Perhaps one of the most frustrating misconceptions Christians have about me is that, because I was raised without religion, I know nothing about Christianity. Granted, given that people who were raised Christian and became atheists also get the message that they don’t understand Christianity, it doesn’t just seem to be my upbringing that is a factor here. Yet occasionally I’ll see articles where Christians are wanting to bring their message to other Americans, as if they believe that somehow there are people in the US who aren’t aware of Christianity and Jesus.
My parents never formally taught me about Christianity, though there were books and bibles in our house and we were always encouraged to read. Yet it is impossible to grow up not being aware of it. Take sports. I don’t keep on top of sports, but even though I don’t pay much attention, I know the difference between football, baseball, and soccer. I know the basic rules, and I even know about some of the athletes. I know that the Yankees are a baseball team in New York and the Cowboys are a football team in Dallas and the Celts are a basketball team. It’s very hard to live in America and NOT pick up on these things because you see it on tv, the newspaper, and Facebook. In gym I’ve even played sports a few times and I hear family, friends, and co-workers talk about them. They have lots of movies about underdog sports teams winning championships that I’ve been forced to watch at school. If you live in America, you will know about the sports that are popular here, like it or not.
And it’s even harder to remain ignorant about Christianity in America than it is to remain ignorant about sports. In the south, there are churches on every corner, one of the first questions people will ask you is which church you go to, there are crosses everywhere, it’s on tv, in our literature, our music. You can’t not avoid it. I’ve tried.
When I was a little girl I loved The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which detailed their Sundays which focused on sitting still and being good little Christians. I remember reading about Laura learning about Adam naming the animals. And while the books occasionally mentioned Christianty, the tv show, which I also loved, was downright preachy and overtly Christian!
I also read a lot of fiction and literature, from Little Women to the Bronte sisters and Les Miserables. All of them have Christian themes.
Now, there were a lot of things that were confusing to me and didn’t make sense. I remember when I was a young girl being very confused about why religious places had the gruesome image of a man nailed to a cross everywhere. In trying to make sense of it I wondered if perhaps Jesus experienced pain differently from other people and that it didn’t hurt which was why he was celebrated. I was likely seven when I asked my mom if it hurt Jesus to be nailed to the cross, and even though she’d been an atheist for years, the question thoroughly scandalized her, and she exclaimed, “Of course it did!”
As an adult I learned there were ancient Christian sects that didn’t believe crucifixion hurt, and that Jesus was mocking his executioners. Once again, I need to write that post on why modern Christianity seems like a bad ret-con to me (I think the Gnostics had a more logical narrative, though emotion overrules logic).
So yes, I did learn about Christianity in a strange way, and this lead me to question things that people who were raised in the faith but left never did. And it lead to some interesting misunderstandings. The thing was, those misunderstandings never stuck around for long. There was always a steady line of Christians waiting to set me right.
Which is the reason it is harder to not know about Christianity than it is about football. Christians hear about a non-Christian and they line up to try to convert them. They bring with them books such as More Than a Carpenter, that are very convincing the the already converted, but seriously lacking to someone who was raised in the skeptical tradition. And yes, I did read their pamphlets and their books. I read the bible. I knew more about the bible than a lot of them. I was constantly exposed to their arguments. I had to think through my beliefs constantly. One of the reasons I know as much about Christianity as I do was because I’ve spent so many years fending off unwanted conversion attempts.
I also went to church with them. I’ve been to Baptist, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Southern Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Anglican and Catholic services as well as a few I can’t even think of off the top of my head. And my overall feeling after leaving the services was relief that I didn’t have to go back next week and do it again.
So yeah, I know you believe that Jesus is the son of God who became man who died for our sins. And I know that’s a compelling narrative to you. It’s not for me.
Overall, I don’t care if Christians believe in the above narrative. But I do wish they would stop assuming I know nothing about Christianity or haven’t considered it or approached me as though I’m ignorant. I evaluated what your religion has to offer even though a lot of it wasn’t my own choice, it was thrust upon me, I had to consider it whether I wanted to or not. And I decided there wasn’t anything for me with it. This idea that there are people in the US who don’t know about Christianity is plainly ridiculous, and what Christians have to understand is people who reject have good reasons for doing so. They don’t have to agree with those reasons, but they do need to learn to respect that people can be exposed to Christian ideas and not won over.