I had a weird epiphany this week: I guess I’m an atheist.
The reason I call this a weird epiphany is because it took twenty-eight years for it to click, despite the fact that at literally no point in my life have I ever actually believed in God.
I didn’t grow up in a religious household, you see. And without a church giving you the hard sell on Christianity, believing in God turns out basically the same way as believing in the Easter Bunny. I accepted it at face value as a kid, until one day I got old enough to really think about it, but then it was never relevant again and life went on.
So I never called myself an atheist, because I simply didn’t care enough about religion to take a strong stance against the existence of God. Plus, every atheist I had ever met was a smug, rude asshole and I didn’t particularly care to cast my lot with them. (Still true, to a degree, but I digress.)
Instead, if you had asked me whether or not I thought God existed, I would’ve said that I was straddling the line between agnosticism and ignosticism. Agnosticism, as most people are aware, is answering the question with, “I don’t know.” Ignosticism, as fewer people are aware, is answering the question with, “I don’t think that human beings have formulated a clear enough understanding of the concept of God for that question to even be answerable.”
Either one is a much more polite answer than just saying, “No, I don’t think God exists.” And because America persists in this tired misconception that religious tolerance means never, ever, EVER implying that someone’s beliefs are anything short of (pardon the pun) the gospel truth, it was really the only way I could safely explain my position.
But this past week, I realized three things that led me to finally just bite the bullet and acknowledge my atheism.
The first realization occurred when I got into yet another philosophical discussion about politics, morality, and the law. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just cheekily summarize the conclusion: the only reason that prostitution is illegal in this country is because Puritans believed that God hated whores, but Puritans probably only said that in the first place to limit the autonomy of the womenfolk. (Yes, I know how Woke™ that sounds. Sorry, not sorry.)
This got me thinking about all the ways that organized religion has been used as a tool to control the masses throughout history, and how profoundly uncool that is in light of the fact that, as far as I can tell, God doesn’t even exist. And I realized that every time I refrain from admitting that I don’t believe in God because I’m trying not to be rude, I’m tacitly allowing Big Church to press its boot down on my neck. Unsurprisingly, I’m not into that.
Second, I realized that when I say, “I don’t believe in God,” I’m not saying that I don’t believe in morality, or in good and evil, or in right and wrong. I’m not saying that I don’t believe in spirituality or divine cosmic forces. I’m not saying that I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or a greater plan for all living things. I’m not even saying that I don’t believe in an afterlife, or some other form of life after death.
No, when I say that I don’t believe in God, I’m specifically saying that I don’t believe in the Abrahamic concept of God. I’ve studied a lot of world religions and philosophies, and that’s the only one that strikes me as truly implausible. I’m certain that there is a higher power guiding our lives, but I’m equally certain that it’s not a temperamental old man with a long white beard.
And this brings us to the third realization. If there was a God, and if He was indeed the Christian God as I was taught in my youth, then that guy would deserve absolutely no power over me.
I didn’t ask to be created. I had no hand in my creation, and no choice about whether I wanted it to occur. But now, because through the grace of God I was conscripted into existence, I’m supposed to owe Him something? I owe Him my unquestioning faith and allegiance, for something that was supposed to be a gift rather than a transaction, that I didn’t even want and have no option to return because that would really make Him mad? Count me out of this relationship, thank you very much, because that’s nothing but a bundle of red flags.
So as it turns out, even if I thought God existed I still wouldn’t be a believer. And I guess that’s really the final nail in the coffin of pretending not to be an atheist, isn’t it?
Anyway, I’ll let you know if I get smited (or is it smote?) after publishing this article.
3 thoughts on “Are You There, God? It’s Me, About To Make It Awkward If You Are”
Very incisive and thoughtful as always. I’m definitely on your side, but I’ll tell you a story. I have a cousin who lives up in the Northeast Kingdom (you know what I mean), a person who has had very serious health issues. She and her husband are devout believers but not prejudiced against the rest of us. I would never begrudge her her religion, which has been a rock of support in her troubled life.
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Yeah, I fully agree that religion can be a force for good and would never try to steer someone away from their belief- and really, I wish everyone would take more of a live-and-let-live attitude like your cousin.