Archive for the ‘The Belief in I’ Category

Chapter One

— Leaps of Nonfaith —

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,

so as to have the life which is waiting for us.  

The old skin has to shed before the new skin can come.”  ~ Joseph Campbell

               Over the past 2 years, I’ve found myself settling in with the term, Atheist, with an obscure comfort.  That comfortable space has lead to what I’ll loosely consider: the history of my nonfaith…

              Through casual theological conversation (a massive irony) with someone of no belief, it may appear to a believer of any higher power (whether it’s God, Osiris, Christ, Ra, Dionysus, Zeus, or Poseidon* –to name a few out of thousands developed by man) that the non-believer was either raised this way, some traumatic event took place in their life, or they’re just misguided and confused with nothing in their life soul-shaking enough to guide them to the correct path of spirituality.  Perhaps they just haven’t heard the good word of Christ, or attended the “right” church to hear the magical influential sermon which would somehow free them from the bonds of Satan’s grasp and turn them to back to the Lord’s loving hands from which we all didn’t come from.  Maybe the faithful person chooses to see themselves as one of God’s chosen few; who somehow blessed them with the miracle of being placed on the earth through divine means to a pre-determined set of parents, and sadly, the non-believer just ‘doesn’t get it’, never will, and since they’re an atheist anyway – has no soul in the first place.

            Or, it could be that cultural tradition and social customs are difficult patterns to be independent of, and throughout the generations the cycle continues without any hindsight or foresight or questions asked.  The human species has a natural tendency to group with those who are likeminded; those stuck in the same ruts, enjoying similar ways of looking at things, and carry with them common prejudices.  This is why faith works so well and why the world is so over-populated with religious followers. The social pressures of continuing a tradition sparked by our ancestors simply because it’s “the way we’ve always done things” is both a comfort and a curse.  On one hand, you’ve gained the acceptance of the majority of the apples still clinging to your family tree (both alive and rotten), but you’ve also carried with you the weight of severely outdated ideals and idioms; many of which died after the fall of so many ancient civilizations that existed long before we could even fathom what their lives must have been like. Long before versions of the Holy Books most people study today even existed.  Long before our current customs were in place, or the English language was invented.  Back when it was a sin to wear certain types of clothing together, eat split-hoofed animals, not fornicate when commanded to by the king, work on Sunday, etc. etc. Yet we continue to rationalize away our very existence and purpose as a species on a superstitious whim… or, wishful thinking… based upon an ancient set of rules, in hopes that it’s right just because, “I don’t want to make the mistake of not believing, and then be wrong in front of God on judgment day.”

            I didn’t begin my personal trek as an Atheist fresh from the womb (even though all babies are born without any theistic impressions or influence –it’s the guardians who instill their personal fears as doctrine, and their personal doctrines as fear).  In fact, the simple mention of the “A-word” was strictly taboo and never something brought up at any point throughout my youth by anyone in my family, or extended family, or friends.  It was a word which associated people with a sin perhaps worse than Satanism (a very misunderstood ‘religion’).  Only relatively recently have I come to terms with where I am in the grand scope of this immensely large universe we’re a part of.  I’m feeling more at peace now than any other time in my life to safely be able to say, without the looming dread of death, or tortured forever in Hell, or being judged by an invisible made-up fairytale man in the sky to whom I’m required to simultaneously fear and love, that I am in fact very much an atheist.  Being able to say this without cringing has come from an exhaustive search for truth by shedding away a thick coating of deep mental conditioning over a long period of time and grief… and a profound realization of what truly defines one as an atheist.  That is what this multi-part blog is all about.

            Actually, up until just a few years ago, I still referred to myself as an “agnostic free-thinker”.  My ignorant understanding of agnosticism could be simply defined as a feeling that there’s something out there bigger than us; but the man-created version of a monotheistic superpower was hard pill to swallow even from an early age of 8 when I was baptized as a Mormon by my father.

            I was actually relieved when I was first baptized.  For, just weeks prior, my mother was doing laundry and inevitably discovered magazine clippings of hardcore late-70’s porn in my pants pockets.  The fence which made up the parameter of my elementary school was littered with these pages and I’d skip many hours of class for my research.  Regardless, mom found them all in my pants.  Perhaps that’d be considered catching me with “my pants down”?  Perhaps not.  But what it did do was inspire her to draw out stick-figures of two very anatomically incorrect individuals in a sexual position I’d already seen in full color a few hours ago.  Plus, just weeks before all of that, the sweet little neighbor girl was playing a game of truth & dare with me in her backyard clubhouse.  My daring dare..?  To show off an insignificant section of my undiepants (Giggle giggle teehee).  Within the same day, I was focusing my attention on her mother’s braless chest as she did the vacuuming in the house.  I’d like to think she was aware of my glazed-over eyes perusing her supple bosom (up until that point I’d only seen such beauty in those infamous scattered clippings and when I’d snuck through my parent’s old boxes of Mad Magazines), but it’s also around the same time she introduced me to my first encounter with a Dolly Parton album… you know, the one with the awesome 3-page fold out?  Islands in the Stream, indeed… she did that shit on purpose.

            The swift action of dunking me under a pool of blessed tub water to wash away the sins I’d so carelessly smothered myself in within those 8 short years seemed like a rational response at the time, I’m sure, by my parents.  I was eight, after all.  That’s the common law of the church.  It began to be pounded into me that I only had that one chance to repent.  Additional transgressions would come at a price.  My soul was on the line here.  Either I shaped up, or I would regret it as an adult.  And, even worse, regret it eternally when my soul would learn the unfortunate news that I’d lost the lottery and therefore stood zero chances of ever seeing my family again in the afterlife.  Worse still was the possibility of never getting to rule my own planet. This rocked me to the core with fear, guilt, and horrible confusion.

            I wasn’t allowed to ask questions about this.  But frankly, what questions would I have known to ask?   At the time I had no idea of the back story of this new way of life.  Joseph Smith was someone I couldn’t relate to at all.  He was a glowing oddity always pictured kneeling in front of more floating glowing oddities.  I was required to respect Him, Them, gain a personal testimony about it all, and stumble through the following years not even understanding why the hell I was supposed to do it in the first place.  Was that the Holy Ghost I was feeling, or just one of the dozen voices we all hear rattling around our heads?  How in the world was one supposed to tell the difference between them?  Pray and pray some more, that’s how.  All I understood was I apparently had a destiny to follow, sex is bad (m’kay) until you’re married (and even then you’ll struggle to keep it interesting), and asking too many questions will always result with the response from everyone, “You need to pray about it” (because we don’t really have an answer to sustain your curiosity).

            Church, church, Cub Scouts, school, church, Shaklee, Skittles, repeat.

            Such is the standard tradition in my family, as it is with almost all family you can hit with a dart on a map of the world (minus the Scouts and powdered milk sales).  I’ve heard the fascinating story of our Mormon ancestors crossing the plains of Utah a modest number of times. Each Sunday I’d reluctantly don my polyester button-up shirt and clip-on tie, smack my kid brother in the head when the parents weren’t looking, load into the family station wagon and drive to the building I’d spend the next 3-4 hours trying not to fall asleep in.  The only exciting parts were the goodies my mom would pack in her purse for Sacrament Meeting and when she’d tickle letters on my back to see if I could guess what she was writing (usually: I Love You, Dougie).  For about 5 years we continued this trend.  My entire childhood consisted of maybe 1 or 2 friends at any given time (one of which recently wrote me off completely because I speak too freely to dispel religious myths nowadays).  I walked with my head down, was picked on repeatedly, questioned my sexuality, and generally loathed myself.  This was because my sense of purpose never made much sense.  No ritual, tradition, prayer, nor church session ever brought me clarity I could measure, or answers that didn’t seem too unreachable to make it worth listening to.  It wasn’t until my mid-teens when I slowly and secretly began peeling back those layers of myself to reveal what should’ve been obvious all along… that everything I was hearing as a response to my prayers wasn’t anything divine, but instead  subconscious flickers of imagination created by the sheer power of wanting my unsubstantiated beliefs to become real things.

*editors note:  It has been brought to my attention that I’ve left Thor out of the list of Gods.  How could I forget about Thor?!  I blame it on 2am insomnia…  Sorry, Thor!  Put that hammer back down!