The city of Alachua, Florida has a population of 9,378 and is located northwest of the city of Gainesville, Florida, home of the Florida Gators. This is where my parents grew up and, like the majority of African American families in the area, they were Southern Baptist. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular denomination, think large church hats, super long services, Sunday school and lively choirs.
For some, religion is life and life is religion; they were taught to say prayers before bed, before meals, first thing in the morning and often throughout the day. For others, religion was something more fleeting — memories of being dragged to mass on Sundays that slowly disappeared from the routine as they grew older.
Growing up, I tried so hard to live a certain way and do things a certain way because I didn’t want to disappoint God. I wanted to be the perfect Christian so that when I died, I would go to heaven and join the rest of my family. But now, it’s unthinkable to imagine God always peering over my shoulder, watching everything I do. While I don’t value religion the way that I used to, I’d be remiss to say that a religious upbringing didn’t influence who I am as an adult.
So I got to thinking, have other 20somethings with a religious childhood experienced the same lasting effects? Did different things stick with different people? What about those who weren’t exposed to religion at all? Did they end up in the same place — morally, culturally, etc. — just with a different way of getting there?
I talked to some other 20somethings to see in what way religion did (or did not) affect their lives.
20something: How did religion affect you growing up?
Kymiel: My life has definitely been shaped because I had religious people in my life growing up, to the way I dress, the way I conduct myself in public, not drinking until a certain age, even going to church on a regular basis because that’s what I was taught to do.
I have a biased opinion about other people’s lives, I’m sad to say, because I see things through a different lens.
Week after week, I would listen to the preacher talk about how Christians were the saved ones, we had God’s favor, and we would live eternally in Heaven with the Lord. Today, I consider myself an introverted person. I can’t help but wonder, is this just the way I’m wired, or is it because I was too scared to go out and live my life? Other 20somethings have similar questions, remembering the pressure and fear of growing up in the church.
Brandon: “I think the church had a good impact as far as learning to socialize and being exposed to people and things, I would say it had a good effect on me growing up. But then again, I also felt pressure.”
20something: “What kind of pressure?”
Brandon: “Like, joining the Church equated being a good Christian. There’s a certain quota of success attached to joining and if you don’t join, it’s like you can be good, but just not good enough.”
Tyler: “Growing up in the church and with a religious parent shaped my mindset at an early age…something simple as my taste in movies, I realized the reason why I don’t really watch horror films is because I was told at a young age that when you watch movies like that, you ‘invite those spirits in your life.’ Of course, being told this would scare any impressionable child.”
Some 20somethings felt that they were influenced more by their surroundings and culture than actual religion.
Julia: “I’m spiritual. I grew up catholic but not strictly. I was baptized and did communion but only because it’s a cultural thing since I’m Brazilian and Portuguese, but my parents are not very religious. We believe in a god or something bigger for sure, but don’t actively go to church. I haven’t been to church in years. I actually think Catholicism is cray. I believe in good morals, good values, karma and destiny.”
20something: “Catholicism is cray?”
Julia: “I don’t like the cultish aspect of it, it doesn’t encourage free thinking and uses a lot of guilt.”
20something: “I get that, like if you don’t do this, God won’t love you.”
Julia: “Exactly, and don’t even get me started on the priest thing”
20something: “How has religion affected you?”
Delaney: “Well Jews are fucking crazy and that is why I am going to marry a Jewish man, because he will understand my crazy [that] non-Jews don’t. But more than that, my grandmother was a holocaust survivor and lost most of her family during the holocaust because she was Jewish. I think knowing that and what kind of oppression she faced, makes me acutely aware and sensitive to that happening to other groups of people in this world.”
20something: “Yep, I feel that.”
Delaney: “ But in reality, the religious aspect of religion doesn’t matter to me, but with Jews there is a large cultural aspect.”
20something: “Do tell!”
Delaney: “Very tight knit family, friends that are family, aunts and uncles that are always in your home and that you are very close to, food is big part of it, large meals together, always in everyone’s business. This had more of an affect on me than the actual religion.”
Molly: “I was definitely not raised religiously. I was baptized, received First Holy Communion, and was confirmed, but it doesn’t mean much to me. We had a bit of a scandal in our church and after that we just stopped going, it was the end of me being ‘religious.’”
20something: “So how would you describe yourself now? Or where do you get your ‘moral compass’ from?”
Molly: “My dad — when people ask what I believe in, I say I believe in being nice, and doing right by others. I learned that from my father, who went all through Catholic school, classifies himself as agnostic — that’s just how he lived his life. Some people spend their Christmas Eve in Church, I spend mine in the soup kitchen.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that God is not supposed to be a scary rule-keeper who slams down a hand of judgment and condemns people to hell. Church shouldn’t be something you have to dread or force yourself to stay awake for. After many years, a few of which I abandoned organized religion all together, I’ve come around to be a less intense version of my parents. But in the end, I’m thankful for all the things they, and religion, have taught me. Though I often wonder, when it comes to raising my own children, how will I be?