This is just one example of how an immigrant can be misled into thinking that he or she must be a Christian to be a true American. I also want you to know there is someone like me reading your newspaper.
I grew up going to a Christian church in Japan, only because my parents wanted a place where they could leave children on Sunday morning. I struggled to make sense out of the biblical stories as a child. The stories did not fit with the things taught in history or science classes at school.
When I was in high school, my family migrated from Japan to the U.S. mainland. I had a very difficult time learning the unfamiliar language and fitting in the American high school culture. The school staff encouraged me to join a church youth group, a Christian one in order to be more “American.”
There was a church youth group leader who had access to our high school. He said my doubt about the bible’s authenticity was an insult to the U.S. and made me less patriotic. He told me I would never understand American culture unless I became a Christian. I decided to be baptized.
I misunderstood by thinking that the U.S. was a Christian nation. The people in his church had a very firm opinion about my birth country: Japan was never going to be recognized as a civilized nation because Japan was not a Christian nation.
My doubt grew stronger as I matured. History, anthropology and philosophy classes in college never helped my Christian faith. “Praying until inconsistencies disappear” was not an acceptable problem-solving skill.
My doubt was heightened when George W. Bush took office as president. It was obvious he was totally incompetent as a president despite being such a devoted Christian. But by then, I had my whole social life built around the church.
When I expressed my doubts, my friends told me to pray until I no longer saw inconsistencies in the bible. I did not have the courage to admit I was not a believer. I was afraid I would be persecuted for not trying to be American enough.
But after awhile, it was too uncomfortable to pretend I believed in Jesus. I did not want to lie to myself and friends at the church. I never announced my lack of faith, but I completely withdrew from church activities. I lost many friends and moved out of the area.
Currently I reside in Hawaii, where generations of Japanese-Americans have established unique communities. I see many Japanese-American people belonging to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, but many are totally nonreligious. They are proud to be American regardless of their faith or nonfaith.
Now I look back on what made me believe I had to be a Christian to be a true American. My desire to be an “American” was twisted by the Christian church. I was naïve. I wanted to have friends and belong to something in a country where I knew nobody. It was my fault.
A very simple and easy conclusion came out of a very long soul-searching process: I am happy to be an American without religion.
Mahalo [thank you] and thank you for reading.
FFRF member Satoko Makino is an accountant at a property management company in Honolulu. An MBA graduate of the University of Phoenix, she lives with her daughter Cherry, their cats Vanilla and Honeybee and dog Pua.