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Have You Ever Pretended To Be A Christian
(The events described herein occured in 1992. I was 21 back then... it's amazing how much my life has changed in the past 20 years.)
Have You Ever Pretended To Be A Christian?
Yes, I have.
I was a Christian when I was really young. Well, at least my parents said I was. After leaving a small and quaint farmer’s Presbyterian Church outside of Omaha, Nebraska, I began to explore Christianity on my own away from my parents. Between the sixth and seventh grade I attended several different Sunday schools in Bellevue, Nebraska. I finally settled on one and caught a Sunday school bus every Sunday and took it to the school gym at Logan Fontanelle Junior High School. I participated in the programs and songs and I did all the silly activities.
It was later in my life that I realized that I was not really a Christian that summer. I was pretending and “searching.” I was attending Sunday school and playing along in order to fit in with a theistic society in order to avoid retaliation. I was doing it because everyone else was.
I played along and searched on my own not just because of religious peer pressure, but also because I honestly thought something was wrong with me. All my family and friends and neighbors were Christians. Christian churches were everywhere and religious events and programs were all over television. So why did I have a hard time getting it? Why was I so skeptical? There had to be something wrong with me that was preventing me from getting it.
In my late teens and early twenties, I began to understand my atheism better and I learned not to be afraid of retaliation and more importantly, I began to understand why I was different. I learned that there was nothing wrong with me – that I was actually the rational one. In hindsight it is clear as to why I had such a hard time accepting Christianity and religion in general: my love of science.
When I was stationed in Italy, I met my ex-wife through a mutual friend. My friend thought I needed to go to church, but he knew I was an atheist. He convinced me to go by saying that he and a bunch of friends were meeting at his house and wanted to know if I would like to meet his friends. He never told me it was a church. After I realized what was going on, I told my friend that I would never go back. I was disappointed in him for deceiving me. However, there was this woman there and I wanted to see her again. So I kept going back just to see her. I knew that her parents were fundamentalists and that they had gone beyond religious to being radical (borderline occult). This was going to be a challenge.
In order to see her again and gain the trust of her parents, I had to pretend to be a Christian – and not just a regular Christian – a fundamentalist Christian. It was actually easy to play the role, and I even considered it a little fun sometimes. I allowed her parents to baptize me in their bathtub and later in the Mediterranean for their benefit. I was convincing enough as a fundamentalist Christian that they allowed me to move in with them and become part of their family. Ultimately they allowed me to marry that woman I met at the in-house church at my friend’s.
We had to get married in Italy first so that we would be married “in the eyes of God” before we flew to the states to get legally married. The idea of being married “in the eyes of God” was to avoid pre-marital sex (too late). We got married in La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy: it was a very religious ceremony and the military chaplain was a bumbling idiot (he had protested our marriage, but ultimately gave in). My ex-wife and I ignored everything around us and just stared at each other’s eyes. I was doing such a good job of ignoring the chaplain that he had to ask me twice to “repeat after me.” I had toned him out completely.
After we were married “in the eyes of God” for her parent’s benefit it was time to take the mask off. It felt so good to take it off! We got on the ferry to Palau and I lit up a cigarette, bought a drink at the bar with my Navy friends, and started cussing up a storm (like a sailor should)! Her parents were in shock. Admittedly felt good to see their reaction. I often think back and realize that because of their sincere beliefs, the event was likely very traumatic for them. I felt a tiny bit guilty for doing it, but it was something that needed to be done for my own sanity and my ex-wife’s.
Like my friend had deceived me, I had deceived everyone in the in-home church. I felt guilty about it, but I felt that the deceit was necessary in order to get my ex-wife out of the religiously abusive environment she was living in. I had to pretend to be a fundamentalist in order to save her from her parent’s physical and mental abuse.
The funny part is that my ex-wife did not know I was pretending. She knew that I was not as religious as I was pretending to be, but she did not know that I was an atheist. She thought she was going into another religious house: just not as strict and a lot more loving. When she learned I was an atheist, she was so relieved and confided in me that she no longer believed. The look of relief on her face made every bit of the acting and pretending worth it – to know that she no longer feared physical and mental abuse at the hands of religious zealots.
I knew my ex-wife was questioning and doubting, and that is one of the reasons that I continued to go out with her. If she had been as religiously nutty as her parents I would have lost interest quickly. My ex-wife was questioning her parent’s Christian fundamentalism and the way they were raising her. I was so relieved to learn that she was an atheist as well. She was an emotional atheist (no knowledge of any of the arguments for/against the gods – just a basic lack of belief in gods) for a long time. She ultimately crossed the bridge into logical atheism (knowledge of the arguments and ability to refute religionists) as she walked around the world without religious blindfolds and began to understand how things really worked. She was free of her religious bondage and able to truly explore and appreciate the world for what it was.
I have to admit that I had fun pretending to be a Christian fundamentalist. It was a lot of work, though. There were several times that her parents almost busted me. I remember coming back smelling of cigarettes and being asked if I was smoking. I told them that I had stopped at a bar (nothing like American bars) to get a coffee and was around people who were smoking. My ex-wife’s father worked on the same ship as I did and he almost busted a few times while the ship was in “exotic ports of call.”
The hardest part about pretending and playing the role of a fundamentalist Christian was putting aside reality and using illogical arguments and irrational statements. Having to say things like, “God created the Earth in six days” with a straight face was really hard. Doing the “happy Jesus dance” on Sundays with everyone that attended the in-home church was especially difficult. Do Christians realize how silly they look doing the “happy Jesus dance?” It was so hard not to laugh hysterically when they started “dancing” to Christian music.
The level of commitment I had to put into pretending to be Christian went beyond the home and around her parents. I had to pretend to be a Christian on the ship as well (to the amusement and befuddlement of my friends). I had to pray before meals on the ship because her father was on the ship with me and he could walk into the galley at any moment and catch me not saying grace. I had to go to Bible study on the ship because he was there. I had to convince him that his daughter would “continue in a good Christian home.” I even had to continue the charade in letters that I wrote to her while underway. Her parents did not think she deserved any privacy and would read her letters, diaries, etc. I knew there was a chance of them reading the letters, so I had to smatter them with Christian references and godly talk.
Ultimately the differences between my atheism and my ex-in-laws hyper-religiosity culminated into several nasty episodes relating to my children. But that is for another time…