Sunday, December 12, 2010

Godless Heathen

All right, here it is, just in time for Christmas:  I am an atheist.

Reasons why I ought to be a Christian:
  • I was raised in a Christian household, and though he died when I was small and I never really knew him, my maternal grandfather was a minister
  • I grew up attending a small rural church that perfectly embodied what most people would think of as the churchy ideal -- it was basically a cross between the church on Little House On The Prairie and the one on The Waltons, but with more modern plumbing
  • In that church, I spent a large number of happy hours eating fried chicken and oven-baked macaroni and cheese during potluck lunches in our little Fellowship Hall; wearing a dress made out of a white sheet and a ring of gold tinsel on my head to be a part of the "multitude of heavenly host" in our Christmas pageant (or, when a little older, wearing my father's plaid wool bathrobe to be a "shepherd in the field"); and singing hymns (Love Lifted Me was my favorite)
  • My father, when dictating his obituary to me a few years ago, chose to deliberately leave out his long military career, including serving in the Army during World War II, hoping to highlight his lifetime of devoted service to the church
  • My mother and sister are both dedicated Christians who are happy in their faith (and unaware of my godless heathen status, although they do know that I don't attend church)
Calling myself an atheist is not a thing that I say lightly.  I have tried to believe in God, to have faith.  And part of why I have hesitated to write about this is that I have no easy explanation for why I don't; all I have is my mind, and my heart, telling me that it just isn't true.  It's not right.  And when I was finally able to let go of trying to force myself, all of a sudden everything made sense.  It was such a relief.

I am reluctant to tell people because almost universally people hear atheist and they think amoral. Is the wrath of a higher power and the threat of eternal damnation the only reason to decide not to do bad things?  I am a very moral person, I try hard to be compassionate and honest, and though I have my selfish and impatient moments, I would never deliberately hurt anyone. I don't dislike or think less of people who are religious, and I would never think of trying to talk anyone out of their faith. I know several people whose faith clearly brings them joy, and I am happy for them. Obviously, within any group of people there are kind and awesome individuals, mean and nasty individuals, and everything in between.

You know who I have trouble with, though?  Those people, and this actually may be the majority of people, who don't take the time to really think about it.  In our society, a belief in God is like the default setting, it's just what you are supposed to do.  I am afraid that a lot of people who say they are Christian say it as though they think it equals "good person", and to not believe in God means "bad person", but they don't ever actually go to church, or pray, or read the Bible.  I know multiple people who identify themselves as Christian, are impressed with a person/business/politician who makes their Christianity known, genuinely think of themselves as religious, and yet they never go to church and don't even own a Bible.  Somehow I don't think putting up a false, insincere front will get anyone on the fast track to Heaven.  I am sympathetic, though, because stopping to really think about it, about how the world was created and where we go when we die and what our lives actually mean, is overwhelming.  But what is life if you never stop to think about it?

I don't believe in God, in any God, and I am a good person.