In an effort to slowly introduce my family to my non-religion in a more planned way, I told my aunt today that I was "having a crisis of belief" and this was the reason we weren't currently going to church. I also added that it is interesting because my husband who really hates church is not having any kinds of faith issues. This was in context of her wondering what it says about someone if they don't go to church regularly.
It was a small moment, but knowing my Aunt, who always loves a good piece of gossip, this will get around. That is okay. I want it to get around. [I] am no longer going to church. [I] am having a crisis in belief. This is allowed and acceptable since most Christians admit that they too have had such crisis and are willing to let it go. They'll pray for you of course and may begin to ask questions when it seems to last longer than it should, but having doubts is fine within certain perimeters. In my world those limits are doubts in theology not god itself. I have obviously ventured far from those perimeters, but for now they can believe what they will and maybe in a few more months I will provide some more morsels of unbelief.
Additional note: Telling me you believe in miraculous healing because you are no longer intolerant of a certain food and since you can't explain it, it must be God, will not alleviate my doubts. Seriously, the 'God of the gaps' fallacy didn't work for me even when I was a Christian. There are so many physiological reasons why your body may be able to process something it couldn't before and none of them involve God. Never mind that it wasn't even a serious food allergy or something, just some intestinal distress that literally passes away. Why aren't people ever healed of the truly extraordinary? Like the regrowth of a limb or fourth stage cancer or even a serious allergy to bees? Why is it always something stupid and mundane like planter fascitis or a headache or the blip on that X-ray that may have been cancer but turned out it wasn't? It's bullshit I tell you.
It would be a convoluted post if I tried to explain how I got into this conversation, so to make the story short we were talking about how my husband thinks that atheists are assholes and that was when he clarified. "Yeah, I think atheists are assholes, but you aren't understanding...I think all people are assholes."
In a nutshell: People are terrible unreliable assholes. Eventually, they will say or do something that will hurt you. It is only a matter of time. There are those with higher levels of asshole-dom in that they will say something to disparage another person's beliefs or opinions. Atheists are assholes, but at least they don't have a believe system that says they should be nice. Christians are the worst kinds of assholes because they have a belief system that commands them to love people unconditionally...and they don't. So the contempt he has for asshole atheists is nothing compared to his feelings in regards to asshole Christians.
Here is the saddest part though, this quickly turned into a discussion about not trusting people. He doesn't trust people. It's the reason why when I came out as an atheist, his first impression was that I had lied to him. Now, before you get the wrong idea, my husband's trust issues are well-founded. His first wife was cheating on him before and after they were married. A roommate who he moved to another state with just up and moved out without any notice. People who claimed to be his friends disappeared when he disagreed with things that should not be factors in a friendship. A pastor kicked him out of a church because the girl he was dating admitted that they had been having sex outside of marriage. She claimed she was sorry, but since he didn't suffer from guilt, he was forced out. (never mind he had already moved away months earlier) His parents are manipulative assholes who still make fun of his weight and do things like not buy us presents because we won't stay with them when we visit. He has some really legit reasons to not trust people. He has a cousin who regularly teases him about how someone who looks like him (in her opinion, ugly) got a girl who looks like me (pretty).
For me, trust isn't a yes or no issue, it is more on a 10-point scale. For example: My sister-in-law would get a five, possibly even a four. I trust her to be there for me if I was in the hospital or if I needed help, after all she organized my bridal shower since I didn't have any bridesmaids. On the other hand I know she talks about me behind my back and would probably not be very gracious or understanding if I told her I was an atheist. In fact, I am pretty sure she would give me her very honest Christian opinion with as much kindness as she could muster, which would not be much. My mother barely ranks above her, but does have that unconditional love of her child to give her a bit of a trust boost. My best friend gets a nine. He has proved himself to be a true friend over and over again. The only time he hurt me, he was beyond apologetic and has been the next fifteen years being awesome. The only reason he doesn't get a ten is because of his habit of not showing up to things sometimes and going incommunicae for weeks at a time. My husband probably gets a nine too and the reason being our recent problems where I don't trust to talk to him about some things. I have a friend who lives across the country who gets a full ten. Even when I was the duschiest Christian, blabbering on about virgin brides and God, she never spoke a word against it. She was the first person I told about my deconversion and her response was caring, kind, and exactly how I thought she would be. On this ten-point scale, people who are not family who dip below a five on the trust scale will be excommunicated from my friend's circle. Those people are clearly untrustworthy and should not be my friends. Talking about me behind my back, creating drama, not showing up, constantly cancelling plans, obviously not wanting to talk to me, manipulation, and unreliability are instantly curtailed.
Let's be honest here though, when it comes to friendships and even family, I have not dealt with some of the crappy people my husband has. As a child and teen I dealt with some bullies and crappy friends, but I caught on quickly and eventually I learned how to not make friends with people like that. It does mean that I am a few friends short of a full compliment, but I would rather have three friends who are an 8+ on my trust scale than a plethora of people that I'm not sure I can trust. My husband, in a sense of misguided (in my opinion) loyalty remains friends with people who are horrible human beings and don't deserve a friend like him.
I so badly want to go out and punch all those wannabee asshole friends in the throat for taking such a good, generous, kind many and making him into a cynical person who would rather have no friends than be hurt again. Those people don't deserve friends. They deserve to be lonely sad sacks of assholery. Instead it is the nice guy who has the trust issues and they continue on their way, unaware of the carnage they have left in their wake.
And the worst is that most of these people belong to a religion that commands them to love people as they love themselves. People aren't perfect, but if you are going to claim a religion as the guideline to your life, you need to at least follow its most important rule.
Although Christmas isn't my favorite holiday (that would be Thanksgiving) it comes in at a close second. As someone who loves giving gifts, baking cookies, singing songs, helping out those less fortunate, and eating good food surrounded by family, I enjoy every moment of it. For the past several Christmases that has been what Christmas is for me. Food, family, presents, and a few holiday traditions like looking at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve and a pancake breakfast on Christmas day. I have resisted attending Christmas Eve services for years as I felt they infringed on family time. Jesus has barely been present in my holiday.
This is in sharp contrast to how I grew up. We owned multiple nativities. My dad spent hours one year making one of those wooden nativity scenes in our front yard. We didn't have Christmas lights, just a huge spotlight on a white wooden nativity. Santa wasn't encouraged as my parents saw it as both lying to your kids and focusing too much on fantasy rather than the true meaning of the season. (the other fantasy) We participated in the Crismons ornament ceremony (look it up. it's weird.) leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, after going to church, we would gather together to exchange one gift and my parents would read us a version of the nativity story. On Christmas morning our presents weren't touched until we had all eaten a pancake breakfast, everyone was dressed, and we had read the story of Jesus' birth directly from the Bible. Sometimes we would take turns reading it. Christmas was about Jesus.
Let us make no mistake, Jesus is the reason for the season. Everything about Christmas, even the appropriated pagan stuff and the so-called secular stuff is popular because Christians borrowed them for their own purposes. Sure, there are other holidays this time of year, but we all know that in a country with this many people who claim to be Christian, Christmas is where it is at. And there is absolutely this understanding among Christians that to celebrate Christmas without Christ is akin to cancelling the holiday altogether.
Which raises an interesting dilemma for the non-religious. How do you celebrate a holiday that you enjoy, but fundamentally disagree with? Why would you participate in any of it if the reason behind the holiday means nothing to you?
I have thought about this some, but really the answer is simple for me. I live in a society where Christmas, from lights to Santa to presents, is a huge deal. My family and friends make it special by participating in Christmas parties, gift exchanges, big dinners, parades, cookie baking, caroling, and more. Even though the origins of the holiday are religious, I don't have to be religious in order to participate. Richard Dawkins says it better than I, of course, "Feasts have been part of human culture since long before we worshipped a monotheistic god. It is a deep-seated part of our social nature, and humans are arguably the most social animals on the planet. Eating together, breaking bread whilst telling stories about ancestors, about hunting, battles, and travels, were part of everyday life for successful tribes throughout human history. Celebration is not owned by any one culture and especially not by any one religion. It is part of our humanity." He also adds, "Christmas belongs to anyone who wants it, and just because I gave up believing in a god doesn’t mean I gave up believing in the love and joy of family. I did not give up the joy of celebration with my abandonment of the absurd."
So, like Dawkins, I wish my religious and non-religious friends a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah from the bottom of my heart given in the true spirit of humanity, to all who will receive it.
On an ex-Christian forum the other day one of the commenters queried as to why someone who is no longer a Christian would uphold something like the sanctity of marriage since they no longer believe in it as a religious commandment or necessary to live a good life. Now, I am not entirely sure if this person was asking the question because they were trying to stump a non-believer or if they really just don't see the point of marriage if you aren't religious, but it is a question I have thought about.
When my husband and I got married, we were very careful with our vows. Neither of us liked the idea of an overly religious ceremony even though most of our guests were Christian as well as us. There was no prayer, no unity candle, there may have been a mention of God here or there, but no quoting of scripture. Both of us had been to far too many of those uber-religious weddings and we both agreed they were ridiculous and not at all considerate of the guests who were not believers.
When I first deconverted, I did think about this marriage thing in terms of non-religion. Why get married? Why stay with this person? Why would I spend this one short lifetime with this one person? Firstly, marriage affords people certain governmental benefits. Tax breaks, power of attorney, emergency contact, insurance benefits, retirement. I have heard of people getting married simply to obtain these things and not even out of any sense of love. It is sort of cheating the system, but understandable when we live in a world where you can't visit your boyfriend/girlfriend in the hospital because you aren't family and the actual family can bar you from visitation simply because they don't like you.
Second is the societal benefits. We have all been a third wheel at one time or another. Or invited to a party and it turns out it is mostly couples. Of course, your friends don't mind your single self, but the truth is when everyone is paired up you feel a bit left out. You don't have to go to concerts or movies alone anymore. Because many people in our society do eventually get married, it makes you a part of the club too. You can relate to one another as a group. As you move into various life stages like raising children or teenagers as a couple, that becomes important too. It is why divorcees have a hard time after a divorce as they lose their many couple friends as they are now not a part of that in-group. As much as it may suck for those who aren't into the whole marriage "thing", the truth is we live in a culture where people do get married and it does become a major part of socialization.
Let's also be clear, people aren't pairing up simply because the Bible says you can get married. (remember, the Bible also says it is better to remain single. 1 Corinthian 7:8) They pair up because they have found someone who, for the moment, fulfills some kind of emotional need and enriches their life. This pairing may or may not last, but it does fulfill something. Those who feel like they have found someone in which they believe they could spend the rest of their lifetime with, get married as a mark of commitment and love. I did not marry my husband simply because the Bible says to, although I did certainly wait to have sex until my wedding night. (something that I do and don't regret) I wanted to spend my life with this man for so many reasons and I wanted to make that commitment for both the governmental and societal reasons stated above. More than that, I wanted HIM to know that I wanted to spend my life with him.
Now that I am no longer a Christian, none of that has changed. My reasons for marrying him are still the same and the religious influence, while present, was not my deciding factor in pursuing marriage. I like calling him husband. I like the idea that we aren't a live in boyfriend and girlfriend who can simply part ways if we have a big fight. I like that we are bound together with something stronger than shared bills and a pet. I like that we didn't treat our relationship as some kind of trial run to see if we were compatible. And most importantly, I married this guy because we do get along, despite everything, and I do want to spend the rest of my life with him and I want everyone to know that. Because sometimes people are better together than apart.
Today I read this article from the New Yorker about Megan Phelps-Roper and how she went from a devout member of the Westboro Baptist Church to an unbeliever, the main catalyst for her deconversion being Twitter. It was a fascinating read, but there were definitely some parts that resonated with me.
"Phelps-Roper spent the summer and the fall in an existential spiral. She would conclude that everything about Westboro’s doctrine was wrong, only to be seized with terror that these thoughts were a test from God, and she was failing. "
How well do I understand that feeling. That fear that by questioning, by having doubts, you are failing a test from God. I had those feelings multiple times for over a decade, but most of those times I was able to squash them tell, quell the doubt, pass the test. Until I couldn't anymore.
“What if the God of the Bible isn’t the God of creation? We don’t believe that the Koran has the truth about God. Is it just because we were told forever that this is How Things Are?” She added, “Does it really make you happy when you hear about people dying or starving or being maimed? Do you really want to ask God to hurt people? I ask myself these questions. I think the answer is no. When I’m not scared of the answer, I know the answer is no.”
I think when you start being honest with yourself and you finally say that you don't believe things, that is when the fundamental shift happens. It's when everything begins to snap into focus. You think, If I was wrong about this then what else have I been taught that is wrong?
Megan was braver than me though, perhaps because she had to be. She had to tell her parents. She had to leave. They still seem to love her and treated their leaving with a lot of love, but Megan and her sister have been completely disconnected. I doubt that anything like that would happen with my family and yet I don't want to tell them simply because I don't want to be a source of sadness, disappointment, and gossip. I am aware that it is a fear-driven decision and yet it is the one I continue to make every time I am on the phone with my mother and she tells me to pray for someone. What I want to say is, "Prayer, specifically intercessory prayer, does not work. I will not pray for that person because my prayers are meaningless. If I want to do something for my friend, I will take action and do something. A prayer is empty words sent to an empty sky." Instead I make an mmmm sound and don't reply. The fact that she has not picked up on this yet is fascinating, but I guess we all have our blind spots. Especially when our children are willfully being deceptive.
"Slowly, her fears about God’s judgment—the first terrifying understanding of her faith as a child, and its most stubborn remnant—faded. “As undeniable as they had seemed before, they seemed just as impossible now,” she said."
"Although Phelps-Roper no longer believes that the Bible is the word of God, she still reads it to try to find scriptural arguments that could encourage Westboro to take a more humane approach to the world."
This is what I aspire to I think. To reach a point where people know that I no longer believe the Bible is the word of God, but understand it well enough to encourage those who do believe to be good people. Most of my friends and family are not nearly to the extreme as Westboro, but there are some things they believe that are a bit extreme and are sometimes downright unloving and unkind. My mother's view on abortion for example: Anyone who has an abortion is a murderer. Anyone who has ever had an abortion should be jailed and receive the death penalty for first-degree murder. It's insane. There is no room for understanding, kindness, or even grace. Although these people have the capacity for kindness and sometimes unmitigated service, it still surprises me how quickly they can turn on a person if they have committed some of the "bigger" sins so lain out by the church.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.