In my entry about my beard SEB regular Consigliere asked some very good questions about my past consideration of a career in the clergy. Something I’ve mentioned previously, but haven’t elaborated on much so I thought I’d go ahead and answer them in this entry.
You indicated in the past that you were interested in becoming a preacher (Baptist was it?). I have several questions, mainly about family dynamics.
There was a time when I was considering becoming a Baptist pastor, yes. It was during my teenage years and was the starting catalyst that eventually led me to become an atheist. My family wasn’t, and still isn’t, particularly religious and it’s probably safe to say that I was the most actively religious out of the five of us, at least during that period. We didn’t attend church as a family with any regularity outside of going to weddings or funerals.
Eventually my younger sister and I were recruited by the local neighborhood kids to start attending Sunday School at Shalom Baptist Church and that’s where my initial education into Christianity took place. I think I was around 8 or 9 years old when we started going and I was overly credulous as many children tend to be. I bought into everything the pastor was selling even going so far at one point to chastise my parents for listening to rock and roll music, which my pastor had taught me was evil. Imagine, if you will, a child sitting in the backseat of his parent’s car with his fingers in his ears slowly mumbling to himself, “I’m not listening to it, God. I’m not listening to it, God.” to block out the sound in his head because he was afraid he was going to go to Hell due to his parent’s fondness for The Moody Blues. I was very much a True Believer™.
At the time you did this were your family members religious? If so, did any of them fall away from a belief in God before you did? If so, who?
As I said, my family hasn’t ever been particularly religious. My mother believes in a God and the idea that things happen for a reason, but that’s about as religious as she tends to get. When she talks about her religious views there’s a Christian overtone to them because that’s most of what she’s been exposed to, but she’s never described herself as a Christian and I wouldn’t consider her to be Christian based on what I know of her religious views. She’s probably closest to being a Deist. Same is true of my sister, though she’s probably closer to being a Christian due to our time going to church as kids. My dad never really expressed much of an opinion on the issue of God’s existence one way or the other that I can remember while growing up and I’m still not entirely sure if he does or doesn’t believe to this day. My older brother, as near as I can tell, is an atheist, but I could be completely wrong on that point. He’s certainly not a Christian, though. It’s difficult to tell with him because he only tends to get really philosophical after having had a couple of drinks and then you have to take a lot of what he says with a good dose of salt. It’s safe to say that out of all of us I was probably the closest to being what most folks would consider a Christian.
As far as I know the religious views of most of my family haven’t really changed over the years, or at least not as much as mine have. I went from largely being ignorant of religion in general to full-on Christian True Believer™ who annoyed his family on occasion by trying to convince them to mend their wicked ways* after a particularly fiery sermon from his pastor to eventual atheist. My sister became more religious than she was because of our time attending church, but not to the extent I had I don’t think. My folks and my brother seem to have pretty much stayed about where they were belief-wise, but I’m not entirely sure because I’ve never really talked with them about it much. So, no, none of them fell away from belief prior to me.
If your family members were not religious while you were contemplating your entry into the clergy, was there any familial tension in regards to what you were contemplating?
I don’t think my family was even aware that I was considering the possibility of becoming a pastor, honestly. I might have talked with my sister about it a couple of times, but overall I didn’t talk with my family about it. Mainly because the few times I did try my hand at proselytizing them I was put in my place pretty quickly. I was well into my teens at this point and at the height of my belief. I sincerely thought I could help people by becoming a pastor and I took a greater interest in the church’s youth ministry. It was that decision that started me down the path away from belief, but there was no familial tensions because my family was largely ignorant about it.
Finally, if your family members were religious, when you had your epiphany regarding the lack of a God, how did this impact your familial relations?
Again, with religion not being a big factor in our family life, my fall away from belief didn’t cause much of a problem. My mother told me later that when I first started calling myself an atheist it bothered her at first, but that had more to do with the negative connotation that the word atheist tends to hold for most people. I was into my 20’s before the realization had set in and I started using the label.
My religious indoctrination and eventual move to atheism was neither encouraged nor discouraged by my family as we were all pretty much free to develop our beliefs on God on our own. Our Christmas and Easter celebrations weren’t devoid of religious symbolism—I can remember playing with the baby Jesus in my mother’s favorite nativity set as a child after the glue that held him down came loose—but looking back on it now we were anything but your typical Christian family. The only time I can recall praying together as a family was when we visited my grandparents and that was just my grandfather saying Grace before a meal.
All in all a pretty boring an undramatic story to say the least.
* Okay, MOST of my family. I didn’t really try with my brother too much because I was pretty certain he was going straight to Hell.