A question came up the other day on an atheist podcast I was listening to. The question was: Do you look at the world differently now that you are no longer religious? This question, though answered well on the podcast, made me begin thinking about all the ways in which my deconversion has changed the way in which I view the world. In some respects nothing has changed. Work for example is exactly the same. The way I interact with my coworkers and my productivity have not been affected. However, there are a number of things in which I now think about completely differently.
1. I'll Pray for You. This used to make me feel good. It let me know that someone was thinking about me and keeping me in mind. However, I realized in my twenties that this is a Christianeze statement akin to saying 'God Bless You' when someone sneezes. It means nothing. They don't actually pray for you. I have known very few Christians in my life who actually keep and maintain a prayer list and pray daily. As someone who is nonreligious, I now see it as an empty phrase. They may as well say, that's so sad. I'm sorry. Because that is about all they are doing.
2. Miracles & Healing. I used to believe that God healed people. I began to doubt that when people I knew began to die of cancer. Yet, there were all these stories out there of healing and so a part of me hoped it was true. That God was still in the healing business and every once in a blue moon, would heal some religious person because he has a grand plan for them. What I found through my research was that those stories are often unsubstantiated and the ones that have some "proof" of being ill and then better, were often being treated by a doctor anyway. Now, I always make sure my friends are getting the best care they can get and if they are Christians, are relying on more than miracles and essential oils to get them through.
3. Divorce Proceedings. In my extreme Evangelical conservative upbringing, divorce was almost as bad as being gay. The ONLY time it was okay was if your spouse was cheating on you and even then, you should at least try to work it out before divorcing. Just yesterday my mother was talking about a mutual friend whose husband is actively and openly cheating on her and she (my mother) more than implied that my friend must be doing something to drive him to it. I told her off. My sister-in-law also believes this and is, in essence, the absolute worst person to ever ask for marriage advice particularly if you are dealing with serious issues. She is absolutely against divorce in any way, shape, or form and makes sure the person she talks to knows it. Although I most certainly think that marriage is a commitment and a bond between two people, I am also very aware that there are people who enter in some extremely unhealthy marriages. Perhaps the person is co-dependent, they have anger issues which lead to abuse, they are borderline psychotic, have mental health problems, or simply are not capable of loving another person. Of all the people I have known who have been divorced, there have been very few who didn't have a legitimate reason.
4. If I Should Die Before I Wake. When I was a Christian I used to think about what heaven would be like. Now that I don't believe in heaven and I believe that life just ends when I die, I find I live more in the now. If this is my one life then I need to make it the best it can be. This means that I don't give a shit about some things and that is okay, because I only have one life and I can't care about everything and everyone. It also means that I think a lot about aging and how to make sure that I live my best life all the way until I die. It means that I am taking better care of my body. It means that I think about what I will do when my husband inevitably dies before me. I consider how I feel about plastic surgery, wheelchairs, nursing homes, retirement communities, senior travel groups, etc. This doesn't mean that I will accomplish all the things I want to in life, but I'm sure as hell going to try.
5. Separation of Church and State. Growing up, the Christians surrounding me made a huge deal out of the whole separation of church and state thing. They didn't actually believe that the two should be separate and would make a big deal about the fact that it was only in a letter and not in the constitution. Didn't matter that the letter was written as a clarification to the constitution. This meant that my family and church absolutely believed that prayer...Christian prayer...should be not just allowed in school, but led by teachers in front of the classroom. The reason our country is going to hell in a hand basket is because that isn't allowed anymore. Screw the minority of people who are Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Taoist, Wiccan, non-religious, or atheist. Any news story concerning Christians not being allowed to do something they see as their sacred duty was considered persecution. This includes not being allowed to tell gay people they are going to hell, being forced to work in customer service and serve people who you don't agree with, and anytime a person questioned their beliefs. Now, I see a lot of these tactics as societal bullying. One group treating other people badly and thinking it is okay simply because there are more of them. I don't quite agree with atheists efforts to remove all traces of any religion from city/state/federal buildings. Yet, when you have a presidential candidate stating that he wants to unite the whole country under one God...well, fuck it, all bets are off.
6. Blessings and God's Will. Everything happens for a reason. God will bless you with the kids you are supposed to get. Your steps are ordained. Everything that happens in a person's life is supposed to have the fingerprint of God on it. And if something bad happens, well God has a plan for that too and it will all turn out all right. In my twenties I began to question this simply because, although that may be a reality in our first world country, it doesn't work well in a lot of other places. Look at South Sudan, a country full of Christians, where violence and starvation have marked their country for decades. Thousands upon thousands have died in absolute agony, fully believing in God and the only good that could possibly be garnered from their experience is that they are no longer suffering. Stating that a person is now in heaven being God's will also makes God a monster because it means that there are also thousands of orphans, traumatized after watching their parents die. Knowing that there is no actual plan, that things happen because the world is full of assholes and illness, is actually comforting. It comforts me to know that the death of a child of starvation is because human being suck and can do better, rather than a cosmic plan in which a god shows that he has very little concern for the beings in his creation.
7. Lions and Tigers and Demons, oh my. I was reminded of this one today while outside talking to some of the neighborhood kids. We were bonding over a very friendly stray cat. One child repeatedly mentioned that cats could look like demons, especially at night. "What does a demon look like?" I asked. "You know," was the response. Now, this could very well have been a child who has seen a few too many horror films and has an active imagination, but the way this child worded it, it was clear to me that demons are a regular topic of conversation at home. I get it. As a kid, demons weren't fantasy, they were real and they could come into your house and do horrible things to you. You had to pray against them, anoint your home with oil, and even then they might ride piggyback into your home on someone else's back. We believed this. At church, the pastor would declare that people had the demon of poverty on them or the demon of rebellion. Congregants would scream and pray in tongues, casting out the demon. When people tell me now that they sensed a demon in their house, it takes everything in me not to respond with extreme sarcasm. If someone tells me that they have physically seen a demon with their eyes, I have to resist calling them a liar or a lunatic. If you are seeing demons then you need to see a psychiatrist, not a preacher.
8. The Continuous Sin Loop. I was taught from a young age that I was a sinner. I spent much of my life trying very hard to live up to Godly standards, failing miserably, and asking for forgiveness on a continuous loop. I often asked God to forgive me for things that, in hindsight, weren't shameful. I used to masturbate, something my mother told me unequivocally was a sin and basically adultery against my future husband. I never stopped, but it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I stopped feeling guilty for doing it. Truth is, many of the things I was taught were sinful were really just human nature. Society has also helped shape what modern Christians think are sinful. Human nature can be fucked up, for sure, but not everything we do as people is wrong. I was told that by existing, I was an affront to God because I couldn't help but sin. Yet, when I began to examine my life and my days, there were days and days that would go by without me "sinning". And as I got older and stepped away from religion, I began to see those things that had once bound me on a continuous sin loop were just chains keeping me in fear. It was freeing to realize that ethics and sin are different. One has supposed eternal consequences, but if you no longer believe in the eternal then what you are left with is logic and ethics. I like logic.
9. Use It or Lose It. Okay, try to follow this exceptional logic: The only reason you are good at anything is because God put that ability in you. You owe any gifts or talents to God. As such, you should use those gifts and talents for God. Play violin? Well then you should be playing at church, in a Christian band, or teaching children music at a Christian school. If it isn't necessarily Christian, you should be witnessing somehow either by playing Christian music or sharing the gospel as part of your music. At the very least, you must assume that your talent has led you to a place that God wants you to be in order to share the gospel. If you don't use this talent for the Lord, he will take it away. Use it or lose it. I really believed this as a kid and I was that violin player. Even though I was classically trained, I was encouraged to play Christian music, apply (vaguely...my parents didn't exactly encourage college) to Christian colleges for music, and play for the church. I cannot tell you how many times I played in front of the church. The threat, that God would take away this talent, was always there. Since I couldn't unlearn how to play violin, I always assumed this meant that this meant God would cause me to get in a car accident and I wouldn't be able to use my hands. Or I would be stricken with arthritis at a young age. Of course, this logic didn't really pan since I had a very devout violin teacher who was definitely playing for the Lord and had horrible tendenitis in her hands, which would cause her to drop her violin if she played too much. The idea that you will suddenly not be good at the thing you are good at because God is punishing you is one seriously fucked up theology, especially considering there is not a single scripture to back it up. Obviously, I no longer agree with this and I believe there are a great many people out there with some pretty incredible talent who are being wasted on the church. Have you seen some of these people on worship teams? Incredible singers and musicians whose abilities will never see the outside of a church because they have been taught that the only way to use their gift is in service to a god. It's all rather sad really. And to be clear, anything can be a gift or talent. You could be incredibly good at organization, a whiz with numbers, able to learn new languages easily, hysterically funny, or even good at remembering stats. And those abilities aren't going to go away just because you didn't bring them to an alter and sacrifice yourself to a god.
10. Love, Sex, and Marriage. This one probably should have come before Divorce Proceedings, but whatever. As part of the purity culture I was told that God had the perfect person picked out for me to marry. He already knew who it would be. If I listened and obeyed God, he would lead me to the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Of course, I must remain a virgin for him although it would be silly to expect him to remain a virgin since boys have trouble in that area. Although I abandoned the idea of a perfect Prince Charming created just for me sometime in my twenties, I was a virgin bride so obviously I didn't let it all go. I am of the opinion that there are a lot of people out there that I could make it work with. I love my husband and am glad I met him, but that wouldn't have happened without online dating and my actively looking for a husband. I regret the virgin thing. I wish I had had sex. There was a guy I was dating about a year before I met my husband. I was his rebound chic and he let me know he wanted to have sex and as stupid as this sounds, I wish I had. Even though I was still a Christian and would have experienced immense amounts of guilt. Going into marriage completely unsure of yourself seems so stupid now. It has caused problems. We are still sorting them out. My Christian friends won't listen to me now, but I tell anyone who remotely asks, virginity is not all its cracked up to be. We are not meant to be thirty-year-old virgins. It goes against our nature. And you are not used goods if you have sex before marriage. It just means you have had a bit of practice.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.