Blog Against Theocracy #3: Adolescence

Easter 1911, St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York.
Credit: Shorpy: The 100-Year-Old Photo Blog.

My partner and I went to church today. More accurately, he went to church and I tagged along. He's a minister and works every Sunday. Easter being a big day, and him even preaching today and all, I went for moral support.

When I attend religious services, I stand and sit appropriately, out of respect. Other than that, I feel like a dog in church. There are interesting sensations: frankincense lingering from the morning service, the smell and feel of old wood, vivid colors from the sun shining through stained glass, music and the song of human voices. When it's my choice to do so, I enjoy such experiences in my own way, without feeling that I betray myself, or disrespect those around me.

I don't remember how old I was - 13 or 14. My parents were getting ready to goto church. I wasn't. They asked why I wasn't getting ready.
I'm not going to church.
Why not?
Because I don't believe in God.
I came out to my parents as an atheist that Easter morning 35 years ago. I didn't go to church that day, nor for many years after that. It was a moral choice for me. I did not want to act out something I did not believe.

Throughout my school years, "home room" was the first classroom assembly of the day, before classes began. Attendance was taken and announcements were made. And we recited the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I became increasingly uncomfortable with following this ritual. In 1975, my senior year of high school, I decided to stop standing for the recitation of the Pledge. When challenged, I gave my reasons: I didn't believe it. I didn't believe in God. I didn't believe that there was "liberty and justice for all."

This precipitated intimidation and harassment to get me to comply. Other faculty and administrative staff came to home room to question me, and stand and glare at me while I sat during the pledge. Other students in the classroom shoved my desk and called me "godless, commie fag" (though they could not have known how technically accurate that was, since I wasn't out yet). Word got out. I was physically threatened in the hallways between classes.

I knew it was my right to refuse to stand. I never discussed the First Amendment. I wasn't refusing to stand just to make a point. I simply did not want to be compelled to act in hypocrisy to my beliefs and feelings. I didn't think it was right.

Faculty and staff gradually relented. Harassment from other students continued sporadically. I don't remember how long this went on before another student, a friend of mine, also refused to stand. She was also challenged, but she was not physically harassed or threatened as far as I know. Another day, another student refused to stand. By the end of the school year, the morning Pledge had been abandoned in my home room class. I assume it continued in others.

I didn't learn until much later that the phrase "under God" was added just four years before I was born.

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lisa said...

Thank you for these posts...provoking thought and raising questions is always good. I had religious questions as a child also, and found many answers unsatisfactory as well. Fortunately for me, I was raised Methodist (a.k.a. "pleasant, non-threatening social club"), so my take was simply that the adults around me were stumped by divine mysteries too, and were just throwing lame answers at me cuz' I was just a kid. So I went on believing, but realized it would always be in my own way, since I saw all organized religion as a bad fit for me personally. Had I begun as a Catholic, I'd likely feel like you do...I'm way too stubborn for any of that "do-as-we-say-without-question" crap!

lisa said...

And another thing....why do some people recognize THEIR freedom to run everyone else's lives, but not our freedom to tell them to get lost?!

Xris said...

Thanks for the comment, and support.

You're like that high-school friend who one day didn't stand up [g].

I need to wrap this whole thing up, now that the blogswarm itself is over. I haven't yet written about hos this is all connected to my gardening, and this blog. One or two more posts on this topic, then I'm done with it for now.

The Truffle said...

Very interesting account. I speak as someone who went to church as a kid but never liked it. I am not an atheist; I just don't believe that going to church is enough when it comes to being true to your faith.

BTW, how does your partner feel about you being an atheist.

Xris said...

Truffle: Welcome, and thanks for your comment. My partner is fine - more than fine - with my atheism. We've talked about this a lot, as you can imagine. I think our different approaches to spirituality enriches each of us, and strengthens our relationship.

Not to speak for him, but it's a relief for him to come home from work on Sunday and not have to talk church! Home is a safe place for him to unwind.

It also helps undermine others' tendencies to see me as "the pastor's wife." They're intrigued by our relationship. They might be surprised or shocked that I don't share their beliefs. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don't, and that's okay, too.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

What a great post. I'm like the girl you knew in high school, too... for a long time, I admired those who refused and opted out of things in which they did not believe, but I wasn't quite brave enough to challenge the system myself. It was just a few years ago before I was brave enough to tell my parents that I did not go to church, but would occasionally (only if I so chose) when I visited them, out of respect. They are very Catholic but have been surprisingly understanding.

Interestingly, the whole "give those smart kids extra work to keep them occupied and out of trouble" idea was still in effect in gradeschools in the 1980s. I was in 2nd grade when I started visiting the gifted teacher for extra work (our gifted program didn't start until 5th grade) and I read all of our library's Newbury Award winners shortly thereafter.

With few exceptions, none of my teachers cared if I wrote stories or read books in class while they were teaching (as long as I hid the reading book inside the texbook so my fellow students wouldn't see.) I don't know that I would have wanted to go to an "elite" school, but I know that my public school didn't quite know what to do with me, either. :)

Xris said...

BSG: I never had any access to a gifted program. All the extra stuff I did was with the encouragement of my "regular" teachers, who were great.

In elementary school, they started experimenting with some "mainstream" advanced material, especially reading and writing. In 6th grade, they started tests for a tracking program, for better or worse. In most subjects, I tracked two grades ahead. A regional depression killed the program before I could graduate into it.

These days, my "extra credit" is my blog, gardening, photography, and involvement in my community.


The last time I went to a church for a serious purpose was for a friend's wedding about 15 years ago. I spent most of my time sneaking antireligious tracts inside the bibles. Heh, heh...

The last time I was inside a church was last summer when I visited an old Greek church in Turkey to take pictures. I need to post those pictures up in my blog.