By Greg Merrill
In the midst of the Thanksgiving season, what’s a newly de-converted person thankful for? Probably the same things appreciated by long-time atheist and Christian friends alike. The basics being: family, food, shelter, income, and Netflix. But there’s all sorts of wonderful things I’m thankful for: barbecued meat, shareable GIFs, the fact that dogs exist or that we’re living in an age of new technologies and scientific discoveries or... I’ll stop. There’s an endless amount of beautiful aspects to the human existence from my perspective. If you can’t think of many things to be thankful for, that’s okay. I am not writing to tell anyone how to feel. But if anyone was looking to be more thankful, my advice would be to just keep looking. I guarantee that you’ll keep finding things.
Lately, I’ve been utterly mind-blown by humanity’s placement atop the spectacular evolution of life on Earth. We happen to be the complex products of millions of years of genetic tuning, and yet we’re the first and only species to comprehend that fact. We owe much of this success to our superior brain development and opposable thumbs, among many variable factors. I could go on and on about everything I’m fascinated by, and the many things to be grateful for in that arena.
But all of that pertains more to personal interest; as an Oasian, I wanted to add something else that I’m thankful for, something which has been hard for me to say these past 8 months. I’m choosing to be thankful for my Christian upbringing. Super edgy, I know!
To give you a little context, ever since de-converting pretty quickly around February of this year, I’ve held back on a lot of anger and bitterness towards Christianity. It had stolen reason from me for so long, and had replaced it with shame and guilt for daring to doubt. It had deceived me about reality, even if that deception promised comfort in an often cruel world. But just like I can separate the humanity of my friends from their religion, I can see more to my Christian upbringing than just the religion.
Taking a closer look at my Jesus-infused past, it wasn’t all categorically awful, as much as I’ve often swept it aside as such. As a kid, sure I was indoctrinated to think a certain way, but I also had kind and loving role models growing up, people who were deeply involved in the faith. As a high schooler, sure I was sealed inside a private Christian school bubble, but I was also challenged by some teachers to think logically about world views, philosophy, and ethics. That broadened perspective has helped me to this day.
In college, I absolutely regret never thinking critically about the formation of the Bible itself, and daily swinging back and forth between “I hate myself” and “I am loved by God.” But campus ministry also brought me out of my shell and showed me the beauty of real relationships. I first learned to be okay with rejection and to embrace self-confidence while trying to start conversations (rather unsuccessfully) with random college students about the Bible. I grew leaps and bounds as an individual through the campus ministry as I learned the value of things like vulnerability, leadership, trust-building, and self-care. I met some really awesome people, people who ultimately just wanted to be genuine and caring and share the idealized ethic of Jesus with the rest of the world.
These Christian people showed me how to live and feel with deep empathy and how to think and share with unashamed honesty. And ironically, empathy and honesty were what ultimately led me out of Christianity and into a world that was a little more complicated and inclusive than what I was brought up to believe.
So that’s what I’m thankful for in this season of life. While it is true that I am actively overlooking many unsavory aspects of my early years ... for other good values that I’ve chosen to keep with me, I am grateful. Our pasts form who we are, and they become part of our story whether we like it or not. So why not focus on the positive?
I’ll end on the sentiment that your story is important, whether you think so or not. Your story, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Find a way to share it at Oasis. You might be surprised at what you’re proud of, and what you’re thankful for. Perhaps we could all benefit from gleaning the positives from your story. And perhaps we could use our pasts to create a better future together.