Saturday, January 30, 2010

On why I'm godless

I haven't always been an Atheist. Maybe just the last 2 or 3 years. But I am now. I like it. It seems to hold better answers for me and feels more honest than anything else I've worked through. And maybe more importantly, I feel like I have a spiritual identity, that I belong to a spiritual community, and that we share a common understanding. I've wanted that for a long time, and it has driven my search for God since I was little..

I grew up without a church. We simply didn't talk about God very much. My mom's family believed in nature. My dad came from a Catholic background but only went to church twice as far as I knew. But other people around me when I was young had a strong religious identities, and who you were seemed to be important. I felt that I was missing that whole religious thing in my life. Maybe that's why I sought it out.

I grew up in Skokie Illinois. Skokie, at that time, was largely Jewish. In fact most of my friends were Jewish. I remember getting really upset in first grade because all my friends got to wear yarmelkes and go to Schule. I cried. I didn't get to do those things. They were my friends. I wanted to be part of their community. But of course I couldn't. It was a different culture and it had something to do with God.

Now Skokie was not entirely Jewish. There was a dividing line. Ironically, it was Church Street. To the south mostly Jewish. To the north, mostly Catholic. We lived right on Church street, very much unchurched. Right on the dividing line. Living between cultures, being accepting of them while not belonging to them.

Behind us, to the north of the dividing line, was the Catholic School. I had friends there too. We'd play baseball and shoot hoops on the playground. That's where I was first asked the question, “What are you?” It was just a bunch of kids trying to figure out how I fit in. But at that age it was already important to Be something, to define yourself. This has been a common thread in my journey.

I told them I was Catholic. I tried to pass. I lied so that I might fit in. I couldn't say I was nothing. I mean, I wasn't nothing. I didn't know what an agnostic, or an atheist was. To me, at that time in my life, there was Jewish and there was Catholic, and I didn't go to Schule or wear a yarmleke so I had to be Catholic.

So that's what I told them, but of course they all went to Catholic school just as my Jewish friends went to Schule. I didn't know any of the right words or lessons or the names of the Saints. They saw right through me. But it turned out OK because somebody knew me and said I was a pretty good outfielder, and we went back to playing baseball.

So in grade school I was thinking about God, and my relationship to this mysterious thing that most other people, besides my immediate family, seemed to have some connection to, but I clearly did not. And this debate has gone on inside me most of my life. What was God? What should I believe? Why should I believe? How would I even know what to believe if I chose to believe? Is there some evidence or proof one way or the other? Or did I just have to possess a deep, deep faith and stop thinking about it so much? Could I believe in something one day and not the next? Did consistency even matter?

With all these questions, someone told me that it sounded like I was becoming Agnostic. Finally an identity! And I liked the way it sounded. “Agnostic”. I liked being Agnostic. I felt like I could go to any church or synagog or religious service and find I it interesting. I could talk to people about what they believed. I could look for answers. It was good.

But at that time I was a Boy Scout. And being Agnostic didn't help when it came time to get my Eagle Badge.. Being Agnostic I wasn't certain if there was a God or any kind of Supreme Being. I was still questioning these things. And unfortunately you had to say you believed if you wanted to get this award. Well a great friend of mine spent weeks, trying to use logic and reasoning to get me to believe, but unfortunately every logical argument had a hole. Every emotional argument fell flat.

And that's kind of how it's been for me over the years. Some days looking for proof. Thinking I've found something solid, only to see the hole in my reasoning the next day. Some days thinking I should just let go and just have faith. Some days just pretending to blend in with what ever group I happened to be with.

I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about my relationship to this thing called God. For a few years I even wanted to become a Catholic. Obviously that didn't work. Then I found out I was a better Pagan than I was a Catholic. At least I didn't have to believe in a supreme being to be a Pagan, and being Pagan brought me closer to my mother's tradition of just believing in nature.

It was about three years ago, I finally said to myself, I cannot prove that God exists any more than I can prove whether or not there teapot hovering in outer space. There's a very small probability indeed. So small as to not matter. Minuscule. So let's just say that God doesn't exist and see how that changes things. And as for multiple lesser gods and spirits, if I cannot even prove that even one God exists, how can I support a whole pantheon of them? No God. No gods. I think I sound like an unbeliever. An Atheist.

The problem then, was what the problem had always been. My real problem, was that at the crux of all of this was this idea of wanting to belong, to be accepted, to have an acceptable religious identity. I didn't want to be an Atheist and to be alone in the world of believers. Everything I had read said that Atheists were lonely and depressed and that they were full of hate and anger and they were not to be trusted.

Well, Here's what changed for me.

A couple years ago, I read Richard Dawkins' book. “The God Delusion” and it clicked. I got it. Everything I had thought about was in that book. It brought me full circle to my current understanding that there is no God, no Gods, and that it was OK. And then he pointed out that those reports about Atheists being mean and evil were all published by religious organizations and that they were simply made up and completely untrue. Atheists are actually pretty much the same as other people. No better. No worse.

And then I read Christopher Hitchens and other authors. And then I started to find a whole body of people who thought the same way I did, and who were vocal about their godlessness. And that's when I realized I'm not alone. Far from it. I had found a spiritual identity and I had found other people like me. Hourray!!!

So that was my spritual journey. But I want to say that that the journey is not over. I'm still growing and learning.

I got involved in a debate just a couple weeks ago. Where do morals come from? How do we decide what is good and what is evil? Are these feelings universal through out human kind? And if so, does this universal sense of right and wrong, could that possibly be endowed in us by God? And my Atheist answer was this, “No, there is no God. So morals cannot come from there. We have to look deeper. ”

And that is the luscious point of all of this. In finally admitting to myself that there is no God, it has allowed me to look deeper. Deeper into my life. Deeper into the meanings of things. Deeper into how things work. And ultimately, this makes me happy.

Being godless helps me understand the world, and how it works and why I'm here, and what I want out of life. It is life affirming. Instead of being good today for some reward I might achieve in the afterlife, I can just choose to be good today. Instead of praying for something to happen, I'm likely to take direct action. Life is even more awe inspiring when you consider that it doesn't have an author, designer, or a profound reason. That it just is.