Dealing with Pain as an Atheist

This is merely a story, a cautionary tale. Not a cry for help, nor a ‘woe is me’ attention grab. I had a real interesting and revealing weekend and decided to add more catharsis to it. Hopefully, some understanding will come out of this and maybe some wisdom for others. I really don’t know where this is going to go, so I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I do. 

On a worldly scale, the amount of pain I’ve had to deal with is pretty infinitesimal. But as human nature goes, my problems are huge and unconquerable, especially in the moment. I’ve had no devistating ilnesses nor injuries. For the most part my entire family is intact, and while having their faults, are not awful people. Most of the pain in my life has come from relationships. I’ve never been a social person. I never had many friends in school or out. I don’t make new friends easily. Acquaintances, yes but people I can talk to or hang out with has never been easy for me.  I was bullied in school a lot. While young I made some poor decisions that could have been much worse, but I won’t go into that. 

I became an atheist in high school and while that didn’t affect my first relationship, it did affect the end of it. My morals came from within me. I respected the actions I took because I knew that I made them and nothing else clouded that judgement. I had nothing to lean on except myself. So when my hand was forced to end the relationship with my fiancé, I was comforted in the fact that I knew I did the right thing. But wow, did it hurt worse than anything I had ever felt. Knowing you did the right thing is little solace when your future crumbles before your eyes. But it felt I had nothing else to lean on. Because that’s the awful truth when you’re an atheist. You have nothing to go to, no one looking out for you, nothing to pray to make the pain go away or pray to for something better to come along. The best thing about being an atheist is that you learn from every adventure you take in life. You did it all yourself.  Screw God, I never forget what I’ve done and the decisions I made. I learned from them and good or bad, it’s what I took into my next relationship.

The good, I knew that waiting was fine. I wasn’t going to rush anything and while a Herculean effort, I was going to wait until the right person came along. The bad, my first relationship ended so badly that A) it was about 8 years before I dated someone else, B) because of that I have next to no dating experience and C) I had a strong distrust of anyone who would get close to me. Being an atheist doesn’t mean you’re 100% rational all the time, just most of the time. We deal with reality, while many in the world just don’t. That fact was what led me having to end my second relationship. Not in religious sense, but she just saw things that weren’t there. And as we all know from fighting theists, that isn’t a battle that is easily won. A simple question asked, a simple answer asked for, and none received is a perfect recipe for disaster. And again, lessons learned, skills acquired, but at what price? 

Dealing with other people has always been a challenge for me. Trust and respect are such important values and so easily the ones lost. Being an atheist, communication is so vital. I can only base my actions, emotions, and thoughts on what is presented to me. The world would be great if it worked any other way, but it doesn’t. 

Coping with loss is interesting because it is such a universal event, but the way it manifests is wholly unique. Music is what does it for me. I know I can play a specific song or two and I’ll be in tears, but after a few songs, I need a chance and put on something else I like and my mood will change. It’s how I dealt with my two breakups; my iTunes play counts for some songs are insane, seriously. And there is something like that for everyone. But because music is so real and powerful to me, I’m fascinated by people who look to a God for the exact same thing. I can’t imagine how to cope with real pain with, essentially, nothing. There is no god, so what is the actual brain reactions going on and how are they mirroring mine when I listen to Pearl Jam’s “Black” for the 712th time (yeah it’s that high. Yeah it was my go to song for months). 

I know I have a lot more to deal with in my life.  I know I probably won’t have many people around me to help with those things. But the beauty of being an atheist is the knowledge that you alone have the power to overcome anything.

How Many Believers, Really?

Intellectual honesty is a very important thing to me. It’s why I feel so closely tied with atheism AND skepticism. I have a little bit of…disrespect, might not be the right word but we’ll use that for now, for atheists who in someway believe in another type of “woo” (much love to James Randi).  And it’s with this skeptical eye, that I turn my attention, once again, to believers. I feel that’s a wrong term too, because in my heart I can’t possibly see them believing EVERYTHING. which goes back to intellectual honesty. I’ll start with my mom.

I was raised Catholic, I was confirmed, CCD, all that stuff. That was because that’s what my parents were (shocking, I know). Also, this is the religion I’m most well-versed in, but all the upcoming points I’m making, there’s probably a connection to every other religion one could make if there were better at this than me. Anyways, after I became an atheist (around age 17/18) I learned what Catholics REALLY believed, or so I thought. I just need one word to explain a delineation that still messes with my head to this day: Transubstantiation. This is the belief that after a certain set of words are said, the wafer and wine during the eucharist ACTUALLY turns into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. No, this isn’t a metaphor or a clever story, it ACTUALLY happens. Obviously, to me, this is just nonsense. I could kinda/sorta/maybe understand if one saw it as symbolism but crackers don’t turn into flesh…that just doesn’t happen. So one day, I just asked my mom,

  • Me: “Do you believe that the wine changes to blood?”
  • Her: “What?”
  • Me: “You are Catholic. You have to believe that the wine changes into blood.”
  • Her: “Really?”
  • Me: “Yes. It’s part of the religion. A major part. Wars have been fought over if the cracker comes to life.”
  • Her: “Oh. Well, I guess yes.”
  • Me: “Mum, really. You honestly believe that. Wine, poured from the bottle, becomes Jesus’ blood.”
  • Her: “I guess.”

And this is my all-time giant question. Now I know my mom doesn’t believe that wine into blood is real. She just can’t admit to me and concede a point. And I sincerely doubt that this is an aberration compared to the rest of the world. There are just so many elements in any religion where I think, “People say that believe it, but they can’t ACTUALLY believe.” Virgin birth, resurrection, living inside a whale? And this exists across religions. I just wonder, with a healthy dose of Sodium Pentothal and hooked to a lie detector, how many people sincerely believe. As honest a belief that the sun will rise tomorrow and that water is wet; the cracker becomes flesh or that a flood killed all people and animals on earth except for a select few on a giant boat… There’s so many singular ideas that differentiate one religion from another and those differences, to me, are the foundations of non-belief. I just refuse to believe that every single person who says they are a believer, believes fully. If we can remove the stigma of atheism, I think it’ll be easier for people to drop their “silly” beliefs.

The Day It All Changed

I became an atheist at a young age. I went through Catholic Sunday school all the way until eighth grade, but I stopped believing long before that. Kinda around the age you come to find *SPOILER ALERT* that the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are not real too.
Now,  when I was younger it seemed to be a bad thing. Being that my parents and to my knowledge everyone around me was a theist, I kept my atheism to myself.  It was my thing. Whatever you did was your thing. While we both couldn’t be right, I was okay with the notion that you believed what you wanted.  However, one day that changed. One day it wasn’t enough for me to be an atheist. The world needed to know it. The world needed to know that the majority were wrong. And that innocent people died because of sheer ignorance.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001. We all know the stories. The truths and the fictions. The stories, the heartbreak, the unnecessary loss. As we, around the world, the atheist community can point to one specific date in time and say, “Religion is harmful.” A holy book…a god…wanted these people to commit these acts, all because “America” didn’t believe in the same nonsense as another group. This lead to a terrorist attack. Lives were lost. Solely, because of religion.
I was in high school when these events took place. I was scared. I was worried. I was nervous. But as the hours wore on, as more truth-filled information became available, what I mostly became was pissed. Pissed at what the world allows. Pissed at what is OK to believe. It’s OK for those people to believe they will go to “heaven” (no proof of existence) if they kill people who don’t believe like them. This is utter nonsense. This is a travesty. Why is faith a good thing? Why do we, as rational beings, say it’s okay to believe things without evidence. And on top of that, people are god-damn fucking proud of it. It all culminated in an utter hatred of religion. It’s cute that you think one man gathered every species of every animal everywhere and put them ALL on one boat. Cute. It’s a fucking travesty you think it’s okay to murder heretics. Twisted.
I was an outspoken, militant atheist from that point on. We’re better than this. There’s not one reason for the world to allow this mass delusion to continue. When 9/11 happened I was done with being nice and kind to religious people. You can like a different sports team than me and I can be okay with that. It doesn’t cause pain. It doesn’t kill people. Jokingly, you can be “wrong” about liking the Philadelphia Flyers. Religion causes untold psychological problems.  Religion hurts. Religion kills. Period. There’s no excuse to be silent anymore. There’s no excuse not to fight for reason.
It’s best summed up by something I heard from the great Professor Richard Dawkins say at the Reason Rally in 2012. His point was to let no one who knows you, think they don’t know an atheist. That was my mission. That was my goal. Atheists are around. Atheists exist. We’re good people. And on the “god” question, we’re right. Period.

 

An Atheist at Christmas

“You have confused a war on your religion with not always getting what you want.” -Jon Stewart

Christmas can be a hard time for us atheists. It’s a constant reminder that A) I don’t fit in and B) the majority of people believe nonsense. Now, while the religious aspects of the holiday are dwindling, the constant shouts of “war on Christmas” still are heard. We don’t want to stop you from doing what you want, just let everyone do what everyone wants. Atheists are very pro-equality and the privilege of Christians make it seem like they are persecuted while in actuality their privilege is under attack. No other religion has had their holiday become a national holiday (granted I think this has done more than enough to secularize Christmas).

Still, I like the idea of Christmas. I love getting presents for people and I do take a good amount of time to plan,buy and wrap them. And I’m a little weird about getting them but it’s still fun. I like being around my family and telling stories and whatnot. It’s all very lovely nice, but it just doesn’t have to be wrapped in a myth.

That’s why I love the song I posted above. Tim Minchin might just be my favorite musical artist. Not only does he have talent and wit, but he also shares my atheistic views…and he wrote the above Christmas song. A song about love, family, and the weirdness of religion. It’s truly one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And that’s why it’s now part of my Christmas tradition.

I buy a bottle of white wine just for me. I pour a glass and drink it alone outside. I take that time to reflect…to be thankful for what/who I have in my life, what my strengths are, what I need to work on, and I sing the song quietly  to myself, shed a tear like I do every time I heard that song, then head back inside to my family and the festivities.

This I Believe

This is going to be a longish post so bear with me. Here is a few things I believe, so that you can better understand me and why I’m beginning this journey.

I believe this is no supernatural. Reality are the things we can see/touch/hear/quantify/etc. Anything outside of that is non-existent. When we can do those things, then things exist. I make no claims that there never was and never will be a deity. Only that the evidence for such is so lacking it borders on unacceptable. Again, I’m open to the idea that a deity could exist because tomorrow that evidence could appear, or next week, next month, etc. However, from everything I’ve experienced, I do not live my life thinking that it is a plausible occurrence. Thus, I consider myself an atheist.

Now that is a scary word to many, many people. It was hard for me to accept for a short time. However, there’s no need to be scared of it. It means several things to me as well. One is that I don’t think of anything concerning an afterlife. The time I have alive is all I get, so I really try to make the most of it. I do what I enjoy because a time will come where I won’t be able to do such things. It also makes me treat people with respect. I can’t be a mean, disrespectful person my whole life and casually repent on my deathbed. I have to take responsibility for my actions now because there is no other time to do so. Atheism also created in my a newfound respect for other people and their decisions. I, honestly, have any reason to discriminate. We are all humans. We should all have equal rights. There is no scientific, logical reason that LGBT people should suffer indiscretions from a government who is supposedly outside the sphere of religious influence. The only person who should be concerned with getting an abortion is the owner of the uterus. No one else gets a say when I get a wart removed from my foot, even though that’s a “living thing”. I’ve come to learn that “religious freedom” is synonymous with “I am free to impose my religious doctrines upon you” and I just don’t think that is right. We are a free society and should be free from this.

This has lead me to my activism. I have been an atheist for almost 15 years and only recently have I been so outspoken about it. Two things changed me. One was attending the Reason Rally in 2012 (and I will be attending in 2016!!! Much more on that in later posts) and the other was reading David Silverman’s book “Fighting God”. In his book, he lays out, quite clearly, not the reasons to be an atheist, but to be an outspoken, “Firebrand” atheist. He has facts to back this up which I urge every atheist I know to read this fantastic book. It really opened my eyes to the stigma and harsh reality that us atheists face and is a primer on how and why to fight back.

Be forewarned. I will not tread lightly on the subject of religion. Ridicule of ideas is a completely ok thing in my book. And it will happen here…a lot.

And now for this blog. I got tired of sitting on Twitter and other places not doing much of anything. I wanted to participate. I wanted to be seen and heard. I wanted to be another soldier…in the war on Christmas! But seriously, I wanted to do something. So I made this blog and a brand new Twitter feed so I could be someone more than myself. I could become part of the bigger Atheist community!