I am an atheist. Like most atheists I know, there was a moment or a period where I transitioned into atheism from - I don't know - agitation. I definitely believed for a while but I tried hard. Reading the article about kids these days and their atheism on the main page made me ponder my own unreligious experiences.
I miss God. I do have a hole in my heart where religion could be, like they told me I would. I wish I had the healthy glow of Jesus in my eyes. I don't think that means there is something inherently wrong about atheism - I think it is knowing that so many people around me truly believe that "everything is going to be all right." It is about how I am terrified of dying.
I also don't mean to judge any of you. Religion (or my lack thereof) could not coexist as I understood it, with the world as I understand it. I just cannot make it work.
"We don't believe it really matters what religion you are, as long as you are a good person." Fatal move, Mom. What she didn't know was exactly how RIGHT that felt to me, as a little kid. My mother was raised Catholic, my father grew up strict southern Baptist. Neither of them acted particularly devout.
I am the oldest of four kids. I started out Presbyterian; my brother and I were baptized Lutheran; by the time my sister was born, we were Jews for Jesus; we moved back down south and became Catholic to get a discount at the local school; I was the only kid to get confirmed, because while I was in our Catholic middle school there was a molestation scandal - we moved to public school. In my family, I was The Last Catholic, and the rest moved on back to Lutheran. The only reason I didn't was that I was old enough to skip church. Now my parents are divorced - my dad thinks he is a Buddhist (but is just an asshole) and my mother is Presbyterian.
Am I really supposed to take this shit seriously?
In this super-conservative area, I was a Dirty Catholic and was not accepted by the other Christian classmates. In fact, they would not consider me Christian. I was uninvited on the ski trip, uninvited to youth group, and uninvited to heaven.
College was a period of me flat out ignoring my religion but still claiming Christian; shortly after college, I had to look myself in the eye, and I knew what the squicky feeling I'd felt all along was: I was not going to heaven, because there wasn't one.
I'd always felt wrong in church. I was ashamed of myself for hating it, ashamed of myself for thinking about sex ALL THE TIME, ashamed of myself for believing in science, and condoms. Mostly, everything didn't make sense to me. I remember getting yelled at as a little kid who couldn't BELIEVE they were trying to convince me everyone came from two white people.
But Eve didn't have daughters. Did her sons have sex with her? DETENTION.
But you couldn't fit all the animals onto an arc, there's no way. And what about plants that would have drowned? And bacteria and stuff? DETENTION.
Ok, ok. You're telling ME, that even thinking about sex is a sin? I can't help it - it just pops into my head. DETENTION.
The Gospels didn't explicitly say that Mary was actually a virgin. DETENTION.
You get the point.
About That Child Molestation Scandal (TW sexual assault for just this section)
Nothing will shake your faith in religion like being in the middle of something so devastating. I was not one of the victims, but they were my peers. I was in eighth grade, and eighth and ninth grade boys on the basketball team were the victims. Kids I had classes with. Kids I'd grown up with. Kids I still know.
The news broke that this guy was arrested over a weekend. My parents were being very weird, but told me what happened. They asked me a ton of questions (as opposed to "discussing" it with me) about whether I'd been molested. That's about it.
On Monday, the victims did not attend school. The rest of the students of the middle school portion were called into an assembly to talk about what was happening. One by one, the teachers got up to the podium, called these kids liars, and showed their support for the rapist. They led us in a prayer for him. They said that God would protect him. I shudder to think what that must have felt like for them, to know they were shamed in front of all their friends. Furthermore, what if more victims hadn't come out, and they were in that assembly?
I'll pause and let you pick your jaw up off the floor and pop those eyeballs back into your head.
I was not particularly shaken at the time, because I may not have understood the gravity of it. On Tuesday, my mother (and countless others) would not let me attend school anymore. There was not much time left, and the teachers had a sort of makeshift homeschooling program set up. I didn't go to any more 8th grade.
This was the first time I saw the fallibility of god-fearing leaders in the community. It only took a couple years for me to become appropriately outraged, after a couple sexual experiences of my own, that were scary only in the innocent way those first times are.
The older I got, the more I realized how much even being on the periphery of this experience has lived inside of me and how it informed my behavior about religion.
Jesus, You're Drunk, I'm Taking the Wheel Back From You
By that time I'd become a Christmas-Easter church attendee when I was in high school. My parents let me make my own choices, but were always sad when I skipped church. I didn't care - I viewed everyone in there as a rapist. I didn't want to get raped; I didn't want to go to church.
I didn't attend church, but I read the Bible. I prayed. I thought about Christianity. It always felt like a club I couldn't get into. I knew I was a phony. Confusingly enough, I knew that God knew I was a phony. Science and sex were always eating away at me - not to say that one can't believe in religion and those things, but they were presented to me as opposing forces. I tried tirelessly to reconcile them, and it didn't happen.
I had a lot of heavy petting on my resume at this point, but no sex. I was going to wait until marriage, I thought. My mother's response was, "Oh, no one really does that." The woman, who nags me to attend church and has dictated our religious affiliations throughout my life, sends us to religious education only to undermine it.
In college, everyone around me still said they were Christian. I didn't go to church, but my freshman year, I tried to go to FCA. Every damn week, someone would provoke us to publicly declare that we have been saved - to show just how faithful we could be to the masses. Once, someone spoke in tongues.
That was the last straw. I explicitly said, "Fuck Jesus, if this is what he wants" to my friend. I made her very angry, and I left. We were doing nothing productive. We were sitting around in a circle jerk, making each other feel great about ourselves for sitting around.
For the next four years, I just pretended religion wasn't A Thing (unless in literature, art, or history). I never went to church, I never talked about church, and I found more liberal friends (which was hard).
The Finish Line
I moved to New Orleans after college. A friend and I (and later, another friend/classmate), in architecture school, were working with a local community nonprofit to get a prototype for a house built that would (theoretically) be quick, cheap, and sustainable. We also helped bring local rental properties to ADA compliance, since so many homeowners were now renting after Hurricane Katrina.
What this meant was: volunteers on mission trips. Many of them were great; they came in, helped out, and left. Most of them were unimaginably terrible. They were too busy writing in prayer journals, discovering themselves, and taking personal journeys with Jesus to do a goddamn thing for the devastated people around them. In fact, they often made things worse, with their White Savior complexes and unwillingness to consider that a crime-ridden community is not just full of Satanists.
So they get the benefit of checking this off on their list to get into heaven, feeling great about themselves, but have basically acted more selfishly than anyone I've ever seen in actual, real life. And this was the norm for our volunteers; not the exception.
My "business" partner asked me if I was Christian. "Eh, supposedly," was my answer, as we were complaining about these assholes. His response was, "I'm atheist as shit." Our other classmate, who I'd expected to have an answer similar to mine, said, "Yeah, I never tell anyone, but fuck all that. I haven't ever truly believed any of it."
That was the first frank conversation I'd ever had with people I was close to, about atheism. It sounds dumb; you just have to understand, when everyone around you is a certain way, you forget there are other ways to be, and just feel bad about being different.
It took me about a week to realize that I was, indeed, "atheist as shit" as well. Not just a little atheist. I had moved past questioning, I just had not admitted it.
Thoughts of a God-fearing Atheist
As I said, I still have a void inside of me where I think religion could have been. I want, very much, to be pleasantly surprised at the time of my death at there is a heaven, and that I made it on the list. I see others take such comfort and joy in religion - I just cannot reconcile it with reality as I know it.
I feel the presence of God. I don't believe in him, but I feel watched. I feel judged. My only explanation is that this is a remnant of the Catholic guilt of my upbringing. I hope he understands, if he's real, that the world he created does not work with the religion people made up about him. If he is who we are supposed to think he is, he'll understand.
I'm sure, on Monday, my mother will call, asking if I went to Church on Easter. Like the past five years, I will sadly have to answer with, "No, I went to the Drag Queen parade again."