Believe it or not, this series started out just being about Atheism. Someone in one of the groups I belong to asked a question along the lines of “How did you become an Atheist?” As I tried to type a reply, I realized I couldn’t really explain in just a few characters. I hadn’t really thought about how much it would take to reveal. I’ve always wanted to talk about my days in the cult, but when I started writing, I hadn’t really realized how deep it would go.
When I left Jordan (a story that is definitely a different post entirely), his current storyline had me trying to be Catholic. I know, that sounds crazy, but seriously, by the time it ended things were utterly out of control. I held on to Catholicism for a month or two. I was sitting in a church on Ash Wednesday, 2007 when I felt a voice inside me. You don’t belong here. You don’t have to believe any of this anymore. It was my voice, the real me, the voice I’d finally learned to listen to. I got up and left unnoticed, as I had sat in the back anyway. I walked out and drove directly to Starbucks, which I’d given up for lent. I felt free.
It wasn’t nearly as scary as I expected. I was working so hard in therapy, finding my real self in the wreckage of my identity. It was harder to turn my back on Jordan and his belief structure than anything I’d ever experienced. Jordan is incredibly talented at weaving the truth into his lies, like silver threads in fabric. They’d catch your eye and you’d cling to them. Every time you’d start to doubt, you could be drawn back to those silver threads. And there was the constant question: what if this is real? It’s the inverse of what I’ve had some Christians say to me; what if you’re wrong, but it’s the same question: what if you’re turning your back on the Truth? What if your doubt is damning you to a life away from your god?
Truth wrapped up with lies is the most dangerous mix of all. It is that terrible combination that makes people do crazy things, because it gives them something they can believe. It makes an “us” and a “them,” because the truth is so clear in those silver threads! They shine so much, you’d think you were looking at real silver (or even, dare I say it? Mithril?) cloth. But they’re only a few threads, and the rest is just tinfoil.
Being an Atheist doesn’t mean I don’t believe in anything (the first question people usually ask). I believe in the incredible power of the human mind and spirit. I believe that we all have tremendous capacity for good and for evil, and it is only our own choices that make the difference. Not because the Bible tells us so. Not because the Elves said so. Not because there’s a God, Goddess, Valar, Great Other or any other omnipotent force. But because we make this world better or worse ourselves.
I don’t think prayer works. I don’t think the force is guiding us. But every time someone put the message out there that it was okay tell all the scary, miserable stuff it made me more determined to do it. Every person who emailed or commented, privately or publicly, reinforced that I could help people by being open. People created a welcoming space and I was able to use that strength to keep talking. And ultimately, that encouraged me to face my remaining great fear: talking directly to someone who I considered my enemy, because we believed different things. Ultimately, we were members of differing factions, fighting over faith (or lack thereof). And ultimately, we’re probably not that different. Believing you know all the facts, that you are just unquestionably right just leads to people being hurt.
So how do I decide what’s true these days? First off, I accept the fact that I can never know the for-sure, 100% explanation for everything. I can’t be positive I’m right. As Carl Sagan said, “I am comfortable with ambiguity.” I do my best to find things that have both proof and consensus, but knowing that later, when I look back, I might laugh at the things I believe now. I let myself be comforted by imagining what might be, like when I think about my first, lost son. It comforts me at times to imagine him with other family members I’ve lost, happy and whole somewhere. But I don’t believe those things. I trust science in general, because it has demonstrable, repeatable proof.
I get my science from reputable sources, too; not just from what I learned at Google University. I make a real effort to hear other people’s side of the story. I try to be compassionate in all my actions, because I don’t know what’s really going on. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not some kind of saint or anything. I’m bitchy and crabby, I don’t like admitting I’m wrong any more than anyone else, and I frequently indulge in judging, wanking, mocking, snarking, gossiping, etc. I’m a human, nothing more, nothing less, and doing my best every day. So is everybody else.