The post that follows is not intended as an attack on any individuals religious beliefs, nor is it intended to offend. It is an honest account of my personal feelings on a very sensitive subject. If you read on, please understand that this is how I feel about the subject and respect that. I will do the same for you.
I did a search on the old blog here and have discovered that, much to my surprise, I do not seem to have ever chronicled the story behind what prompted me to turn my back on God. I’ve told the story many times in the past, but for some reason I don’t seem to have ever jotted it down here.
As some of you are aware I was recently in a church production called “The Case For Christ” in which I actually played Jesus. I did this as a favor for a former teacher of mine from middle school who was a key player in my early development as an actor and who I will, as a result, always owe a debt of gratitude to. Beyond that, I consider her a friend. One of my super close inner circle? No, perhaps not. But she was one of those people who actually treated me like a human being back when I wasn’t even sure I was one, and during those transitional years when you are crossing from childhood to being a young adult it’s important who have people that treat you like you didn’t just step out of diapers the day before. She did that, and she’s awesome for it.
The play in and of itself was written and being performed by members of her church. This was not something that was intended to be a piece of high art. It was intended to tell part of the story of Jesus and to, perhaps, convince some people to accept him into their lives. It was, for all intents and purposes, a sermon in theatrical format.
I won’t go into too much more detail about the play itself, as it will one day be an episode in my podcast about the theater. Suffice it to say that before I agreed to do the show I warned her that I was an agnostic and that I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable if they found that out. She assured me that it was ok, and as a favor to her I agreed to do the show.
In the aftermath she sent me an email to ask about my beliefs. I thought I’d be able to take the easy way out and point her to a post here. When I realized that I could not do so, I decided I’d go ahead and correct that oversight.
So here we go.
My Father was a very religious man. Well, as religious as an alcoholic who cheated on his wife can be, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Father very much and miss him keenly, but he was kind of a prick in the early part of his life. In any case, he was a Catholic and as such my sister and I were raised as Catholics as well. I honestly could not tell you what religion my Mother was before he came into the picture, but I suspect it was Lutheran. In any case, she wasn’t very (outwardly) religious at all and if memory serves the only time it was really a priority to get up on Sunday mornings to go to church were the times Dad was in town. Which, really, wasn’t all that often. He was in the Coast Guard and was frequently stationed in other cities around the country. When I was very young Mom got sick of moving every year and convinced Dad to buy a house for her back in her home town of St. Petersburg, so he wasn’t around a lot.
My sister went to Catholic school, but the most I got in the way of religious education outside of the home was a night school that Mom took me to that taught me what I needed to do to go through my First Communion, which I did.
I remember the party that took place after my First Communion fondly because I got lots of stuff. I remember hoping that every communion I took after that would result in a big party with lots of gifts, and I was disappointed when I found out that after the first one all you got was a mouth full of stale bread.
After Mom and Dad split church pretty much ended for us, which I was ok with. Even back then there was something about the entire process that just didn’t make sense to me. I had a pretty fantastic imagination, but despite my age I had a hard time believing the things that they taught us in the bible. I had an even harder time with the whole fact that, although Jesus walked around performing miracles on a regular basis back in the day all we had to go on now was people telling us it happened. I mean, I was being told that all this amazing things happened…why couldn’t I SEE it?
I still believed, after a fashion, though. I still prayed on occasion. I still joined in prayer if someone asked me to do so. I still considered myself a Catholic, even if we weren’t practicing.
Then came the Year Of Hell.
For those of you who do not know the story, the Readers Digest version goes like this (you may have to read all of this twice to fully grasp the complexities of what went down)…
My sister and her husband gave birth to a beautiful daughter who passed away at four months old due to birth defects. Shortly after she died my Great Grandmother passed away. This was not an unexpected loss, as she had been sick for a very long time, but it was still a hard one to take. A few months after my Great Grandmother died, my Grandmother lost her life to cancer. Again, not unexpected at all (and to be honest it was pretty much a relief at that point), but it still sucked. Grandma was a hard woman to love at times, but love her I did.
At that point we all pretty much heaved a big sigh of relief, because it seemed like the worst was over…but then…
On the day of my Grandmother’s funeral my sisters husband left her for his best friends wife, who was my Mother’s boyfriends daughter.
If you don’t follow along on that, I’ll put it this way – Had my Mom and her boyfriend actually been married my brother-in-law would have hooked up with my step-sister.
Fred, the brother-in-law, was very much like a brother to me and I looked up to him as such. I actually refused to believe it was true when they told me, and I distinctly remember going outside, screaming, tears streaming down my face as I repeatedly smashed a plastic tire swing into our tree back yard and absolutely refused to accept the reality of the situation.
But regardless of my protestations, it WAS true. Horribly, painfully true.
Needless to say all of this sent shock waves through our family. I took the standard teenager route and started screwing up in school and experimenting with drugs. My sister had a complete mental breakdown. At one point there was a HUGE fight in our house between my pseudo step-father and my sister that almost resulted in her taking my nephew and, literally, running away from the town that we lived in. I had to talk her out of doing so (and I was a teenager who didn’t know shit, so how the hell I managed to pull that off is beyond me). Basically, life kept serving up one shit sandwich after another to us.
And at the height of all this someone actually tried to comfort me by telling me it was all part of God’s Plan.
I do not think I have ever been insulted in all of my life.
Really, to think that God, the creator of everything, the supposed ultimate force for all that is good and pure in the world actually planned out everything that happened to us was just to horrible a thought for me to contemplate. My reaction to that statement was, as I’m sure you would expect, “If everything that has happened to us was part of God’s plan, God can go fuck himself.”
Clearly, I was pretty upset about it at the time.
I am not so angry now. Hell, I’m not a teenager any more. I don’t have that much anger and angst in me. I don’t think it’s possible to carry forth that much negative energy into adulthood (at least, I hope it isn’t). That really hasn’t changed my attitude about it, though.I’ve done a lot of “soul” searching in the years that have passed. I researched different religions. I read. I talked to people. I asked myself what I believed in, and ultimately I keep coming back to the same conclusion…I simply do not believe that there is an intelligent creator that set all of life into motion. I do not believe that any deity has ever walked this Earth. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, and from all accounts pretty awesome, man…but I do not believe that he was the son of God. I believe he was just a man who tried to tell everyone that they should be nice to each other for a change and that a bunch of assholes nailed him to a tree for it (thank you, Mr. Addams).
For the longest time I have held on to stating that I was an agnostic. That I believed that there was more to the Universe than I understood but that none of the answers I had been given to date made sense. I thought that, perhaps, one day I would find something that did. I don’t really think so anymore. I suppose it’s safe to say that I’m an Atheist at this point, because while I do believe that the whole of creation is a truly awe-inspiring thing I do not believe there is any conclusive proof that an intelligent creator had anything to do with where we are now.
And here’s the kicker…I don’t feel that I need there to be.
I don’t need a god to tell me to be nice to people. I’m nice to people because it’s the right thing to do. I don’t need a god to tell me not to steal. I don’t steal because my Mother brought me up properly and told me that stealing was bad. I don’t need to give credit to a god when something goes right for me, because more often than not when that happens it is because I have worked for it. I don’t need some horned demon to blame when shitty things happen to me, because shitty things happen to millions of people on this planet every day. Shit happens.
I will admit that there are times when, if faced with the death of a loved one or a particularly hard time in my life, I envy those who have the comfort of believing that there is something more to look forward to after this life. It must be nice to “know” that one day you’ll be reunited with your loved ones in some kind of eternal paradise.
If, that is, you happen to be following the right god (or following him in the right way). I have no such comfort. I acknowledge that, physiologically, energy does not dissipate but only changes form. I acknowledge that our bodies have energy in them and that after we die that energy is gone. I understand that something of us lives on after we die, but as far as an eternal soul?
I’m not convinced. For that matter, I’m not really open to being convinced, either.
I believe that, for many people, religion is a comforting and positive thing in their lives. I also believe that religion is responsible for some of the most horrible atrocities this world has ever seen.
I believe that it is entirely possible, and indeed preferable, to be a good person without the threat of eternal damnation hanging over your head.
I will not go into further detail about my negative opinions on religion in general, and in particular organized religion. As I said in my disclaimer above, this is not intended to be a slam on anyone’s beliefs. Do not get me wrong, I have those negative opinions, and they are indeed mighty, but if you find comfort in what you believe I see no point in trying to convince you otherwise.
If you are reading this and you feel sad for me, please do not. I have peace in my life. I am happy. I do not feel as though there needs to be a “higher purpose.” I am content with being a force for good on this planet in my way. To be a positive influence on those around me, and to be the best Father for my son that I possibly can.
I am at peace. I am loved. I am happy. All without needing to believe that those things were orchestrated by a cosmic puppet master.
So there you have it.