A note to begin with: If you are a listener of The Thinking Atheist, this story may sound familiar, as I was a caller on the show and shared it not long ago. All the same, it's a brick in the wall that bears examination still. It's also, in my opinion, relatively entertaining. Enjoy. :)
When I was fourteen, we moved from a very small town to the capital of our state. The two years preceding the move, I was in a small Christian school, with about twenty students the first year, and only four the second year. That...is a story for a different day, however.
Needless to say, the move was a bit startling. Don't get me wrong; I was excited. But the size of my new school was daunting, to say the least, and I was having trouble meeting people and making friends. I was lonely.
Early in September, after we had been school just shy of a month, I was sitting in my last class of the day--World Geography.
We had just gotten settled in for the afternoon when the girl in front of me, with short blonde hair and glasses, turned around and asked me a fate-changing question: Did you do the homework?
Of course I did the homework. Not doing my homework was entirely unthinkable. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a teacher-turned-soldier. I was terrified NOT to do my homework. So I said, "Yes."
And she asked, "Can I see it?"
It was, of course, cheating. But I was looking for any sort of human interaction at that point, and she seemed nice enough, and I handed it over. She quickly filled in her own copy, we walked to the buses together, and as they say, the rest is history. We've been friends for 14 years, and I have no regrets. She's more than anything I could ask for in a friend.
But the real "brick in the wall" of my nonbelief came about a month later. We were talking about church, and she said, "I'm a Catholic."
I was completely taken aback. We were conservative fundamentalist independent evangelical Baptists, by God, and in the years I attended church before the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, I had heard countless preachers talk about how Catholics were perverting the Word. They worshipped idols, you see, and they were lost, even though they thought they believed in the same God we did. And also, as I've joked before, she only had one head, and I was pretty sure that Catholics had two heads.
My friend is good. She's kind and caring. She's gregarious and friendly and outgoing. She's compassionate, and she's a great person, all around. At the time, she was my connection to my school community. She'd taken me under her wing. Because of her, I'd made other friends. I felt secure in my school.
Suddenly, for the very first time, everything that my pastors said was in flux. I was questioning on many levels. Firstly, my friend...she seemed just as Christian as I did. She had many of the same views. I didn't see enough differences to explain why she was mistaken.
And then, perhaps more damning to my belief, I could not see how someone as wonderful as my friend could be going to Hell. It simply did not make sense. Even a just god had to see that she was pretty great.
Because of this relationship, I was able to begin questioning my religious beliefs. It would still be some years before I would leave it completely, but this was a key opening. This was the moment when I began to wonder: if my pastors could be wrong about this, could they be wrong about other things?
It was a moment I never really turned back from.
And in the end, maybe, my pastors were right. It was in fact a Catholic who led me astray.