By Isabelle Perello |

I get the question “why do you go to Baylor University if you’re an atheist,” almost every time I share with someone my religious beliefs. People usually assume that my parents didn’t raise me to be a good Christian girl or that I’ve never been able to be influenced by Christians at all while growing up.

The truth is, despite announcing my distaste for religion at the ripe-old age of 12, I’ve been going to church, various bible studies, Sunday school services and life group my entire life. Ironically, I finally stopped going to church when I began attending Baylor, one of the oldest Christian-based universities in America, save for the university-required chapel courses.

Being fed Bible verses and testimonies of God’s love for the duration of my adolescence did have some sort of influence on me, seeing as I once considered myself a Christian. One of the most significant moments in my childhood includes crying tears of joy while listening to “How He Loves” during a church sleepaway camp.  When I first met my best friend Mallory, who’s been an atheist her entire life, I remember creating heated discussions in order to try and convince her that God was real.

What went wrong?

I went through the dreaded life change that many kids are afraid of; I moved. I left California, home to the church I had been growing my love of Christianity in, and moved to Florida, which young Isabelle described as a “hell hole.”

Leaving the church that had so heavily influenced my love for God and Christianity caused my personal religion to take a huge hit. I no longer ran around a tree outside telling my mother I was “playing Tag with God.” I no longer prayed every night with my eyes slightly cracked open in hopes that I would see God listening in the corner of my room. Yet, I remained optimistic.

My ever-involved mother quickly found us about 15 churches to “try out” when we first arrived in the Sunshine State. Whether it was caused by my fading optimism or the rebellious nature that accompanied growing into teenage years, I couldn’t find a connection with any of them. During this time, my first symptoms of depression began to show, which became a struggle I would continue dealing with throughout the rest of my life.  

The combination of lacking connections within church and diving deep into my growing depression finally made me reconsider the ultimate question: was there even a God out there watching over me?

I concluded that there wasn’t.

My entire family is Christian. I’m the first proclaimed atheist in the current lineage. As expected, news of my newfound religion, or lack thereof, didn’t “sit well” with my relatives.

To this day, my grandmother is in denial about my non-beliefs. My great-aunt warned me that if I continued on the path away from Jesus, I’d lead my future family into Hell. Until the day I moved out for college, my mother insisted I attend church with the family every Sunday, despite my obvious discomfort.  

I love my family and understand that their intentions were ultimately in the right place. And while I’m sure my family meant to bring me closer to a love of God and religion, they only ended up driving me further away. The feelings of rejection and being forced into a “Christian-shaped box” created a personal grudge against Christianity that I would carry with me for the remainder of my adolescence.

When I first toured Baylor, I fell in love with the beautiful campus, degree plans and opportunities that the school provided for me. When I heard about the required chapel, Christian scriptures and heritage courses, that love quickly vanished and I became adamant about never coming back.

In truth, I don’t really know why I decided to come to Baylor in the end. My desire to attend suddenly just clicked in, despite arguing against even the consideration of attending such a religion-heavy school. Some could say it was a miracle. I don’t, for obvious reasons.

As it turns out, Baylor did end up being a “blessing in disguise” for me. My stubborn grudge against Christianity and the feeling of isolation did appear occasionally on campus, but I found light in my freshman roommate, Braelynn. She showed me what real Christianity is, without the hypocrisy and unattainable standards that I had come to associate it with.

When I told Braelynn I was an atheist, I was nervous because I knew she wanted a roommate with which she could grow her faith with. I feared that this girl, who I had grown to really like and considered to be my first real friend at Baylor, would reject me because I wasn’t “up to her standards.” Instead, she was fine with it. More than being just fine, she assured me her perspective of my character didn’t waver in the slightest.

The first semester of freshman year continues to be the best semester of my college career in my memories, because all the late night adventures, pizza runs and movie nights weren’t inhibited by a religion barrier as I had feared. Instead, Braelynn simply loved me, without a hint of judgement, for who I was, despite what I believed in.

Meeting Braelynn didn’t change my religion, but it changed my perspective. I’m still strong in my beliefs, but now I can see what it means to be a true Christian. All it took was one person who didn’t push their religion on me, and instead showed me the love that they were supposed to give.

To those who believe their duty as a Christian is to convert everyone to God as soon as possible, I’d reconsider. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is love.