Fourth place: Losing the church, but finding myself – By Kaylor MacLaughlin

FFRF awarded Kaylor $750.

I am not the homogenized, upper-middle-class, Republican, Christian city I come from. I once was, though.

Sucked in by the death grip of organizations like Young Life and Youth for Christ, I succumbed to the path of my peers. At 12 years old, I was indoctrinated into a church of people who refused to ask any real questions. At first, it was lovely. It was the first time in my life I had ever felt such a strong sense of community. I thrived in the church: I made friends, I understood biblical ideas, I knew how to speak the language.

Then, the fear came.

It didn’t matter how many nights I stayed up with a flashlight on my bible or prayed, at the end of the day, I just couldn’t believe it. I was told it’s sinful to deny God. I had tried so hard, pushed myself to every extreme, but it wasn’t real to me. So, I was going to hell. How is a 15-year-old supposed to take eternal damnation? I, for one, didn’t take it well.

When I reflect on the Christian season of my life, I can only see one thing: shame. I was shameful about everything. I was ashamed that I like to kiss girls, even though I am one. I was ashamed of my sexual desires. I was ashamed of my forward personality. I was ashamed of my anger, my feelings, myself.

When I left the church, I found myself. I found my passion for science. I found my political opinions. I found real friends. I even found love. It was so liberating, to just simply be — without footnotes or guidelines or guilt.

Looking back on it now, I am angry. I am angry with the brainwashing, the lies, the carefully perfected techniques of sugarcoating. I am angry with the people who are caught up in it all. I want to shake them free of it. I am angry with people who refuse to take control of their own lives. I am angry with myself for not waking up sooner.

I am not ashamed of my anger. I’m not angry because I think it’s an ideal state of being; I’m angry because I’m paying attention.

I am an atheist because I am not going to take the easy way out. I want to ask the hard questions. I want to experience all of my feelings and wishes, simply because they’re mine. I am an atheist because anything else would be a lie.

Kaylor MacLaughlin, 18, graduated from West Linn High School in West Linn, Ore. She was born in Marietta, Ga. She will be attending Oregon State University Honors College after spending a term in Southeast Asia. She hopes to get a degree in biology with a minor in social activism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation