I used to think that I was a Christian when I was young. Between the sixth and seventh grade I attended Sunday school in Bellevue, Nebraska. I caught the Sunday school bus every Sunday and took it to a school gym. I participated in the programs and songs and I did all the silly activities.
It was much later that I realized that I was not really a Christian back then. I was just pretending. I was going to Sunday school and playing along in order to fit in. I was playing along with a theistic society in order to avoid retaliation. I was doing it because everyone else was. I was a victim of religious peer pressure.
I think it is fair to say that I played along not just because of the above reasons, but because I thought that something was wrong with me since all my friends and family were believers and I was not. I felt like I was missing something.
In my late teens and early twenties, I was beginning 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.
When I was in Italy, I met my wife through a mutual friend. My friend thought I needed to go to church. He convinced me to go by saying that he and a bunch of friends were meeting and wanted to know if I would like to meet his friends. He never told me it was a church. I went – and met my wife. After I realized what was going on, I said I would never go back and I was disappointed in my friend for deceiving me. However, I wanted to see that girl again. I kept going back just to see her. I realized that her parents were fundamentalists and had gone beyond religious to being radical (borderline occult). This was going to be a challenge.
In order to see her 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 for their benefit. I was so convincing as a fundamentalist Christian that they allowed me to marry her.
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 Italy and it completely sucked – it was a very religious ceremony and the military chaplain was an idiot. However, my wife and I ignored everything around us and just stared at each other – we were doing such a good job of ignoring the chaplain that he had to ask me twice to “repeat after me” because I had toned him out.
After we were married “in the eyes of God” for her parent’s benefit it was time to take the mask off. Man, did it feel good to take it off! We got on the ferry and I lit up a cigarette, bought a drink, and started cussing, as a sailor should with my Navy friends! Her parents were in shock – and it admittedly felt good to see their reaction. I often think back and realize that their sincerity in their beliefs made this a traumatic event and I feel a slight pang of guilt. However, in the end it was for the better.
Yes, I had deceived her parents as my friend had deceived me. As I mentioned above, I did feel some guilt over this. I felt that the deceit was necessary in order to get my wife out of the abusive environment that she lived in. I had to pretend to be a Fundamentalist in order to save her from her parent’s physical and mental abuse. My wife was a non-believer, too.
The funny part is that my 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.
I would have never gone through the trouble if my wife did not have doubts. My wife was questioning her parent’s Christian fundamentalism and the way they were raising her. My wife was an emotional Atheist for a long time. She has crossed the bridge into logical Atheism since then as she walked around the world without religious blindfolds and began to understand how things really worked. She was free of her shackles and the slave has walked away from the imaginary master.
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 I her parents almost busted me. I remember coming back smelling of cigarettes and being asked if I was smoking. I just told them that I had stopped at a bar (nothing like American bars) to get a coffee and was around people that were smoking. My wife’s father worked on the same ship as I did and I he almost busted a few times in towns at “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 hard. Doing the “happy Jesus dance” on Sundays with everyone that attended the 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 moving their legs and feet to Christian music.
I had to take this to a higher level. I had to pray before meals on the ship because her father was on the ship with me and he might see me. What if her father saw me on the ship and I was not saying grace before a meal? 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.” Even in the letters that I wrote home I played the role because at any time he might find one of my letters and read it.
My parents were confused getting some of my letters for a while. It was not until months later that I was finally able to explain what was going and the light bulb went on for my parents. When they finally met the in-laws, they realized why the charade and façade was necessary. This was the only time I really went out of my way to pretend to be a Christian.