Last Friday I took our young man to a church sponsored shindig with hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream sundaes. This event was hosted by my old church, but my kid has a crush on one of the teenagers and I thought it would be a nice outing. Besides, I know a lot of these people and hadn't seen them in a while. Now, for most of the people that I did know, they were all very respectful and kind. Most are my friends on Facebook and they know what we have been doing for the past year and a half. None told me that I should come back to church, none invited my son to church, and all were respectful of the fact that he is of a different religion.
The same cannot be said for the strangers at the party who began to attend that church after I left. Although they were quick to grant me saint status for being an adoptive/foster mom. They were also quick to let me know how important it was that I indoctrinate this kid as quickly as possible. The most perplexing example of this was an old man and his wife. (although they were by no means the only ones) I don't remember their names, but they were in their eighties. Now, I give some leniency to old people and some of their archaic views on things, but these people were really just your typical clueless Christians. The old man told me that he had met several Jews in his life and that none of them knew anything about their religion. And they always asked him about his. The man was invited to a Passover meal with a Jewish family and had the audacity to tell me that they really didn't know what Passover was because they asked him to explain his beliefs concerning that holiday. He took their curiosity about his religion as not knowing about their own. And then formed a biased opinion about all Jews based on this information. So the fact that our son says he is Jewish is obviously deeply concerning because he doesn't know about his religion. True, our kid doesn't, but it isn't because he is Jewish. It's because he isn't curious about things and has been mentally stunted by neglect and trauma.
I did try to explain that Messianic Jews are Christians, but he and several others were having none of it. It's not the right flavor of Christianity for them. Then at the end of the night, as we are leaving, several people (again not my friends) wanted to invite him to church. He politely declined telling them he was of a different religion, but they persisted. "You never know what you will learn" and "I think you will really find Jesus at our church" being the two I overheard. I left him on the porch to fend them off, but mostly because I had been trying to give him as much space as possible all night.
Now, the kid wasn't offended. He thought they were just being kind. And maybe in a way they were. But what I saw was a flagrant disregard for another person's beliefs and an insistence that they had the right version of Christianity. Those who knew us well were gracious and accepting. Never once did they feel the need to invite me back to church. Strangers were not so kind. But here's my thing. You should be respectful to everyone you meet, friend or stranger. If someone looks at you and tells them they are of a different religion, you don't immediately try to convince them that they are idiots who know nothing about their religion and therefore need to join yours. The whole time I kept wondering what these people would do if they knew I didn't believe anymore?
Change comes from within. It's a fairly benign phrase often used to remind people that the only way something is going to change is if they start with themselves. Another one of a its ilk is the old adage, The only person you can change is yourself. Both of these phrases are a very simplistic way of how I see the world.
On a personal level, I know that it is impossible for me to try change anyone. I don't even try. My husband is as he is. If I couldn't accept him as he was, with the full knowledge that he may never change, then I had no business marrying him. Same goes for friends, family, co-workers, classmates, etc. If good changes happen then that is fantastic, but it is neither expected nor even needed. My husband doesn't even believe people can change, a semantics disagreement we have often because he does believe that people can modify their behavior. In his mind though, a person will always struggle with that behavior modification. If you were an angry person, you will always struggle with being an angry person, even if you no longer act upon these feelings in a negative way. To most people, this does constitute their definition of change. Last night I took one of those quizzes concerning politics. It was actually a rather extensive questionnaire and I ended up left of center, which I already knew. But if I had taken that quiz fifteen years ago, it would have said I was far-right conservative. The way I view the world has changed so drastically since then that there are days when it is hard to recognize that person. I've been keeping a journal since I was eleven. Reading through my old journals is a fascinating journey into those changes. I see my immaturity, the lack of understanding, the fear of "the world" as the Christians viewed it, the judgmental attitudes, and the desire to find some kind of connection to a god that never replied. I ran across one from when I was probably in my late teens where I was obviously grappling with the homosexuality issue. I was just beginning to really try and logic it out and I was running into some serious conundrums. I was appalled by the attitudes of my fellow Christians toward one of my good friends, but was also painfully aware of what the Bible stated clearly. There is an entry about two years later where I finally declare that God made these people this way, homosexuality can be found in nature, and that if being right was more important than loving someone....then I wanted no part of this homophobia that is so pervasive in the church.
I think that this change comes from within mantra is also true on much larger scales too. My co-worker and I got into it the other day about bad cops and police violence. As you know my husband was a former cop and although I didn't know him when he was a police officer, I know him to be a man of integrity and generosity. My co-worker *Leslie believes that all the good cops need to step out of their police headquarters, become whistle blowers, publicly shame their fellow officers, and join ranks with the protesters and social justice warriors. If this happens then the police shootings will stop and the people will at least know the police are on "their side". It will let everyone know who the good ones are. I don't see how a bunch of good people quitting their jobs (because they would have to quit being police officers at that point) is going to change anything. Particularly if you believe that it is the good ones who are protesting. That just leaves all the "bad" ones in power. No, if you want things to change you have to do it from within. Become a cop, move up the ladder. Become a legislator who works to add laws that will provide more training and pay. You want better cops? Stop paying them shit. Cops do need to be accountable and we need laws that make it so, but asking them to betray all the men and women who risk their lives daily just so you can feel better about...whatever...is foolish. It is also very wrong of Leslie to assume that if someone isn't speaking out, then they must be one of the "bad ones". I've written before about how I am not very vocal in public concerning my viewpoints, but it doesn't mean I am for or against something just because I didn't speak up. That's like suggesting that someone is secretly a villain just because they don't come against the things you dislike. In their minds, you're a bad cop because you don't publicly condemn your fellow cops who are fuck ups. It doesn't matter if you swore an oath, there is confidentiality issues, or it has already been dealt with internally by reporting an incident. You don't think cops don't get fired? Sure they do. My husband helped get a fellow officer fired when he wrote a false police report concerning a domestic violence dispute, because he suspected the guy was an illegal immigrant and he hates illegal immigrants. The guy didn't last six months on the force.
Change has to come from within.
I have a friend who wanted to be a social worker and help change the very broken foster care system. He went to school for social work and worked at a group home for a few years. He soon realized that at the level he was at, nothing would change. There was absolutely no way that he, a lowly social worker, would ever be able to change the system. So he went back to school, but this time to get a dual Master's degree in social work and law. He wants to help change things on the only level that the foster care system seems to change, legislation. He graduates in December. I have high hopes that if anyone can do something about this, it could be him. Quitting his job as a social worker in order to protest and write op-ed pieces about how broken the system is would have done nothing.
I think this applies to anything. If you have problems with how your organization is run then you need to position yourself into a place of influence. Complaining about it on social media will do nothing but get you fired. It's okay too to say, you know what, this doesn't matter to me enough to fight it, I'm just going to quit. It's also okay to stand on the outside and say, this company clearly has some unethical practices and we should put some pressure on them to change. But the only people who can exact that change are those within. Go ahead and put pressure on the police. They need to know that people are watching, that they are angry, and that this effects them. But police departments are not one giant unit. They are different from state to state, county to county, city to city. And they aren't going to change just because you stood outside the department shouting, "Hey hey, ho ho. Crooked police have to go!" Every Monday in my city, there is a group of protesters who stand outside the Capitol building, usually get arrested, and they have not done one damn thing to change a god damn thing. Their protests have been impotent at best.
I know there are instances throughout history in which people have managed to change things from the outside. These are the exceptions to the rule and almost all of them ended up positioning themselves into places of authority in order to make those changes. Many of them failed multiple times before they were successful. Obviously the changing cultural and social norms play a large part in how our society views certain things. Religious views tend to hold a lot of sway. America and the world are not the same place they were seventy years ago. Society can also regress.
Pulling this back to a personal level. There isn't a whole lot that I can change in my life. I am not in a position of authority at work, I'm a foster/adoptive parents who can't even get people to do the paperwork we need them to do, and I am not on a single committee or group that would change anything. Nor do I want that. Well, maybe not the work thing because I would totally be okay with a promotion. I think the foster care system needs to change, but I do not want to be a lawyer, politician, or social worker. Instead, I am changing the world for one kid. It's seems like such a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it will have to be enough. I'm never going to be one of those people who changes the world and is remembered throughout history. I like to work quietly on the sidelines. Signing petitions, protesting, complaining on social media, posting memes. I just find these things to be a waste of my time. I speak up when necessary. I talk to our kid about prejudice and discrimination. I've deleted friends on social media who say hateful things. I've made it clear to certain relatives that their hateful ways will not be tolerated. With my level of authority, that's all I can do. And it will have to be enough.
And if a time comes where I have to physically step in and do something, to help someone who is being discriminated against, I would do it in a heartbeat. I've done it before. But remember, just because someone isn't out protesting every weekend, it does not mean they are duplicitous nor are they the enemy.
Last night I was chatting with a friend on the phone. I see this girl a few times a month and although she is one of my more regular friends, I have not told her about my atheism. This is mostly due to the fact that this girl is basically a clone of me at the age of twenty. It's probably why I like her, even while her piety can get a bit annoying. We met at a mutual friend's party and share a similar taste in books, movies, and food. She comes to our monthly game nights even though she isn't much of a gamer. She is also a very typical Christian with ideas about homosexuality, divorce, dating, sex, etc. etc. She's not a fundamentalist by any means, but she speaks often about how she likes her church because they don't pack any punches when it comes to preaching the "tough topics". This means that they address the "sin" of homosexuality from the pulpit. To be honest, considering how much she is like my former self, I doubt she has any friends who aren't Christian. (that she knows of. bwahahaha)
Last night she kept trying to convince me to take our Messianic Jewish son to church in order to "expose him" and let him make the "decision for himself". I gave her the usual we-aren't-missionary-adopting spiel, but she would not abate. You're not forcing him, just showing him other options. He's basically a Christian anyway so what will it hurt? Maybe he needs god in his life. He should be exposed to church so that he can learn more about religion. I now switched to explaining trauma and attachment. In my mind, forcing religion on a kid when they are this vulnerable is religious manipulation at its worst. He needs to figure out who he is, deal with his abandonment issues, and find a moral balance that isn't created by giving him a sin-complex. I don't want my emotionally vulnerable kid to go to church or youth group and them tell him what a horrible person he is for having had sex. I don't want them to poison him the notion that he is a horrible depraved person who deserves to die. That message is not good for a kid with already low self-esteem. And yeah, I did say all this to her because Christians don't get it. If you are going to convert to a religion it should be done through careful study and thought, not at the lowest point of your life. If you are going to live your life according to an ancient document, you need to understand what it says and believe it. I've seen people converted in the height of emotion. They are the ones who become extreme. There is no logic behind their actions. No thought. As for attachment, implying that he needs to choose our religion or lack of one, to become part of our family is reprehensible. I don't think it is right that my sister-in-law has done it with the teenager who moved into their home this year. He needs to know we will love him no matter what he believes. He needs to know that even though I am an atheist, he is a Jew, and my husband is a Christian...that we accept each other as is. No one needs to convert. No one needs to be bitter or angry about it.
Of course, as this usually does, this makes people wonder about my current church status. You know...because if you aren't actively trying to convert your children, you must be neglecting your own faith. I have become very good at telling the truth without telling the whole truth. I told her how I had not made any lasting church friendships, despite being actively involved in all my churches. The grand total of church former fellow church goers I see on a regular basis are: One. Just one. That's after attending churches for twenty-seven years. I talked about not ever fitting in, of rarely finding a kindred spirit. I told her how church had become a chore, something I had to do. I spoke of experiences I had had outside the church that felt more "spiritual" than anything I had ever experienced within the four walls of a church building. I told her about our weekly Sunday brunch where we all cook together and how relaxing it is. How nice it is to not have to rush off to church, spend time with my husband and son, and enjoy a morning together. I wouldn't trade those moments for anything. There is no church or religion that can replace those times together. In fact, I wasted a lot of time in the church doing nothing and I am happy to finally be living life.
"I just believe that there has to be something out there."
This has, thus far, been the most common response when I tell people that I am no longer a god believer. Immediately after revealing that I consider myself an agnostic atheist, people will barf up this one line, triggered in some way that I don't fully understand. Remember, I am not telling hardcore Christians here. These are people that I know are living nominally religious lives and feel safe telling about my nonbelief. Yet even these people cannot quite release this notion of a god or deity. So you're a deist? I counter. I normally don't press any further than that since I don't want to turn conversations into debates.
What I want to ask is, why would you think there has to be something out there? Is it based purely on a feeling or do you have facts to back this up notion? Do you think that your cultural background that is rooted so much in Christianity has swayed you towards the idea that there must be a god even though you have obviously rejected most of the tenants of the faith? Is it because you see beauty in nature and have decided that this beauty must have a meaning and if you discover it, you will find heaven and enlightenment? Is it because you fear a universe where there is no meaning and no one controlling things?
To me, the world actually makes more sense if you don't believe there is a god controlling things. It explains why our bodies aren't perfectly and wonderfully made. It explains why our planet isn't perfectly made for us and is always trying to kill us. It explains babies with bone cancer and painful diseases. It also explains why we humans have had to evolve to take care of ourselves. It makes sense why prayers go unanswered. And it places the responsibility for the world, for others, for ourselves, squarely on the shoulders of human beings. I like this. For good or bad, the idea that we shape our world, not some unknowable being, is comforting. It means that for all our mistakes, we can make things right. And in our efforts to make things right, we will make mistakes. It means we can grow and change. It makes room for scientific advancement, social change, a healed planet, and better human beings. I don't know if it is possible for humanity to ever achieve peace, but we are capable of it. A god, particularly the Judeau-Christian god, would never achieve that. Based on the Old Testament it must be assumed that that god actually enjoys war and if real, would have us fighting each other ad naseum until the end of time. It comforts me to know that there is no evidence for that god being real, nor the thousands of others with similar personality traits.
"Well, we'll pray that all your adoption paperwork goes quickly."
Please don't. That's what I want to say. Don't. Because that is the same prayer that my friends and family have been praying since last December and it ISN'T WORKING. At all. In fact, if anything...things have gone slower. There is absolutely no correlation between these people's prayers and the speed at which our adoption paperwork is being processed. None. I know it is really just an empty Christianeeze way of saying, "I'll be thinking about you," yet when their prayers are obviously flacid, you just want to scream. Isn't it obvious your prayers aren't working?
Even before I began my deconversion process, I had quit praying years before. Sure, there were the occasional prayers thrown out in the heat of the moment, but "real" intercessory prayer with prayer requests and such had gone by the wayside long before. It wasn't because I was a bad Christian, but rather because I looked at the evidence of answered prayers vs unanswered prayers, and determined that God did as he pleased. God clearly did not care about our petty problems and was clearly more concerned about other things, what I couldn't be sure. It wasn't the big things either, like people dying of cancer. It was the small prayers too. My mother prayed for and over everything, yet her prayers seemed grossly ineffective. She prayed for colds that went away on their own at the normal time. She prayed against the "spirit of poverty", but continued to live in a poverty mentality her whole life. When I started to look at the world around me, I saw no sign of prayer actually working. In fact, it seemed that if prayer was a real thing to a real deity, the only purpose was to make the prayee feel better. Surely an all-knowing all-seeing God would be neither moved or swayed by a prayer. Add to this all the myth-like stories that Christians like to spread around about blind people seeing again (in a rural Kenyan village where it is unverifiable) and folks being cured of AIDS (even though there is no evidence they had AIDS in the first place), and I had my doubts as to whether it did any good. Not even the Bible seemed clear on this. Although it suggested that human beings could change God's mind (like in Sodom & Gomorrah), other verses seemed to suggest that prayer was more meditative and rarely changed the mind of God. Unless you are a bald prophet getting bullied by the neighborhood kids. Then God sends bears to murder them.
Here's my favorite part about prayer though. There is this idea out there that if a prayer is ineffective that it is either because of sin or unbelief. It places the burden of effectiveness on something that people can't control. There are a number of Christian writers who have written about such things. As if God only answers the prayers of the devout and only helps those who are devout. If he doesn't answer your prayer then it is because you or the person you are praying for didn't believe enough or had sin in their life. It's basically a weird version of the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy. So if our adoption paperwork doesn't go through then it is our fault, not a gods. However, if it does magically start moving at a decent pace, then all the praise and glory goes to a god. It's crazy.
My husband recently informed me that he thinks I should not use the term "deconversion" to describe my path from Christianity to atheism. "You didn't deconvert from anything," he said. "You were a Christian and then an atheist. It's just a conversion." Implied within this is that atheism itself is a religion of sorts since it is, in his mind, a belief system. This is one of our major sticking points when it comes to my atheism, but more on that in a moment. My reply? I wasn't born a Christian. I didn't have any faith when I was born. He shrugged. "You may as well have been. You don't remember a life before religion." Although it is true that I said the sinner's prayer at four-years-old and have no memories of being non-religious, the truth is that I was actively indoctrinated and converted to Christianity. My parents were not Christians when I was a small child so I wasn't born into a religious family either. Nevermind that I was not born a Christian. Period. Indoctrinated at a young age, but there is no such thing as a Christian newborn. Frankly, I really don't think there is such a thing as a Christian four-year-old.
As for the whole, atheism is a religion thing, this just bugs the shit out of me. Atheism is not a religion. It's right there in the word. There are no gods, no deity to worship, no rituals, no holy book, no set guidelines to follow, no definitive philosophy. Atheists can span the spectrum politically, socially, and philosophically. I am against the death penalty, but I am sure you can find atheists out there who aren't. There is a common misconception by the religious that atheism is the belief that there is no god. That is not what it is or at least not what it is supposed to be. It is the understanding that there is no proof that there is a god and unless there is some kind of evidence to back up the extraordinary claim, there is no point in worshiping one. Agnosticism is wholly separate and asks whether one can truly know or not. I don't think it is possible to know, but I am aware that there is not good enough evidence to support the claims of an all-knowing supernatural being. To worship a god without evidence is something I can no longer do. Hence, I am an agnostic atheist. It isn't a belief system as much as a demand for truth and information. Until recently there weren't even organizations. I'm a bit iffy on these secular Sunday services that have started around the country because it just feels way too much like former religious people trying to recreate the things they miss about the church sans the actual deity worship. It's weird.
I am a word person. I don't love labels, yet at the same time I think it is important for people to find words that best describe and define them in order to clarify their position in the minds of others. And I don't think anyone has the right to tell you what you are and aren't. I am a deconverted Christian. It is the best way I know how to describe myself with the understanding that I have. It may not be a perfect word, but it sure is better than the words that Christians have come up with. Apostate. Backslider. Defector. Heretic. Those words give them the power. I like the word deconverted. It recognizes that at one point I was converted to that religion, even if it was at a young age. It also recognizes that I have not converted to a new faith.
My husband may never understand this, blinded by the rhetoric that his faith has filled his head with for four decades. I love him anyways, but this may be one of those things that we will never fully agree on. Does it bother me that he thinks I have converted to a new religion? Yes. But I can't make him believe something different and I'm not going to bother trying. If he wants to believe atheism is a religion, then so be it. He's wrong, but there isn't a damn thing I can do about that. Other than to just keep talking about my deconversion.
I've been an atheist for over two years now and thus far, have avoided telling my fundamentalist parents as well as my more dogmatic friends and family. Since I know what they believe, it is usually easy to avoid or walk away from hot-button topics like evolution, the validity of the Bible, Biblical literalism, abortion, etc. I know I am not going to change their minds and since I am a grown married adult living not near them, I don't feel the need to create unnecessary friction. Sometimes these subjects simply can't be avoided though, and this morning I had the pleasure of speaking to my mother about ALL of them. Gods damn it.
I don't even know how we got on the subject, but somehow we started talking about science and my science illiteracy that was a result of religious fundamentalist homeschooling. I have been working very hard to learn what I can since abandoning young earth creationism in my late teens, but it has been an uphill battle with quite a few wonderful college science courses. "Well, you didn't like science," my mother said. I informed her that at one point I wanted to be an astronaut and had looked up what the qualifications were for it. At the time, I was sure that I could do it and even applied for the summer space program, but didn't get in. I sent the application in with my allowance money because I knew my parents wouldn't be very supportive. But, you know, I didn't like science. What the real issue was was math. I had a hard time with formulas and such, which began to make science courses super difficult. Of course, I found out as an adult that I was being taught math in a way that only someone who is really gifted at math would actually get. And nevermind that my mom determined that I disliked science because I wasn't interested in plant biology, a passion of hers and boring to me. So because I didn't like the kind of science she did, I didn't like science. You have probably already guessed that this was the only biology I was taught too. No animal biology. God made animals just the way they are don't ya know.
So our conversation quickly turned into a, "Yes, I know that is what you believe. I do not. You know I don't. We've talked about this before." And every time she would just come back with a, "Well, I believe the Bible is true." That's nice. I told her that there was a lot of evidence to back up science and that her trying to force science to support her religion simply because she *believes* it to be true, isn't evidence. Of course, evidence doesn't mean a damn thing to her. The Bible is the inspired word of a god, therefore everything in it must be true. If scientists don't see that then it MUST mean there is a worldwide conspiracy and science just can't be trusted at all. I informed her that this was insulting to all the Christians who are scientists and all my friends who are scientists. Basically calling them liars because you don't like the data is wrong.
And then we went down the road of crazy. Adam and Eve having babies of every ethnicity. Science doesn't back it up, but it's the only way to account for the variations in our race...so that's the answer. Noah's ark happened because the Bible says so and there is evidence of floods all over the earth. Yes, because it floods everywhere and humans have a habit of building their cities near water. Animals used to talk because the snake talked to Eve and she wasn't scared. Rainbows are a promise from God. After the flood God changed the atmosphere so that we now have rainbows when it rains. Twisting science in order to fit in with a literal interpretation of the Bible. It's nutballs. I have read fantasy books that make more sense than this bullshit my parents believe.
"Well, you at least believe Jesus existed. There are multiple accounts of it from other sources," my mom finally huffed out. I paused and slowly said, I'm not sure if I do. There is only one account and most Biblical scholars agree that it was probably added in later to give validity to the story.
I didn't say I wasn't a Christian, but I may as well have because questioning the existence of Christ is the same thing. There was a lot of shock and confusion on her part and annoyance on mine. I do not want to talk to you about this, I kept thinking. I know what you believe. But at least now it is clear to her that I do not. She, of course, recommended three Christian books that I have read several times actually and find their arguments crude at best. I hope she gossips about it to everyone because that would make my coming out of the closet so much easier.
It was bound to happen eventually and I don't have a lot of patience for people who shit on facts just because it doesn't align with their beliefs. I don't know if anything will change, but I'm kind of counting on it. My mom is not a rational person and my dad is only slightly better. Should be interesting to see how things go from here. Religion is far too important for my mom to simply let this go.
"And that's how we know the Bible is true."
This has been a common phrase used in my home since I was a small child. Usually, this was said after some "evidence" that my mom or more often than not, dad, would present while in conversation. In one of my more recent conversations, my dad's proof that the Bible was in fact historically accurate and true was because there is mention of a town in the Old Testament that, until recently, archaeologists have been unable to find. In his mind, stating that you couldn't find this place was the same as an archaeologist or scientist saying it never existed. Once the town was found using geomapping from space, scientists had to "admit" (my dad's words) that it was true.
Let's get one thing straight here, I absolutely do not believe the Bible is the inspired word of god. Not at all. However, I am completely aware that it was written by very real people, in historic times, in very real places. Ninevah was a very real town. It doesn't make the story of Jonah true or accurate, nor does it validate the Bible being true. That's like suggesting everything in The DaVinci Code is true because the Vatican exists. Or to use a more ancient example, just because Troy was a real place doesn't mean Odysseus fought a giant cyclops. All that this tells us is that yes, some nomads knew their part of the world fairly well. IF any archaeologist actually stated that since a place hadn't been found, it didn't exist and therefore the Bible was inaccurate, is plain bad at their jobs. Period. Non-discovery just means there is no evidence. It doesn't mean something didn't exist, nor does it mean it did. It is equally illogical though to go around telling people that the Bible is true based on something that hasn't been discovered yet. "This town existed because the Bible said it did. We haven't found it yet, but obviously the Bible is right so we will eventually because it is never wrong."
Poor Christians are going to be searching for the Garden of Eden for an eternity. At least the literalists will be. I don't bother to respond to this bullshit. I'm not sure if my parents just can't help themselves or if they still think that I believe this stuff too. I have been more than up front with the fact that I accept evolution and science as fact. I am also obsessed with ancient history, which is actually what began leading me away from Christianity, because the truth is, history doesn't line up very well with the Bible. I've spoken with my father often about this and although he has conceeded that it is probably likely that the earth took a while to form, he has also told me that he chooses to believe the Bible's way because it "doesn't hurt anyone." I completely disagree, but when people don't think logically, there is nothing you can do. Other than write a blog post about it because it is annoying as shit.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.