I can’t remember what triggered it, but about 10 years ago I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in a personal god — a magical, invisible man in the sky who grants wishes and gets murderously jealous if you don’t love him enough.
It’s hard to describe what a relief that was. I’d never realized just how much this oppressive idea of going to “hell” had affected me all my life. Even though I hadn’t been to church in 20 years, and even though I’ve read many books about the questionable accuracy of the Bible and the agendas of the men who wrote it…that feeling of “What if you’re wrong and God is real?” had been programmed into me since I was a kid.
I didn’t always believe it, but it wasn’t until I consciously denied it that I felt what a massive burden it had been. And suddenly that burden was gone, leaving me feeling free and fearless! But I also felt a deep resentment at having that fear instilled in me to begin with, and I was angry that so many people I’d come to know and love over the years had been outright abused by their religious families just for being who and how they were. I’m lucky to have a family (save for one) who fully embraces and accepts me as I am, but many of my friends had a very different, much darker experience.
I’ve also seen religion turn people selfish and cruel. I’ve seen it sway elections, deprive people of their rights, demonize those who are different, tear apart families, and enslave believers with fear of apocalypse that never comes. American Christianity can be especially toxic — it’s been weaponized by conservatives to inflict maximum damage to whoever its “righteous” followers think deserve it. It also carries the stench of nationalism, which opens the door to a whole new world of misery for non-believers (and everyone else, really).
Thus began what I call my “asshole atheist” phase. I fully embraced my non-belief and got a little carried away on social media, posting religion-skewering memes and news stories about Christians doing horrible things whenever I could. (Unfortunately there’s never a shortage of that stuff.) A few of my friends and family weren’t too happy about it, but I felt it was fair play — Christians love wearing their religion on their sleeve, so why can’t I do the same for my lack of one?
This all began to wind down after a couple of years, however. I began to feel like the kind of person I’d normally unfriend or unfollow on Facebook/Instagram/whatever: someone whose posts are mostly just joyless complaining and shit-stirring. Plus, the atheist community on social media can be suuuuper annoying and antagonistic. I started to worry that my friends were seeing me the same way, and I didn’t want to be That Guy.
So one day I stopped cold. I decided to stick to the approach I’ve taken for many years, which is to shout my complaints into the void, a.k.a. a blog that few people read. Being clinically opinionated having a compulsion to rant, this has always worked just fine. (Whenever I get off my ass and put some time & effort into it, that is! 2020 was so depressing I could barely fight back my apathy enough to write anything, let me tell ya.)
So am I still a godless heathen? Well, mostly.
Despite waving my atheist flag in everyone’s faces, I hadn’t completely written off the possibility of certain “woo-woo” topics as having some substance to them. As an atheist you’re supposed to dismiss and ridicule that stuff, but in the last few years I’ve read some fascinating books that have pried my mind open a little more. Quantum physics weirdness, the source & nature of consciousness, experiences with DMT & psilocybin, and scientific studies of near-death experiences (yes, they exist) are some of my favorite things to read about. I should also mention that my grandmother experienced some very weird stuff in her lifetime, things I know she would never lie about or even need to, and they’ve always stuck with me as exceptions to things I’d normally dismiss as fantasy. One of them even involved me! Personally I’ve only had a couple of what I’d call “unexplainable” experiences, but nothing like hers. Maybe I’ll write about those sometime.
So my “fuck all religions and fuck all that loony spiritual shit” phase didn’t last long, and it wasn’t 100% authentic besides. It made for some fun writing, but it wasn’t really the whole picture. Going back and reading through some of that stuff, I think I was still processing my open rejection of what I was taught as a kid, and feeling emboldened by not having the shadow of Hell following me any longer.
I still don’t believe in a personal god of any religion who grants wishes and condemns you to a fiery eternity of pain and suffering for insufficient groveling, but I’m open to certain other possibilities. It’s complicated.
One thing that isn’t complicated, however, is my belief that evangelical Christianity is a cancer that’s eating this country alive and dragging us down into madness. That view has never wavered, so more blathering about that is bound to show up sometime. 😀