The Book that Led Me to Lose My Religion

Tiffany Hall
4 min readJun 4, 2022


Photo by Susan Q Yin

I was always a bookworm. My love for God is what pushed me to continue in my efforts in piecing the letters and sounds together so that I could ultimately read. I still remember the moment I figured out that I could read. It was Sunday service, and I had my song book in my hand. I was trying to follow along which was always difficult. However, that day I realized I could follow along, and I could sing along with everyone, too. I was so happy that I could not stop smiling. I could read.

Over the years, I would go to the library and pick the books that were of the higher reading levels because it meant I got more points for whatever prizes the school was dishing out. Occasionally, I came across books that were a little too mature for me. The first time I came across Ian McEwan’s Atonement I must have been 11 or 12 years old. It was a little difficult for me to read, and sometimes I had to read passages two or three times. Yet, for some reason, I wanted to get through this book. I remember reading the love scene between Cecilia and Robbie in the library and it really sticking out to my adolescent brain.

In addition to the books I picked out for myself, I also had to read the books that were assigned by my teachers. Being the child of a single mother who worked a lot, I would usually finish my summer reading list at the beginning of summer as I had nothing to do except may be watch TV. When I got into high school, I occupied my summers with volunteering, talking to others about God, SAT prep, and an internship. The summer before my senior year of high school I got my reading list. All the books were enjoyable to read, but there was one book that stuck out to me.

It was James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Of course, this fed into my weirdo complex as everyone in my class hated that book. It was confusing and hard to get through. I found it annoying at first as well but I stuck with the book as I was used to slow starts in books. Those were usually the books I loved the most. Well, if you are not familiar with the book, Stephen is a young, Catholic boy. In the beginning, it is all very simple for him in regards to family and his relationship with God. He even goes to a Jesuit-run school, and it seems like Stephen may one day become a priest.

However, as Stephen gets older, he becomes curious about sex and starts visiting prostitutes. Sitting through the sermons at his school and his church, Stephen starts to feel extremely guilty about seeing the prostitutes as he does not want to go to hell. He is excelling at this religious school, but he feels like a hypocrite. To soothe himself, he goes across town to a church that no one knows him and confesses. For a while, he feels better, but then the guilt comes back. Well, anyway, in the end of the book, Stephen starts to view himself as an artist and he realizes that artists appreciate beautiful things and beautiful people. That thought cures him of his guilt, and he decides he needs to leave his home country.

Being the horny teenager that I was I also felt a lot of guilt as I enjoyed masturbating. The religion I was a part of taught that masturbation was wrong. Reading that book, though, helped cure me of my guilt. I also considered myself an artist. I was writing poetry, prose, and lyrics. The piano became my obsession. So, I enjoyed thinking about beautiful things and beautiful people. I too felt I needed to run away.

The difference between me and Stephen, though, was I didn’t know how to get away. I felt trapped by what others expected of me. I was excelling in my religious community, and I did not want to let anyone down. Even though, I felt trapped, that book was one of the many things that led me to eventually run away. I am so glad I read that book. I honestly believe it changed the trajectory of my life. Now, that I am in my 30s, I am finally doing the things that I want to do. I am embracing my inner artist again.