I've recently come to terms with my core beliefs and now I feel a responsibility to be honest with myself at all times and with anyone I respect. I am an atheist.
I can't tell you how strange or difficult my decision to be honest with myself and say those words--I'm an atheist--has been. At the same time, I feel so free from the oppression I've felt. In fact, I didn't realize how oppressed I was by religion and the fear of a god I could not feel or prove existed. Within the last year I've started to look at myself and what makes me happy...what doesn't make me happy, etc and have introspected so thoroughly. My realization has come in baby steps. At first I was able to say that I wasn't Christian, but did believe in god. Then, I was able to say that I didn't know what the real truth was and didn't think anyone really did. Then, I could say that I didn't believe in god...but never have I imagined I could assertively say that I am an atheist. There are reasons why I've felt so inhibited and afraid to explore how I really feel...
First, I have to start with my childhood (this is the long and boring part--but i gotta work through it). My family was not religious in anyway...at all. My Dad read me stories from a children's bible story book and until I was probably 9, I believed they were simply fascinating stories. We never went to church. If my parents ever talked to me about god or religion I do not remember. When my parents separated, my Mom and I moved to the desert and she was attending new agey rennaissance fairs when my Aunt, who we lived with for a little while, encouraged her to go to church. I should mention that by this time my Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She started going to church, but never made me go. I went a few times after I got jealous of all my Mom's new friends...yada yada yada the church community became a huge source of comfort and support for both my Mom and myself. We'd eat dinner with the pastor and his wife. They would hold special prayer services just for my Mom. My Mom and I were baptized together. In the wake of what felt like my entire silly little 10 going on 11 year-old life unraveling and imploding, the church and the idea of god and the afterlife helped me and I can't imagine how it helped my Mom. I hope it comforted her. This is one of the main reasons I've neglected to listen to myself on the matter. If you believe in god and are facing a life without your Mom, being baptized with her is really something. When my Mom was coughing up blood and couldn't take me trick or treating or had to spend weeks in the hospital and I was left alone at my Aunt's house, I had something to call out to for help. So, to turn my back on that as an adult felt almost like a betrayal to my Mom. I feel like it was good and has been bad for me to believe that my Mom is somewhere on the other side watching over me while I make mistakes and triumphs. More on that in a few.
Another huge issue for me, right now, is that 99% of my family consider themselves Christian. Of that 100%, 85% are devout which means I get the "Did you pray about it?" and the passage quotes at the end of every email. The biggest obstacle is telling my Dad. I love my Dad so much and I feel like I appreciate him more and more every day. He and I have great talks about everything...deep and shallow. Everything except religion and politics. I have shrugged off every piece of biblical advice for the last 10 years and I feel like the worst person for not being honest with my Dad. You have to understand though, upon telling my Dad that I am an atheist, I expect he will worry for his whole life for my soul as he envisions his daughter burning in hell for eternity. This kills me. How can I put my Dad through that? That's what has kept me from telling him.
The third and most growth-inspiring reason this has been hard for me to admit is because I have never trusted myself to know anything over someone else. I don't know why, but there it is. Prior to this decision, if someone would have countered my argument, I would sincerely believe that they knew better and I probably missed something. This is a common theme in my development as an adult and I wish to change it. No one has such a great perspective that they know more than me. I mean, yeah sure there are people that have studied and literally KNOW more than me, but we're talking about a belief. I have beliefs and though I wouldn't press them on anyone, I have just as much of a right to express them.
Oh yeah, and I'm a people-pleaser and no one wants to hear you're an atheist. No one where I'm from anyway.
What this means for me:
Admitting to myself that I don't believe there is a god has helped me in several ways. It sounds crazy, but I feel more at peace and free from the loss I've experienced than ever. Feeling like someone is watching you throughout your whole life is interesting. I used to write letters to my Mom about school and my Dad and my friends. I still have them. They are so sad. It's hard to read them and think of myself alone in my room communicating with my dead mother. It's a one-way conversation, let me tell you. It's hard to articulate, but when I realized that my Mom stopped existing when she died and wasn't in any pain or concern, I felt free. My Mom...she's so important to me and I'm deeply saddened still that she doesn't know me as an adult. I fantasize about going back in time so I could be friends with her in high school. I want to make clear how much she means to me and what a hole her death left me with. However, it may sound cold, but knowing that she's really gone is a relief. I don't imagine her up there thinking about my decisions or worrying about me...waiting for me. I feel like, for me, it was unhealthy to constantly be on the lookout for signs from her, hoping that she would communicate with me through birds or dreams or patterns in time. It makes her death less sad for me. It makes my life more meaningful. I can fully concentrate on what I'm doing and where I'm going. I'm not worried that I'm not spending enough time thinking about her. I'm free to move on when and how I naturally can.
I've had a tremendous feeling of renewal with all this. I see my life as this insane opportunity for exploration and meaning and excitement and joy. I'm not happy with how much I've settled in my life. I want the very best for myself. I want every experience. I want to live fully as a human being and see how capable I am. The drive to enjoy my life is in full force. I feel like I'm ready to stand up for myself and carve out my spot in the world (as small as it may be). I want to be kind, but respect myself at all times. It's strange to me that the idea of heaven made it okay for me to kind of just do whatever. It makes sense. I mean, if you think about your potential 80ish years on earth and compare that to a proposed eternity to have the best time and see everyone you've ever lost...who really cares what you do here. That's kind of how I looked at it. No longer though. I feel a strong drive to be good to my loved ones and to myself and I see how freedom is basically the most important element of the human existence. It's funny how much more motivated I am to stay out of jail now. Who knew being godless would inspire me to be a better person. haha. Not that I ever expect to be in jail for serious time, but these are the things I think about.
I fear that when I do tell people they will conclude that this has something to do with one of two influences. First, and to me, the most hurtful is that Morgan would have something to do with my disbelief. The truth is we talk about this kind of stuff a lot and being able to openly talk about something like this really did help me to come to terms with it. However, I've been doubting the bible and god since the very first time I realized that the stories in that book were meant to be truth. I've told several people about my doubts and they usually push it aside like I do when they want to talk to me about god stuff. The second is that I may be jaded from all the loss I've experienced, feeling abandoned by god triggered a non-belief feeling. Every time I've faced the death of someone I love I've wanted to and been desperate to believe and reach out to god. I've never felt mad at god...most likely because I've never truly believed in god and therefor never felt betrayed or upset.
There is one last thing I want to talk about if you can believe it. Besides giving this a test-run before going to my family, I also feel a duty to be somewhat forthcoming about my beliefs for the sake of busting stereotypes. There was a girl in my high school history class who answered 'atheist' when asked what each of us believe...kinda hard to imagine that flying now. I remember thinking she was evil and that her parents were probably heathens. There is a definite stigma (like I said--in the world I grew up in) to atheism. I've never known anyone with a loving family that were openly atheist, for instance. It's always people that have been presented as devil worshipers, anarchists, trouble makers, soulless evil people. It sounds so ridiculous, but this is what I've grown up in. My good friend Alecia said something really enlightening (she has several times..almost every time I talk to her). She said it's a lot easier to live somewhere like San Francisco where things like being gay or supporting gay rights aren't as controversial as a lot of places in the US, but it may in fact be much more important to live with your beliefs in a place where the majority of the people are adverse to you or your beliefs. I've never tasted adversity to any serious extent and I don't pretend to be a progressive social anything. I'm just saying, there needs to be a better portrayal of all beliefs and lifestyle. So, I'm going to say it again. I'm an atheist. I'm creative. I'm loving. I can be a good influence on the right person. I don't believe in evil that doesn't originate within human beings. I don't believe in miracles. I don't believe in ghosts (that one was hard to give up because it's fun to be scared). I believe that when I die I will cease to exist. I believe in people and family and life. I will live my life for myself and my family. I want to be the best wife and daughter and sister and friend that I can. I hope to become closer to my family once they know this about me. I love them and I love you and I want to exist with you in honesty and without judgment.