As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a religious person although I would not go so far as to characterize myself as an atheist. Even that is too big a commitment for my ideas on spirituality and anything beyond the life I’m living now. The truth is I can’t conceive of not existing and I can’t conceive of existing perpetually in some non corporeal amorphous form so I basically leave the whole thing alone. That doesn’t stop me from being obsessed with ghost stories but we’ll get into that another time.
I had an interesting conversation with an evangelical-turned-atheist friend of mine this week and we discussed how we both had made the journey from religious upbringing to non-believer in very different ways. Actually, she started off by saying she could never remember when Easter was and why did it keep moving? It literally is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox because it isn’t a pagan fertility ritual AT ALL. Or just count six and a half weeks from Mardi Gras. Like most former believers, we still do the fun stuff like egg hunts and Christmas trees. They’re basically old Norse traditions anyway.
Our conversation evolved into how we had stumbled into non belief and my friend had had some very negative experiences that had turned her completely off. I went to Catholic school for years. I loved my middle school but high school was a nightmare. I attended an all girls Catholic high school for upper middle class girls whose parents couldn’t be bothered to raise them properly, an austere cheerless place I liked to call Our Lady of the Cure for Religion. I was the one with my head down, dying in silent misery and wishing I were anywhere else. Strangely enough, the sheer awfulness of that school was not the reason I lost my faith. Pro tip: if you want kids to keep believing your religious mythos, don’t schedule religion class one period after ancient mythology class. When I realized I couldn’t think of a reason why one was religious truth and one was mythology, a light bulb clicked on in my head. It wasn’t long before I started reading more ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology on my own and seeing all the parallels. I saw them in the Celtic and Norse and Hindu religions too. All the same archetypes repeated all over the religions of the world.
Unlike many of my friends who are no longer religious, I didn’t have bad experiences at church. I loved going to church. I went for years after I stopped believing. Long after I was sure they were not talking about anything real. I loved the Catholic Mass, especially when I would occasionally attend one in Latin. The candles, the chanting of the prayers, the incense. It’s magical. If I were ever going to belong to a church again I would go right back to Catholic Mass, regardless of all of the other issues there have been over the years. Yes there was the child abuse scandal and yes their views on homosexuality and birth control and women’s rights do not mirror mine (major reasons I would probably never go back in any case) but I also know many Catholics who worked tirelessly for the poor, served the sick, stood up for the disenfranchised and the unwanted. Many Catholics really do live the mantra “to whom much is given, much is required”. I think that’s where my social justice outrage comes from. That is not to say it is a uniquely Catholic thing, it isn’t. I simply think Catholics have gotten a bit of a bad rap over some of the things their leaders have done over the years.
So why did I stop going to church, if I was having such a great time? I finally stopped when I was taking my son and he started asking questions that I realized I couldn’t lie to him about. (Do you understand what I’m saying? I went to church without believing any of it. For fun. For decades. What does that tell you about my social life?) I would not be surprised if there are a lot of non believers in church who go out of habit or routine or tradition. It can be pretty social. I think that’s why it’s been so easy for some people to stop going because a lot of them already didn’t believe and now there’s a ton of things to do on Sunday. The Catholic ritual is mesmerizing. It always felt more cultural to me than religious. I miss it sometimes but I like my Sundays off. Even though I don’t believe the mythos, I believe the philosophy of caring for others that was taught to me as a child. To see so many mean spirited so called Christians taking over the religious narrative in this country and being so far from Christlike is infuriating to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to believe. How cool would it be if there really were a loving, hipster god like Jesus walking around in first century Birkenstocks telling off bankers and politicians and sticking up for women, the sick and the poor? If I could believe it I absolutely would. I know this post is more serious than what I usually write but I was having a contemplative day today and I figured I’d give you a glimpse inside the mind of Ophelia. Don’t get comfortable, it gets weird in there after awhile.