Editor’s note: What follows is the personal account of a young woman who lost her Christian faith after learning, in college, that the young-earth creationism view she had been raised in was based on scientific and factual untruths. All emphases were added by the editor.
You know that photo of the kid’s 4th-grade creationist science test that’s making the rounds online? That represents to a T what my science education background was, up until I was 16 and left my home school for community college.
People think that test is fake; sadly, every bit of it rings true to what I was taught for years, and I believed it because that view was presented to me by people that I knew were “real Christians” (biblical inerrantists who had a “personal relationship with Jesus”). For ages, I didn’t bother to check to see if their claims were true because a) “real Christians” would obviously not teach bad science or misrepresent the facts; b) everyone in my community appeared to believe in young-earth creationism; and c) I didn’t have easy access to non-creationist scientific resources on the topic and even if I had, reading them would have been seen as a sign of distrusting God’s word — a lack of faith.
Discovering that so many apologists for young-earth creationism (including the writers of my Christian textbooks) actually appeared to have misrepresented evolutionary theory and the evidence for it in a way that I can only describe as dishonest (whether they intended to be or not), and discovering that many of them also lacked the credentials to speak authoritatively on the topic in the first place, made up a major link in a chain of things I discovered that resulted in me “losing my faith,” as it were.
I’m only just starting to claw my way out of deep, angry skepticism back toward religion in general. It seems whiny to blame my upbringing for my trust issues, but imagine how it would feel to believe in Santa Claus (and belligerently and amateurishly argue for his existence to your friends) until you were 21. One of my friends did believe in Santa until she was 9, and said that when she discovered he wasn’t real, she cried like a loved one had died.
I didn’t lose Santa — my presents had always said, “From Mom and Dad.” Instead, I lost God. (By the way, I had also been taught to believe that without God, our lives can have no value or meaning and we might as well kill ourselves.)
My parents still think I’m a Christian (I still am, if you subscribe to “once saved, always saved” theology), but the bond of shared beliefs that I had with them for the first two-thirds of my life was shattered. The services and beliefs of their (also inerrantist) current church make me nuts but I can’t raise my objections without being viewed as someone to be worried about, prayed for, but possibly also feared and distrusted.
An older church friend relayed how proud she was of her elementary-school-aged granddaughter who stood up in class and angrily confronted the teacher with, “Evolution has been disproven, but you’re teaching it as fact!” I bit my tongue so I didn’t retort, “Disproven to everyone except the vast majority of scientists with actual credentials.” Not only would it have outed me as someone who does not adhere to an essential article of fundamentalist faith, but it would likely have had no persuasive effect, since a great deal of people in the creationist community have been taught to view evolution-accepting scientists as misguided, mistaken, delusional, personally deceitful haters of God and truth, or witless tools of Satan, or any combination of the above. They’re like theological conspiracy theorists, and I used to be one of them.
The process of leaving that mindset, questioning everything I had never been allowed to question, caused me years of emotional frustration and, at times, literal physical nausea as I realized that I now was at odds with people I love about beliefs that they view as a critical component of what it means to be “saved.” If they knew what I believe (or don’t believe) now, they would potentially question my original conversion and start worrying about my salvation, if they haven’t already.
It hurts and it’s offensive, and I think it’s sad and theologically wrong, but at the moment, it’s not worth sacrificing the decent and basically courteous relationship we have. So I pick my battles carefully and try to take comfort in the fact that my relationship with my parents is now actually more “normal” than it was when we agreed on everything.
— The author, who asked to be identified only as E.J., is a graduate student at Florida State University.