Growing up, I was a good Christian boy. Before I was even 10 years old, I would only listen to Christian radio and watch religious television; and the Bible was my main reading matter. My grandma was very religious and this seemed to work for her. Whenever I spent the night at her house, I'd always read the 23rd and 91st Psalms aloud while sitting on her knee.
Around the age of 10, I started planning out sermons I would deliver when I became a minister someday. (If only there had been blogs back then--I could have crafted some very interesting posts!)
At the age of 11, I took a more stern approach and figured out who at school needed "saving" from the fiery flames of Hell. One person on the docket was a fellow sixth grader with the seemingly Hell-proof name of Faith. Even back then I wasn't much of an activist; I pondered talking to Faith about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and how He should come into her heart, but never really did it.
By the time high school rolled around, I was a stalwart in the church youth group (a group known as "The Filling Station"--complete with a logo of a gas pump--because Jesus had the power to fill your formerly empty life up). I edited the youth group's newsletter. I went to Bible camps most summers, and was on the "Bible Bowl" trivia team (think Jeopardy, but with all questions coming from the Bible). I went to every single youth group meeting during my senior year in high school, and was rewarded with a trip to Niagara Falls. (Driving to church on the day of the trip, I went so fast that I got a speeding ticket.)
My early years at Northwestern were filled to the brim with Campus Crusade for Christ meetings, and twice-Sunday trips to the First Presbyterian Church of Evanston. Eventually, though--as often happens in college--I had a crisis of faith. Sometime in the summer between freshman and sophomore year, I decided that the evangelical Christian notion that everyone must worship the same God or be damned to perdition made no sense at all. During sophomore year I half-heartedly attended various religious functions, and eventually stopped going altogether.
Almost 2 years after this break in faith, I met Helen. Several things stood out about her--she was smart, she was sweet, she was sharp, she was attractive, she was funny. Another thing that commanded attention: her proud declaration that she was an atheist, and not just a mushy agnostic who wanted to have it both ways. Helen only believes in what she can see with her own eyes, and doesn't think that you have to be religious to care about making the world a better place.
For years after meeting Helen--for years after marrying her--I didn't know how to acknowledge her atheism to my family. Obviously it didn't bother me that much, but I had years of Filling Station-inspired conditioning to contend with. For all I know, nobody in my family would have cared. But because of our religious heritage, however attenuated it might be today, I never wanted to bring the topic up.
This morning I peeked at Helen's Facebook profile, and noted that she now lists her religious views as, "Bubbly atheist." I thought this was awesome.
Helen is my bubbly atheist, and I love her.