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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A Million Epitaphs

[Word count: 702. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

I’m not afraid of death. I’m aware of it. We see each other in the hallways as we take care of our dealings; I with mine, he with his. One might suppose I have faith that God is in control, or I might feel the need to run and hide from death. As of late though, it seems I am very much a fatalist.

I don’t believe death and I will embrace until the precise moment God has prescribed. So if we graze each other in passing, it’s just a graze. I’ve got my misgivings about dying, but death doesn’t worry me much. Death has been a part of my life since it began.

“For all we know
This may only be a dream
We come and we go
Like the ripples of a stream
So love me tonight
tomorrow was made for some
tomorrow may never come
for all we know.”

An uncommon story

My father and I never met. But we have the same name. First, middle, last. Most people probably don’t know exactly when they were conceived, but I do.  July 25, 1978, the morning he died. My mother did not know she was pregnant at the funeral. The date engraved on his headstone marked the end of his life, and the start of mine. Continue reading

On Father’s Day: “I Had a King Once”

[Word count: 467. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Me, being held by my grandfather Ralph, standing next to my grandmother Bette.Before, he was just the belt wielder. Barber. Things-around-the-house fixer. Wood chopper. La-Z-Boy occupier. Pipe smoker. Grandmother’s nagging post. I wasn’t fond of him. As a disciplinarian, I came to see him as stern. And mean. So I kept my dealings with him limited. Nine-year-olds prefer grandmothers anyway. They’re softer. Permissive. Willing to bend rules for precocious children. Better at banana pudding from scratch. I was certain I chose well.

Then, certain reversals of fortune cause ten-year-olds to grow rapidly. Age substantially. Wizen prematurely. Grieve deeply.

Rules of the game would need to change. No more hiding in the billows of her dress. I couldn’t pit queen against king. Now, it was just the king and I. Two of us on a somewhat bare board. In a much-too-quiet house. Taken aback. Having to stare at each other in the eyes. Perhaps for the first time.

The king, though prized, is probably the most vulnerable in the game. Only moving about slowly, one space at a time. Not a problem with a queen present. She can fly around accomplishing multiple tasks at one time. Enforcing order while retreating selectively. Defending territory while deferring demurely. A queen makes every piece stronger. Losing one early puts the fate of the whole game at a disadvantage. Faced with the challenge, some kings concede. Mine reworked his strategy. Continue reading

God Is Not My Mother

[Word count: 855. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]

Actress Sandra Bullock with adopted son Louis. (Photo taken from People Magazine.)God is not my mother. The two are not the same. They’re different. They are different.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem some two-thousand odd years ago, not Bakersfield in the 1950’s. Most depictions show him as a white man with a mellow expression and Clairol-ad-worthy hair. Not a black woman with luxuriously extended eyelashes, high cheekbones, café au lait skin, and a shy, affable smile.

They are not one and the same. It took years of work to convince myself of this. And it seems the maintenance on this work is never done. Continue reading

Worship, Unconscious

[Word count: 596. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
DISCLAIMER: I wrote this August 8, 2012, but decided to sit on it until now. In light of my friend Robin’s recent illness and passing, it carries extra significance.

Imagine someone you love—a mother, father, sibling, cousin, or close friend—unconscious and unresponsive. You don’t know what caused it and you don’t know how long it’s going to last. But the doctors say, “Keep talking to them, they can hear you. They may also respond to touch.What would you do? How often would you visit? How long would you stay?

If it was someone I loved, I would become protective. I would be watching to make sure nurses and orderlies treated them right, kept them clean and comfortable. If it was my sister, I would sing our favorite songs to her. I would have DVDs of Good Times and The Jeffersons playing around the clock like she does most days.

If it was my mother, I would recite encouraging and empowering scriptures to her; she might respond to that. If it was my papa, I would massage his feet and make sure his toenails didn’t grow too long and uncomfortable. If it was me, I would want someone to touch me; hold my hand or stroke my forehead. For the love of God, make sure my lips aren’t chapped. I hate that.

And if it was your God, what would you do? Continue reading

The Shakes

[Word count: 496. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Whenever I visit my hometown, my mother does not let me leave until she prays for me. It’s always been that way since the mid-80s when she got good and saved. That means whether dropping me off at elementary school or releasing me to the freeways so I could get back home to Los Angeles, it’s still the same thing. I would have to pad my travel time by about 5 or 10 minutes for Mom.

There is a very singular way her hand shakes when Mom prays for me. It’s not violent, or over the top. It’s just the slightest bit stronger than the magnitude felt when you lean against the dryer on its final spin cycle. It’s actually kind of relaxing. In any case, I can see it coming on as she reaches up to place her hand on my forehead.

If I didn’t know her well, I might think it was a put-on to dramatize the prayer. That’s no act. It’s been consistent throughout, which gives it credence. Fakeries reveal themselves over time.

These days, I moonlight as a skeptic. But I wonder about that. There must be something real to it. And I wonder what it is. Continue reading

Why I Believe in God

[Word count: 901. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

My grandmother, me, and my grandfather

I had a very close relationship with my grandfather. Raised primarily by my paternal grandparents so my mother could work full time and keep the family off of welfare, when my grandmother died in 1989, it was just Papa and I for years, thick as thieves. All he ever talked about me doing was going to college and getting an education. He came through the Great Depression, poverty, and decades of racism having raised a family of 4 on an 8th grade education. He wanted more than that for me.

My mother and I, similar as we were, were constantly at odds. When I turned 18, all I wanted to do was get away from her household and my small-minded hometown. College was my underground railroad to freedom. I thought I was running away from home, but really I was fleeing directly into a place God had set up for me. Continue reading

Deuces

[Word count: 721. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

What would we do without “us”?

In 2003, I found a group of amazing people and together we started a church. These people were especially helpful through my twenties. Peers could commiserate with me about challenges encountered in a life of faith. Middle aged members helped guide us through missteps and unfamiliar territory. Elders with a wealth of life experience sailed out ahead of us all to offer wisdom.

As long as I had them, I felt sure to win! Not only were they great resources, I also came to genuinely love and respect them. When someone becomes that dear to me, I often tell them, “I don’t know what I would have ever done without you.” And then I thought “what if I HAD to do without them?” As strong as we felt together, I always believed we should have a plan… just in case we were ever apart.

I felt I should know how to be a Christian with or without community support, just like you might take a self-defense course in case you’re attacked while alone. I wanted to know I could “survive in the wild” if necessary. Though a fleeting thought, it was my premonition that such a day would come. True enough, it came for me in June 2011 when, after much consideration, I decided to leave my church.

Continue reading