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?