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.