I have a lot of thoughts about religion, and mostly they’re all about how I want it not to exist, or at the very least to get out of my life. By way of quick introduction, hello, my name is Erin; I was raised Catholic and began to seriously doubt the existence of god when I was twelve and read The Bible for the first time. Time passed, though, and “doubt” doesn’t nearly cover it for me now.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re agnostic, that they can’t say that they really don’t believe because they don’t know enough to really know. That people who claim to be atheists are every bit as arrogant as people who think they know for sure that god is real. I full-on disagree with this, and here’s why: my four year-old son has a whole bunch of imaginary friends. His favorite and best friend is named Gnash and lives on our roof. My son talks to him, tells me what he’s doing, and informs me occasionally that Gnash is riding in our car or sitting at the dinner table with us.
My son has a relationship with him, speaks to him, and feels like he knows him. Would it be rude to imply that it’s all in his mind, that Gnash is just the manifestation of a brain evolved enough to feel fear and loneliness, and creative enough to spawn ideas that will offer it comfort, company and answers?
I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to know more, or offer a speck of room for conscientious doubt. Gnash is not real. There is nobody living on our roof, just as there is nobody living in the sky conducting the cosmos. I know this. I resent the idea that I have to act as if people who have spent their entire lives wrapped up in their imaginary friends and allowing their thoughts to be warped, weakened and directed by flawed, human-written texts and sketchy interpretations of the same are reasonable. I resent that I’m supposed to act as if the suggestion that the world was put here in a week by a big, bearded sky-architect isn’t completely insane.
Once I had a friend – she was Baptist – tell me she wished I could feel what she feels, how good it is to know that god is there, looking out for her. That made me want to give her a hug, really, because it’s so horribly sad that a grown woman has to imagine herself a protector in order to feel safe. And she couldn’t have been more wrong – I do not need god in my life to offer me comfort. All god offered me back when I used to grapple with the idea was fear and confusion. In fact, the day I realized there really is no god, and finally let go of trying to believe in something that never felt right to me, was one of the best, most liberating days I can remember.
I was driving in my car, and it hit me: this is all there is. There’s no list of rules, there’s nobody watching or keeping score, there’s nothing but myself and my own accountability. My higher mind and my capacity for kindness, my ability to procreate and the responsibilities inherent – just me, human, and nothing else. Just animals, evolved. Not special, not eternal, not bound for punishment or praise or anything but our own conscience and perspective. And then it made sense – all of it. Some people are good and some are bad, some are stupid or kind or weak or aggressive or withdrawn, sometimes things blow up, sometimes storms come, sometimes babies die, sometimes dolphins gets caught in tuna nets – whatever. A bunch of animals evolved on this rock, unheeded by the rest of the universe, and after a while we mastered the knack of thinking. Of course our first thought was that we were special in some way. Better. Destined for something. So we made up stories that told us just why and how we were so special.
The day I realized we weren’t, everything made sense. Suddenly the world wasn’t so terrifying, because I knew that – as bad as it was – at least I wasn’t going to spend an eternity burning for thinking dirty thoughts, and I was never going to have to hit my knees and apologize to an invisible man for eating beef on a Friday. At least there wasn’t some scary, distant figure judging me for everything I did even as he made me do it.
The world is crazy, but at least it’s not that crazy.
So that’s where I am now; non-believing to the point that I hate saying that I don’t believe, or labeling myself an atheist. These are relatives terms, and they relate to religion: they label me as Other. I can’t stand having my point of view defined in relation to all that madness. There isn’t a thing for me not to believe in. As surely as I don’t have a friendly monster living on my roof, there isn’t a god to reject, there isn’t a heaven and hell, there is nothing for me to not have in my life. They are the delusions of others, and they can damn well leave me out of it. I’m just me, walking around on the earth, surrounded by atmospheric gases, being a sane and rational human being. It’s so much nicer this way.