Tori Parker’s De-Conversion Story
“The images flood my brain, if I let them.
“Me, age 8. Big, brown, bouncy curls, chubby cheeks, a huge grin. I’m dressed in a white dress and eagerly awaiting my First Communion.
“My 4th grade class: I raise my hand (a big deal for me back then), horrified. ‘What do you mean, my dog won’t go to heaven?’ The teacher shrugs. ‘They have no souls. They can’t.’ Tears flood my eyes. ‘But then… how will it be heaven for me without my dog there?’ The teacher has no answer.
“5th grade: Our huge project is to study the Catholic church service. I memorize and then write about the steps to the mass. 12 years of confusion suddenly clears up. I vow to be a good little Catholic girl, so as to avoid hell.
“6th-8th grade: I switch to a public school (the kids at the Catholic school were much too mean for me). I still attend ‘PSR’ classes (Public School Religion) once a week and become the kids that the nuns warned us about at the Catholic school (‘It’s Tuesday, boys and girls. Take your valuables home. The public school kids WILL take them.’). The classes are long and tedious and I spend more time fascinated with boys than fascinated with Jesus Christ.
“8th grade: I make my Communion. My mom’s friend MaryJo is my sponsor. We go to classes and retreats in preparation. I take my ‘church’ name, Veronica. I spend days choosing the name, finally settling on something perfect. Then it’s never mentioned again.
“I went to church in high school, and I sang in the choir. But I saw the difference between myself and the parochial school kids. They were rich; I was not. They were preppy; I was not. They were all white and snotty; I had more minority friends and we were friendly and open. Somewhere, in my mind, there was a rift. As religious as I was on the outside, there was no ‘love of God’ on the inside. Sometimes I would sit in church and wonder who else didn’t believe. Then I would feel guilty.
“When I went to college, I knew no one. I needed to search for an identity. And so I joined the University Catholic church. Everyone was so friendly, and the church emphasized feminism. God was referred to without gender in the readings. There was a female deacon (although, of course, the priests were men). The nuns didn’t wear habits, and they were young and energetic.
“I became Involved. I gave out the Eucharist. I read the Liturgy during mass. I went to meetings and organized activities and gave myself to that church. I even led a Bible study in my dorm. And as I look back now, I can’t recall one face, one name, of any of those people. No one wanted to be my friend. I gave and gave, and they were one big clique that I was not a part of. But I busted my ass for them.
“And then I moved to a different dorm, and I met different people. I made friends who were homosexual, and friends who were open and accepting. I met people of different faiths, and people with no faith. And it was okay. It was okay to believe your own thing, or nothing. Instead of feeling accepted because ‘God’ said so, I was accepted.
“I tried to meld both parts of my life for a while. It wasn’t that I was becoming ‘godless’, but that god was meaning less to me. I don’t think I realized that I had options. And that semester, in between the devout at church and the easygoing at my dorm, I had experiences that tipped my allegiance. I took a Bible as Literature course and really read the Bible. It was beautifully written, but it was angry. It contradicted itself, and I really thought about the validity of the book. I watched Brother Jed (a local Christian who wandered among Ohio colleges, arguing with students) spread his hatred around our campus. I saw a family from Texas march around campus–even the toddlers–holding signs with aborted fetuses on them. I talked to my friends, my new homosexual friends, who were told that they would go to hell.
“I went to different types of churches with a friend, hoping that there would be meaning and acceptance in the non-Catholic realm, but I was starting to get that feeling in the pit of my stomach. Any display of religion – from a bumper sticker on a car to a person professing his faith – made me feel sick inside. Sick from the hypocrisy, sick from the hatred, and, likely, sick as my brain protested being sucked back in. I turned away from religion. I eschewed it.
“I started to read new authors–not Dawkins or Sagan, yet, but authors that made me think, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series includes a character named Death. She wears an ankh- the Egyptian symbol of eternal life. It’s, in essence, a cross. The ankh was a focus of my early college life. I pondered it… if the cross was a symbol of Christianity, why was it a symbol of the Egyptians, many years before the supposed Crucifixion? Why did it mean ‘eternal life’ so long before the cross meant ‘eternal life’? And I think that was the true moment–that was the true symbol–that ended my religion. I put ashes on parishioner’s heads one Palm Sunday (Palm Sunday 1999, I believe), walked away from the church, and never went back. I remember feeling empty as I dipped my thumb into ash, feeling superior as I looked into the parishioners’ eyes and saw their blind devotion–superior, because I knew this was all ritual, all sham. And I knew I couldn’t be their symbol if I didn’t feel it inside. And so I severed all links with the church.
“The next decade was full of change for me. I didn’t actually identify with atheism until 6 months ago. Since then, I’ve become involved in the atheist community and I’ve ‘come out’ to my friends and family. When I was younger and I met my first atheist, I thought that he was very brave to live his life with no hope for a future after death. But now that I’m atheist, I realize that I’m not brave at all… I’m just honest. And I’m absolutely okay with that.”