photo by Paul Kelly

I’m sorry I haven’t been writing actively as of late. I sit here in my chair after a weekend of relaxation, escape, and nature only to find myself back in the machinery of life—the mechanical nature of my habits, my job, and my schedules.

And it makes me ponder a bit. I’ve found myself falling into an apathy related to my atheism lately that I’m not sure should be there. I’ve attempted to explain why atheism isn’t a big deal. Even with the mentality that our non-belief is just fine, normal, and not worth a huge stink, I still feel a smoldering passion within my gut when I consider my own story, my past, and the plight of other non-believers who truly are struggling in their current situations. For instance, I received an email this week from a distressed reader:

Over the past year I have began to question my beliefs that I have had since childhood and I’m down right confused and ridden with guilt mainly… Waiting to be “struck” down I suppose. I am working through it slowly, but being married to a “minister” doesnt help.. again.. riddled with guilt… and fear.

It breaks my heart that the search for truth leaves anyone feeling this way, but it especially pains me to hear it from someone who is afraid to leave religion and faith behind. I know just how conditioned Christians (like my past self) are to fear doubt and deviation from the faith. The guilt is tremendous, and it feels like failure to be going against something you’ve been accepting as an authority all your life. I remember hearing that small voice in my head that told me I was “just rebelling” or “going through a doubting phase” or that I shouldn’t make any certain decisions based on my doubts because I could be punished (for lack of a better word) by God for straying and not being strong enough in my devotion. I recall those emotions with a shudder and a sigh.

No one should feel this way.

It’s becoming more clear to me that I may not care as much about debating theology or commenting about other beliefs I find ridiculous (as fun as that may be—especially on the internet when the quick jab and the snarky wit are king) as others do. Instead, I am coming to deeply care about the journeys and stories of others in the atheist community. Where have we come from, and where are we going? Do we have enough support and friendship to spare for those who are not quite strong enough to go it alone? Can we move forward together? Is my dream of atheist community  just a silly, romantic, and futile idea in this period of individualistic living?

So I may not be writing much, but I’m still figuring this whole atheism thing out… day by day. As we all are.

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10 thoughts on “I Do Care.”

mikespeir · November 7, 2011 at 3:02 am

So much here echos my own sentiments. I was a stalwart defender of the Faith as a Christian, but that was probably because, deep down, I recognized it was basically impossible to defend. Since leaving, I’ve gone from vigorous online debater, probably spurred on initially by the secret hope that I really might stumble across a good reason to return to belief, to realizing that there’s basically nothing new to be said. Today, I increasingly find Christianity not particularly interesting even in an academic way. If not for the fact that our culture is enveloped and saturated with the religion such that one can’t turn around without stumbling over it, I doubt I’d give it a second thought anymore.

vjack · November 7, 2011 at 5:52 am

Your process, including the struggle, the doubts, and even the apathy, certainly resonates with me. I too have wondered whether it may be time to focus less on the snark side of mocking beliefs and more on what I’ll call the human side of trying to promote community. For me, it is largely a matter of balance and time. The busier in life I get, the more out of balance I feel and the more I resort to easy but not particularly important posts.

Your dream of an atheist community may be silly and romantic, but these are not bad things. And I certainly hope it isn’t futile because it is a dream that I share.

Tom Armstrong · November 7, 2011 at 9:45 am

I came to atheism a bit earlier in life than many–I was not yet ten when I told my mother that it didn’t make sense to me that we went to church to worship. I was not yet able to articulate the whole “imaginary friend” argument. My mother had renounced the god of her mother’s catholic background as a child, herself, and since she was only taking my sister and me to church as a compromise with my father, she was fine with us not going anymore.

My earliest memory of using the term atheist as a self-descriptor was eighth grade, during a literature class in which the teacher was quoting the bible. I may have been going for some shock value, in the way of obnoxious thirteen/fourteen year old kids, but I had already figured out that I didn’t believe much of what society’s christianity tried to teach.

As I grew and matured (well, grew anyway), I learned more about religion in general, and found even more reason to be skeptical of the bible and its supposed lessons. I found that I had no guilt over how I felt–as you say, we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about our feelings if our feelings are honestly expressed. I found that if any guilt could be laid at anyone’s feet, it was at the feet of those who were so patronizing about their own belief and their imagined superiority by saying they’d pray for me anyway.

I still feel that people are free to believe what they will. If my neighbor wants to believe in unicorns, I have no problem with that. If that same neighbor asks me to clean up the stall or yard after it, there will be problems.

To your query about atheist community: One of the few things I envy about religious folks is that in times of great stress (death of spouse, etc) they have a wide community of support beyond their immediate family and friends–at least for a bit. I don’t see much of that in the atheist community, but then I haven’t had need to look for it. I don’t look forward to, say, losing someone close to me and having to hear,”She’s with God, now.” I’m liable to take a line from Pat Tillman’s brother’s speech that lambasted such drivel and say, “(S)He’s f*&#ing dead. There is no god.”

Jim Jones · November 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm

For those who are troubled by thoughts like this, I highly recommend Ricky Gervais’ movie, “The Invention of Lying” (2009).

First his character invents lying.
Then he invents fiction.
Then he invents religion.

Obviously that is the correct order!

BTW, he immediately runs into all of the obvious problems of religion, and makes some excellent points about the impossibility of constructing a logical, consistent religion.

Dan in Omaha · November 8, 2011 at 4:54 am

Hey Girl, nice thoughtful post. I do appreciate your struggle, but hope you keep writing for all of us! You do a fine job of writing and illuminating the dark corners of belief and atheism and religion–your work is so not futile! I think you are becoming more of a humanist? You empathize with people struggling to find the truth, and remember your own battle with guilt. These are good things and make you a good person with honest values.

I would suggest finding something to smile about when you see another struggling to find the truth and leave religion behind! This is a sign of hope that we humans can rise above our past reliance on myths. I kind of think that “atheism” per se is only a means to an end: the first step in a process of moving on to a better way of life that involves living for each other.

I think we will eventually find “community” with those who derive their meaning in life and purpose for existing from their fellow humans. Real joy will be found in caring for one another, helping each other out as best we can. We will all have to learn to see each other without the lens of religion/theism so we can be open and honest and respectful/appreciative about our interactions during the short time we enjoy on this planet.

Bill · November 10, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I don’t have much experience with religion. I have been kicking and screaming against it at an early age (around 7) until I was considered an adult and no longer had to have it forced upon me. I suppose for people who question it at a more mature stage of life it’s difficult. But in the perspective of a seven year old, the category of “entities you never see” included the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Jesus, the Boogieman and the Tooth Fairy. It was simple to reject Jesus and God in that context.

Being Godless was a much more lonely state of being 30 years ago when I was 22. I happen to also be a member of a certain political/philosophical/economics persuasion that I’m kind enough not to get into here and currently that is as lonely a feeling as being an atheist in 1981.

I have always been diffeent, but it was out of consistency and a devotion to reason and my own species – humanity, the rational animal concept. I am not sorry that I never decided to unthink and undo what I know. You cannot reject facts and still be an honest individual.

    Godless Girl · November 21, 2011 at 10:19 am

    I still feel amazement when I hear about how easy/normal it has been for some children at early ages to see how ridiculous religion is. Perhaps it has to do with one’s family life or culture as well, but I’m not sure what causes one brain to be more naturally skeptical than another. It is fascinating.

Michelle · November 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm

First let me say how much I enjoy the content and presentation of this blog as well as all the thoughtful commentary. I love the concept of an atheist community and am very much behind the concept, especially as presented here. Too often atheists, primarily in the commentary section of “controversial” articles on CNN, etc, come across as combative, belittling, and far too arrogant to provoke thought or consideration. I think this does no good and glad to see the tone here as very different.

My journey started in high school – my 10th year of Catholic education – when a teacher made a casual comment that we didn’t even really know who the gospel writers were. What? I thought this was well established stuff, historically and archeologically corroborated. A chink appeared in the armor of my heretofore unquestioned faith.

Once I got to college I spent countless hours in the University library attempting to get a grasp on what parts of this amazing story was backed up by the historians of the day who seemed loath to let even the most mundane of happening go undocumented. This should have been a big deal! Miracles, great social disruption, the sky growing dark, the temple curtain being ripped, a guy coming back from the dead. Wow, right? Funny how no one thought to mention it.

I was a big fan of mythology from the time I was about 6 and when I looked at biblical events in the same light, they didn’t seem all that different. It got me thinking, if I was completely ignorant of all of it, and knowing what I did then of the world, and was presented with the bible, Bullfinch’s Mythology, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bhagavad-Gita, and had to pick out which one was the real deal understanding the others to be fabrication, what are the chances I would pick the bible? Probably about 1 in 4 with a lot of reservation in any case!

Anyway, getting back to the point, for those of us who came from the world of faith into atheism, it usually wasn’t a firestorm of snarky commentary that made us stop and think, but a quiet observation or minor fact that got by the prickly defenses.

I wish you all the best on your journey and you have a constant reader in me. 

    Godless Girl · November 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your story of how you got to where you are today! I love hearing what first inspires people to question their faith. You are most welcome here!

    …it usually wasn’t a firestorm of snarky commentary that made us stop and think, but a quiet observation or minor fact that got by the prickly defenses.

    I agree! It will be a good reminder to me in the future as well.

    Jim Jones · November 21, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    “Too often atheists … come across as combative, belittling, and far too arrogant to provoke thought or consideration.”

    I run into this very often in regards to a totally different subject (I won’t raise here). As I point out the errors and impossibilities related to the common beliefs about these other situations, people resort to incredible levels of vituperative insults or total avoidance of facts and logic, often resulting in their comments being incomprehensible and always failing to deal with the facts.

    It’s common for them to post nothing but insults over and over again as if repetition will make the “bad man” go away.

Comments are closed.

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