Thursday, June 14, 2007


I was having a conversation recently with my niece (Hi Heather!) about religion. As I mentioned in the "about me" section over there, I am a "recently out of the closet Atheist". What does that mean, exactly? I use the phrase "out of the closet" because identifying myself as an Atheist feels like what I imagine it must feel like to someone who finally comes out as gay. There is definitely societal pressure to be a believer. Think about it: our pledge of allegiance says "One nation, under God"....our national anthem mentions God. And our money says "In God we trust". And yet "Separation of church and state" is in our constitution. Clearly, it's not really working, but it's in there. We grow up hearing about God everywhere. Not in my childhood home, necessarily (we went to my grandma's church about twice a year), but Christianity is definitely the pervasive religion in this country. And yet, so many things about organized religion seemed wrong to me. At the minimum, how do the followers of one religion (Christianity, for example) explain the fact that believers of other religions (Buddhism or Muslim, for that matter) believe just as strongly that THEIRS is the "one and true" religion? Who is right and who is wrong? Why does anyone have to be wrong? The big thing for me is how so many people use religion and their interpretation of the Bible as an excuse for intolerance and hateful behavior toward gays, toward women, toward people with other religious beliefs. Think about how religion is behind almost every war ever fought. Is that not ironic? How many people of been killed and/or tortured in the name of religion?

Anyway, I had always considered myself a "doubter". I, for one, can not reconcile the discrepancies between the idea of God creating the earth and all its inhabitants, with the scientific proof of evolution. It can't be both ways, can it? And so many, SO MANY, parts of the Bible just seem so....crazy to me. The reality of Noah's Arc? Moses parting the sea? Immaculate conception?? The Bible always seemed more like a fable to me than reality.

So. I've been asked "What was the defining moment" that I decided I could no longer consider myself merely a doubter? One "aha" moment for me was hearing, by chance, Julia Sweeny's story called "Letting Go of God". I heard in on one of my favorite radio shows, This American Life. Julia Sweeny is a writer/actress/comedian who was raised (in Spokane, coincidentally) Catholic. Educated entirely in Catholic schools and wanted to be a nun when she grew up. And then her brother got cancer and died. And then a year later, she was diagnosed with cancer. In her immense grief, she decided that perhaps what she needed was to get back to her religious roots, which she had let slip over the years. So she joined a Bible study group and began reading the Bible again. Which is when it all went downhill. I won't go into the details of her personal revelation, but hearing her talk about it was exactly - EXACTLY - what I'd always thought but couldn't articulate it as well as she did. She has since written a book and recorded a spoken-word cd also called "Letting Go of God". I encourage everyone to read it or listen to it right now. Really. Go. She happened to come through Spokane a couple of months ago, to tell her story here in her hometown, with her still-very-Catholic family in attendance, and David and I went. It was fantastic. She doesn't try to change any one's mind; it's just an explanation of why she doesn't believe. And it's exactly how I feel.

All that said, I have many people in my life, friends and family, who I love dearly and completely respect, who are strong believers in God. I hope I haven't offended anyone; I'm simply talking about MY personal beliefs. I understand the need to believe in a higher power. I have certainly called on it during times of struggle in my past. But I have now come to terms with the knowledge that there is no one "up there" pulling strings for me. And I have to say, taking ownership of my own destiny feels wildly liberating.

So. Tell me your thoughts. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Hell? Do you take the Bible literally or do you "adapt" it to your personal beliefs? How does religion (or lack of) affect the way you live your life and treat others?


yer sister said...

Well, sis, here's my 2 cents worth. I certainly don't consider myself "religious" but instead, "spititual". I've probably never believed in the Bible as a whole - I've always believed that it's much like any other story - the more people you tell it to, the more it's added to and stretched if you will. However, I choose to believe in a higher power. Whether I call it "God" or by some other name, I believe that when we die, we go to a better place and watch over those we love.

While I love life, all the wonders of it, the wildlife, the trees, the smells, children and grandchildren and one of my favorite songs is "It's a wonderful world" - I sometimes wonder too if hell is here on earth.

I guess I would have to believe like Steve and say I believe in the Church of the Great Outdoors. Somebody up there, but he/she doesn't need us to be in church every Sunday in order to be a good person. Some of the ugliest, meanest, nastiest people I've come across in my life claim to be "Good Christians."

So there you have it.

the other sister said...

Well, between the two of you, there's not much left for me to say. I am at that strange stage where my views are somewhere in the middle. I can't quite bring myself to say I am an athiest. I believe, no,... I KNOW that most of the Bible is ancient fiction. When something happend that they didn't understand, they CREATED an explaination. But now we have science to explain those events, and have had for centuries. How anyone can say they live by the Bible is beyond me. For shit sake, it was written over two thousand years ago! Geez, even the US Constitution gets updated to stay with the times and meet current needs! How can anyone live by 2,000 year old rules? I just don't get it. As for believing in heaven or hell, I believe that when we die, our body decomposes, turns to organic matter to feed future generations of other organisms. Having a fern grow from what once was my hand, sounds like heaven to me. Hell? I agree with Jodi on that one, this is it. Or it can be, if you decide to allow it to be. But if you take charge of your life, it doesn't have to be like that. All that sure makes me sound like an athiest, and yet, I'm not quite ready to make that claim. I guess I'm a closet athiest.

kate said...

Well, come on out of the closet, sis. The weather's fine!!

No, really, I TOTALLY understand. The day I decided that I was, in fact, an Atheist, I felt so bold and shaky. That's a pretty final "label". And that's why I compare it to coming out of the closet. There's no going back. The cool thing is, it only has to make sense to YOU. You don't need any one else's the end of the day, at the end of your life, whatever brings YOU peace s all that matters.

I so appreciate your comments on this. I like to keep the conversation going....

Mrs Whittaker said...

I'll admit it -- I'm an atheist with agnostic tendencies. There's a certain satisfaction in not believing and not counting on an afterlife, and like you said, it's wildly liberating.

Since coming to terms with that nagging thing called reason, and with the knowledge that one day I will die, I've actually felt much more compelled to take advantage of this life since expelling my faith. This life is all we've got and that makes each moment that goes by all the more special, because there's no reclaiming it. The time we spend with the ones we love becomes all that more important because I can't comfort myself with the notion that I'll see them again in another life. Plus living forever sounds terribly exhausting.

As for the destructiveness of religion, I've been reading "God is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens. The subtitle is "How Religion Poisons Everything," but I disagree. If something must be blamed for the poisoning of the world, it is the people who inhabit the world -- in this case, religion is just an easy scapegoat. Religion is only one of many tools used to wield power over and manipulate others. However, just as I think people are to blame for the perversion in this world, so also are they to blame for charities, hospitals, and countless other good things.

Maybe a more accurate description is I'm a humanist. Yeah, I kinda like that.

The other in-law said...

You know my dear I haven't believed in the any of the great myths since I was told to leave church because I asked too man questions. I figured that if people were so afraid of questions, something wasn't quite right. I agre with most everything you said, but I also don't like pigeon-holing and therefor don't call myself an athiest. I am just not religious in any fashion or degree. Intellegent design was probably by a little green man with three fingers and rather large eyes. If we are the top of the heap as far as intellegence is concerned, in this or any other universe, we are screwed. (look who we have as president.)

We make our own heaven and hell and I choose to like by loving and enjoying life rather than fearing everything. Some of the most violent and hateful people I have ever seen or known have professed to be God-fearing Christians (or other religions) and if that is the way it is, I don't want to have any part of the farce.

Give me a high mountain meadow, a quiet lake, a sparkling stream or a blue ocean anytime.

I always knew I liked you for some reason, but I didn't know why. Now I have a little inkling of why.

the other sister said...

Isn't is funny that every one of us has mentioned how "the most evil or mean people we can think of are christians/religious". Coincidence? I think not.