CreAtheism (or How to Build an Atheist)
I started losing my religion in church. More specifically, in Sunday school. Both my husband and I had been away from formal religion for years because we didn’t want to get up early on Sunday to spend boring time doing boring things. I’d been brought up as a Methodist, and our kids went to a nearby Methodist preschool with other kids from the neighborhood, so we gave that church a try.
I like Methodists. My dad was a Methodist minister until the demands, poverty, and politics of the gig got to be too much. Methodists as a lot are pretty chill, enjoy theology as much as scripture, and they discuss things that are contentious in other denominations. The place of worship my husband and I adopted had a list of cool-sounding Sunday school classes and we attended one of them for a few weeks prior to That Particular Sunday. On Sunday the Infamous we sent the kids to doodle, draw, and eat sugar cookies in their class, and my husband and I went for a continuation of a relatively rational discussion in ours.
The moderator of the group was a welcoming and warm middle aged woman with glasses, a beautiful smile, and frizzy shoulder-length hair. She wore Birkenstocks but that was the Everyday is Sunday norm for this crowd — we live in a pretty crunchy area. The discussion was pleasant, everyone contributed to the topic, and then, about three-quarters of the way through the hour, the moderator — this person I liked and admired and thought was so together — said “Jesus was half human and half divine.” I looked around to see if anybody else thought this was absurd. Nobody batted an eye. In fact, they agreed with her.
In as many years as I’d called myself a Christian, the thought never occurred to me that Jesus was literally supposed to be inhuman. At all. Any part of him. I didn’t realize people took the Trinity to be a real thing. Until I was a thirty-something, trapped by social custom in this Sunday school class and thus unable to say “What the SHIT are you talking about?” it was all just a bunch of blah-blah-blah-ok-nod-here. I didn’t realize people actually believed it.
Half human and half divine? It begs the question, doesn’t it? Which half is which? (Oh my kingdom for a time machine.)
As I said, I was a lazy believer. Or, rather, maybe it was more superstition than belief. Or, gasp, maybe it was childhood indoctrination that led me to accept something untenable, something that even my elementary school self would reject as illogical. It took a middle-aged, Birkenstock-wearing Sunday school teacher to point out the obvious. Yet even after that revelation I still believed. Believed-ish. It was more fear of not believing than acceptance of divinity. Jesus? Part divine? Pshaw.
I didn’t let go of my faith that day. I shook off the shock of crazy people talking crazy talk and we didn’t go back to Sunday school. We did go back to church a few times in the following weeks though, the last time for communion.
Communion was a comfortable thing, something I looked forward to and participated in since I was a kid. It had a special feel to it, like a carnival only way more boring. This day, with my husband behind me, we got in line for the yums. Instead of the familiar Methodist communion wafers, however, we each tore a chunk of bread off a round loaf. Instead getting grape juice in tiny Methodist communion glasses held in round stainless steel trays, everyone had to dunk the glob of bread in a gold communal goblet that held red wine.
This was foreign to my upbringing and not at all to my liking. I hate wine. Especially red wine. It smells like feet. And there were chunks of bread floating around in there. Because communal. Heave.
And because “I put away these childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11 — the bible IS full of pretty poetry that can be nice to read) I listened to what the minister was saying at this communion service, unlike all those times I took communion as a kid. This time it hit me that I was supposed to believe that I was eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a dead person. I dunked this piece of bread in a feet-smelling goblet full of turd-looking floaters, and once the soggy nastiness hit my tongue it was supposed to be the body and blood of Christ. I turned around and looked at my husband as we walked back to our seats, completely grossed out.
He said, “Jesus. I almost puked.”
We didn’t go back to church, but that still wasn’t the deal-breaker. I still prayed. I still sort of believed in a superstitious-not-believing way. Nothing happened to shake away my Santa version of God (he knows when you’ve been sleeping/he knows when you’re awake/he knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake). The end was a few years away.
What happened? I went back to school and took a class called “Belief in Weird Things.” The topics included alien abduction, psychics/ESP, astrology, alternative medicine, facilitated communication, and various ghouls, ghosts, and spirits, including those belonging to religions. (Religion isn’t covered in that class anymore because it failed to change many minds, and students and their parents complained to the department head and to the dean about their faith being called a “weird thing.”) I don’t remember what the professor taught about it, I only recall feeling vindicated (and not just slightly comforted) knowing that I wasn’t the only person who thought religion wasn’t logical.
I was lying in bed soon afterward fighting the idea of being (whisper!) an atheist (paranoid look left and right). It had always been a dirty word, an abhorrent idea. Weren’t atheists terrible people? The awareness that the “A brand” applied to me was scary until I realized that if there was a god, he could read my mind anyway so he already knew what was up. If I weren’t a lazy believer, I would recall that god supposedly had a plan for everything; thus my lack of belief was part of that plan and I was off the hook anyway (oh, how contradictory, but that is a post for another time, yeah?)
After that long and pensive night with a surprising lack of doom and lightning, I went on about my atheistic business, still fearful in the beginning. It’s been about a decade since then, and you know what? Things didn’t get worse and things didn’t get better … except I felt better. I lost the uneasiness of constantly being watched and judged. I lost the worry of being a failure, of not being good enough. I lost the stress of being imperfect, of all those things we are taught as Christians. I learned that prayer works at the same rate as wishing. I stopped being angry at an invincible being for letting innocent people die horrible deaths, for letting rape happen, for allowing all the atrocities a loving god wouldn’t let happen, because (spoiler alert) THERE IS NO GOD. None. Zero. God isn’t here. God isn’t there. God isn’t anywhere.
Next time, maybe I’ll write about some of the contradictions in Christianity. But I have a lot to say about a lot of things, so that might have to wait.
Until another day, Friends, keep on thinkin’!