I looked out into the darkness and wiped the tears from my face. I took a long, harsh drag of my cigarette to steel my nerves. Then I folded my hands carefully and bowed my head. I did everything perfectly, just like I was taught to do so long ago when I first asked Jesus into my heart. I was crying back then, too. But now I was asking Jesus to leave.
I made it brief:
“God, I… I hate you. F– fuck you. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.”
Then I turned my tear-streaked face towards the moonlight and flipped off the sky, just to drive the point home.
I was 16.
In the annals of history, I doubt there was a less enthusiastic apostate than I was on that day. Sometimes I imagine God was up in heaven, just banging his head on the desk — not at me, but for the long and arduous thought process that led me to so resoundingly (yet sadly) renounce my faith.
I gave up God for a girl.
Well, that’s the poetic, almost romantic way to put it.
More frankly, I gave up Jesus for a blow job.
(I’ll give you a moment to laugh.) As strange as that may sound, it was deathly serious to me at the time. And I need to emphasize something about this moment: I didn’t even want a blow job. I would’ve been terrified to get one.
I gave up Jesus because relationships meant lust and lust meant blow jobs and blow jobs damned you to hell. And I was so miserably lonely, I so desperately wanted to be in a relationship, and the fundamentalism inside my head was so strong, that I saw no path out of the woods but one: send Jesus packing because I wanted to date and real Christians don’t date.
See, I kissed dating goodbye. Well, not really. Because I never dated until I was 16. But long before then I was inculcated into Christian purity culture and the courtship model and sex-shaming. I inhaled these ideas and the fumes filled my head, the toxins infiltrated my heart and my soul. The black-and-white, either/or poison of fundamentalism had seeped into my thought patterns. Guided by my elders and the books I read, I judged as fake and hypocritical those “Christians” around me who dated, who made out, who sold the purity of their beautiful faith for youthful passion. They were hypocrites. They were dirty. They had taken their bodies, sanctified as temples, and turned them into filthy whorehouses — every single one of them. I hated them. I hated them with a passion because oh god I wanted to have that freedom, too.
But I couldn’t. I was a “real” Christian. And life is black and white. Life is either/or.
(Fundamentalism, it seeps into your thought patterns. It winds its away around your brain and you lose sight of your own humanity. You lose sight of others’ humanity, too.)
But when I was 16, my family uprooted me. They moved from California to Oregon and nothing was ever the same. I lost my friends. I lost my community. I lost the sunshine and my cat and I was banished to a world of oppressive gray and eternal rain.
The day we left California, I left pieces of my heart on the freeway — hoping like Hansel to one day retrace my steps and be happy again.
But I was stuck. Until I fell in love.
She was kind. Quiet. 14-year-old blue eyes that melted the ice that had filled the holes in my 16-year-old heart. She was my first love. I fell, and I fell hard. And what I found mirrored in her eyes wasn’t lust. It was something pure and desperate. I found in her a place to belong, a place that was stable and I was accepted. She was everything I didn’t have in Oregon. She was everything I had left behind when we moved.
I felt like I had found a home.
I wasn’t allowed to date, though. Dating was evil and Josh Harris said so and you don’t court unless you’re going to get married and good Christians don’t stir up passion until the time is right. But I needed someone to talk to. I needed someone to be that place where I felt safe.
So behind my parents’ back, behind everyone’s back, I dated her.
It was as wonderful and weird as a first love could be, especially considering it was a long distance first love. We talked for hours on the phone late at night after my parents went to bed. We chatted online, back when AIM was a thing.
But one night, everything changed.
One night I found out the awful truth. One night I found out that she had once given someone a blow job.
I remember the night vividly. I remember the night because my heart felt like it stopped and I got dizzy. See, up until that night, our relationship was long distance and we hadn’t even held hands, let alone kissed. I was never in a situation where I could be “tempted,” as purity culture would phrase it. And even that night, even though we were talking online and my body’s “purity” was safe, it hit me that — she was a Christian and she had given someone a blow job. I could get a blow job.
Every 16-year-old boy’s dream, right? I could get a blow job.
But to me, that thought was no dream. To me, that thought was a nightmare. It was a death sentence.
If I were to continue a relationship with this girl, I could get a blow job and — in my head, in my poor head swimming with purity culture and fundamentalism and fear of sexuality — lose my spot in heaven. My heaven, my Jesus, had no patience for grays or nuance or alternative interpretations. My heaven and Jesus were fundamentalists just like me.
So I faced a dilemma: God or the girl.
I didn’t sleep that night. I stayed up all night. I emptied my mind of everything I believed. I spread my convictions and thoughts on the floor. And I stomped on every single one. I broke my faith and my ideals into pieces and I gave up everything. I was still a fundamentalist, after all. So this was an all-or-nothing moment. Either I love God, or I hate God. And if I hate God, I must be willing to embrace everything God hates. I carefully rebuilt my mind from the ground up and steeled myself to accept not just a relationship with a girl, not just blow jobs, but anything and everything I considered “sinful.”
Then, in the twilight of that mad night, I went outside. I lit a cigarette (yes, I know, I was a fundamentalist teenager who smoked, deal with it) and I told God to fuck off.
When I think of 16-year-old me now, I laugh. I laugh but I also cry. I laugh because it’s now such a strange world to me, a world in which some poor, confused kid is forced to curse his God and rationalize crazy advanced sex shit like orgies just so he feels he has the freedom to date a girl. I laugh because God was probably up in heaven thinking, “What the hell, kid? I don’t give a shit whether you date or court. Go enjoy your youth while you can. You and me, we’re still cool.”
And I cry because I was in so much pain and I was so confused I didn’t see there was any other way out.
I cry because that world I grew up in, that world other young people are growing up in now, doesn’t give people like me space to be ourselves. It erases people like me who just wanted someone to love. It turns our emotions into “sin” and covers our bodies with caution signs. It makes us think that we have to pick between loving someone and loving God.
I need to be clear on this: the black-and-white thinking of fundamentalism led me to make out with more people than my lusts ever did. I thought I had killed God — I thought I had thrown my eternal best friend under the bus. So I buried that guilt by lashing out, by rebelling as hard as I could. I sought wilder and crazier things because that’s what people who date do, right? I could watch the whole world burn and I would think, “Well, I did date a girl, so the whole world might as well burn!”
But this is what purity culture does. This is the end result of fundamentalism. It makes you think that life gives you only two choices: either no kissing before marriage or a coked-out orgy in a strip club painted by Baphomet with the blood of innocent babies. It makes young women think they have no worth without their virginity and young men think that holding a woman’s hand without an intent to marry her means they might as well punch baby Jesus in the face.
And you know what? Now I realize that purity culture and fundamentalism did far more damage to my faith than a blow job ever did.