Inquiring Minds by
(137 Stories)

Prompted By Turning Points

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On Sunday mornings, I went to Sunday school.  It seemed like just one of those things that kids did, like going to regular school or being in the Brownies or watching the Micky Mouse show .   At least most white kids I knew in East Lansing in the mid-nineteen fifties did.  Religion was something you were born into, like being born an American.  I knew I had been baptized so I must be Christian.  Somehow it didn’t seem strange that my parents never attended church.

I had already reasoned out that, looking at the evidence, there was no way that Santa could make it to all the boys and girls around the world in one night, not to mention the chimney issue or the problematic Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy visits. 

My parents were different—both were Democrats and they had lived in China  I had lived in Vietnam in second and third grades and had actually seen the dragons that lie beyond the known world—they danced and shinnied up the pole at Tet to get the lucky money. I had already reasoned out that, looking at the evidence, there was no way that Santa could make it to all the boys and girls around the world in one night, not to mention the chimney issue or the problematic Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy visits.  When I announced this at dinner, I was quickly hushed so my younger sister wouldn’t get ideas too.

And yet, there I was at 10 years old in Sunday school, albeit the relatively liberal interdenominational variety.  It was boring, and I had a hard time relating to all the pictures of men in what looked like bathrobes or the stories of the miracles.  It was maybe in fifth grade that I walked out of the class, and tearfully told my teacher, Elizabeth Anderson, that I just didn’t want to be there anymore.  I felt bad and I liked her, but I just couldn’t, just couldn’t believe the stories.  To my surprise, she was sympathetic and allowed that you didn’t really have to take everything literally.  It was okay to just look at the stories as metaphors and consider a larger spiritual message.

That discussion was a revelation.  I didn’t have to believe?  It gave me the permission I needed to let my skepticism blossom.  It wasn’t just Santa Claus that could be questioned.  Religion was something you could choose to interpret or believe in or not.  Also:  books were not infallible, nor were teachers nor school.   I could try to understand existence my own way. Searching for a larger perspective, I already felt the awe of looking at the night sky, trying to fathom how far a light year was and how tiny we were.  Science was a wonder.

My parents didn’t mind that I stopped going to Sunday school.  It turned out they didn’t have much use for that either (and hadn’t even bothered to baptize my younger sister) but didn’t want to prohibit us from going—we could make up our own minds.  And that is indeed what happened.

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Thanx Khati for your “confessional”!

    I was raised by Jewish atheists, and altho not a believer myself, as an adult I joined a reform synagogue, sent my child to Sunday school, attend services on holidays , support Israel, and greatly admire my rabbi who is a staunch political and social activist.

    Is it hypocritical or a contradiction in terms to do all that without believing in God? Not to this unapologetic Jew!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Khati, a marvelous revelation/turning point. Indeed, having seen another culture’s ceremonies around the New Year – so different from the Western world, it is no wonder that you questioned the Judeo/Christian pap you were being fed. Thank goodness your teacher offered the story as metaphor answer and your parents were sympathetic. Great examples, all. Let the kids decide. The universe is vast and full of wonder. Who needed pictures of men in bathrobes, indeed?

  3. Your wonderful opening lines, making church attendance parallel to the Brownies and the Mickey Mouse Club, was enough to capture my attention, make me stop and think, and keep my attention for the whole story. I’m glad you had a sympathetic and intellectually honest teacher when you needed one. I, too, was fortunate to have a rabbi when I was in high school, who told all of us deity-doubting 1960s youth, “Christianity is a God-centered religion, but Judaism is not and never was. So long as you wish to ‘do justice and love mercy,’ you can be a faithful Jew, regardless of whether you think God exist.

  4. Jim Willis says:

    Khati, you have delivered some provocative thoughts here and — I believe — some essential truths about the idea of belief. That’s what I love about our reflective pieces in Retro: like yours here, they are good stories but they also are good because of the larger principles they address. Your story made me consider again the question: Is a person’s belief really a belief at all, if it is forced upon them or if it is simply the result of socialization (a borrowed belief used to just fit in with the peers)? Would God honor that kind of belief in eternity more than one that a person is trying to reason out for themselves? And if the established religious narrative is too much for a rational person to accept, is that really held against them? Are we not to use the mind that we say God gave us? In my life, I’ve discovered — often because of individual experiences and the amount of love they have or haven’t known in life –that it is just flat out easier for some to believe than others. if true, why would God treat unbelief as willful rebellion?

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    I recognize your path through religion as similar to my own. My Mom insisted I go to Sunday School for several years, but when she tried to make me go to Vacation Bible School during my summers, I rebelled. One of my first rebellions against parental authority, in fact. Later, she insisted I attend “confirmation classes” (which for Lutherans is about age 14; upon completion you are considered an adult in religious matters). She agreed that if I finished and still was an atheist, she’d leave me alone about it from then on. I went to confirmation classes, was confirmed, found that I was still an atheist, and have never attended a church service again.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Your story does sound familiar although you had more pressure to give it a go. Good on your mom for accepting your ability to make your own decision (once you turned 14!). I thought theocracy was an outdated concept, but it seems to be trying to make a comeback recently.

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