I was born in Northwest Louisiana in a Catholic household. The second oldest of 4 (my brother, born 3 years before me, passed away soon after birth), I was the guinea pig. My parents didn’t really know how they were going to raise us all, but they knew we’d be raised in the Catholic religion. None of us three were baptized until 2 years after my youngest sister was born. We were made to go to Sunday bible school every Sunday, followed by church, and during the summer we went to summer bible school. When I was 8 years old, I received first communion. My mother and father were so proud, but they didn’t realize that their indoctrination of me was failing quickly. Even at that age, I was questioning what I was learning. I never dreamed of where this questioning would lead me as I’d never been taught about other religions. I literally believed everyone in the world was Catholic. There were no other beliefs.
Before being able to receive first communion (the body and blood of Jesus Christ), I had to make my first confession. What was I supposed to confess? I was 8. What could I have possibly done wrong at this point to warrant going to confession? As I sat in the pew waiting my turn to go into the confessional I began to think back on my short life, what I could remember anyhow. I still couldn’t come up with anything. So I decided to lie. I knew that lying was considered a sin and I was worried about being found out and having God strike me down right there in the church but I couldn’t very well go in there and tell the priest that I’d done nothing wrong. If there was one thing I’d learned very well by this time, it was that, as a Catholic, I needed to be filled with guilt. Guilt over what? I didn’t know. I just knew I was supposed to feel it. I came up with something that escapes me right now, and when I left the confessional with my penance of 10 Hail Mary’s I knew then that the Catholic God didn’t exist. Surely if he existed he’d have punished me for lying to his priest. Again I didn’t know what this meant at the time, but it started a life-long journey.
I met my future husband at the age of 12 at the bowling alley that our parents bowled in every week. Honestly, I’d known “John” most of my life but we never talked until this point. We started hanging out every week in the café and it was then that I realized there were other religions in the world. He was raised Baptist but didn’t consider himself to fall into any religion. He was only 15 at the time and it seemed like he already knew where he was going in life. We started dating the following year, and though it bothered my parents that he was 3 years older than me, they allowed it to happen because they’d known him all his life and trusted him. Little did they know that he was helping me on my path to ultimately leaving all faith behind.
We dated for 9 months and during this time I was able to have a respite from the Catholic faith. I was still told to attend church every Sunday but every day after school I spent hours on the phone with my boyfriend. I spent every Friday night with him at the bowling alley.
We split up in January of 2005 but I didn’t go running back to the faith. A friend of mine at school, “Marie”, had introduced me to Paganism and it interested me. Admittedly, looking back now, I was interested because of the magic aspect. And the no church of course. When I turned 15, after going through confirmation in the Catholic church, my parents offered me the choice to either continue going to church every week or not. They thought that after my going through 4 of the 7 sacraments of the Catholic church that I’d been thoroughly indoctrinated and that I would never leave. I did. I told them that I wished to not go anymore. They were both visibly disheartened at this news, but they didn’t take back their word. I was allowed to stay home every Sunday and do what I liked.
So I did. I stayed in bed every Sunday morning. I still woke up early (15 years of doing that every week will do that to you) but I’d read or watch TV instead of thinking about God or church or anything religious. A few months of this and I was beginning to get bored. I started spending the night at friends’ houses every weekend that I was allowed. I spent most of those weekends at “Marie’s” house. Her mother was Christian though the denomination was never told to me. I went with them both to church one day. I remember the Friday before telling my parents what we were going to be doing that weekend and my dad said “Now don’t go converting to their religion. You know I care for them both but Catholicism is the true religion.” He said it light-heartedly but I could see the conviction on his face. I paid no mind to this warning because I firmly believed I was done with all Christianity.
The day I went to church with them was enlightening. If you’ve ever attended a Catholic mass you know how stuffy and uptight it can be. Stand, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, stand and hold hands. It was very structured. Though there were some jokes said by the priest, they went over my head and no one took the time to explain them to me. Possibly because I was a child and I’d “never understand”. At this church there was none of that. It didn’t even look like a church on the inside. It looked more like a school auditorium. It felt quite comforting to see such laid back surroundings. I even understood everything the guy was saying (pastor? priest? reverend?). I still didn’t agree with the bible aspects but what he said was touching my heart. I remember his talk that day brought me to tears. I can’t remember what he said but I know that after he asked that anyone who was touched by this sermon come toward the stage and he’d pray over us. I did this and I remember stoically fighting back my tears and losing that battle when a boy, who couldn’t have been much older than I, came up behind me, put his hand on my shoulder, and prayed for me. I lost it at that. When he finished praying for me, I turned to thank him but I couldn’t find him.
That night, as they took me home, I started to reflect on my decision to leave the church behind. I asked my parents the following Sunday if I could go to church with them. They were elated and of course said yes. I tried for a few months to sit down and understand exactly what was being taught, but the surroundings of the Catholic church were starting to turn me off to religion once again. I stayed with the church for a few months like I said and then I left, never to return again.
At this time, “John” was living in North Dakota. He’d gone for a friend’s wedding and upon loving the atmosphere and meeting many friends he moved up there quickly. We stayed in contact through his nine months up north and I told him many things that were going on in my life.
I started dating “Tim” around September of 2005, a month after “John” moved. When I started dating him I started delving into Paganism with the help of “Marie” and some of her other friends. I was really just dabbling and I didn’t know what I was doing but at the time I was one of those people that believed that I knew better than everyone, except for the people who were teaching me. So when I started to tell “Tim” what I was doing in Paganism it broke us up. He knew more than I did about that particular religion and I never knew that. He told me “You have no idea what being a Pagan is about. You need to grow up and learn more.”
Of course I was angry and I gave up on it all calling myself agnostic. Something had to have created us but I didn’t know what and at the time I couldn’t care less. Upon telling “John” about this breakup he told me “Don’t worry, Nora. You’re still learning. You’ll find your happiness one day.” That was why I loved this man. Though we were no longer together he still just wanted me to be happy.
“John” moved back to Louisiana a few days after my 16th birthday and we started dating again that same day. I knew at this time that he was the one for me and that no one else would do. Kind of dangerous thinking for a 16 year old, but remember, I knew everything.
Seven months later, we got engaged. Through those seven months, I never thought about my faith. I only thought about my schooling and my boyfriend. I was happy and content. I graduated high school in December of 2008 and that May “John” and I had a very modest wedding in Greenwood, Louisiana. We didn’t have the money for a honeymoon so instead we spent that night in a hotel.
Looking back on our nuptials I wish I would have changed our vows. We had a Justice of the Peace perform our ceremony and a couple of months before the wedding he gave us both a packet with the traditional ceremony on it and asked us to talk it over and make any changes we would like. He knew that I was a self-proclaimed agnostic and that “John” was, at the time, a non. We didn’t make any changes. That means that, yes, we had the “normal” religious stuff in our ceremony. At the time I didn’t care. I was just happy that I was marrying my one true love. Now I look back and though I’m still happy with my marriage, the wedding itself would have been much better without all of that.
Not too long after we got married I started to dive head first into Paganism, with “John’s” full support. Shortly after that, I had a name for my path: Solitary Eclectic Wiccan. Broken down it basically means that I worked on my own, I literally picked and chose what I believed from many different religions (which for me was the best part of this path), and I held to the basic rule of Wicca “An it harm none, do what thou will.” It was also around this time that “John” found his atheism. Though I was angry with him, because obviously something had to have created us, I supported him as well. It was the least I could do.
We moved to North Dakota a short two months after marrying. And a short 2 months later we moved back. As my husband likes to say “I took her from the womb and moved her 1500 miles away from everyone she knew.” It was very fitting. I was 18 years old and I’d never lived that far away from my parents. When we moved back, we moved in with his parents. After this, I went out and bought many books, journals, candles, incense, oils, etc. Anything I needed to practice my religion.
My mother had a stroke in March of 2010. In the summer of 2012 we moved in with my parents to help them out. Her stroke happened 12 hours before anyone found out, so due to this, she still has very little use in the right side of her body. It has made her more emotional and more stuck in her Catholic faith. God saved her life and nothing anyone tells her will change her mind on that. We lived with them until January of 2015.
During this three year period, my religion was stifled. I was able to read my books in my room. And from time to time, weather and time permitting, “John” would take me to a local park to perform rituals. However, this happened so few and far between that I felt my religion slipping away from me.
Late May of 2014 my father-in-law passed away. That June I found out that we were pregnant with our first child. It was a wonderful and saddening experience because we found out that we conceived (after doing the math) right around the time that “John’s” dad passed away. Everyone was elated with this pregnancy of course. It wasn’t going to be the first grandchild for my parents, as my younger sister had had her son in August of 2013, but it was our first child and people were happy for us. I miscarried in August of 2014. I was only 9 weeks pregnant but it was still devastating. During this time I heard a lot from my religious family telling me that “God needed another angel” and “God will replace this child when you are ready.” This was the time my faith started to slip. This was the first chink in my religious armor.
At this time, I was listening to Atheists on Air with Cash and the Scathing Atheist with Noah, Lucinda and Heath. My husband had turned me on to these podcasts, not to change my religion, but because he knew I would agree with many of the things that they were saying. It was while I was listening to these podcasts that I started to proclaim my faith all over my Facebook page. In January of 2015 we moved back in with “John’s” mom. This time to help her out around the house as this was her first time living alone ever.
March of 2015 I once again found out that I was pregnant. When I was able to get a doctor in May I found out that this pregnancy was developing nicely. I could hear the baby’s heartbeat, feel him moving a little bit (when I concentrated), and he was already further along than his older sibling. I once again dived into my religion. I had been working on my Book of Shadows (my “spell” book) for a few years at this time but it was only in random notebooks and nowhere near the order I wanted them to be in. I worked on my path for a few months then I became engrossed in my pregnancy. Every day I was worried that something was going to go wrong. I stopped working on my path and continued to listen to atheist podcasts. At this time I had listened to every episode of AoA and the Scathing Atheist (along with its sister shows the GAMcast and the Skepticrat), and I was working through the archives of Dogma Debate. (Now I’m completely caught up with these and am working through No Religion Required. I have listened to some newer episodes of Cognitive Dissonance and I plan to listen through their archives when I’m caught up with NRR.)
My son was born 9 weeks early in September of 2015 and after an uneventful 27 day stay in the NICU he came home. During this time I felt myself slowly slipping away from Wicca and I was angry about it. That path made me happy. It made me who I was and I wanted to keep it with me at all times. I was angry with “John” for turning me on to atheist podcasts because I knew that was the problem. I was angry with myself because I let it happen.
Though I was angry I continued to listen to these podcasts because they had become a part of my life. I needed them to feel normal through the day. So I continued to listen to them while I took care of my son. Getting him through his awake all night stage and weaning him from 12 feedings a day to 8 then to 4. Watching as he learned to roll over on his own and is now starting to crawl. I could feel my anger over my religion start to slip away and it scared the hell out of me.
In March of 2016 I made a last ditch effort to hold on to my religion. I dived into working on my BoS once again. I tried to perform rituals in the short times throughout the day that I got to myself. It was all in vain.
In April of 2016 I allowed myself to finally proclaim that I am an atheist. I have not come out to my parents because though I want to be optimistic about my mother’s love for me, I know that when I was Wiccan she hated it. It almost ripped our relationship apart on many occasions. How would she react to me not believing in anything? One day I hope to be able to tell my parents and not worry about the outcome. But for now, I’m happy to finally be free of the chains of religion. To finally have broken out of the religious dogma that has suffocated me for my entire life.
I am me. I am free. I am an atheist. Accept me or leave.