Portrait of a young hoggler »« Not a joke, and not an atheist

Why I am an atheist – Melissa

Am I an Atheist?

I haven’t had a moment where I’ve decided I don’t believe in God, a “conversion” to some other position. My faith questions and doubts have been a journey that I’ve reflected here on my blog in several posts. But after my post on spiritualizing the night, I got several comments and emails asking when I had become an atheist. I am still thinking about this question, because I don’t really know the answer. I’m not even sure I am an Atheist.

When does one become an Atheist? Does it happen when you don’t feel a spiritual connection with God? Is it when you start to disagree with stuff in the bible? Are you an Atheist when you associate with other Atheists? Or only when you declare yourself one? I don’t know.

I grew up with a God. And I still like the idea of a God, but I have no feeling of knowing one or trust that one of the religions out there has God figured out. And I’m not “pretending” to have faith just in case there is a God, a sort of fake it till I make it endeavour. Besides, if there is a God, he wouldn’t be fooled by my pretending anyways.

I am a Pastor’s wife, so I attend two church services every Sunday, as well as a bible study and church events during the week. I do not feel a need to “convert” people, I have no way of knowing who is “right” anyways. My husband knows where I’m at, and he is OK with it. He has heard me, debated with me, and loved me through all of this. I had someone comment that they are sorry for my husband’s church, I’m not sure why. No one at church knows that I have serious doubts. I understand that it would be inappropriate for me to debate questions of faith with people in our church. They are good sweet people and I don’t wish my questions and doubts on any of them. That is part of why I started this blog, as a place I could wrestle openly with my faith questions and get interaction from people who freely choose to read them.

Recently I received an email that said that if I truly was a Pastor’s wife who did not know Jesus in a personal way, then I was a hypocrite who needed to stop “playing church”. I’m not sure why this is the case. Am I truly the only one who sits through a church service and wonders if it is all true? Is every single other person in church a solid believer filled with faith and religious experiences to prove it? What does “playing church” even mean? I know that on my part I go to church with an open heart every single Sunday. I read, I sing, I listen, I hope. Hope for what? I hardly know, just that something will happen, that perhaps all of my faith will come flooding back?

I also received a comment asking if I would pray on my deathbed. I’ve thought about that too. We pray a prayer of thanks before meals, and a prayer for peace before bed. In the moment of silence before the church service I pray the same prayer for my husband that I have always prayed, “May his words be your words and not his own,” so I still pray. I don’t know if I would pray on my deathbed. At this point in my life I probably would. Many times prayer has been a source of anxiety in my life, so I think I would still gravitate towards prayers I’ve found healing or calming in the past. This question reminds me of a story I remember hearing from someone about her ex-catholic mother who despite being a protestant for many years, found herself praying along an invisible rosary while waiting in the hospital to hear if her son would survive a traffic accident. I wonder if I would be like that.

My thought process involving God has changed in the last few months. I’ll try to explain how I currently understand the existence of God.

Option 1: There is no God. If God does not exist, then I am worrying and trying to have faith in something I can’t understand for no reason, there is no God to please.

Option 2: There is a God, but God is a non-personal entity who does not care about humanity. God is a being that set the world in motion, but does not intervene or care about it. In this case, again, I am worrying over nothing, God is not waiting for me to come up with the right words or formula. God does not care.

Option 3: There is a God, and that God loves unconditionally and cares about humanity. In this case, God will be patient with my faults. If God truly loves unconditionally then God will even understand if I can never really get my faith together in this life. Unconditional love means just that, love without conditions.

Option 4: There is a God, and this God has rules and laws about how you must live or what you must believe. God’s love is conditional. If this is God, I could be in trouble. This scenario means that I somehow have to decide which religion has the correct interpretation of God, and then do my best to please that God and live my life the way God wants me to. For a long time, fear of this God kept me scrambling. I had to figure out how to be whatever it was God wanted. I was afraid of going to Hell. Recently, I’ve come to the point of feeling that if God’s love is so conditional that God will send people to hell for not following the right formula, than I really don’t want to spend an eternity in heaven with that God. That heaven sounds like Hell to me.

So if option #4 is God, I would basically get to choose between two hells. The Hell God will send me to if I am not right, or the Hell in which I will spend an eternity with a God who (despite his very conditional love) decided I was acceptable. I wrestled and wrestled with this idea. I get love being conditional in some sense. After all, if I was in a relationship where we had agreed to be exclusive, and that person ignored that agreement and cheated on me, I could understand ending that relationship. But I would not send that person to eternal torment, just a parting of ways would be sufficient. And despite what so many Christians seem to claim, I never had that direct line to God. I was kept in a constant state of guessing and hoping that I was doing the right thing for a God that I’m not even sure exists.

And that was when I realized that there was a third Hell, and I was living in it here on earth. Despite all my growth as a person and as a parent, I was still stuck in this one-way relationship with a perfectionistic God that I wasn’t entirely sure was not a figment of my imagination. And so I stepped off the hamster wheel. I gave myself permission to take a break from finding the answer for the whole God thing. I wasn’t hit by lightning and the world didn’t stop spinning. I didn’t have a sudden urge to steal, rape or kill. I stopped having nightmares about God, I stopped worrying about how and what I was going to teach my kids about God, I stopped worrying about where I was headed if an afterlife exists, and I started living the life I am currently in.

I’m not even sure when this happened, I can’t point to an exact moment. I can’t claim to have figured out the answer to the God question, I honestly don’t know. But for the first time I am OK with not knowing. I even feel OK if I never figure it out. I still read religious blogs and have religious friends that I value highly. I also read atheist blogs and have atheist friends that I value highly. So does all of this make me an Atheist? I don’t know.

Melissa

Comments

  1. johnmorgan says

    Whatever else you are in your life, it is clear that you are a good scientist – even if you have never studied any of the disciplines covered by the blanket term Science.

    A combination of both deep scepticism and careful, analytical dismembering of a problem marks you out as such. If any god or gods exist and there is an “afterlife”, you are going to get many, many brownie points for that.

  2. julietdefarge says

    Please don’t deny yourself the right to debate questions of faith with members of the congregation, if the need arises. Those good sweet people can be horribly mean and bigoted when following the guidance of the Bible. Stand up for yourself, your species, and your planet- any gods out there are presumably powerful enough to do their own hating and smiting, without assistance from humans.

  3. says

    “I can’t claim to have figured out the answer to the God question, I honestly don’t know. But for the first time I am OK with not knowing. [...] So does all of this make me an Atheist?”

    It certainly makes you an agnostic. As to whether you should go further and call yourself an atheist, try this question: what, in your estimation, is the most likely number of gods in the universe?

    If you answer ‘zero’, then call yourself an atheist. If you answer ‘one or more’, then you are a theist, albeit of a very mild stripe. If you answer ‘I couldn’t put a number on it’, then you should call yourself an agnostic. And if you answer ‘minus one or fewer’, then you’re just being silly:-P

  4. wholething says

    A person could go to church because they enjoy the company of people, to celebrate their good times and help them during their bad times. Another person could go to church for exactly the same reasons plus to pretend there is a god and they will live forever. It is the latter who is “playing church”.

  5. meandmine says

    Thank you Melissa. That was beautifully written and it’s great to hear your perspective. I’m so glad to see people thinking and expressing it.

  6. franko says

    Oh for goodnesss’ sake! You’ve appreciated what a crock of man-made horse manure religion is. People all over the world believe in some sort of god, but every one is different, so none of them can be true. I can’t be gentle with you. Your brain recognizes the inadequacy of irrational superstitious belief. Just go the extra 30 cm and be proud to stand up for your sublime recognition that people are people, for all that may be good or bad. Join the rational world with no superstitious baggage and just plain enjoy!!

  7. leonpeyre says

    Melissa, I think boselecta is right: you’re currently an agnostic. Certainly that’s what I called myself for that year when I was in my transition from Catholicism to atheism. It’s not a bad place to be, and you may find it’s actually best for you: you don’t have to take a hard stance for or against, which might be especially helpful in your circumstances. And in any case when we aren’t sure of something, the best position to take on it is “I’m not sure, at least not yet.”

    You may find yourself moving back toward Christianity. If so, there’s nothing wrong with that so long as it’s what you really think and you can honestly say you’re being true to yourself, and aren’t doing it out of pressure from those around you.

    You may find yourself pulled toward atheism, and that’s fine to so long as you aren’t doing it out of pressure from some of our more outspoken atheists who accuse professed agnostics of being afraid to take a stand on what they really think. (In other words, don’t let yourself be shamed into taking sides by us, either.)

    You might also find yourself gravitating toward an alternative belief system. It’s worth researching them: deism (your Option #2), pantheism, Buddhism, etc.

    Whatever you do, be true to yourself, listen to your reason and your intellect, and you can hardly go wrong. And if at some point you find yourself in need of support that religion typically provides, but you’re emotionally distanced from religion, there are other places to go. Greta Christina has focused lately on making atheism a safe place to land, and has helped publicize Grief Beyond Belief, which you might find helpful in such cases.

  8. says

    If you answer ‘zero’, then call yourself an atheist. If you answer ‘one or more’, then you are a theist, albeit of a very mild stripe. If you answer ‘I couldn’t put a number on it’, then you should call yourself an agnostic. And if you answer ‘minus one or fewer’, then you’re just being silly…

    Hrm. Number of gods in the universe, huh?

    One sec…

    (Sketches on napkin…)

    I’d say, sticking to the observable universe, and pulling some factors out of my ass hazarding a few rough guesses for the members of the Drake* equation, the answer is somewhere in the vicinity of 9^21i, at any given moment.

    Note the i. It’s important.

    Yes, that’s right. Within the sphere of existence from which light has so far been able to reach us, in the ravings of every stubbornly benighted member of every semi-sentient species capable of formulating this accursed notion in the first place, there are currently roughly 9 thousand billion billion gods…

    …every single one imaginary.

    (*/’Kay, so technically I had to add a few factors. I call one of them the ‘proportion expected at any given time to be in roughly the same gullible and imaginative phase as humans currently inhabit’ factor. Note also that my ‘average gods believed in per believer’ factor is totally equally scienterrific.)

  9. caravelle says

    Would you look at that, I had an account here after all…

    @scott : in that case you might be interested in her blog, Permission to Live, at http://ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.co.uk. There seems to be a link to it in her name at the end but it’s broken.
    In particular this essay refers to a number of posts she wrote on the subject (like “Spiritualizing the night”) which are also very good.

    (it is also hilariously out of date on some things – cf the series that starts here…)

  10. antoinette says

    Your experience resonates with my own, and I feel similarly about my “atheism”. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Margaret says

    ‘Atheist’ does not mean someone believes there are no gods, it means someone who doesn’t believe that there are any gods. So, as well as obviously being an agnostic, you are also an atheist.

    I’d worry about those “good, sweet people” you refer to. Religion is very good with fostering an us vs. them attitude, especially with encouraging “sweetness” within the group and hatred outside it.