I’m going to be incredibly careful in this post because I don’t want to talk about my family in a disparaging way, but an important part of undergoing a massive shift in belief is working through the relationships that were so attached to the former belief system. Usually, this is family.
For me, it is family. My father was a pastor, and my mom is the type of devout Christian that could care less about logic and reason (not a criticism–just the way she’s wired). For this post, I note that my oldest sister is actually quite a bit like how I was as a Christian, and that’s what makes this whole topic rather intriguing. Lately, she seems to have gotten more and more into Christian apologetics and is frequently in a mode to call out “false teachers.” As her sister who cares more about maintaining a positive, albeit somewhat superficial, relationship with her than about expressing how much her viewpoint grieves me, I just sit and watch. And every time I observe, I’m taken back to some instance in my past when I felt that same conviction and knew that I knew the Truth. It’s not comforting for me to think that my sister is wrong or misguided. What I really think is that she is a product of her raising and is trying to live very true to her beliefs, which is something I can respect.
But what I mostly have been taking from all of this is how much observing her makes me glad not to feel that conviction anymore. I know she would be hurt to hear this, but it is so incredibly true and so incredibly refreshing. Unlike my family, I no longer have to be prepared to explain why I believe what I do. I sit in the “I don’t know” and watch them “know.” There’s no pressure and no urgency. I take my time and allow myself to be skeptical and confused most of the time without desperately clawing for assurance or God’s approval. Freedom–true freedom–does not exist with contingencies. With freedom, there is no submission and no expectation. Freedom honors individual integrity. It is optimistically autonomous. The package of “freedom” seen in the Bible relies on adherence and forms a paradox with submission.
And so, I’ve chosen to be truly free. That is me, the optimistically autonomous. The Jones family anomaly. The antithetical offspring. Always pleased to make your acquaintance and never with the hope that you will bend to my beliefs.
Sometimes Christians read my blog and feel very sad for me regardless of what I say. I could be raving about how awesome my life has been since I stopped believing in any deities (which it has been–seriously, this has been the greatest year of my life), or I could be lamenting how difficult my relationships are. Either way, they feel so very sorry for me.
Common reactions from “understanding” Christians are either an expression of pity or a presentation of positive Scripture verses that express God’s love, as though those verses will prove to me not only that the Christian God exists but that such a god is actually good. These people assume that I had such a horrendous teaching of the gospel growing up that clearly I was misled. I challenge you to talk to my father with a Ph.D in Theology and let him school you in the things he taught me, specifically on the vast, beautiful topic of God’s love. Then we can speak again, and your ignorant self can tell me how much I was misled from truly understanding the God of the Bible.
Here is something very true: I. Don’t. Care. About. Your. God.
Do I care about you? I might if you give me a chance. If your agenda is to speak Bible at me, then probably not. I won’t want to be friends. If your chief desire is to change my system of beliefs, I will have very little respect for you. I don’t preach at you. I don’t go onto your blog to tell you that you’re wrong, that you seem “confused” or “misguided” or to express pity. See, I try to be nice and make an effort to avoid that unnecessary conflict.
If you feel sorry for me, keep it to yourself. And if you feel sorry for me when I’ve just had the greatest year of my life…well, fuck you.
Things commonly said by former evangelical Christians to current evangelical Christians:
“I only experienced true freedom when I stopped believing.”
“I’m so glad I don’t have to believe the same things as you anymore. The cognitive dissonance was unbearable.”
“I couldn’t believe in god now even if I wanted to.”
I know that at least my family and friends have been disturbed by the complete 180 on my view of Christian doctrine, and the most difficult part about coping with that change for me has been in trying to respect those who believe while dealing with how angry I am at the things they believe. This is an almost impossible balance to strike, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever maintained that balance for more than one minute this past year. The angrier I am, the more they see me as being in “rebellion.” The more I try to be understanding, the more convinced they are that I might come back. Through all of this, there’s little to no respect for where I am in the present.
In terms of present certainties, one thing worth clarifying is that I absolutely know that I will never believe in god the same way I did before. I will never be convinced that there is a hell, nor will I believe that humans are born into sin. It’s possible that I could believe in some deity again. It seems unlikely at this point, and I’m not sure under what condition it would happen, nor what that deity would be like. But sure, it’s possible. Any theists can at least hold onto that hope if they must hold onto any wild dreams of my potential future theistic leanings.
If I tell my family that I know I will never go back to believing as they do, they won’t (and can’t) believe that’s true. According to them, I will only find true peace in Scripture. I will only find true fellowship with “the family of God.” I can only find meaning in transforming my heart and mind toward the will of God. But as experience has shown me this past year, I’ve only been able to find true peace as a freethinker who is not bound to her beliefs by fear. I’ve only found true fellowship with those who don’t judge my perversions, who show me more grace for my downfalls than believers ever did, and who love even the things about me that God by his very “perfect” nature cannot. I can only make sense of the world by no longer clinging to Absolute Meaning and Purpose. My obsession with purpose as a Christian drove me absolutely fucking insane. Now the truest thing I know about meaning is that it is not apparent at all as an objective entity, and I can just as well craft my own purposes that satisfy me, especially this me who no longer believes in eternal life or cosmic reason. The weight of those things forced me to care more than is healthy about eschatological consequences, and now I’ve reached a way healthier perspective on myself in this universe that keeps me humble and wanting to learn.
So, why would a believer want me to go back? Oh, because they’re scared.
At the end of the day, I can sleep without guilt or grief. Even with days full of debates, deep thought and confusion, I don’t lay in bed concerned about a soul–my soul or anyone else’s. I recognize the absurdity and wonder of life, and I choose to embrace its contradictions. I’ve settled in the thought that I might be wrong about ultimates, but I don’t feel accountable to that. I don’t feel shame for existing, and I’m not obligated to insist that others believe anything at all.
Cubicles compartmentalize pieces of a corporation, but they don’t compartmentalize people. One year ago my cubicle couldn’t contain me. Squinting at screens with blurred vision through wet eyes didn’t seem like how my first step into adulthood and my first real job would occur, and that professional pedestal–that next order of success–only served to make me feel even more estranged from myself.
I never wanted to go to college, and I never wanted the type of job I have now, which is the type that could carry me up to CEO of some big corporation one day. I hate saying that I don’t want these things because I am so aware of my pillow of privilege that I’ve always cuddled into each night. This is how religion captures a “soul.” “Meaningless, meaningless,” they say. They know, and what’s worse–I know, that I’ll never find satisfaction in this typical cycle of life. Their problem is that the scheme of religion offers nothing for me either but wishful thinking and intellectual loopholes. These thoughts turned into tears in my cubicle. They continue to drive my uneasiness today. Career success can’t hold me, cosmic purpose can’t hold me, and so I seek steady waves of joy when they come or when I can procure them myself. Existence is a psychological matrix.
It’s funny to think that we really only exist in order to survive, but I think that’s still where we are on the evolutionary spectrum. Here we are for no good reason, and yet we are driven by reason. Let’s make up a bunch of reasons so that we don’t drown in the absurdity of it all.
No, I’m not depressed. I’m just aware.
What I hold inside is not sacred, but some things need to stay in for a time before their measure toward public proclamation, be it subtle or abrupt, has reached simmering capacity. This keeps words few and signals mixed. I’ve never enjoyed keeping myself inside.
If there is an inkling of spirituality in me, it pertains to time and how occurrences hold their own particular allotments. I am in no rush.