How to Make an Atheist, Part Deux

I write this on an evening when I expected to be at Bible study, but it was pre-empted by the Last Supper Commemoration at my church. It just gets weirder all the time. More on this later.

Ok, where was I? Somewhere between annoying people at home on Sunday afternoons and worshipping Cerridwen in the oak forests of Blackpoint. (A brief aside: if a tremulous Watchtower-bearing Jehovah’s Witness kid knocks on your door on behalf of the glowering adults standing behind her, be nice to her. There is a commonly held belief in the faith that grumpy people disturbed from their Sunday relaxations are less likely to be sh*tty to children if they’re the ones who knock. This is an unfortunate misconception.) 

I prayed at night. I had done so since it became obligatory when my mother converted. It was a rote comfort, like counting sheep, like lullabies. When the Witnesses excommunicated us they took my concept of God with them, and though I still made my ritual list of pleases and thank yous before I slept each night, it didn’t feel like there was anyone on the other end of the line. I was 13, I could barely talk to my father who lived in Arizona, and the idea of an invisible father even farther away was not only unpalatable, it was indigestible.

Enter The Mists of Avalon.

What I WISH is that someone was standing by to provide the feminist analysis of Zimmer-Bradley’s opus. I was craving something that affirmed rather than excoriated what was happening to my body. I was craving something that gave me a context for this feeling I had that the big father in the sky could not see me, did not want me, could not comprehend me. What I found instead was a new language for the same list of pleases and thank yous, and a fanatical penchant for occult jewelry.

Some people have postulated a belief gene. If this is true then I think I am without one. I could psychoanalyze it and point out that I received rather spotty and unreliable parenting, such that the idea of an abiding faith in the constancy of any character, let alone a metaphysical one remained frustratingly out of reach. I wanted to believe, oh how I wanted to, and if I sort of cocked my head and squinted one eye and sang this one particular song (the weird little tune hummed to a black cat familiar by the witch who shared my name in the film “Bell Book and Candle” – conveniently I too had a black cat) I could, for a moment, imagine a presence outside of myself. But it was fleeting and invariably left me feeling more lonely than when I started, and the loneliness seemed like my fault, as though my spells and prayers went unanswered because of the fundamental wrongness of me.

What is there about religion that invites us to contemplate our deficiencies?

I will not inflict upon the reader a full account of the many fruitless years spent searching for some kind of belief. Suffice it to say that by my mid twenties what I had was an awkward and motley assortment of superstitions, wishes, vague intuitions, epic myths and, let’s be honest, occult jewelry.

One morning I woke up and realized that I didn’t believe in anything.

I realized that I had never believed in any of it, had never seen any of it profit or do what I wanted it to do. My heart had been broken despite my fervent love spells. My body had been broken despite my desperate prayers to gods and goddesses. My will had been broken despite my attempts to be indomitably witchy. None of it had worked. And suddenly it all just fell away as the empty recitation it had always been.

Let me clarify here. This was not about “How can there be a god/goddess/whatever when all these bad things have happened to me?!?!?” I find such sentiments self-absorbed and arrogant to a staggering degree. This was simply an abrupt and unceremonious recognition of the non-magicalness of reality. And it was astonishingly unburdening. Profoundly relieving. Years of effort and anxiety dissipated like a stomach ache. It was marvelous.

So began my liberation.

Next up: The Atheist Closet, Coming Out in the Bush Years, I *Heart* Richard Dawkins, The Thing About Glide.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Oh yeah…you all and your The Mists of Avalon. I never did begin to understand that until perhaps now. I always chalked it up as a Ren Fair thing.

    By the way, you can have some stable parenting (well no consistently married mind you) and be well exposed to a consistent religion (Judaism has been around awhile), but still end up atheist. Or like my cousin (perhaps his parenting was a bit less stable) and become orthodox. It is a very personal venture.


  2. of course there are a million different factors at play in the belief system one adopts as an adult. it’s a totally personal observation that the spotty and unreliable parenting i received may have psychological resonances in my atheism. some people adopt devout religiosity as a result of spotty and unreliable parenting. can’t never tell, i guess.


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