A personal journey:
I stopped believing in the Christian God, officially, when I was 27. I still believed in something, an unexplained connection between people and matter of all forms. At the time I stopped believing in God, I still believed in mystery and possibility.
I would likely have had no opinion about God whatsoever if I hadn’t been brought up in a church, a Christian Church. I believed everything I was ever told about God. That was the church’s fatal mistake, they convinced me every word of the Bible was true, ALL of it. Because I cared about pleasing God and being a good Christian, I paid attention in Sunday School. I observed Christians. I analyzed the meaning of text for better understanding. And eventually I was tangled up in contradictions.
I first began to question the validity of Christianity when I was ten. But my skepticism was cut off at the pass when a prayer I prayed nightly was answered. I grew up on a long driveway off a dead end road by a river. Most of my neighbors were relatives, great-aunts and great-uncles with gray hair and raspy voices. When I started Kindergarten I learned what friends were, I wanted some of those. I prayed for kids my age to live near me. I wanted it so badly.
After five years of praying that same prayer, during a single summer, my two best friends from elementary school moved onto my dead end road. Both lived within walking distance. One of them was so close that I could hear her new dad screaming at her inside her house while I stood in my front yard. Sometimes I could even hear the smashing of furniture and small appliances as they were flung out the open door in rage. It was a prayer answered… for me. How could I doubt the existence of God when my prayer had been answered more spectacularly than I could have ever imagined?
Except it wasn’t an answered prayer for my friend’s family. It was a descent into Hell. If I was going to credit God for moving my friend nearby, I would also have to blame God for moving her in with a monster. I couldn’t mentally reconcile this conflict.
It wasn’t the last conflict I would have. There was a time when I was in a mess of trouble. It was the kind of trouble that generally stays hidden from view. I was too young to know what to do about it. My friend (different friend) decide that to help out, she would reveal my problems to the youth group at church on a night when I was absent. They prayed for me to change my ways and then they never quite looked at me the same again. God didn’t send a miracle to end my trouble and no one in the church took the time to actually, physically, help me. They prayed and washed their hands of my sins… well, not really. No one can forget a good sin story, true or false.
By the time I met my husband, I was as close to being Atheist as one could get without being one. I was still uncomfortable declaring with certainty that there was no God. It felt wrong, and sad, and it made me feel so alone. I still believed in something greater than myself, even if I didn’t know what that thing was. I knew it wasn’t the Christian God. But, there were other religions that better described what I felt about this greater-than-myself being.
The metaphor became my religion. In every object, there was a face of God. In the multiple faces of God, there was I, and you, and the Universe. I felt alive with this belief that all things existed within God and that God was within all things, metaphorically.
The thing I appreciated most about my husband (then boyfriend) was his love for the Goddess, the metaphor for Earth, the mother, giver of life, and feminine power. He loved to research ancient religions, and he had his favorite Gods and Goddesses. But I loved most that he acknowledged the feminine spirit.
We decided to get married. Simultaneously and independently of each other, we discovered we wanted to have a handfasting ceremony. It was a “me, too” moment when I suggested the ritual. We narrowed our search for a Wiccan Priestess with a broad range of experience with diverse rituals. She asked to meet with us before deciding if she would perform our custom ceremony. My husband-to-be answered most of her questions because he was more familiar with different practices. But I remember the Priestess asking me specifically, “Why do you want this kind of ritual?”
My answer to her was that I wanted a ritual that meant something. If we didn’t have a ritual at all, if we just went to the courthouse and signed a document, it wouldn’t feel real. But, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to a Christian church. I remember telling her that, for me, Christianity was too male-centered. I wanted a balance of energies, feminine and masculine. I remember feeling validated that she nodded eagerly with understanding. In order for it to have meaning for me, it had to be balanced and equal, which isn’t just what I wanted in a ceremony, it was what I wanted in a marriage.
We invited family to our handfasting, which took place on Halloween night, in the woods, under a waxing moon. I gave little thought to my guests’ religious points of view. I naively believed that they would see the beauty in our ceremony and would know it was good. Because it was good. The night of the ceremony, no one spoke an objection. But even now, fourteen years later, there are people who will call up my mother and tell her they still pray for me because of my wedding. They say the word “wedding” as if their mouths are full of poison. The night of the ritual, it was beautiful to them. But once removed from the romance, they convinced themselves it was evil.
I have no patience for it. However, I do wish they would leave Mom alone about it. She raised us to be Christians and she does her best to be like Christ. But she has never given us a mandate on our beliefs whether religious or otherwise. She loves her children, unconditionally, eternally. To quote her, “Well, it’s whatever you want to do, Little Girl.”
They upset her, though. She isn’t upset with me. She is upset because she assumes people are talking about me behind my back, forming opinions about my salvation, and judging her negatively as a mother. She holds me close, knows my thoughts and dreams, discusses my motivations, understands my heart. She never questions my goodness and doesn’t like others to question it, either.
In the fourteen years since the handfasting, I have never stopped assessing my beliefs. I have very few beliefs left. Over time, they get whittled away by contradictions. But I still believe that ritual can, but not always does, have power over the human minds involved. This is true not because of supernatural beings or mystical powers, but because of the power belief holds over the believer.
More than anything, I believe in love, the love a person can become through the act of loving others. When I say I am blessed, it is love that blesses me. That is my religion.
When Evangelists come to my door, we find a common ground, that God is Love. I remind them that if God is Love then Love is God. Wherever there is Love, by their own definition, there must also be God. Love cannot be wrong.
I can now say, unflinchingly, that I am an Atheist. But I can still appreciate the power of belief and ritual to promote positive change. I can still discuss others’ gods and goddesses with personal experience and understanding. I can still appreciate the mysteries. I can still assume that by loving others, love multiplies, and the world slowly changes for the better. So mote it be.