Escape from the Woo ZooReligion and Spirituality

Escape from the Woo Zoo: The Case for Not Going Through the Motions

This is part of our Teen Skepchick series, Escape from the Woo Zoo, in which regular people tell stories of how they gave up unsubstantiated beliefs in favor of evidence and skepticism. You can read previous installments here.

High school was an emotionally draining time.

Captain Obvious just walked through the door and smacked me in the face for being so, well, obvious. But my stress didn’t really come from school or social life. In my last Woo Zoo post, I discussed the beginnings of my journey toward skepticism and agnosticism. Now I will tell you about the end (more or less).

I only went to Catholic school for grades one through five. Then I went to public school. Without church or prayers every day, it was easy to see the forest through the trees. There were lots of people, lots of faiths, lots of jerks, but also lots of nice people who I came to respect and admire. And almost all of them different from me.

(Please be warned that my use of the word “different” is completely relative. We were all still, basically, white, at least sort of Christian, and middle class. But seen through the lens of my life at the time, “different” seems to be an appropriate word.)

It was during this time that religion played an increasingly limited role in my life. Church on Sunday, but that was it. No one really talked about it, and I thought about it less and less, and when I did think about it, I was critical. But when I hit high school, I started thinking about religion a lot. And all of this thinking led me to one conclusion: Maybe I don’t believe any of this.

I wish I was the type of person who could just go through the motions. I really do. It would have saved me a bunch of angst and brain energy, because it was in high school that I had to decide whether or not to get confirmed.

Confirmation, for non-Catholics, is basically just a reaffirmation of faith. Your parents chose for you when you are baptized, you choose to be confirmed. It was something I had been secretly dreading.

There are special classes you have to go through to get confirmed. These were horrible. I’d never felt so out of place. And I soon realized that the teachers did not like to be challenged. (But honestly, what was I supposed to do? Not challenge their view of the origin of the universe? I think not.)

I stopped doing my confirmation class homework (and I always do my homework). It was becoming increasingly clear that I didn’t want to go through with it. But I nearly did. Just do it, I said to myself. Just go through the motions. After I go away to college I could join the ranks of that not-so rare breed of Catholic, the Lapsed Catholic. I could keep the peace and not be weighed down by 10-ton rosary beads. If I could just power through it, everything would be OK.

However, it became clear that I simply couldn’t get confirmed when I had to write my letter.

People who get confirmed are asked to write a letter to the bishop explaining why they want to be confirmed. Usually, words flow pretty freely from my fingers when I need to write something. Not this time. I could have written about how the Church fills a void or something, but it didn’t. There was no hole to fill. The Church didn’t add meaning to my life. I didn’t think that, if I got confirmed, lying to a bishop would be the best way to start. I could only think of one honest reason to get confirmed: I didn’t want to disappoint my mom and dad.

As much as not wanting to disappoint my parents tugged at me, in the end, it didn’t seem like an adequate reason.

This is probably an incredibly insensitive comparison, but I imagine that telling my parents that I was not going to be confirmed was like it must be for gay or lesbian person to come out to their parents. I knew (and still know) my parents loved me, but the uncertainty of what their reaction would be killed me. But I knew they couldn’t make me, and I knew I had given this a lot of thought. I could be strong. And I was.

I was strong even though a friend of my parents trapped me a car for an hour to try to talk me into it. Just do it, she said. Go through the motions. You can decide whether it’s something for you later.

But it was too late. Once I made the decision to forgo confirmation, I wave of relief had washed over me. I thought about it for the better part of a two years. It felt right.

I used to think there was something wrong with me, like I had a personality defect that kept me from believing any claim that couldn’t be shown or demonstrated. I can’t just let go and believe – really believe – something fanciful.

This, curiously, doesn’t stop me from enjoying a little Harry Potter or Neil Gaiman. But believing something is real is not the same as getting lost in a story. I know there isn’t really an underground civilization below London or that Platform 9 ¾ doesn’t actually exist. But these are stories. It’s not considered a defect to stay grounded in reality, even when your head is in the stars. As long as you come back down occasionally.

I had finally closed the book. I ran smack into the partition between Platforms 9 and 10, and I didn’t fall through. I did not want to base my life on fairy tales.

This, of course, is only sort of the end of the story. Things went on as usual even after the confirmation mass (in which I did not participate) was a distant memory. While I lived at home, I still went to church on Sundays. It was easier than fighting. But these were just residuary skirmishes. I had won the war. (Although, given how often I write about religion, I clearly still have…issues.)

Thinking back, I may have used different tactics. I was a little snotty, but I was also 17. I would never in a million years change the result. I am a more tolerant and open-minded person because of that one, hard decision. I’m glad I stuck with my guns.

Image credit: Sean Gallagher

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Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


  1. June 13, 2011 at 2:13 am —

    I remember when I had to consider getting confirmed, at age 11. My parents are divorced and my mom and stepdad actually had to go to court to allow me to choose not to get confirmed. (By that time I no longer considered myself a Christian, and while I hadn’t yet come to be an agnostic as I am now, I knew I was not ever going to return to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church which my dad attended, an ultra-conservative, ultra-misogynistic, ultra-homophobic offshoot of the mainline Lutheran church.) My dad managed to completely miss the point of confirmation, that it was a kid’s choice. He was like, “No, kids never really choose, they always become confirmed in their parents’ church, and you will, too. End of story.” It was ridiculous.

    Anyway, my mom and stepdad won and I remain a confirmation-free skeptic to this day.

  2. June 13, 2011 at 2:21 am —

    Also, as a bisexual skeptic, I don’t think the comparison is unfair at all. Polls have shown that people actually trust atheists less than gay people. And I know a lot of very religious people cannot handle a child who does not share their beliefs. In a way, it’s similar to coming out as gay because for parents who are religious and homophobic, being gay means you’re violating their beliefs in the same way as being an atheist. (And actually, homosexuality is just one tenet – atheism is rejecting the whole shebang.)

    I know the reaction from my bio dad and stepmom was quite intense and hateful, essentially saying I was possessed by the devil or that I worshiped the devil. It was ridiculous. In some ways, I’m glad that I didn’t figure out I was bi until long after I had cut my bio dad and stepmom out of my life. In other ways, I kind of wish I had been rid of them sooner, and maybe coming out would have resulted in that.

  3. June 13, 2011 at 2:26 am —

    ” I knew (and still know) my parents loved me, but the uncertainty of what their reaction would be killed me.”

    And specifically, this is EXACTLY what the LGB coming-out experience is like. My parents are actually very accepting of gay rights and were the first to instill acceptance of queer people in me. Still, I had no idea what to expect in their reaction to the fact that *I* was bisexual. And that made the whole experience of coming-out to them quite terrifying.

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