A new hope

(and for those of you who recognize the geek reference in the title, you win)

Earlier this week I ended up in a long online discussion with an extended family member about religion. Now if you know me at all, you know that I don’t stray away from tricky topics.

At one point, this person said:

You will never find true peace, confidence and joy until you see who God really is. It’s a matter of your eyes being opened….right now they are seeing what you want them to see. I will never quit praying for you.

Now while I know that this was said with (mostly) good intentions, it’s still a sentiment that I really push back against.  I push back not because it’s something I’ve never heard before (I’ve heard it countless times) — and it’s not like I’m an extra-fragile person who can’t handle being patronized to.  I push back against statements like these because I think people need to recognize when they’ve crossed a relational line.

I wonder if any nonbeliever would feel confident enough to say such a thing to someone who believes in God: “You will never find true peace, confidence, and joy until you stop believing in a magic man in the sky.”  While I know there’s always some assholes out there, I doubt you would find many atheists willing to make such a pronouncement — and yet, for many Christians, this sentiment is easily said aloud (or thought to themselves).

While my conversation with this family member ended up with me feeling frustrated and the family member entrenching herself deeper in her belief system, a happy coincidence brought up an old email I wrote to a friend, 4 years ago. I would have posted it in my online conversation, but it was definitely time to walk away.

Here’s what I wrote:

The question you ask [Where do atheists find hope?] is such an important one! If there’s one misunderstanding between believers and nonbelievers, it’s found here. A couple years ago at the funeral of Jerry’s grandma, I can remember how bad I felt when his minster brother made the statement that “those without God have no real hope.” I don’t think that statement is true, at all.

1613902_10154081761120134_7782833434266106439_nI guess the best place to start would be to define what you mean by “hope.” So much of my past Christian hope revolved around an all-knowing, all-loving God who was actively involved in my life — or at least, so I thought. I also had hope in an afterlife, which is hope for the process of death. Now that I’ve rejected my faith, and am agnostic as to whether or not there is a God, my hope has changed to more of what *this current world* has to offer, rather than invisible hopes.

So I have hope all around me. I see the world changing, in terms of new opportunities for my little girl, and that gives me hope. There are moments when someone unexpected gives me help or says to me words of support, and I have hope there. I get hopeful when I think of how science is advancing, of the technology that makes our world better, of how borders are getting smaller and the world isn’t as segmented as it once was.

What’s different now for me as an atheist, versus when I was a Christian, is that I have to look around me for hope. It requires more of an effort, and not just wishful thinking on my part. And, there are days that can be dark and sad — but another part of having hope in this current world is that I know these bad days pass, and they aren’t due to something I’ve done wrong (necessarily).


So much hope to be had! And without any dogma baggage.

Happy Blasphemy Rights Day!

Today is the 6th anniversary of the infamous Danish Muhammad cartoons, an event that inspired violence and death — and why? Because of the questioning of a religion.  No idea or ideology should be off-limits.  The Center for Inquiry initially started Blasphemy Rights Day, and according to their website:

The purpose of this event is to set a particular day as a day to support free speech, support the right to criticize and satirize religion, and to oppose any resolutions or laws, binding or otherwise, that discourage or inhibit free speech of any kind. The focus on ‘blasphemy’ is simply because it is such a salient issue, and one for which a lot of consciousness-raising is necessary.

I’m all in favor of a little blasphemy — because, after all, it is a victimless crime.

In honor of the day, here’s a video from our 2009 Blasphemy Day event on campus. Here’s my denial of the Holy Spirit:

For a good time, check out some of the comments that video inspired!

Higher ground

There’s a new film coming out that looks very interesting — Ebert describes Higher Ground as “the life story of a woman who grows into, and out of, Christianity.”  Here’s the trailer:

The movie is based on the memoir This Dark World by Carolyn S. Briggs, who also wrote the screenplay.  I found this 2002 review of the book, and the last two paragraphs ring especially true:

But then, you get the sense that she’s describing her slow, gradual reverse transformation — from a bridelike soldier of Christ to a freethinking, questioning woman — as clearly as anyone could. Briggs harbors few illusions about her old self. She’s fully aware of what a pain in the ass she was in the days when she was beaming with love all the time, handing out Bibles and quoting Scripture to anyone who’d sit still long enough.

But the thing that makes “This Dark World” so affecting, aside from Briggs’ clear, resonant prose, is that she makes us understand that leaving her faith behind was the single hardest thing she’s ever had to do. Her religious friends bemoaned the fact that she had turned away from the Lord. But no matter how her spiritual beliefs have changed, has He really lost her? The person she became because of Him is still vital and thriving, and probably more alive than ever.


If Emma wasn’t asleep right now, I’d be heading on over to McNally or Indigo to see if the book was in stock. [note: I actually just stopped writing this post long enough to call and order the book from McNally]

If the trailer and book review are any indication, I think I’ll really like the film — maybe a little too much. In fact, watching the trailer made my heart hurt a little bit — because I know what it’s like to be lost – then found – then “lost” again.  About a month ago I talked quite a bit about my transition out of faith on the Unbelievable podcast, but even in the days since recording the show, I have thought about (and felt) more of the effects of my apostasy.

Fact is, when I decided to be honest with myself and others about my nonbelief, my choice to vocalize my atheism forever changed several relationships in my life — and NOT necessarily for the better.

The demise of some of these family and friend relationships still make me sad even now, years after my “outing.”   There have been some moments when I thought I could be heading into a serious period of depression — so much so, I even made a point of seeing a therapist and frankly asking if I needed to be on medication (if only to numb some of my heartache).

Thankfully my therapist not only is good at what she does, but is also wise.  One lesson I learned from my sessions with her is that my sadness isn’t rooted in depression, but is more of a type of mourning I’m experiencing.  I’m mourning the death of what I had hoped for in a relationship, and now I’m left to adjust to the stark reality of a broken connection.

But why are these relationships broken? In large part because of religion, and the hold it places on its adherents.  Sure it may sound great from the pulpit for a preacher to say “put Jesus first in all your relationships”, but the reality of Luke 14:26 (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.) really hurts when its applied.


A couple weeks ago I went to see Wicked with Jerry and some good friends. I love musicals, plus I had read the book, years ago, so I thought I was prepared for the performance. What I wasn’t ready for was how much I related to the play’s main character, Elphaba.  For the first half of the show, I found myself empathizing SO much with what this character went through (though, thankfully, I have no idea what it’s like to have green skin).

Elphaba was someone who didn’t quite fit in, and who was passionately motivated by social justice causes.  There are points in the play where she stands up for what is right, even at great cost to herself. She’s idealistic, hoping to have the Wizard (someone she admires) help her rectify the wrongs she sees in the world. She’s passionate, and willing to take a stand, even by herself.

But then — she finds hypocrisy in her hero the Wizard, and is faced with a decision: does she apologize, back down, and look the other way, or does she defy?

She sings:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by
The rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes
And leap…

It’s time to try
defying gravity
I think I’ll try
defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down

So what do you do when you realize that “something has changed” within you?

In my case, should I have kept on my church-smile each Sunday, swallowed my doubts, and played the game?  No.

I took my leap of faith doubt.

Elphaba then sings:

I’m through accepting limits
‘Cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try I’ll never know
Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost

and that kind of love — the kind that only embraces you in a particular way — it really is a love at “much too high a cost.”  I guess that’s a lesson I’m slowly learning to accept.

Anyway, by the time this song (“Defying Gravity”) closed the first half of Wicked, I was bawling — and I’m not talking about little tears, but big, ugly, end-of-Steel-Magnolias kind of sobs.  This video just doesn’t do the cathartic experience justice:

And if you’re reading this, hoping that I’m happy — rest assured, I am.

But I’m also sad too.

What this poem said:

I woke up to an empty room

No more angels watching over me.
No more demons to be held at bay
by the invocation of
an Anglicized version
of a Hellenized version
of a Hebrew name

I woke up to an empty room:

Just a room. Four walls, ceiling, floor.
Just a room. Nothing more.

I woke up to an empty room
and embraced the solid air.

I woke up to an empty room and knew myself


Copyright © 1999 Secular Pagan