Am I An Atheist Yet?

[Word count: 681. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

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We live in a society that forces you to take sides. One-drop rule says if you’re “part Black,” you’re ALL Black. Hypermasculinity says if a man wears a pink shirt, then he’s probably wearing women’s lingerie underneath. Similarly, there are extremist Christians that believe in all or nothing; if you’re not 100% with us, then you’re 100% against us.

[By the way… Jesus himself preached against this in Mark 9:38-39. When St. John told an outsider, “you can’t sit with us,” Jesus told him, “Chill. Whoever is not against us is for us.”]

People act like there’s a hard line between Christian and not, belief and doubt, like you’re either on one side or the other. I approached the question from one angle in a post called “Am I Still a Christian.” Now I approach it from the other: How indifferent do I have to be toward Christianity before I am effectively an atheist?

I talked to my mom recently and she asked, “Have you been praying?” I said, “Not really.” She laughed and said with a lighthearted finger wag, “Okayyyyy! When you don’t pray, you get what you get!” Only faintly amused, I told her that’s the same thing I get when I do pray which is why I stopped.

Speaking of stopping, it’s been a year since my last blog post and that one was pretty low on faith. The subject hasn’t been high on my interest list. I attend church largely to maintain relationships that began there, but nothing in me wants to go back. Relentless in her mission to shepherd me back to the foot of the cross, mother incessantly asks whether I’ve gone to church and when I’m going again. This is like someone asking, “Whatever happened to [ex-significant other] ? You should get back with them again!”

Why in the hell would I want to do that? I was in that relationship. It didn’t work at all. Neither of us were happy. So why would I want to repeat that experience twice? (However reluctantly, Mom understood the comparison.)

Do you want to be an atheist?

Of course not. I’m probably a bad Christian, but I wouldn’t make a much better atheist. Quiet as it’s kept, I still like God! I want to believe in a force that maintains some semblance of order in our chaotic world. And I specifically reject new atheism. That sect gets so obnoxious with shaming and ridiculing people of faith, that the practice ironically becomes a religion itself. If you go that far, you’re not dissimilar from the fundamental Christians who get so overzealous Jesus doesn’t even like them anymore.

If someone asks my religion now, I usually tell them Christian agnostic. If I were to believe anything, I’d like to believe in Jesus, but I don’t know. I want to believe, but honestly, I still have some doubts as to whether he’s real.

Well what do you want then?

Whenever I express my truest feelings about my faith (specifically the lack thereof), I feel my mother’s disappointment wrap around me like a shawl or a boa constrictor — I can’t tell which. Mother has, for over 30 years, centered her life around church activity, personal devotion, evangelism both domestic and abroad, intercession, fasting, studying the Bible, living the Bible, preaching it, spreading it. Granted, my mother’s faith has helped stabilize our immediate and extended families, but it has also consumed her focus. I see her devotion and I respect it. But that’s not what I want for my life.

At a climax in the movie Spanglish, the lead character asks her child, “Is what you want for yourself to become someone very different than me?” The answer is yes. What I want is to continue working to be a better person, but I don’t want Christianity to be the sole method to achieve it. And I don’t want to be termed an atheist because of it. I just want to be. And be at peace. And I want both these warring sides to take a break… and let me.

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6 thoughts on “Am I An Atheist Yet?

  1. Oh, Mark, I SO understand what you are saying. (And you say it very well.) I WANT to believe in God, but after years of searching and asking and hoping for a sign or a flicker of true faith, I have come to accept that I’m really okay being a “devout agnostic.” I can’t disprove the existence of God any more than I can prove it. I think I’m mostly, based on my limited understanding of Taoism, a Taoist – there is a force that flows through everything and connects us all – and we are all part of the same “stuff,” the same universe, but is there a personal God that actually takes a personal interest in my life? I don’t think so. What arrogance to think that Christianity is the only answer for every person on this planet when so many find peace and comfort and a sense of the divine through their own religious beliefs. Most Americans are Christians simply by virtue of the fact that they were born into Christian families. If you or I had been born in Japan, we would most like be Buddhists. If we had been born in India, we would be Hindus. And a study of the mythology of many different religions shows the same myths (virgin births, resurrections) existing in many forms. Every religion seems to be an outgrowth of an earlier one. The more I read about world religions, the further I get from being able to believe. But here’s the thing…it’s okay! I took a course at my UU church on “Building Your Own Theology,” and we had to come up with a personal statement of belief. Here is mine: “Life has no meaning but what we give it…but we are capable of giving it great meaning.” I occasionally long for the comfort of knowing that some power out there is taking care of me, but I am also comfortable in feeling that this is all there is, and I need to make this one short life the best that I can. Matter is neither created nor destroyed, so I will have eternal life – joined with everyone else as stardust dancing among the stars.

    • Joan, thank you so much for weighing in. You touched upon multiple thoughts that I’ve had before. Some I’ve blogged about, and some that just baked my noodle as I contemplated them to no avail. But the most endearing is the idea that we are all connected and God manifests himself not just exclusively within Christianity, but across humanity.

      It is fairly arrogant to think any one person can have “all the light.” I’m sure it brings irreplaceable comfort to feel one knows exactly how things started, how they operate, and how they will end. Adults find comfort in that, just as any child feels comfortable when there are “answers” for all their questions. You do feel taken care of. Maybe my problem is that I’ve asked a few too many questions and now it’s harder to create that illusion of security for me.

      Regardless of how I feel, I’m confident that whoever/whatever God is… remains unchanged and unfazed by my questioning and wondering. The Earth is still turning, the sun is still shining. And if I step back from trying to overstuff my little mind with answers for every who, what, when, why, and how… I’ll find that everything is still quite alright. Here’s hoping! 🙂

      Love and gratitude,
      Mark

      • I’d have far more worries about you if you DIDN’T question every who, what, when, why, and how. But you are right…our questions don’t change the way the universe works…and that is a comfort to me!

        Oh, since I now have a WordPress account, I see it logs me in as Robslassie. But it’s still me! 🙂

  2. I can fool with this!

    Since the strict definition of an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God’s existence… I’d say you’re fat from being an atheist. You don’t qualify. Lol But really. Non-adherence to the tenets of a deity centered religion, does not necessitate lack of belief in the existence of the deity.

    As to the other part… I’ve come to the part in my own life (similar to yours) where I’ve encountered such issues. And my conclusion is that Christianity needs fixing. Jesus wasn’t a Christian. His early followers were merely called believers. Christianity, though applied to the believers in Jesus, is only as valid as its reflection of Jesus. If Christianity drifts from who and how Jesus was… then it’s no longer of any use or value (to me).

    And to be honest… Christian Agnostic is probably the honest position of many Christians these days. (Dunno if you even care about Christian hip hop anymore, but da truth released an album called “It’s Complicated” which rather spectacularly details the ins and outs of this whole conversation, including aspects not mentioned in this blog)

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