Two winters ago I made a commitment to give up God. An active disengagement from my twenty-six years of belief, I was very official about the whole process. I wrote “god is not real” on a piece of paper, lit a glittery white candle, and set the paper on fire in the snow behind my house. I let the ash form a nice charcoal paste with the melting snow and then took the mixture and crossed my forehead in a backward attempt at Catholic Lent.
I have only been to one Mass in my life, it was Palm Sunday and we attended at the Basilica in Minneapolis, there was a lot of kneeling and the creak of pews. We were welcomed to the service but given strict instructions on how to behave as protestants. For one thing, when we left the service with our palm branches, our Catholic tour guide told me I could not throw away the branch after it had been blessed by the priest.
I had to keep it forever or return it to the church, I think I let it fall behind my radiator and ‘accidentally’ forgot about it.
The point is I am not so good at honoring religious traditions, growing up evangelical, I was not taught when to bow or preserve palm branches, our pastors just talked sternly when we were caught rolling under pews in the church sanctuary.
So, I crossed my forehead with the ashes of my proclamation, jumped in the car and drove to a library to check out The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a book which I felt very brave reading, thinking it would ruin the last of my very termite infested foundation.
Here’s the crazy thing, burning a piece of paper did not take God out of my psyche, reading The God Delusion did not crush me. Richard Dawkins is an old grump with a chip on his shoulder, and ashes are just burned up paper pulp.
It wasn’t church leader abuse or the inability to reconcile science and religion, it wasn’t even my parents. I gave up a god because it quit making sense. I needed the freedom to let go of a belief system, a system I had been fighting against for years without admitting it.
I was away from my family, no longer working for a Christian blogger or Christian boss or Christian magazine, or attending a church or even dating a Christian man. I had a chance to take a risk on an idea and it felt like a little death.
Killing off the parts of me I had always relied on to exist.
I’m not angry. I mean, sometimes I’m angry, people really suck at driving, and this whole Trump thing is a little ridiculous, I don’t like dirty dishes any more than the rest of us, but I’m just saying at the core of my conclusion about not believing in a god, it’s not because I’m angry.
It has taken me a long time to say it out loud and publicly, because I hate the idea of being misrepresented in my honesty. I have been afraid that my family or Christian friends would see the words “I don’t believe in god” and think first:
atheist and then wayward.
A wayward atheist who gave up her faith because she’s stubborn or broken or hurt or apathetic.
I like labels as much as anyone because they help me make sense of the world around me, like — this is decaf coffee, so stay away, or this is a size small, so stay away, or this is the Olympic mens locker room, so……
I like labeling my tax folder but I don’t like when people label me. Krisi, that wayward atheist girl. I don’t like the label because I don’t want to be an atheist; I want to believe in a god, I think the idea of a god offers a lot of comfort to an otherwise weird life. The thought of having something more than death at the end of life is appealing.
Saying “I do not believe in a god” is not easy because it does not fully represent what I believe;
my spiritual journey is dynamic and ever evolving. To be honest, I am at a place where I feel more freedom in my identity than ever before.
So I am willing to speak up about doubt in a god, even if it means being misunderstood.
I have always relied on the label ‘Christian’ to be apart of my identity and perspective of the world, but as that changes I am nervous of losing the kinship of those who love me but are Christians. To clarify, I don’t think my christian friends will stop loving me, but will they stop believing I have something valuable to add to the conversation? Will they tune me out as I once did to those who didn’t agree with my outlook?
Have I become no more that a “lost soul” to those who once sought my advice and friendship? Is my identity as a thoughtful, introspective person invalid because I am no longer a Christian?
These are the fears that haunt me more than anything.
These are fears because I have seen how Christian’s respond to the coming out of a gay friend, I have witnessed first hand my own internal response to those who once believe as I have and then turned to a new belief construct.
I have teetered so long in the valley between knowing God is real, and knowing there is no god, because it kept me in the graces of Christians.
I think about how a ‘Christian’ label will sell books, music, car mechanics and plumbing and fear removing the label from my person makes me less valuable to a group of people I have long considered my peers.
Am I less wise? Less capable of love? Because I no longer describe myself as a Christian.
The lie I have let myself believe is yes.
Another little death is in order.
Just as with the death of a loved one, the death of an idea must be properly mourned and released so I stand a choice of moving forward and beginning to grasp the new makeup of who I am and what’s important to me.
So here is what I say to my friends of all shapes and beliefs:
You and I may never see eye to eye, but I am going to ask something confidently and humbly. Please do not just love me, but listen to me, hear me, see me and the Krisi you have always known. If you cannot do this, I will not be angry, I may be sad but I’ll work on that.
The ashes on my forehead are long gone, but my search for truth will always be apart of my identity.
My name is not Atheist. My name is not Christian. (Although ‘Christine’ is pretty close)
I am a writer, a storyteller, a metaphorical bridge builder.
My name is Krisi, nice to meet you.