By Jake Atchison
Like a great many people, Oasis folks included, I was brought up religious. I went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. I participated in church children’s choirs, attended Sunday school and participated in other church-related activities. As I got older, I was active in my church’s youth department. We would go on weekend retreats every so often and go to youth camp for a week every summer. All very pleasant memories and I don’t regret participating in any of it.
When I was seven, I said the magic words that supposedly grant you entry into a vaguely-defined paradisaical afterlife known as the “salvation prayer.” I said these words at seven and was baptized at eight. My immediate family was there, of course, and my grandpa and his wife were there as well. Afterwards, we went out for Mexican food. Plus, I apparently avoided hellfire for eternity. For a while, at least. All in all, a pretty good day.
I never really read the Bible much until I was about 14. That was when I first learned things I hadn’t read before: Noah was a lush who cursed his kids after unburdening himself of his clothes. It was then that I started to realize the implications of God flooding the world. By that point in my life, I had read the Epic of Gilgamesh and, thanks to a pretty decent internet connection, was made aware of the fact that it predates Genesis. After reading it, I couldn’t help but notice some very interesting similarities between Noah and Utnapishtim. It was then that I first had the notion that the Bible might be nonsense. My first instance of thinking for myself within the confines of the religious dogma I’d been indoctrinated into.
That thought rendered me terrified and I confronted any skepticism I had by burying it down deep within the recesses of my mind. Instead of focusing on the supernatural things in the Bible, I would read Proverbs ad nauseam. Predominantly because it has hundreds of brief snippets that provide wisdom for getting through a daily life. Nothing in that particular book was especially nonsensical. No talking donkeys, or snakes. No giants. No worldwide, population decimating floods. It seemed like the best way to avoid questioning my own faith and remaining content believing a lie. A part of me was terrified of what I would find if I were to pull back the curtain on what I believed. In my mind, questions led to unsatisfactory answers, which led to doubts, which led to unbelief, which led to hell.
When I started college, I didn’t attend church. Primarily because I was 20-years-old, out of my parents’ house and really didn’t want to go to church anymore. Fast forward to my senior year of college. At a classmates’ invitation, I began attending Wednesday night Bible studies and Friday night services. One Friday night, after being part of the campus ministry for a few months, I heard a sermon on the story of Jesus multiplying the bread and fish, a story I hadn’t heard since I was a child. As a child, I was very impressed with Jesus’ magic when hearing about it. However, when hearing the story at age 23, all of the skepticism I had suppressed for many years came flooding back.
Years ago, I chose to suppress my questions; that was not an option this time. I did what I had been afraid to do as an indoctrinated teenager: actually read the Bible. I read the Bible so very determined to believe that it was true, but that was simply not a conclusion I could come to any more. I combed through it and found talking snakes, talking donkeys, women being turned to salt, fallen angels mating with human women to produce giants and a pair of she-bears doing the bidding of a slighted bald man. There were too many fantastical elements that simply did not comport with the reality I had been taught was true in my 20+ years on this planet and I just couldn’t go on believing in a lie after discovering that it was a lie.
I wasn’t as terrified this time after confronting my skepticism. Rather, I dreaded having to tell people and was worried about how my relationship with them might be affected once it was made clear that I no longer believe what they wanted me to believe. While that is all still very stressful, I’m extremely grateful to have found Oasis after moving to Houston this past summer. I want to take this moment to thank Oasis for all it does. Oasis has helped me realize that I’m not alone. It’s helped me realize that there are a lot more freethinkers in this overly religious society of ours than I realized and being around a secular-focused community has helped to validate the questions I’ve developed over the last few years. I honestly don’t think I could have been able to get so comfortable with my new life down here if it wasn’t for a freethinking, secular community like this.