Why I Chose to Walk Away: Elle Christopherson’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

My mother was the model Christian home educator. She self-reported to the local school board when she wasn’t required to do so. She had me tested every few years for her own peace of mind. She kept journals and records and piles of my work and even paid for a distance-learning program in high school to ensure official transcripts for college. My mother led creative workshops in our co-op, and enrolled me in an animal dissection class taught by a certified biology teacher. She enjoyed teaching, from her own childhood play to leading Sunday school today, she has always loved to teach. Mom was in so many ways the ideal Christian home school parent. We were the envy of the church and even my friends. So why don’t I speak with her today? Why so deep a rift between me and the woman who passionately raised me?

This is the story of my lightbulb moment.

‘Biblically based.’ The core tenet guiding every moment of my life in school and out. My mother converted from Catholicism to Pentecostalism when I was three years old. Unable to afford our church’s private school, mom took inspiration from a visiting missionary couple and began to home school me when I entered Kindergarten.

She had good reason to avoid our local school system, which today is even further financially drained and failing, but so much more than simply avoiding a poor school, she hoped I would embrace God’s word and its relevance to our lives.

I was four the first time I prayed the sinner’s prayer. For months following, at bedtime I silently repeated, “Jesus, please be in my heart. Jesus, please be in my heart. Jesus…” until sleep came. I was terrified that He might not know that I really meant it, that if I didn’t wake up I might go to hell and be separated from my Mommy forever.

Mom chose books through Abeka and Hewitt-Moore catalogs.

In history, I learned how the events of the Pentateuch played out into the formation of the societies we have today (Gen 10:32). I learned from science textbooks that ‘the circle of the earth’ (Is 40:22) indicated knowledge of our spherical world well before this discovery, proof of the Bible’s scientific accuracy and divine origins (2 Tim 3:16). In my health book I learned of the US’ abysmal rape statistics, but was encouraged to follow the Bible’s guidelines on modesty (1 Tim 2:9) and trusting God for a mate rather than dating (Ruth 3:10) to prevent unwanted attention. I attended church an average of 4 days a week (Heb 10:25), volunteering in nursery (Prov 22:6) and with the worship team (Col 3:16), church cleaning (1 Pet 4:10) and eventually leading Sunday School (1 Tim 2:2). At fifteen I chose to become my mother’s apprentice (Titus 2:3-5), and took charge of my youngest brother’s schoolwork until I married and moved out. As training for womanhood, I did the majority of housework at that time, and cooked all meals three to four days a week (Prov 31:13-19). We read the Bible together every morning, and individually (Joshua 1:8). I read it cover-to-cover four times and came to the conclusion that I should never wear pants (Deut 22:5).

The first real fight I had with my mother was over a woman’s right to preach in church. I had become convinced that the Bible indicated it was never okay (1 Tim 2:12, 1 Cor 14:34); she insisted God made exceptions like Deborah (Judg 4:4-5) especially in gifts of prophecy (Joel 2:28). At that time she told me that she was eager for my wedding, because she didn’t want me to ‘corrupt’ her children with my ideas (Rom 16:17). This hurt me deeply, because so long as the gospel was being preached, that’s all that mattered to me (Phil 1:18).

I was fearful, lonely, and unhappy, with no real understanding of why.

As far as I could tell, I was doing most things right, and repenting of the rest. This was supposed to bring me fulfillment and happiness unknown to the world! (Gal 5:22-23) But then, my mother always told me the world can ‘enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’ (Heb 11:25) That must be why relatives appeared so carefree! Some of my viewpoints changed over time — I stopped wearing dresses (Gal 3) — but I always prayerfully came to these conclusions through scripture… or so I thought. Then I began to research infant circumcision.

The New Testament makes abundantly clear that circumcision is no longer requirement for a relationship with God (Rom 4), and in fact is even insulting to the cross (Gal 5:2). I easily decided it was wrong for a Christian to choose this. I was told that it was ‘cleaner,’ that modern science has shown this as wisdom God gave to the Israelites, and this is why Christians still follow the practice in spite of Biblical admonitions to the contrary. I looked into the science and discovered that it is hardly proven, this notion that amputation of genital tissue is necessary and beneficial for all mankind. That this practice was introduced among Americans only in recent history out of a desire to reduce ‘sinful’ masturbation in children. That over seventy percent of the world’s men have their parts intact, and modification is most common among highly religious people and nations — not the most scientifically advanced. Still, they asserted that the world was missing God’s will. I argued that if anything, science supports the New Testament’s position that it is no longer necessary.

As I delved deeper into the history of genital alteration, I learned of intersex individuals. I had never heard of this before, except in a passing joke. If it was possible to be born with both male and female parts, how was this ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps 139:14) individual to find a partner and not be forced to commit the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality (Lev 20:13)? What if it were possible that those with same-sex attraction actually were born with that preference in their biology, since it’s possible to be born with a combination of sexual parts? I began to read more. Maimonides stated that circumcision was intended to curb the adult sexual inclinations of both males and females. Brit B’peh actually gives diseases to children.

The more I read, the more disgusted I became, and the more I found discrepancies between basic human decency and the Bible itself.

We fought for pro-life legislation because of verses that spoke of the value of human life, citing scriptures like Psalm 127:3. It certainly didn’t matter that the babies had unbelieving parents. Yet in just as many verses there are stories of God backing and causing infanticide and forced abortion among the disobedient (1 Sam 15:3, Hosea 13:16 for starters). We abhorred slavery of all kinds, and our Abeka history texts glorified the good Christians who brought slavery to an end in America. Yet there is not even one verse in the entire good book that condemns slavery. No, but there are New Testament admonitions for slaves to obey their masters (Col 3:22). How can one live ‘Biblically’ with a good conscience? By cherry-picking, apparently.

We lived by the verses we liked, explained away the ones we didn’t.

Everything began to crumble.

So it was that simple concern for baby humans which opened my eyes to the extent to which our textbooks (and churches) selectively chose Bible quotations alongside manipulated scientific and historical data to ‘prove’ conservative Christian theory, thus instilling their ‘Biblical Worldview.’ My mother was correctly led to believe that lifelong indoctrination would make departure from the faith extremely difficult. All my siblings still believe what they were taught, to varying degrees of fervor. It was only after marriage and caring for my own firstborn that I finally realized how little love is shown to all mankind’s sons and daughters in the Bible. The claim that God loves us all is constantly challenged within that same ‘good’ book.

I’m still unpacking all the pseudoscientific claims I relied upon as proof of the Bible’s validity.

All my life I heard pastors and home school mothers debating how and why adult children fall away from the faith when the Bible clearly says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ (Prov 22:6) Now I understand why those fell away, why I have chosen to walk away: the Bible tells me so.

‘And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.’ Mark 9:42

8 comments

  • What an encouraging, thoughtful post. I am sorry that your mother’s religious fervor has been visited on you but your willingness to make belief your own has set you free from the delusional system. Unfortunately, you will likely have to accept a good deal of derision and blaming for having decided to be honest.
    In my own departure from evangelical Baptist life, I found that as the years passed, the onion peeled further and further and that I was less willing to let-it-be and became more actively interested in speaking out against the abuse, especially concerning children. I remember weeping in grief and fear during therapy, trying to understand how my parents were willing to horrify me with tales of hellfire and eternal suffering. Your memory of being a little one and taking that to bed at night reminded me of that sick deed done to me. What happens to people to make them sink into this torture of innocent children? It gives me me a huge smile this Monday morning to know that you are a mom who would not harm her child, that you do no need to hurt him to get through your day. Thank-you for sharing some of your story.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      I remember weeping in grief and fear during therapy, trying to understand how my parents were willing to horrify me with tales of hellfire and eternal suffering. Your memory of being a little one and taking that to bed at night reminded me of that sick deed done to me.

      This might have some bearing on a TV commercial I saw on CNN last week from The Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group. The group’s spokesman for the commercial was Ron Reagan (the president’s son?) who ended his pitch with “Ron Reagan, Atheist. And I’m not afraid of Burning in Hell.”

      Like Hellfire & Damnation were ALL there was to Christianity.
      Wonder where that impression came from in the first place?

  • It’s amazing the things we’re taught by people who genuinely believe they’re doing the right thing. It’s interesting to me that circumcision was the first thing you caught on to as a problem. I definitely agree that it’s bad. Why it’s still so widely practiced on infants, who of course can’t give consent, in the US of all places, is beyond me.

  • Circumcision was definitely a sticky point in my spiritual journey and questioning too. For me, it wasn’t just the ethics, but the history of the practice, which pre-dates all the dates we have for the man Abram. It was the first time I had to genuinely say “I guess the Bible got this wrong”. Which was a very strange feeling.

  • Pingback: 21 July 2015 Religion and Freethought News | Evangelically Atheist

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    That this practice (circumcision) was introduced among Americans only in recent history out of a desire to reduce ‘sinful’ masturbation in children.

    And whose mover and shaker was the asexual Crazy Doc Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan.

    Whose career (gallon-sized yogurt enemas and all) was fictionalized in the historical novel and movie Road to Wellsville. (With Anthony Hopkins portraying him in the movie.) Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were his invention (to destroy the sex drive through veganism) and he never forgave his brother for adding sugar to make them actually edible and taking them mainstream. (Not just Corn Flakes but Graham Crackers originated the same way for the same reason. Ah, Victorian Quackery…)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    My mother was correctly led to believe that lifelong indoctrination would make departure from the faith extremely difficult. All my siblings still believe what they were taught, to varying degrees of fervor.

    “Give me your children for five years and I will make them mine. You will pass away, but they will remain Mine.”
    — A.Hitler, cult leader

  • I hear you, every word, every Bible reference, every chapter and memorized verse. I remember when I first began to realize that some things weren’t adding up. There have been all sorts of stops from there to where I am now. Keep searching for truths, no matter how hard those truths are to look at.
    One very significant step was reading a book titled “The Jesus Papers.” I’d still been holding on to christianity even though I was no longer attending church. But I read that book, and once I learned about the Council of Nicea it all came apart. Further listening to people talk about different religions brought different ideas to me, but no set of ideas has touched me with as much power as the scientific method. Biology, chemistry, ideas that are tested and proven and tested again against new information, eventually setting aside or modifying those ideas that don’t measure up….versus ideas that do not change, no matter what happens, evidence be damned!
    If you haven’t yet, I encourage you, as someone who has walked in your shoes, or a pair that looked a lot like them, to take college biology at a secular institution, with an open mind, when and if that opportunity becomes available. In the meantime, watch Cosmos, start to finish.
    Social justice was the other huge piece that really started to unpack things for me; a women’s studies class began to show me the harm that a biblically-bolstered patriarchy had done in so many times and places. Take a class, if you can, that looks at how people who are not European in origin have been impacted throughout the centuries by European culture arriving on their doorstep and announcing that they were Doing It Wrong. (There are several choices)
    I hope this is of some help, to someone.

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