March 23, 2007


I have been thinking lately of the past, of my Christianity, or lack thereof. I have been thinking of God and wondering to myself ‘Am I missing something here?’ Am I diminished in some way by my complete atheism? Is that the piece of the puzzle that fell on the floor and was eaten by the dog?

My mother’s family is United Methodist, a respectable, quiet, and fairly liberal branch of Protestantism. My father’s family is Presbyterian, which is practically the same thing so no one made a fuss when my parents chose to attend the Methodist church and bring up their children in that church. My mother and grandparents have always been very active members, lay leaders, Sunday school teachers, and choir members.

I always hated Sunday school, but then I just hated school in general. I hated getting up to go to early service (all of 8:30 a.m.), but then I just hated getting up in the morning. I didn’t mind church. I didn’t mind afterward, being part of the community, in the fellowship hall with donuts and hot chocolate, chasing the other kids up and down the halls, being in the nativity play. I even won an award for being the youngest member to ever remember and recite all the books of the Bible. They put me in the same confirmation class as my older brother, because heaven forbid he do anything I couldn’t do. I remember saying my confirmation vows in front of the entire church when I was thirteen.

I also remember from a much younger age crying myself to sleep at night. They told us in Sunday school all you had to do was love Jesus and ask him to come into your heart and you would feel his love and everything would be alright. I remember going home and laying in my bed and saying my night time prayers and asking Jesus to come into my heart and feeling…..nothing. I cried, oh how I cried, and begged and prayed and felt no different from the moment before. I was young, six or seven, and I forgot about it and got on with the business of being a good little Christian. I would make myself worthy of Jesus, worthy of God.

We moved to a new town and a new church, still United Methodist, shortly after my confirmation. I started saving half of my weekly allowance for the tithing tray, praying every day, going to Sunday school and helping with the younger kids. The more I tried, the less Christian I became. I listened to the sermons and tried to make sense of them, but I just heard the same stories I’d heard a million times before. Moses and the Pharaoh, Noah and the Ark.

I started growing up and reading books which made me think. I started asking questions. Why did God drown the entire world? Why not just the evil people? Better still, why didn’t he send down an angle to tell them to straighten up? Why kill everything, the children, the trees, the animals (I always had a great love for animals) just to prove a point? That was the first set of questions I pondered while the preacher talked. It was in church, while the preacher talked, when I realized I didn’t believe in God. I was fourteen.

I didn’t tell anyone at first. That’s not something you just pop up and announce, but I was still a teenager, and as with most teenagers it didn’t take long to boil over. My brother knew first, then my Dad, then came the blowout, raised voices, slamming doors confrontation with my mother. In the end she realized she couldn’t make me go to church anymore, though she hoped I’d always come back around. I was fifteen.

At school it was the thing to talk about. “You’re an atheist?” “How can you be an atheist?” “So who do you think made the world?” I weathered that storm pretty well. Being challenged made me think. Being forced to explain it to someone else made me understand it better myself, but it didn’t change my mind.

Since becoming Buddhist I think I have found a greater understanding of my Christianity than I ever did in church. I wonder if the Methodist church had the kind of intense intellectual tradition that I’ve found in the Buddhist traditions, would I still be a Christian? Was it simply that I had grown beyond the parables and the stories and had nothing else to turn my mind to? I known now that there is greater depth to Christianity than I ever glimpsed in my childhood in the church. I also know there are other definitions for God. God the father, the creator, the maker. God the consciousness, the everything, you and me, all encompassing. God the energy, the life, the magic. I know the possibilities are endless and well explored by other spritual thinkers, travelling down paths as long and twisty as I could ever desire. I know so many believe.

I am still an atheist.


John said...

You got me thinking.

My own atheism started when I was about seven. Since then I haven't believed in anything supernatural. I have often wondered how a fellow atheist can believe in apparently contrary things like reincarnation and hungry ghosts in the afterlife. A lot of my friends do believe in those things, and it is a great comfort to them to know that they will someday see their lost loved ones. Sometimes I envy them.

Things I believe in:
Making a positive impact on others lives.
When you die, you aren't entirely gone. You leave behind a legacy of those who loved you. You will have made a difference in their lives. As long as they remember you, you won't be truly gone even if you are dead.

greenfrog said...

The greatest value I have received from Buddhist instruction is to experiment and observe the results. IMO, any conception of God (let alone any religion, which I tend to think of as a set of after-the-fact explanations intended to conceptualize interesting experiences) that is not subject to exactly the same experiential testing is delusion.

I'm not sure whether my experience is consistent with the Buddha's agnosticim about God or whether it's more akin to Patanjali's insistence that there is an experience that is usefully labeled "the divine" (or "the Lord," depending on the translation of the Yoga Sutras). I doubt I've explored with sufficient attention and precision to know the answer.

But I find existence remarkably ok, just as it is, whether that includes something usefully labelled as "God," or not.

Monica said...

Greenfrog, you echo my own thoughts on the subject, but much more eloquently. I have long since decided that whether God exists or not is something of a moot point to the here and now. If one could prove to me beyond a shadow a doubt that God existed, it would not change my behavior. It would not alter what I believe to be right and good. And I agree - existence is remarkable ok.