Zen And The Art Of Mythological Maintenance

ZenPerhaps it’s my hesitant dabblings in yoga and that one time I managed to properly meditate*, or maybe it’s just I finally stopped caring about making sure everyone knows I’m right all the time, but I’ve slipped into an incredibly Zen way of life and thinking these days. Ok so I’m using Zen in the sense that I’m a placid lake of happy-go-luckiness who just rolls with the punches rather than a student of the 6th Century strain of Buddhism. But I’m sure you get the picture. Things just seem not to matter as much any more. Not that I’m becoming deadened to emotion or anything, I mean more that I’ve chosen not to care as much about things that I can’t change or things that get me nowhere in life.

Now I still geek out excessively. If you want to see me animated then just mention the upcoming Star Wars films in my presence. Words cannot hope to faithfully describe just how gosh-darned PUMPED I am for those things. Same with most geekery across the board if I’m honest. I enjoy being slightly manic when I feel like it. I still get worked up when the moment calls for it. Truth is though, I’ve realised that very few moments do call for it.

I guess it was a side-effect of being 18 and intelligent that I felt the need to hammer home just how correct I was and how wrong you all are at every available opportunity. It’s fun being right – I still believe that (ask any of my exes – I am an irritable correction freak) and I enjoy knowing stuff and churning out interesting facts to people – it’s just not a driving force of my life any more.

Some of you may remember my tempestuous departure from Christianity that went down a couple of years ago. I was an arrogant cynic who felt so intensely angry at so much about my previous life and I felt that I should be angry at someone but I had virtually no individuals to pin my butt-hurt intellect on. As a friend of mine commented “It’s just so hard because for twenty two years I’ve had this utterly amazing imaginary friend and now I have to come to terms that he’s just not there listening any more”.

I spent far too long reading as much as I could about how silly the very notion of God was. What fools! Hahahaha – look at those religious LOSERS! Tell you what, while it may be wrong to pick on a group of people for what they believe, it is undeniably fun. But yes, I was an insufferable prick.

And then came along the realisation that none of it actually mattered. Yes, I’d stopped believing in God, and yes, it was a big woop. Yet after the cosmic dust settles on the theological headstone I’d fashioned for good old Yahweh, I realised that nobody cared. Perhaps it came from my evangelistic days where I was used to going out and shoving my opinion in other people’s faces, or it could be that I just felt proud of my achievements in besting what I had believed to be the ultimate power in the universe, but just how people are awkward around the shouty men in the street who talk about how I’m going to Hell, people get annoyed at people who feel it their mission in life to pounce on any vague theological argument. People want to be able to think what they think without jarring flap-mouthed loons weighing in with their two-cents.

It’s funny actually. The times when I was most spoiling for a fight, I was sending out all the signals that I was singularly the worst person to engage in any sort of meaningful debate about higher things. Simply from an intellectual point of view I wanted to have a debate about atheism and Christianity – I still do in fact – but being a furry little ball of self-righteous rage, all my Christian friends exercised the wisdom of Solomon and stayed away, far far away. I honestly think that was the best call. Thank you all for not allowing me to embarrass myself. I’ve enough moronic moments in my life to deal with already without adding more.

But the worst part is that I never got to have a sensible conversation about things I truly wanted to talk about. I honestly don’t think that anyone of my Christian friends has any idea why I now don’t believe that God exists, and that’s weird considering the fact that I can rattle off the reasons and life events that led many of them to believing in God, and then sort more of them according to denomination and how many points of Calvinism they adhere to.

Perhaps I’d like that debate now. Over a drink somewhere – not on the internet. Internet arguments are without question the worst forum in which to try and talk to someone about anything serious. But then again, I’ve realised that it honestly doesn’t matter. This whole Zen thing has mellowed me out to the point where I know exactly what I believe and I’m comfortable with it. So comfortable in fact, I can listen to people talking about things that fly brazenly in the face of my godless sensibilities, and decide that none of it is worth a fight. You’re my friends and family and I don’t want to push any more of you away because of which books we like to read.

Zen truly is the way to live. Everything is better, everyone is lovely – if you just give them a chance, and the world seems brighter. Though that may just be the new light bulbs we bought for the kitchen – those things are brighter than the sun.

*It was out of this world. I felt like Yoda, Gandalf, and Professor X all rolled into one.

Why I Am An Atheist

Now there’s an eye grabbing title.

This is a long blog. There’s a one sentence synopsis at the end if you want it.

As a sort of preface, I do have to say that while some of you may wonder why I bothered writing this given my love of keeping private life choices private and not intruding on others’ beliefs, I have to say that I just needed to. I need to get this out of my system, (the explanation, not the atheism) and not have to be afraid of explaining myself every time I bump into an old Christian friend. I’m writing this as a notice, like handing a note to the teacher excusing me from PE, so that I can assume that people now know where I stand and so not have to worry about awkward conversations and having to discuss which Bible translation is best or whatever. So here it is people, how I went from happy clappy Jesus lover to a godless hell bound atheist. I jest. There is no hell.

But I guess, I have to start by saying that I’m not sure I’m an atheist. Perhaps agnostic would cover me better but I hate the word’s connotations. To me it smacks of an ambivalence, or simple disinterest and ignorance of the issues and that’s certainly not the case. I don’t believe in God but there are a few things I’ve seen in my time of God-squadding that puzzle me into allowing, at the very least, a slight divine foot in the door. Not the God of the Bible though, especially the one preached in any church I’ve been to. So yeah, let’s just call me an atheist and be done with it.

Leaving church was hard. Really hard. I hesitate to say it’s the hardest thing I’ve done (though this one time I did once manage to drop toast and have it land butter side up) but it comes somewhere near the top of the list. For me to not just take a break from it, as I intended, but to utterly abandon and now totally reject everything I’ve been taught from birth is no walk in the park. Nor is it a decision made overnight or in reaction to any single issue. I liken it to my coming out of the closet – it happened over a period of months and it sucked just as much, if not more.

Explaining that I didn’t leave church because I’m gay is a conversation I’ve had to have far too often. I didn’t leave church solely because I’m gay. Sure, it was quite a significant factor, but I left church because I hated church.

I hated church because every Sunday before I walked through the big blue double doors I had to change myself in order to feel even remotely accepted and at home. This is not the fault of the particular church I was at or the majority of the people there but instead it was just because I didn’t believe what everybody was there to believe in. Now while church is obviously a place where people go in order to change – it’s all about being made more like Jesus which is a rather good goal in my opinion – you’re supposed to be changing in reaction to the teaching, in your discoveries of God and how much you want to be as loving, and good, and holy as he is. I changed because I knew if I happened to voice my opinions I would be quietly taken aside and told that I was wrong and needed to repent. I would be pointed in the direction of different courses and conferences I could go on to re-educate myself. I would be looked at like I’d just said I think all babies should be ritualistically slaughtered instead of “I think it’s up to the mother not the government whether she wants to have an abortion or not”. My stance on politics was tolerated up to a point but my advocacy of a French-style secular society where people were free to believe whatever they wanted as long as it was in the privacy of their own homes, would have been shot down in flames. And if I even thought about suggesting that we stop trying to get people to be Christians and just be nice and hope people notice the radical change, I’d have had countless Bible verses branded on my eyelids or something. And when it really came down to it, I just think that it’s totally crazy for one person to tell another what they think they can and can’t do.

When you have to steel yourself for a weekly activity that should bring everlasting peace and eternal joy in your soul, something’s not quite right. I realised that I believed virtually nothing of what was taught in regards to Christian “morality” and living. I liked that Jesus bloke and some parts of the Bible are amazingly comforting and beautiful but it all kind of stopped right there. So I decided to take a break. If there really was a “God shaped hole in the heart of man” then I’d feel the ache and need to get back to church.

What I found instead however, was that almost all Christians had one of three reactions. Confusion, pity, or ambivalence. Confusion generally turned into simple denial with people not understanding what I was quite clearly saying. “I don’t want to go to church any more” was countered with “Why don’t you come to our church instead?”, “I believe that people can do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” earned replies along the lines of “But that’s not what the Bible says!”. So what? I don’t believe the Bible! Pity was the more annoying one however as people assumed that I’d become mentally deficient and that I’d see the error of my ways soon enough – I obviously knew I was wrong deep down. Nope, I think you’re a loony and I hate just about everything about Christianity, better luck next time. Ambivalence ranged from being exactly what I wanted (who wants everyone everywhere asking what your religious views are?) to being incredibly hurtful. Those who I would have expected to actually give a damn about my damnation barely batted an eyelid. As odd as it sounds, I would have really appreciated one or two people going out of their way to talk to me about how I felt instead of the multitude of people who crawled out of the woodwork to tell me exactly where I was going wrong. Greater love has no man than this eh?

But what really kills me is that the Bible says that “by their fruits you will know them” as in, you’ll know they love Jesus cos they exhibit his characteristics. If the above verse is true then I know of very few Christians. The Christianity I see preached is moralistic garbage that is harmful to all who hear it. I can hardly believe I spent 23 years lapping it up.

The feeling of betrayal is one I’m still trying to shake if I’m honest. Christians have said the worst things to me, and said it all with a smile on their face. Apparently, you can say anything you want, no matter how hurtful it is, if it’s “in love”. Being told point blank things like: “You need help” (church leader), “You know you’re just wrong yeah?” (close friend), having numerous rumours circulated about me*, are just some things to make me think that maybe this “holy spirit” I hear so much about doesn’t exist or simply does a crappy job of changing people. Now of course nobody is perfect and I can’t expect everybody to be angelic all the time, but when the people who are decent human beings are in the minuscule minority of all the hundreds of Christians I know, I begin to see a pattern of baloney emerging.

Then I come to the science. This may come as a shock to some of you, but until very recently, I was a young earth creationist. “There are no transitional fossils” I would parrot. Yet there are in fact thousands. Even ones of fish with legs that crawled out of the sea. One look at the Wikipedia page for that quickly shattered my illusions and gave me a healthy dose of reality. Also, if the earth is that young, then the pyramids were built around 100 years after Noah’s flood. Seeing as how only 8 people were supposedly on the ark, they must have been really busy! I could go on but there’s no point. While this paragraph may seem like common sense to most of you, it’s all new for me. Talk about feeling like a prize idiot.

God seems to me, from my extensive reading of the Bible, and years of listening to preaching, to be capable of doing no wrong. He just gets other people to do it for him. He commands the Israelites to murder women and children in the Bible (only a few pages after telling them that murder is sin). The Bible he “inspired” is a book that is able to be manipulated in so many different ways that you can literally make it say anything you want to. If there were a God, one who was all knowing and who saw the future, you’d think he’d tie off a few open ends so that we don’t spend years thinking that it’s totally fine to have slaves, sell daughters, kill people who don’t believe the same as you, oppress women, and suppress science. If the Bible is God’s word and is “breathed out” by God then give him a tic-tac because it reeks of injustice, rape, murder, and pure evil. Just think. One explicit verse like “Thus says the Lord: ‘Oh and by the way, women are totally equal to men, and don’t have slaves'” would have saved literally millions of lives.

And it’s not as if I don’t know all the counter arguments and ripostes some of you are so eager to throw my way. I know literally every point you want to make because I spent years making them myself (so please spare me the boredom of trawling through the comment section saying the same thing). Having studied the Bible in depth, having been to numerous churches of multiple denominations, having prayed in earnest for God’s goodness, having waited to hear his voice, having believed with my whole heart, I now wholeheartedly and without reservation reject Christianity and its implications as morally repugnant, utterly evil, and without a doubt one of the biggest loads of bullshit this world has ever witnessed. Kudos to the guys who pulled the wool over our eyes though, that takes balls.

I have no intention to return to church. I have no desire to hear that you’re praying for me. If there is a God, he will bring me back right? That’s the fifth point of Calvinism and it totally counts cos I did believe without reservation. So thanks Jean Calvin for that handy theological loophole to get me out of annoying arguments.

I have very little problem with Christians. It’s just now I totally understand how repulsive it is to have faith shoved down your throat, no matter how they butter it up and layer it in cake.

So that’s a small snippet of why I’m an Atheist. If I went on, I’d only bore you all I’m sure. I really needed to throw this out there. It became almost a physical necessity to tell people where I am. After all, when your life changes so spectacularly and irrevocably for the better, you feel the need to tell people don’t you? ** The only thing left to say is that I’m still me. I’m still the same sarcastically smug know-it-all who loves films, coffee, wine, and gin far too much. If you were my friend before, you’re still my friend now. I have not become an amoral Satanist who wants to take over the world, I just believe a little differently than before is all.

If you’ve made it this far then I must congratulate you. Thank you for taking the time to find out what’s going on with me, just know I’m always willing to do the same for you too.

TL:DNR Synopsis:
I don’t believe in God and I’m not going back to church cos I think it’s totally whack.

*The rumours ranged from the true, to the utterly bizarre, to the impressively crazy. I once heard that I went round seducing fresher boys in the university Christian Union. While I’m flattered that somebody thought that I had the necessary skills to seduce anybody, let alone multiple people; I remain puzzled as to what started the game of Chinese whispers that cranked that out.

**Yes I know this is just like what you think with your evangelism, I’m being facetious. Yeah I kinda ruined that one by explaining it didn’t I?