What does it mean to me when my president acknowledges and respects my lack of belief in God? What does it mean to me when my president supports and wants to legalize my potential marriage to a woman?
At face value, those things mean a lot, but when I really sit on those questions for a while I start to wonder when acknowledgement can overcome the dissension. No matter how much one man respects what I believe and how I love, one man can’t assure me that I’ll gain what I feel like I deserve.
I sat reading tweets by my former pastor tonight and glanced over social pages of Christians from my past. They’ve all but forgotten who I am at this point. They shout words that would be daggers to my heart if I truly cared about their opinions anymore. According to them, their words are Truth–even further–Truth in love. These people don’t know love. That’s not to say that I do, but after having set up camp on both sides of this fence, I think I have a little better perspective.
I’m not sure how much faith I have in Obama’s administration. I like that he wants equality. That’s what I want, too. But I get antsy in waiting and discouraged by the power of religious indoctrination to completely skew a person’s understanding of love. I want a better future, and I want to help build it. But when do our “HOPE” and “CHANGE” banners peel from their 2D form and take a three-dimensional lead into our future? What is this world we live in that makes people on all sides look at others as though their ideas are poison?
Though I’m no longer a conservative Christian, I don’t like feeling like I’m now at the other extreme. I didn’t leave so that I could fight. I left so that I could figure out who I am and what is important to me. With that comes a lot of expectations still. How dare I not vote in this election. How dare I post opinions on the internet that upset people. How dare I be passive about anything that should be important to me. I’m sorry, everyone, but I am perpetually shellshocked. I’m too stunned by my empathy for all sides to really charge forth with my pitchfork. For all my inactive apathy and for all my contradictory opinions, the truth is that it’s all too much. And I care too much about everyone. I wish things could all work out the best for everyone, but I don’t actually believe that’s an option.
Growing up a white, middle class, Christian, cisgender, straight, healthy, athletic, average-looking, American female in a small town in Virginia basically guaranteed that life would be easy for me. I was well-esteemed in my circles in high school, graduated with an effortless 4.2 GPA, and naturally relocated to college where I would continue to easily exist in all my privilege.
They say about privilege that you don’t fully realize you have it until it is threatened or lost. This is why my loss of faith came as such a shock and shook my world more than it probably should have. Suddenly, I started identifying with words like “victim” and “minority,” and painfully, my conservative mind was dragged through liberal realities. I felt abused.
What threw me for an even more surreal loop was realizing that I had also been struggling with my sexuality. And this is where my title comes in: Room for Consideration. As I left faith, I felt like there was no room for me to consider alternate beliefs. I was expected to have one belief and all other considerations only twisted me into vicious cycles of self-loathing. Likewise, I’ve been having to keep this struggle with my sexuality inside ever since realizing that I fell in love with a girl while I fell out of love with my spirituality. It’s not publicly acceptable, and even though I accepted my atheism and shouted it from the rooftops, I was absolutely terrified to even consider that I might not be straight, let alone that I might be very gay.
I don’t want to pull everyone through my entire queer narrative, so I’ll keep this brief. I had one serious boyfriend in high school, and I can’t think of any other guy I’ve been seriously interested in since that time. I had my first crush on a girl when I was 15, but I had no clue that what I had was a crush. I didn’t have the framework for understanding that I could even be attracted to girls in that way. By the time I got to college, I only had crushes on women and never on men. Again, I had no framework for understanding my attractions. At this point, I just assumed that I was straight. I mean, I had a boyfriend in high school, and I knew I’d eventually find “the one” and that would be all it’d take. But by the time senior year rolled around and my faith was almost to its breaking point, I fell so hard for a girl that it was impossible at this point to remain oblivious to my attractions. It was more than a crush, and it scared me so much that I was able to remain in denial about it for quite a while longer.
Once I had deconverted and decided to confront this weirdness going on with my sexuality, I still didn’t want to be disingenuous to the queer community. I didn’t want to be yet another person “trying it out” – some promiscuous “bisexual” girl who winds up with a man and a generally privileged life, setting the whole movement for gay acceptance back another notch. I thought maybe I could sit on the outside looking in for a while. I could just exist without sexuality. I’m not attracted to men, but maybe I don’t need relationships. Maybe I’ll just keep my life uncomplicated and derive joy from my singleness.
Until I arrived at where I am now, which is that this stuff I’m going through is mine, and it is very real for me. Whether or not it is socially acceptable, I’m going to make room for consideration so that I can sort this shit out. I hate that this process offends people or makes people think that I’m flaky or fake. I’m an extrovert who suffers when I keep myself stored inside. So here’s one step out. I am an atheist. I’ve loved a woman, and I hope to love more.
Where a system exists, so does the opposition. I stand in opposition to a supposed non-system, so I’m skeptical of the legitimacy of my rebellious flare. The nice thing about what I’m about to say is that those who oppose what I say will only make this position seem more validated and those who agree have probably already had these feelings bubbling under the surface if they’ve not already expressed them much more eloquently themselves.
In short, I’m at a point of being disillusioned by atheism as a thing. Sure, yes, I am an atheist, but I don’t need to discuss it beyond claiming the label. Atheists say all the time that they simply “lack a belief” and that atheism does not signify what they do believe but rather what they don’t. And yet, I see and hear atheists debating religious people and insisting that religious people are wrong. They defend themselves as atheists, asserting the atheist position. They wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ as a badge for their non-belief. Allow me to right here and now disavow myself from that system.
When I stopped being a Christian, it was not a decision I made to leave God or leave my church family or leave a pursuit of truth. I stopped calling myself a Christian because I do not see the world through that lens. I understand that we all feel pain at times and joy at times. I see the complexity of our experiences and how little of life can be explained. What brought me to atheism was my complete and utter lack of certainty. The depth of my ignorance shocks and exhausts me. It neutralizes me. I’m an atheist because I don’t know what I am, and what captivates me is the certainty of uncertainty and all the contradictions therein.
I’m not an atheist because I think religion is evil, and as an atheist I do not subscribe to a system of atheism. I am not wedded to non-belief. I am only acutely aware of it. I am an atheist because of my own experiences and exposure to the world, and I will not deny that.
Because of all my reasons for being an atheist, I have no platform for promoting atheism. It was a thing that happened to me, and it is not a thing I necessarily think should happen to all others. This existence of atheism as a system both confounds me and leaves me cold. I didn’t leave the certainty of religious faith so that I could hold enough certainty in something else to defend it. Certainty is my enemy, not religion or notions of god. False assurance is my greatest fear, and I do not have a need to parade my ignorance when I would merely be parading the core of myself which we all share.
When I first became an atheist, I thought it was a huge deal. I’ve come to discover that it’s not. The difference is that I actually feel the freedom as an atheist that Christianity promised I’d feel, but there is no difference in how I view and care about other people. I still strive for the greater good and loving others to the best of my ability, and I do these things without feeling like I need a reason to justify why I do these things. No amount of certainty in “absolute truth” needs to be reached for me to say, “I love my life, I love others, and I want to make the most of what I have.” So really, you go ahead and believe in god, and I won’t. The notion is moot. As long as we are propelled toward bettering society, I don’t care if a tree told you to love your neighbor as yourself.
Note to religious people: When atheists are angry about religion, it’s because of compassionless doctrines, not because of a hatred toward god. I hope more people will question when their god wants them to hurt others for the sake of a “greater good.” I also hope atheists will question where they get off hurting people by dismissing others’ experiences and not exhibiting compassion themselves. We’re all inconsistent in our convictions.
I hate Christian apologetics. Not because I find it challenging and therefore frustrating, but because I find it absurd and therefore frustrating. Christian apologetics insists that since we make arguments from a reason based in faith, that faith MUST be the Christian faith, which has not been proven. However, the atheist only says that we don’t know what the source of reason is or if there is a “source” at all. Intellectual honesty is admitting that we don’t know that. Sure, I have faith in the capabilities of my reason to bring me to understandings of truth, but this is grounded in a demonstration of my reason forming an understanding of a shared reality I have with fellow human beings. This is vastly different from having faith in one of the many proposed supernatural figures. Atheism starts with what appeals to our physical senses. Religion starts with something that is hypothesized and can’t be tested. I was so blind to this before.
I’ve come to practically eat, drink, and breathe nonbelief. Still apathetic to political persuasions, I continue to fixate more and more on the nuances of religious belief. Religion, politics, and other constructs of categorization and preference are all matters of belief. In a way, they’re all the same. The shedding of my Christianity, however, feels like shedding an entire layer of skin. I look the same underneath, but those actual pieces of what I was are gone. I want others to know that, and I want to know that as well. Instead of leaving the shell of myself in the yard, I’d rather dissect it, no matter how thin and useless it may appear now.
A piece of what I’ve carried with me from my Christian faith is seeing that we’re all the same. I don’t see us as the same in our sinfulness and rebellion to the Lord, but I do see us the same in our human form. I see the sameness scientifically and spiritually. None of these things I see have to do with good and evil, right and wrong. It’s not important to me that religion be destroyed, but it is important to let others know that belief is belief. The consequences of belief itself are only seen in sensory manifestations. There is nothing about any particular faith that necessarily demonstrates any of them as true beliefs, and this is an important distinction to make.
I don’t see God changing hearts. I see people learning and growing organically, evolutionarily.
This is why I’m very much the same as an atheist as I was as a Christian. The difference is that I now understand the nature of my willpower in a different light. I still make decisions that benefit both my community and myself. I still make sacrifices when I see them as necessary. I still don’t think I’m the most important person ever, even if I do act that way sometimes. What I want to understand from Christians is why it’s important that I see all of these things in light of a Creator God. I want to understand what could possibly necessarily demonstrate that I need a Savior. Yeah, I’m fallible and go through intensely weak periods of life, but the help I find during those moments happen through community and psychological methods. Prayer and meditation are psychological methods.
I wish there was a way to present my beliefs and my case without it seeming like I’m so against God. I’m not, but a distinction needs to be made. We can be good without believing in God even if God is there. Life makes sense without God, and life can be wonderful without God (and it can be even better than a life with God, as is the case for me).
Maybe some people just need to see that the big picture is bigger than they conceive. Perhaps there is a picture that may include God but is not limited to God. I don’t see this as a hateful statement, but rather a more conceivable one.
What probably keeps my family calm and collected about my loss of salvation is the hope that I can reach true salvation one day, Lord-willing. My one major restraint has been not telling them how strongly I feel like I will never be a Christian again. I’m sure they believe God is far more powerful than my obstinacy, but I feel so close to fully confident in saying never. Absolutely not ever again. Never.
It goes along with how things can’t be unseen, which is a funny comparison considering how faith is certainty in things unseen. So confusing!
The way I lost my faith was a mere matter of backing up. I should start saying that. “Hey, how’d you lose your faith?” “Oh, I just kept backing up and eventually my faith got lost in the big picture.” It’s a perfect illustration. You see, faith is selfish. This is not an accusation where I say, “I’m not selfish–religious people are.” No, I’m selfish, too, but I don’t pretend like there are things I can possibly do that aren’t selfish. Selfishness is not a sin. It is necessary. There are things we do that are more selfish and things that are less selfish, but everything is derived from a selfish intent, even if it’s the satisfaction of doing something good for someone else. That satisfaction is selfish, but it’s not a bad thing.
But anyway, back to how my faith got lost in the big picture. I am a selfish person, yes, and my faith in God was very selfish. I looked for all the ways it could bring me peace and satisfaction. Christians do this under the guise of saying satisfaction in the Holy Spirit is honoring to God, not honoring to man. You can twist it however you want but when it comes down to it, it makes you happy, and you want to be happy. It’s hard to question that sort of faith when it brings such deep satisfaction, which is why it’s marvelous for Christians when doubt finally leads to “humble” repentance. Christians were all for my doubts there for a while, but when the doubts got too doubt-y, they were no longer edifying or acceptable. Once I started observing the world from other perspectives, non-Christian perspectives, I’d gone too deep. And it’s true, there was no going back once I’d stepped back too far. I see faith for what it is and how it works. I’ve drawn the parallels of faith between different religions and different gods. As far as I can tell, it all looks the same. Someone would be hard-pressed to prove to me that one of those gods is real and the others aren’t. They all fill the same role in different lives. Scientifically, without confirmation bias, the whole personal god thing fails. It’s all conjecture built on personal transcendental experiences. Despite the Christian arguments for absolute truth, there is no evidence to substantiate a claim that BibleGod is absolute truth.
Perhaps saying I don’t think I’ll ever believe in God again is a bit of a bold statement, perhaps not totally founded, and maybe I just really don’t want to believe in God again (I do want to believe in God if God is real). The fact of the matter is, I’ve seen too much. I don’t usually blog about these matters with such confidence. I feel a little vulnerable writing all of this, but that’s okay. I might be wrong. Maybe one day I’ll confusedly worship a god again.