When you think “atheist”, what picture enters your mind? For me, it’s a bitter and pessimistic white guy in his twenties who smokes a lot of pot and plays far too many video games.
But then there’s me. An optimistic and easily excitable 32 year old suburban homeschooling mom who loves life, nature, and her high school sweetheart. So you’re wondering – did something happen that made me this way? Am I sure that I don’t hate God instead of just not believing in him? You might even be saying a prayer for me.
The funny thing is that my life has bloomed since losing my faith. I spent a whole lot of years being frustrated by this “master plan” that people seem to think God has. And I spent a lot of years hurt and confused by the fact that so many humans are blessed in this world and so many are not. And now I get to just live freely in the notion that life just is. It doesn’t have to be fair and I don’t have to make sense of it. Because there is no sense to be made. I had the incredible fortune to be born a free woman in a free country. But it makes me no better and no worse than anyone else. I don’t have to wonder why I was born in the “right” faith while two-thirds(ish) of the world was not.
This was a slow and lifelong evolution for me. I wasn’t born into a religious family, but we considered ourselves Christians. I remember asking my dad and stepmom if we could go to church when I was seven or eight. We didn’t then, but my dad later remarried and religion became an important part of our family. But by then I’d lost interest, and I remember being incredibly bored with every service I attended. I’ve never been a fan of tradition and the stand up-sit down-stand up portions of the affair drove me batty. I didn’t feel inspired or uplifted. I just felt….ready for it to be over.
But as a teenager, I did try to find my way with God. I started attending a friend’s church and I enjoyed the youth events. I began to understand and truly appreciate the sense of fellowship that belonging to a church provides. I was even given a Bible and I was “saved”. But I still struggled with it all. I remember lying awake at night feeling my head spin from the questions. I understood that God created the Earth but where did He come from? The thought of that still leaves me feeling woozy.
There was another matter of having a lesbian mother and trying to find acceptance and love for all humans from the churches I’d attended. My mom did take me to a few Unity services, and I felt that acceptance there. But still, I felt mostly bored. I wanted so much to feel enveloped in love and adoration for Jesus and Christianity. I wanted to accept and believe in the Bible. But from the outset, I understood that we pick and choose what we follow. And I like rules. Following some of them while not the others made no sense.
That confusion led me to a gray area. I could still believe in God without accepting the Bible. I could even believe that Jesus was the son of God. The point was that I didn’t want to have to understand the specifics. Because the specifics were not clear. Everyone interpreted them differently, and that was maddening to my pragmatic brain. How could some people use a book to preach love and acceptance while others used it for judgment and hate? If everyone’s reading the same book, shouldn’t we all get the same general feeling from it?
Admittedly, I’ve never read the Bible. At this point in my life, I am completely ignorant when it comes to really and truly understanding religion just as most of us are. Your question might be – how can I step away from Christianity when I haven’t fully researched and become knowledgable about it? I would pose a similar question in return…how can someone truly accept a religion without researching all of the alternatives? How does any of us know what we want to believe in if we haven’t become completely educated on the subject? I don’t have an answer for this. But I take solace in the fact that it’s done all over the world every day. So I don’t need to. And I’m actually incredibly interested in religion so becoming more knowledgable about it is on my to-do list. But for now, I’m basing my beliefs on what I feel.
As the years went by, my feelings about religion grew darker and more bitter. As human rights have come to the forefront of politics, the ugliness of religion has become more apparent. Many of the Christians I knew and saw in the media were the antithesis of what I wanted to be. I still held a firm belief in God or some higher being and maybe even Jesus, but the rest of it was completely falling away. I not only wasn’t believing, I was becoming defiant. Why, when a tornado ripped through a town, would one person stand up and proclaim that God saved her when her neighbor was killed? Why did He not save the neighbor? Was he less worthy? And why do football players thank God after a touchdown? Does God really care who wins a game? There are starving children all over the world but He took the time to help that player run an extra five yards? And what about the pastors who have become multi-millionaires? How did religion become such a big-money business?
I don’t get it. I can’t. And I tried for a long time too. It just fills me with a whole lot of ick.
Slowly, I began to lose my belief in Jesus completely. Although it had worked for years, I could no longer blindly believe in him if I didn’t believe in the Bible. I then started wondering if this concept of God that we hold is true? Maybe there is a higher being, but it’s not a single entity. So I let that brew mentally for awhile. Man, I was still clinging to hope that we weren’t on this Earth all alone. Well you know, all alone surrounded by several billion others.
Nothing had happened to me. There was no big tragic event that was fueling this evolution. It was just a matter of living life and looking around me and understanding that shit happens to people on a daily basis that makes NO sense. And every time I heard someone say that they were “blessed”, it felt like nails on a chalkboard. I thought about religion and God so much. It was consuming me because I wanted to make sense of it. It hurt my heart that we were waging wars on beliefs and beyond that, we were making laws about the rights of actual living and breathing human beings based on the belief in something we couldn’t see. It baffled me and it felt devastating. People were dying because of beliefs. The only thing we know for sure is that we are living this one life on Earth at the same time, and we are killing people based on beliefs. And aside from the murder, humans are committing suicide because we’re telling them that they aren’t worthy of being themselves based on our beliefs.
No. No! It’s not okay.
I started to toy with the idea that there simply was no God. Lots of people say they aren’t religious – they’re just spiritual. But this was different. It felt scary. It felt abnormal, and I struggled with the notion that once I crossed that line, I didn’t fit anymore. I would become a stereotype. Religion is a big part of this world, and I started paying attention to how often it’s brought up on TV – in books – and on social media. I even noticed that most of the bloggers I see profess their love of Jesus. It makes them part of a club. And here I am. Not only not believing in Jesus – but not believing in God at all. Would I completely alienate myself if I came out as an atheist? At the time, I only knew one other atheistic mom on Facebook, and while I was so proud of her, I felt scared to be the same.
It sounds ridiculous, right? But when everything and everyone you know is Christian, this is a real fear. Would people stop reading my posts? Would I become irrelevant? Would I get unfriended on social media? Would my kids never find playmates? Would I be able to find true friends? Would my parents be disappointed in me? Would they fear for my salvation? If I was wrong and God really does exist, would I spend an eternity in Hell?
So I started to reveal myself slowly. And I realized that my fears were (mostly) unfounded. I’m sure I’ve lost online friends and readers. But I’ve actually made deeper friendships based on my lack of beliefs, and my kids are doing just fine. I don’t ask my dad how he feels because quite honestly, I’m not prepared to have that conversation. I don’t think there’s a right answer, so I just have to hope he trusts his God to have mercy on my good-hearted soul. And my mom’s beliefs are constantly evolving, so I know she understands how I’ve gotten here.
As far as if there’s a real God – there could be. I don’t know everything, and I’ve chosen to not believe because it makes my brain clearer and it makes the despair in the world less confusing. But what I have chosen to believe is that if God is good and loving as so many suggest, He’ll understand why I believe the way I do. There are people all over the world born into different religions, and many will not change their minds any more than the devout Christians I know. And ultimately, if being Christian is the only way into Heaven, I will be hanging out in Hell with some really great people. That’s enough for me.
Releasing the belief has been like walking out of a fog. I don’t have to understand or explain anything in this world. Things are unfair and some people are considered fortunate while others are not. There is good energy and bad energy, and I do think prayer can work. But not because enough people ‘signed a petition’ and God ruled in our favor. I believe it’s because enough of us are directing positive energy at someone or something. And maybe that in itself is dumb. That’s okay, because it’s just a belief. But it’s a belief that hurts no one.
I don’t wait for God to make something happen for me in life. I don’t have that privilege. If I want something, it’s my job to put out the intention, believe the opportunity will come, and bust my ass preparing myself to be ready in the event the door opens. And man, that’s freeing. Knowing that I’m in control of my own destiny? Wow. So powerful.
I sometimes feel sad that there isn’t a higher being up there playing puppet master. I find myself praying occasionally only to gently chuckle and remember that I’m talking to myself. I still do ask the Universe for things because, well, why not? But the idea that I’ll be shown favor over another is no longer a thing. I’ll admit I do sometimes wish I could forget this clarity. Because I think it’s easier to never feel alone. It’s what had me clinging to my faith for so long.
And while I occasionally do get frustrated by believers and the seemingly trite use of religion in social media, each day I’m shown another person who uses her faith to be a better person. While Christianity has left a bitter taste in my mouth, I am beginning to see a whole movement of worshippers who are using Jesus as a reason to show love. That is beautiful, and it makes my heart happy. I can stand behind absolutely anything if it’s used for tolerance and kindness. So to my friends who are doing this, know that I honor and respect you. I understand why you believe, and I don’t have to share your beliefs to feel the goodness in your soul. I only hope for the same thing in return.
When I first posted something about this on Facebook, some were shocked. How could I not teach my children about God?! That’s my job! Ironically, I probably have as many if not more conversations with my children about God than most Christians. My kids know about my beliefs, and they understand that their choices are their own. My only request is that they always form their beliefs out of love. And they always understand that beliefs shouldn’t be imposed on others. If my daughter believes that Jesus was the son of God, I am absolutely okay with that. I am less okay with the idea that she’d attend a church that might condemn her Nana to Hell. But that’s not a concern of mine, because my children are loving and tolerant. Whatever beliefs they may one day hold, they’ll be based on kindness and acceptance. They’ll be based on being a better person – not being a better person than someone else.
As strongly as others believe in a higher power, that’s how strongly I don’t believe. And while atheism is not for everyone, it has been a breath of fresh air for me. It has given me a way to somewhat understand all the beauty and ugliness I see in this world full of imperfect humans. It’s removed the need to answer the endless questions, because I don’t believe there are any answers. I make decisions based on how they will affect me, my family, and my fellow humans rather than how I might be perceived by a higher being. I don’t factor an after-life into my choices at all which forces me to live this life to the fullest. I adore my time here on Earth and I’m grateful for every single day I get to spend with my family.
Beliefs should bring joy and hope into your life, and mine were not. I wanted so much to believe in the religion that those around me have chosen, but I just couldn’t. But my lack of belief has brought me peace. I’m sharing this post not really to explain myself – because those who don’t accept me as I am never will – but to speak to others who are wrestling with these same issues. Don’t base your beliefs on your upbringing or what’s considered normal. Listen to your heart and follow it. If you live your life with love as your priority, you can’t go wrong. It’s impossible. And for the rest of you atheists who don’t fit the aforementioned stereotype, hi! Isn’t it great to know we’re not alone?! Life really is good!