasn’t until I started reading about how the Bible was created, how historical facts do not agree with biblical accounts, and the internal contradictions within the Bible itself that the whole house of cards fell apart.

    Even if I am wrong and get cast into hell one day, then you know what? At least I can take some comfort in the fact that I lived a good life and that millions of other kind, moral, and accomplished humans were also sent to burn for all of eternity.

  • Thank you for sharing, and I’m happy that you are in a happier place in your life. I’m an agnostic/atheist, and religion is curiosity to me. I married a guy who was raised baptist and pentecostal. I was humoring him by being married by a baptist preacher and we went to a few services together where people turned themselves in as having some watershed moment where they were saved. I asked my soon to be husband if anyone fakes being saved, like faking an orgasm. There seem to be tremendous pressure to have that watershed moment and be able to join the crowd. If it wasn’t happening for someone, it would be tempting to claim it happened and get it over with.

    I also have a friend who left the Mormon church. When she left, she left a whole social infrastructure. She had to meet people and make new friends on her own. I asked her if she ever considered faking it so that she wouldn’t have to give that up. She said that she went a long for awhile but couldn’t keep it up.

  • I’m a secular humanist, which means I have no belief in any goddesses or gods and put the responsibility for a successful life on my own shoulders. I’m not godless, I’m god free! Some Christians say atheists should “fake it till they make it,” meaning they should pretend to believe until they finally do just from the mere repetitiveness. In other words, they are asking me to lie to them and myself just to bolster their own belief. What an insult to my integrity. Happily, many more atheists and agnostics are coming out of the closet and finding each other. Much healthier way to go through life.

    • I don’t know of any Christians who would want an atheist to fake it until they believe. Christians seem to see it as black and white and belief in God being so obvious. I felt vulnerable a few years ago and was looking for something. I liked the Methodists because they seemed progressive and enlightened. I went to their website and discovered that you had to believe that Jesus was the son of God. In my opinion, someone jumped the shark with that one centuries ago. That was a bridge to far for me.

      The thing that disturbs me about both the Christian and Muslim religions is that they can’t just leave well enough alone. If they are so confident they are adhering to the one true religion, why the hissy fit and panic that there are people who believe differently. Christians are in a state of fearful insecurity. If you have been thoughtful and considered all factors and are still convinced you are right about something, that should be enough regardless of what your peers think. A person’s Christian faith seems to be a delicate house of cards that can collapse and any minute.

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