Deep Thoughts: Religion

March 23, 2010 at 11:58 am 55 comments

Internet, I think I may be an atheist, and it’s all thanks to this woman:

It’s moments like these when the absurdity of life hits you square in the balls. Or ovaries. Or….balls?

OK, let’s pump the brakes so I can preface this shit right quick: Religion is a dicey topic. I know this. I don’t want things to get ugly or judgmental up in here. I honestly, truly, 100% respect a person’s individual religious beliefs. I may not agree with them, but if you think the divine Holy Father is present in your pudding cup, well then, I absolutely respect that. And I’m sure as shootin’ not going to dive into my Snack Pack around you.

Made with Real Milk! It’s practically a damn vitamin.

As my lovely readers have always been consistently civil and otherwise awesome in the comments, I’m saying this not to lecture YOU GUYS in any way, but to just make it known that by presenting my personal feelings on this topic, I am not trying to shit upon anyone else’s beliefs. Cool?

Now let’s shit on some religious beliefs!

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

So, I was raised Catholic. My entire extended family (on both sides) is all Catholic, and for a long time, I wasn’t aware that there were people in the world who DIDN’T go to a Catholic church on Sunday. I had a Jewish friend when I was in second grade, and I remember riding in the backseat of our car with her after she spent a Saturday afternoon playing at my house. As we passed church after church, we had the following conversation:

ME: “Is that where you go to church?”

HER: “No.”

ME: “What about there? Is that where you go to church?”

HER: “No.”

ME: “Where do you go to church?”

HER: “I don’t go to church!”

ME: …?

Aside from knowing that she was definitely the luckier one for not having to suffer through a seemingly eons-long mass every Sunday, I was totally fucking bewildered. She doesn’t go to church? Whaaa? Don’t her parents care that, like, God will be mad at her and stuff? And I’m pretty sure that God is BFFs with Santa, and she is going to be totally screwed come December when they compare notes and decide she’s not getting anything for Christmas. Wait, what? SHE DOESN’T CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?!

I eventually came to understand that there were other religions in the world, thanks in small part to our move to West Virginia, where, like, NO ONE is Catholic. Our town had one Catholic church, unlike Pittsburgh, where those darn Catholics are uuuurverywhere, and your Lenten parish Fish Fry options are as numerous as they are delicious.

Pass the cod, hold the God.

My childhood memories of church are, well, BORING. This is not news. Church is boring for kids, period. It’s lots of sitting still and being quiet and NO TV OR TOYS, and I pretty much saw it as one big obstacle standing in between me and a pancake breakfast at McDonald’s. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned that some churches actually provide alternatives for kids during Sunday services – like, they take all the under-twelves away to go sing songs and color in pictures of Jesus and stuff. Brilliant! But that wasn’t the case in the churches we attended (not sure if that’s a Catholic thing, or just my personal experience). I had Sunday School (CCD), sure, but I had to go to that IN ADDITION to going to church. This means that my Sunday mornings consisted of an hour of mass with a 60-or-90-minute CCD chaser.

I’m pretty sure even young Jesus would have preferred playing Atari to that.

In the back of my mind, I always imagined that church was something that made more sense when you were a grown-up. I figured that the all-encompassing love of God and connection to religion was something that came with time, so – while I definitely kept my dread of Sundays to myself – I didn’t sweat it. Although it always really bothered me when the CCD teachers reminded us that we were supposed to love God more than ANYTHING in the world, more than our parents or our pets or JON BON JOVI, even. I wasn’t entirely sure how that was possible (or fair) to ask of someone, but – as was a pattern for me in this area of my life – I kept my mouth sealed shut about it. Even though I knew from CCD that God would be perfectly aware if, in my heart, I was placing Bon Jovi on a slightly higher pedestal than Him.

Does it help that he was Livin’ on a Prayer?

By the time I reached the ripe old age of 14, I was ready to be confirmed (confirmation = becoming an adult in the Catholic church). It’s certainly not unusual for religions to bestow the title of “adult” on you at this tender age, but when I recently asked a priest why the Church asks you to make an adult decision before you can even drive, he said that it’s done so early mostly for convenience. It’s just easier to confirm the kids while they’re still in school, he said, so that it’s all “out of the way” by the time they graduate, and then they’re in the clear to receive their next sacrament (marriage).

To sum: 8th-graders are asked to commit their lives to the Catholic church because it’s convenient.


Internet, allow me to share with you what was going on with me when I was 14:

This girl could barely make a sound decision regarding HER OWN HAIR, and you expect her to make a very adult commitment regarding the rest of her spiritual life?!

During a particularly heated discussion about religion with my parents, my mother asked me why – if I had always been so unsure about my faith – I had agreed to be confirmed. Internet, she might as well have asked me why I’d agreed to be born with a vagina. There was no AGREEING or DISAGREEING involved in my confirmation process. I was getting confirmed, PERIOD. No room for discussion there. I mean, I can’t even IMAGINE the shitstorm that would have been unleashed if I had said, “You know, I just don’t think I’m ready to go through with this.” So, not committing myself to the Catholic religion when I was all of 14 years old = NOT AN OPTION.

Of course, all of these strong feelings re: my confirmation have only been developed in hindsight. At the time of my actual confirmation, I was still operating on the theory that I’d, like, probably be all into God later, and all this crazy Jesus and Bible stiff would surely make more sense when, I don’t know, I’d been getting my period for more than a year? I really didn’t think about it much.

After my confirmation, though, I definitely started to feel more strongly at-odds with my religion. I was becoming more aware of issues like birth control and abortion, and quickly realizing that my opinions ran exactly opposite to what they were “supposed” to be as a Catholic. I was in that “I AM MY OWN PERSON” stage of teenhood, and I very much did not like that fact that – just because some dude in a pointy hat said so – my mind was supposed to be made up for me regarding so many important issues. And according to my parents and my CCD teachers, holding my non-church-approved beliefs did not come without consequences. Having my own (wrong) opinions was a flaw, something that was deeply disappointing to God. I still held a weak hope that I’d “outgrow” my opinions and magically gain that obedient and God-fearing nature that seemed to come so naturally to everyone else in my family.

My experiences with the church during my high school years were disheartening at best. My church was affiliated with the town’s only Catholic school, and didn’t give much (or any) thought to their teenaged parishioners who weren’t able (read: wealthy enough) to attend the school. I’d always been insanely jealous of the youth group at the Presbyterian church across the street that many of my classmates attended. They went on ski trips and camping excursions and just generally seemed to be enjoying themselves – nothing like the TWO-HOUR-LONG high school CCD class I was forced to attend after church each Sunday. Internet, this class was awful. We had a TEXTBOOK, for shit’s sake. Our only trips were to the convent down the street and to an old folks’ home, the only two places IN THE WORLD less interesting than our regular classroom. Our teacher, as you can imagine, had quite a time trying to engage the ten or so sullen teenagers in her charge, and one day, in a fit of frustration and boredom, attempted to engage us in a discussion about “real” issues (our usual curriculum involved studying the Catechism of the Catholic Churczzzzzzzzzzzzzz). What follows is a nearly word-for-word transcription of what unfolded, as it is permanently etched in my memory (you’ll soon see why):

TEACHER: OK, everyone close your books. Let’s have a real discussion here. I want to hear what you think.

(ME and PRO-CHOICE FRIEND RUTH prick up our ears, because WHOA, Straight-Laced McGee up there is going OFF BOOK? Wha?)

TEACHER: Let’s talk about abortion. How do you feel about abortion?

(Stony silence, as we are all kind of IN FUCKING DISBELIEF that she is choosing to dive into ABORTION TALK after six solid months of dissecting Vatican II.)

TEACHER: Come on, guys! Tell me what you think! Ruth, what do you have to say about this?

PRO-CHOICE FRIEND RUTH: Well, I’m pro-choice…


(Stony silence, the sequel.)

TEACHER: OK, open your books back up to page 56…

Internet, I may be paraphrasing, but I am not exaggerating. It wasn’t exactly a think tank up in there.

My parents – in an unprecedented move – actually allowed me to stop going to CCD by 11th grade, when it became clear I was gaining nothing but an even stronger distaste for my religion. I looked forward to college as my escape from going to church every week (as well as my escape for, well, just about everything in my life up until then).

As it turns out, escapism involved a lot of kegs. Who knew?

I think I went to mass at the Newman Center on campus all of three times (two of those with a full-on hangover) before I gave up on the charade altogether. I was going mostly for the free (and surprisingly good) spaghetti dinners anyway. My parents, however, were under the impression that I was going every week. Thus the lying about going to church began.

Fast-forward to 1999, when I got engaged to Brad. I decided to get married in the church based on the following reasons:

  1. My parents expected me to, and I just wanted to get married already and not rock the boat;
  2. I had always pictured a church wedding, and never really thought to entertain any other scenario;
  3. I still (STILL) honestly thought that I’d magically become a faithfully devoted Catholic someday;
  4. I was 22 years old, and apparently clueless as all get-out.

In hindsight, I really, really fucked that one up. I never should have gotten married in the church, but I just didn’t know how else to go about it without seriously damaging my relationship with my parents. I wanted (and still want) their approval, and I knew that starting out with a non-church wedding wasn’t the way to go about getting it. I don’t blame them for this colossally bad decision, but I know that it would have been World War III up in that bitch had I shunned a Catholic ceremony.

So, a church wedding it was. Followed by roughly four years of not going to church but telling my parents that I was.

Oh, I tried to go. Everywhere we lived, I tried to go. When we were in Queens, I lived across the damn street from a huge Catholic church. I went once or twice, but…I never felt a damn thing. I never felt like I fit. What’s worse, I had a sneaking suspicion I didn’t even WANT to fit.

Eventually, my parents caught on to the fact that I was non-practicing, and they were naturally very disappointed and angry. It’s too much to go into right here, but let’s just say there was a lot of anger on both our parts, and then…we just kind of stopped talking about it. It’s a touchy subject. And – despite empty assurances made to the contrary – it’s really not up for any kind of rational discussion.

Of course, I understand why my parents are so upset. I didn’t need to have a baby of my own to understand that. I know that they feel like I’m throwing their religion back in their faces. I spent a long time wishing that I could just MAKE myself believe in the church because then they’d be happy. I want to make them happy. But the fact that I still couldn’t bring myself to go to church despite my overwhelming desire to make them proud of me was telling of just how much I didn’t believe.

It surprised me how much of a damn relief it was, though, to be open about not going to church. I didn’t have to lie and pretend anymore, although we just replaced the lying and pretending with lots of awkwardness about the topic of religion. I spent the next few years exploring how I felt about my religion, other religions, and the concept of religion in general.

You know how sometimes The Way You Really Feel creeps up on you, and waits patiently underneath all the layers of How You Want to Feel until you’re ready to recognize it? Like when you’re in a bad relationship, and one day there’s this nagging little feeling in your heart telling you that this is all wrong and you need OUT, but it’s buried so deep beneath all the other stronger, louder feelings of I CAN MAKE THIS WORK that you just drown it out? Eventually, all those other feelings grow silent, exhausted after months (or years) of trying to disguise the truth, and only then can you finally address what you’ve known on some level all along. Yeah, well, that’s me and this whole agnostic-but-probably-more-like-atheist thing.

Ugh. “Atheist.” I have such an aversion to that word. Growing up KrazySexyKoolKatholic, “atheist” was pretty much the equivalent to “Voldemort.” It was generally understood that atheists were shameful and most definitely bound for the hell in which they did not believe. A high school friend of mine was a self-proclaimed atheist (and a former member of the aforementioned Awesome Presby Youth Group – even co-ed ski trips could not save her!), and I remember my sister telling me she felt sorry for her. I heard that sentiment a lot when it came to atheists: that they’re to be pitied for their sad, Godless lives. And at one time, I agreed.

I’ve coasted along for a number of years on the understanding that I was pretty solidly agnostic. I felt comfortable with that label. Except for the one time I read the quote (and I can’t remember where) that an agnostic is just a person who doesn’t have the balls to be atheist. Hmm. I didn’t like thinking about that. And – following in the grand tradition of things I didn’t like thinking about – not wanting to think about it was a HUGE red flag that meant it was probably true. Damn.

See, I’d arrived at my agnostic diagnosis by doing a lot of thinking. I thought about the Bible. About the derivation of (and the very human need for) religion. About the plain, old not-adding-up-ness (from my perspective, anyway) of most religious theory. And it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t picking up what religion was laying down. And oh, MAN, did it feel good to finally just come out and own up to that. I felt at peace for the first time in, well, EVER, when it came to spiritual matters. And oh, how I WANTED to feel at peace! So much so that I was ignoring that nagging feeling in the back of my mind. The one that was trying very hard to let me know that I was not quite done thinking yet.

Back in January, when I was stuck at home with Sadie’s mysterious fever disease, I had the chance to watch Showtime’s taping of Julia Sweeney’s stage show “Letting Go of God” (careful with the link, it plays music, GAH), which is all about her journey from devout Catholic to atheist. It’s long, and it can be a little cheesy in that one-woman-show kind of way, but…wow. It pinned down my experience with and my feelings toward religion almost exactly. Granted, Julia Sweeney had a much more positive experience growing up Catholic than I did, but the twists and turns she takes on her way to finally discovering she’s an atheist really resonated with me.

Towards the end of the show, she talks about how the idea of being atheist was really frightening for her to consider. It seemed depressing, this idea that there was no God out there watching over us, looking after us. That after death, we just cease to be. She was terrified to think of seeing the world in these terms, so she came up with a plan: putting on the “no God” glasses for a few minutes at a time – just to see what it looked like! – and taking them off whenever things got too scary. And then, she discovered that looking at the world through the “no God” glasses wasn’t scary. It was oddly comforting. Oddly beautiful. It fit what she had been feeling all those years.

Pat’s DEEP, yo!

I had never thought of atheism in these terms before. Instead of seeing the absence of God as making things somehow empty and sad, it made them even more amazing. I mean, if some great, big, all-powerful entity didn’t create the universe, isn’t it just that much more amazing that it all came to be on its own? How powerful to think that something as intricate and mind-blowing as my body creating and giving birth to a baby happened not because God designed my body to do so, but because the biology of my body knows how to do so? She also mentioned how, as an atheist, coincidences take on a whole new dimension. Coincidences don’t really exist for the religious; things happen because they were meant to happen, because it was part of God’s plan. But when you take God out of the equation? How incredible! The fact that I wouldn’t have had Sadie if that ONE specific egg and that ONE specific sperm (of millions!) hadn’t met up? Is humbling. And mystifying. And truly, truly amazing.

Also: pretty gross to look at. But mostly: AMAZING!

I also used to think it would be unbearable to see the world as an atheist because of the magnitude of just-plain-unfairness that abounds. If I eschewed the idea of an afterlife, then that means all the huge assholes in the world are just GETTING AWAY WITH IT, with no flames of hellfire at the ready to engulf them. And it also means that there’s no mysterious, Godly reason for all the suffering on Earth. After all, when I found myself asking why such terrible things had to happen to good people, the only answer that seemed right was that God had his reasons, and those reasons were not for us to understand.

But now? That seems like a major fucking cop-out. I mean, does God (a God who creates us out of love) not at least owe us some explanation whenever something horrific happens in this life? Is “Eh, it’s a God thing, you wouldn’t understand” a suitable answer? Well, for me, it’s not. I believe that religious folk would call this outlook “pride,” but sometimes I think that trying to shame someone by calling them prideful is just a way to get them to stop questioning things.

As for the assholes-not-getting-punished thing, I found that when I entertained the idea of no great big Detention Hall in the sky, I found it surprisingly…peaceful. I mean, yes, there are terrible people who will get away with terrible things, and it’s terribly unfair. But what if that’s just the way it is? Nothing we can do about that, can we? And isn’t finding peace in this the same as finding peace in the “we don’t understand God’s reasons for shitty things” rhetoric?

Of course, nothing is black and white, and my atheist-leaning feelings are no exception. Just as I had a nagging feeling that this is the way I’ve really felt all along, I have a similar feeling that there really is more to us than our life here on Earth. I think that living beings are more than just their physical selves. I think that we go on – somehow, in some way – after we die. I just don’t think that the force outside the physical world is necessarily God. Or God as we think of Him, anyway.

Also, I honestly believe that this is simply my truth, not everyone’s. My mostly atheistic viewpoint feels as gut-feeling-right to me as being a Christian or a Muslim might feel as gut-feeling-right to you. I am not interested in converting anyone; I’d just like a more universal recognition that spirituality is an intensely personal issue, and should be treated as such.

Not unlike an individual’s Girl Scout Cookie preference.

I also wish people would see religion as the positive influence it should be in their lives, not an excuse to exclude, shame (or worse, hate) other people. The religious people I respect are the ones who take joy in their beliefs, and who use their religion to enhance their lives and better themselves (this obviously does not pertain to those lovely few who like to BLOW PEOPLE UP as a display of religious celebration). Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who simply go to church out of habit instead as a purposeful, meaningful choice. I saw a lot of this in the Catholic church – the whole “Oh, sure, I’m pro-choice and pro-birth control and I support gay marriage and I think it’s a travesty that they flat-out refuse to ordain female priests, but you knoooooow. I’ve just always been Catholic!” Back when I was struggling with Catholicism, I was told that I was “taking things too seriously” when it came to feeling misaligned with the church. I was encouraged to “stop thinking about it so much” and just “go to church anyway.” Some huh? Internet, I don’t get that shit. It was – theoretically – MY VERY SOUL these people were talking about, and I was being encouraged to phone it in? I had an actual priest tell me I could disagree with almost every tenet of Catholicism and STILL go to church. Why, why would I want to do that? Would I be fooling an all-knowing, all-seeing God? To me, that does nothing but belittle and insult the entire institution. If you can’t be bothered to take your spiritual beliefs to heart, then I just can’t take those beliefs seriously. I mean, if you don’t, then why should I?

I don’t think I’ll ever get my parents to understand or respect my viewpoint, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. And I’m not sure how I’ll broach the topic of religion with Sadie, except to encourage her to explore her options. I don’t think I’ll be able to tell her (as Julia Sweeney told her daughter) that her dead pets and relatives simply cease to be after death (that one’s still a little harsh to lay on a kid, in my opinion), but I want her to know that there isn’t one right or wrong answer when it comes to religion.

I’m fully aware, of course, that things could go all Alex P. Keaton up in here and Sadie will become a born-again enthusiast who spends her time inundating me with Bible verses and blaming me for her Godless childhood, but that’s the chance you take with kids, isn’t it?

And hot damn, it’s worth it.


Entry filed under: Deep Thoughts.

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55 Comments Add your own

  • 1. MLE  |  March 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm


    I came to all the same conclusions you did, except at a much earlier age. Maybe it was because I wasn’t raised in any religion or church.I dabbled with it a bit when I was in middle and high school because my best friend was a churchgoer, though the church was UCC (aka, one step above Unitarian Universalist) and I mostly did it because the youth group was fun and I got to go to camp in the summer. My parents never expressed any sort of dismay that I might become a believer, even though I’m sure they found it kind of weird, and they let me come to my own conclusions about religion, spirituality, and The Cosmic Meaning Of It All.

    I had an interesting thought several years back about what happens after you die. My thought was that whatever you believed would happen, is what would happen. If you believed in reincarnation, that you’d go to heaven, that you’d go to hell, that worms would eat you, that you’d become part of a collective soul soup someplace, then that’s what would happen to you when you died – that your intention and believe would shape your own afterlife.

    Though I’m sorry you continue to have so many problems with your family regarding this issue, I’m glad you’ve found peace. And yeah, isn’t the world amazing?

    • 2. jiveturkey  |  March 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Right on, my friend.

  • 3. HoST  |  March 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Though I haven’t landed on my own final conclusion with all this yet, I am so proud of you for this post.

    Sadie couldn’t ask for a more thoughtful and amazing mother who will understand her personal choices and not judge her for them.

  • 4. Swistle  |  March 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I love everything you said here, and I also love how you said it: when I start talking about religious stuff I get all Het Up and start alienating people, but your tone is so reasonable and calm.

    • 5. jiveturkey  |  March 23, 2010 at 2:00 pm

      Thanks! The only reason I am able to do it here is because I’m blogging and not talking. As Brad will attest, when I’m in an actual discussion about this with my parents, there is some major hetting up.

  • 6. Holly Jane  |  March 23, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Yes! The hardest thing to communicate to people who want to argue about it is that the world is not more depressing and less beautiful or wonderous without God. It’s humbling and astounding.

    My epiphany came in 2nd grade of Catholic school. We were coloring sheets of Jesus coming out of his cave after resurrecting, and I was coloring him green, thinking about how it was really sad that his friends went to check on him and someone had stolen his gross dead body. One of my classmates stopped me and scolded, “Jesus wasn’t GREEN!” I shrugged and said, “Who cares? They’re just stories.” “NO THEY ARE NOT THEY ARE REAL THIS ALL REALLY HAPPENED.” And I had a moment of horror, looking around and realizing I was completely surrounded by insane people.

    • 7. jiveturkey  |  March 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      Hee! I am impressed with your 2nd grade epiphany. I’m pretty sure the only thing I realized in 2nd grade was that Ramona Quimby was awesome.

  • 8. Chicago Friend of Said Turkey  |  March 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I hope you take a minute to stop and think how very brave it is of you to take a stance on your own beliefs. I admire you so much!

    • 9. jiveturkey  |  March 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      Thank you, love. Means a lot coming from you.

  • 10. kristin @ going country  |  March 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Well. May I just add a “ditto” here? I was raised Catholic. We always went to church (my dad, however, only went when we were little because I think my mom made him so he wouldn’t negatively influence us–of course, he actually SLEPT THROUGH MASS every week, so . . . I think that attempt at positive role-modeling failed) I was VERY CATHOLIC. I actually TAUGHT CCD, and led retreats in college.

    Then I realized that . . . I don’t really believe in God. And maybe, possibly, hadn’t for a long time. Like, all the time I was being a total goddamn hypocrite and teaching church doctrine to kids. Huh. So I stopped going to church and never really talked about it.

    My family thinks I AT LEAST believe in God. I never corrected them. Perhaps I should have. My mom actually said last time I saw her that she “assumes” there will be some kind of baptism for our son. I did not realize that she was assuming any such thing.

    I suspect there may be a shitstorm of Biblical proportions (heh) coming on this one . . .

    • 11. jiveturkey  |  March 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      Oh, I have weathered the no baptism storm, my friend. I feel you.

  • 12. Alyce  |  March 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm


    • 13. jiveturkey  |  March 25, 2010 at 11:57 am

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  • 14. dailycrossword  |  March 23, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    You may just be my favourite writer (and clip-art) blogger on the internet, seriously.
    I came from a Religious Lite household, decided at some point that there was no God but a really pretty great universe, and married into a Catholic family. I didn’t know much about the ol’ Mother Church before said marriage but I sure do now! Husband is also atheist – we try to throw that word around a lot to rob it of its power and shame factor – and never warned me that maybe, just maybe, my new in-laws might think it weird that I get married in a red dress with pink fishnets in an all-ages venue. They were too polite to say anything but I look back and howl at my naivete now.
    Long comment, I’m sorry, but this little story sums up the whole biz for me: FIL and BIL and husband and I are on a walk in the country. FIL and BIL spend the entire walk discussing whether the mass part of the wedding we had gone to the day before “counted” and whether missing church that morning was okay. Ah yes, the Heaven Points system where God is an eternal Accountant and when my BIL shows up at the Pearly Gates one day, he is turned back because the mass at the wedding didn’t count. Now there’s a system I can believe in.
    Also, I’m pretty sure my in-laws have baptized my kid when I wasn’t looking,

    • 15. jiveturkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:30 am

      Thanks for the compliment and the comment. And I’m pretty sure my parents might baptize Sadie while they’re watching her this weekend. Oof.

  • 16. SF Reader  |  March 23, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    ooooooooh, darlin.

    Yup… the God one is actually the one Deep Thought that I come back to ALL THE TIME. Particularly when there are intoxicating substances around.

    Isn’t it amazing to, as an adult, re-evaluate your beliefs and try different things on until something actually fits? And isn’t the RELIEF of having beliefs that you actually believe and that align with your experience and that AREN’T BASED IN FEAR the most amazing, liberating, exciting thing… EVER?

    I think so.

    I grew up in an evangelical church and I BELIEVED in God. Actually… back up… I believed in salvation through Jesus Christ. A LOT. I was actually born again multiple times and STILL felt guilty for any unrighteous thought I had. I would literally pray at night that if Jesus came back while I was sleeping that he take me to heaven. You think the Catholics have guilt down? The evangelicals have self-righteousness down to a science such that you can never, EVER be saved enough. Your soul is constantly on the line, and everyone is watching. And it’s exhausting.

    While I lived in Pgh I went through the truly terrifying process of evaluating my own beliefs and coming to the conclusion that I really, really, really didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell. It was shocking. And for a couple months I lived in the world of “huh. If everyone I know is right I’m straight up, absolutely, no doubt about it, going to hell. yikes.” And then, one day, the fear was gone.

    For me, after I had this revelation, when I evaluated all the options of belief I realized that even without Heaven or Hell or Eternal Salvation or Life After Death, I really, really believed in God. But not the way I’ve ever heard God described in any one religion. More the way I’ve heard God described in a soup made of all religions / lack of religions.

    Bottom line: here’s my visualization for it (which I actually stole from Bill). There’s the earth. And bigger than that our solar system. And bigger than that our galaxy. And bigger than that there are a bunch of galaxies. And more. And more. Until you get to the edges of the Universe. (Which I studied in an undergraduate physics class, and let me tell you… WHAT THE HUH!?) And bigger than THAT (which, if you really think about it, particularly when not sober, is HELLA CRAZY)… bigger than the edges of the whole entire universe is the very start, the very beginning of God.

    And when I think about God like that I’m a straight-up believer. Because it puts ALL the onus on me. Which is where, ultimately, I think it should be… and where I think all the religions try to put it at their core. It’s just that it’s so much easier to be judge-y and focus on other stuff that the religions end up getting away from the actual responsibility of living well.

    Just now when I was driving home from the beach I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that said “in courtesy we trust.” And I think that basically sums up the behavioral consequences of my belief system without having to get into the whole visualization of God thing (which can be kind of long-ish for every day conversation).

    And finally, before I step off my soapbox (until the next Deep Thoughts is posted), a note on the next-generation. At the end of the day, I’m going to feel successful as a mother if W. grows up with an instilled belief that good leads to good. That when he really, truly evaluates his own motives and makes sure they’re not designed to harm anyone or anything, not only will his actions be a positive force in society, but he will benefit personally, as well.

    Keep the Deep Thoughts coming, girlfriend.

    • 17. jiveturkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:29 am

      I was eagerly awaiting your comment, and was not disappointed. Thanks for sharing this. Yours is a really interesting viewpoint and full of stuff I’d never thought about before.

  • 18. SF Reader  |  March 23, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Shit. That didn’t look so long in the tiny comment box.

  • 19. Daughter of 4th Reader  |  March 24, 2010 at 12:56 am

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” – The Buddha

    • 20. jiveturkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:27 am

      RIGHT ON. I love this. LOVE IT.

      • 21. SF Reader  |  March 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm

        ME TOO! This made my day. Look at it. It’s perfect. Gooooo Buddha!

  • 22. 4th Reader of Said Turkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Uh, what the heck is my daughter still doing up at this hour?

    Well, maybe I was lucker than some of y’all because I was still “in the closet” about the whole thing up until a few years ago, so both of my kids got baptized and we avoided that whole shitstorm with the parents (mostly just my step-mom, to be honest). Daughter started out going to confirmation classes (I was raised Lutheran so that’s the path down which she started) but kind of lost interest so we didn’t push to make her finish, and never even started her younger brother. And even though I’ve pretty much come to the atheist conclusion also, I still feel guilty about the fact that they were never confirmed. What’s that about? And I still kinda lie to my step-mom about the not-going-to-church thing. She said something just a couple weeks ago like, “Will Emily be able to [do something I can’t even remember] tomorrow? Oh, no, you’ll be at church, won’t you?” “Uh, I guess.” Coward.

    But I guess when said daughter is posting words from The Buddha, something worked out okay there.

    • 23. jiveturkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:26 am

      I’m totally calling your step-mom and outing you. Hee!

      I love your daughter’s comment. Good job, mama.

  • 24. Leah  |  March 24, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Right ON, my friend. I’ve been pretty comfortable with my don’t-care-ism form of spirituality for about as long as the Mormon church told me I needed to pipe down and stop asking so many questions (I was seven), but I know SO many people who have struggled with this and SO many people who have phoned it in to FIT in or to please their parents or to not rock the boat or because it’s just more CONVENIENT to go with the flow, and oh how I wish everyone could find their peace with this stuff, no matter what that means for them (and so long as they don’t try to push it on others, AMEN).

    • 25. jiveturkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:25 am

      My sister actually said to me once – AND I quote – “If going to church makes your parents happy, just GO TO CHURCH and be done with it.”

      Those are the moments when I can’t even find the words to explain how wrong I think that is, and all I can do is let my mouth hang open and emit a silent scream.

      • 26. Gaby  |  March 25, 2010 at 11:32 am

        I vividly recall a conversation with my Grandma, who is a Catholic, in which she said that when she had questioned some parts of the church that she felt weren’t completely understandable, she was advised to consider that “If it’s good enough for the Pope, it should be good enough for you.” ?!

        That same Grandma no longer attends Mass because she is disgusted with the church’s mishandling of the abuse cases, so somewhere along the way she decided that what worked for the Pope wouldn’t work for her. But I really feel badly for people who are just told to take what is being preached as TRUTH, full stop, and don’t be asking no more questions either, punk.

  • 27. Tara  |  March 24, 2010 at 3:11 am

    Well done! It’s a hard hard thing to go against the flow, especially when that flow is your parents!
    My parents are not church-going; but they forced encouraged us to go to church so that we could make up our own minds. As a kid and later a teen, I went to a variety of churches. Anglican, Presby, Catholic among the more mainstream, and a few other not-so-mainstream. I was baptised as a Roman Catholic, again out of habit of my parents, more than anything else, but I was confirmed an Anglican (I know right?!) because my friends Dad was the priest at that church. But deep down, I know it wasn’t for me.
    Recently, my friends have started getting married and having babies who have been confirmed. Marriage ceremonies don’t phase me because these days they are almost personalised and many people don’t like the who GOD DEMANDS YOU GO HAVE BABIES oh and woman you will OBEY, thing. But the baptism…sheesh. I felt like I was at an some kind of indoctrination camp. Stand, sing, sit, pray, communion, pray, stand, sing, kneel, stand….like cattle. No-one allowed to think for themselves.
    That said, I do believe that everything happens for a reason, whether that reason is a ‘good’ force in the world, or merely the way things are; I haven’t decided yet.

  • 28. Tara  |  March 24, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Oh and I have yet to break it to my BF’s mother that there will be no church wedding. She’s Catholic….

    • 29. jiveturkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:22 am

      Remind her that God is everywhere 🙂

      (This would not have comforted my parents, but it’s worth a shot.)

  • 30. Lisa  |  March 24, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I went to Catholic grade school and high school. In college and afterward I came to many of the same conclusions you did, and I’m an atheist now. In retrospect, I think Catholic teachings are harmful in a lot of ways, e.g. all of the Catholic guilt, teaching kids that just *thinking* something bad is a sin, discouraging critical thinking or questions. “‘Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” I mean, seriously? Questioning the existence of a SPIRIT guarantees a spot in hell?! And I’ll just gloss over the cover up of widespread child sex abuse committed by priests.

    Anyway…I got married in a non-religious ceremony and haven’t baptized my 6 month old. My parents surprisingly haven’t said much about it; I think they are avoiding the discussion because hearing me say it will make it real.

    I guess all that is to say: yay for you and you’re not alone!

    • 31. jiveturkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:22 am

      I think the Catholic church would gain SO much respect from its followers (and also gain more followers) if it was just like” LOOK, we know we’re fucked up, please help us update this shit and make it better.”

  • 32. -R-  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I actually am still a practicing Catholic! My family seems to have a much different attitude than yours towards the Church; my sister isn’t Catholic anymore, and it really isn’t a big deal. In the parish where I grew up, one of our priests was a fire and brimstone kind of guy, and my mom used to roll her eyes when he led the Mass. The other two priests were very different; it was kind of weird.

    I question my faith all the time, and I think that’s good. I think it’s healthy to continually question what you believe. My faith definitely changes and fluctuates.

    To be honest, I have some major issues with “the Church”, but I love my parish and my priest. I feel comforted when I go to Mass. The homilies are about love and sharing, and I feel like it’s a welcoming, social justice-y community. I struggle with some of the Church’s teachings and whether I need to leave the Church, but my husband argues that we need to stay in the Church to create change from within.

    Anyway, just thought I’d share one churchy opinion!

    • 33. jiveturkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:20 am

      Churchy opinions totally welcomed here, my friend. Thanks for commenting. And it sounds like you have found a really great parish. I think my earlier religious experiences would have been a lot more positive had I grown up in an environment like that.

      I also think it’s healthy to question your faith. It seems to scare a lot of people because I think they’re afraid of the conclusions they’ll reach, but lots of times it just makes whatever faith you have stronger.

    • 34. 4th Reader of Said Turkey  |  March 24, 2010 at 11:34 pm

      I agree about the feeling comforted by going to church, oddly enough for someone who never goes. I think for me it’s more of a nostalgia kind of thing – that liturgy brings back the childhood memories, and while it might not have been the greatest childhood, it wasn’t the worst. And I like to sing. Old Lutheran hymns are great to sing. The music really does touch a chord (pun somewhat intended).

  • 35. magdalena  |  March 24, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Preach it sister. Your daughter is beautiful.

    • 36. jiveturkey  |  March 25, 2010 at 11:56 am


  • 37. sweetbird  |  March 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I applaud you for having the guts to let all this out – religion is indeed a touchy subject. I wasn’t introduced to faith of any kind until I was about 8 years old. We’d moved to a new town and my parents got some pamphlet in the mail from a local Baptist church. They thought it would be a good way to meet new people – cue 5 years later and my dad is a Deacon, my brother an usher, my mom ran the food bank, and my sister and I participated heavily in the youth programs.

    As I started getting a little further into adolescence I realized that some of the things they were preaching just didn’t make sense. Why can’t I cut my hair short? Why can’t I wear pants? Why do I have to convince all my non-believing friends and family that if they don’t believe as the church does then they’re going to burn for eternity in the fiery pits of hell?

    Eventually some shit went down with the church (pastor’s adultery and embezzlement) that my parents weren’t too keen on and we ended up leaving. Since then I’ve really struggled with what I believe. I was inundated with all the stories and rules at such a young age that to believe it just came as second nature. As I began developing my own opinions and really started figuring out who I was as a person I realized that what I thought was right and what the church thought was right were two entirely different kettles of fish. And their kettle stank.

    As of right now I’m a happy atheist. I have a respect and tolerance for other people’s religions – except Christianity. I’m the first to admit that it’s an irrational hatred – but I can’t stand the fact that people allow children to be brainwashed into believing shit before they have any critical thinking skills whatsoever. At such a young age they don’t have an option but to believe what their parents and elders are shoving down their throats (except, apparently, for the commenter above who had the epiphany in 2nd grade – oh, if I could’ve been that enlightened!). I can’t make myself sit through a church service, I can’t be around an outspoken Christian, and being around my husband’s uber-religious family makes me want to gouge out my own eyeballs.

    If anyone tries to baptize my future kid or force me into taking them to church they’ll surely discover the true meaning of fire and brimstone…

    • 38. jiveturkey  |  March 25, 2010 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I really love hearing other people’s experiences with religion.

      I, too, have a really hard time sitting through a church service. I thought it was just me; glad to hear I’m not alone there…

  • 39. Amanda  |  March 24, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    When I was growing up we always went to whatever church my mom’s boyfriend at the time belonged to, I hated the few months we were catholic. That shit lasted forever. Of course, I didn’t enjoy any of the rest of it either, but once he dragged us to a 3 hour wedding, I was glad he got left in the wind with the rest of them.

    • 40. jiveturkey  |  March 25, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      I always forget how weird Catholic masses are for newcomers. When Brad first went with me to a Catholic mass (he was raised Baptist), he was like “Kneeling, standing, sitting, statues WHAAA?!” I’m pretty sure he thought there was going to be a live virgin sacrifice at the end.

      • 41. sweetbird  |  March 26, 2010 at 10:37 pm

        To be fair, a live virgin sacrifice definitely would’ve made things more interesting…

  • 42. Sara  |  March 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    One of the things I don’t understand about religion is how fucking ignorant super religious people can be (I call them “liggies,” by the way). Sometimes they’re really setting their kids up for disaster by raising them in such an isolated way.

    You should know that your Jewish friend from elementary school was not luckier for not having to go to mass. Have you ever been to synagogue on the Sabbath? Holy crap, it’s HOURS long (unless you go to a reform synagogue, which, in my experience, is only an hour). And I only go on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and actually rarely even then), and that’s even frikkin’ longer. Ugh.

    I have a hard time with religion. I have a lot of Jewish guilt! But, on the other hand, I’ve always thought most of it was bullshit. Did I mention my brother is an Orthodox rabbi? Yikes.

    • 43. jiveturkey  |  March 25, 2010 at 11:59 am

      Extremes are never good in any arena.

      I’ve never been to any Jewish services, but YIKES. Hours?!

      • 44. Sara  |  March 25, 2010 at 7:52 pm

        Yes. Sabbath services start at 8:30 or so (I think; I’ve never been there at the beginning) and lasts until 11:30 or noon! On Yom Kippur, we were never out of there until after 2 p.m. And if Yom Kippur is on Shabbos (the Sabbath), forget about it. The only time I ever go to synagogue (unless it’s for a bar mitzvah or something) is for Yom Kippur to say memorial prayers for my dad. And if I do go for that, I’ll get there in time for that and not stay too much longer…because it would be a lot longer.

  • 45. Mermanda  |  March 25, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Brave and honest post. Glad to hear Sadie will be encouraged to explore her options. I was raised by a Christian mom and Jewish dad and never felt pressured to follow either religion. I’ve always appreciated that.

    • 46. jiveturkey  |  March 25, 2010 at 11:58 am

      Very cool. I’m always happy to hear about people who grew up well-adjusted in no-religious-pressure households.

  • 47. T-Dubya  |  March 25, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    “This is my simple philosophy
    No need for temples
    No need for complicated philosophy
    The philosophy is kindness”
    – 14th Dali Lama

    • 48. jiveturkey  |  March 26, 2010 at 9:27 am

      Cool! I love it. You all should know I’m a huge dork who writes all these quotes down…

      • 49. T-Dubya  |  April 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm

        Girl – I got that shit hanging on my wall! The quote is printed on one of those hippy-smelling wall hangy-things and I don’t even care! I rock it right in the living room for all to see (and smell!)!

  • 50. Kay  |  March 26, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I didn’t take the time to read all of the comments, but I just thought that I would extend a sentiment I’m sure has been extended a time or two already – it’s OK, and Sadie will be fine. My grandmother and extended family are all devoutly Lutheran and, when I was little, my mother actually went so far as to get a BA in Theology, with the intention of becoming a Minister in the Lutheran Church. She taught my Sunday School classes and did the whole thing but, by the time she graduated – having read and studied the texts – she no longer believed.

    In addition to having a really firm grasp on Latin and Greek from hours spent quizzing her on flash cards when I was six, I also was exposed to a lot of different perspectives, view points and concepts from Olympus to Nirvana. My family, and my own experiences in a few parochial schools managed to rep for pretty much all of Christiandom at one time or another and, at twenty-four, I couldn’t be more at peace with my feelings on religion and everyone else’s.

    Personally, I can’t get it up to have a lot of respect for a g(G)od that wants me to walk in line on blind faith – imma need a deity that has some respect for personal responsibility for integrity’s sake, open mindedness and a slightly smaller ego. Some people don’t feel that way and that’s OK with me. The other half was raised Catholic and still flirts with it in times of tragedy, my mother is a Unitarian, my grandmother is Lutheran, my sister-in-law is a Wiccian and, as long as none of these people try to make me get married in a church or lecture me RE: abortion – we’re groovy.

    All that was a really wordy way of saying, your experience will probably spare Sadie having to go through what you went through – not because you can protect your kids from struggling with faith, but because you won’t be able to help but raising a person who is open, sympathetic and understanding – no matter what her personal beliefs turn out to be.

    • 51. jiveturkey  |  March 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks for this. I have the best, smartest, most thoughtful commenters ever.

      (Also: I must admit I never gave Wiccan a fair shake in my religious research. Mostly because I’m afraid I’ll have to do weird stuff with menstrual blood.)

      • 52. sweetbird  |  March 26, 2010 at 10:42 pm

        I was actually exposed to Paganism and Wicca around the same time my parents decided going to church was a good way to meet people. My childhood best friend’s mom was Wiccan and ran her own ‘coven.’ If you happen upon the people who aren’t nutty it’s actually a beautiful set of beliefs (the same could be said about most religions) focused mainly on karma and appreciation of nature. Outside of my tendencies to not believe in the metaphysical hooey – I most closely ascribe with Wiccan beliefs.

        It might also just be that I’m a hippie that was raised in Seattle, but whatevs.

  • 53. purplered  |  March 29, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    One of my favorite quotes: Morality is doing what is right no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told no matter what is right.

    • 54. jiveturkey  |  March 30, 2010 at 9:11 am

      OOOOO! I love that.

  • 55. Josh  |  April 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Hey Gayle,
    First, I commend you for actually THINKING about religion; instead of blindly doing what you’re parents or someone else did before you and claiming that that is your religion.
    And you are TOTALLY right! Why in the world should you go do something that you don’t feel strongly about doing, as you say, phone it in. Life is TOO SHORT to have someone tell you what to do and then have the gall to tell you to, “just go along with it.”

    I commend you for your courage in saying what you believe, in terms of the society we live in. I get flack for being a Christian. Just the other day, someone told me, “Oh, you don’t seem like one of those people…” What does that even mean?? Is that racist? Who are you even railing against?? But I also think that Atheists get a HUGE brunt on the mere fact that they are atheists.

    Can we all just shut our faces and spend some time actually LISTENING to other people instead of waiting for our turn to talk???

    And it sounds to me, like you had a very similar experience I had growing up Jewish. I would ask these questions, and they would say, in the only way a Rabbi or funny Jewish person could say, “ehhhhhhhhhh, it’s a question, that’s plagued our people for thousands of years, and ehhhhh.” and I’d NEVER get an answer to ANYTHING!! WHY!??!

    Then I became a Bible thumping, born-again Christian. And I successfully alienated a lot of friends in my zeal.

    Only recently, after years of feeling like I was somehow “better” than people because I was a Christian, that I had it figured out, do I realize that I DO NOT have it figured out, and that makes me run to Jesus all the more.

    And you are ABSOLUTELY right!! Religion is the most personal, cherished thing in one’s life, or it should be. If you can’t defend your faith, or give someone an explanation as to WHY you do something, then I feel that you are doing that person who asked a disservice.

    Also, to say “It’s a God thing.” when something bad happens to you is a cop-out. That you don’t wanna sit and cry and just be with that person who is experiencing pain. Making it “A God thing” somehow excuses you, and makes a distance between people. It’s an excuse, or it has been, to not just sit there and be there for someone, and I think it’s one of the reasons why people can’t stand Christianity.

    I don’t know where I was going with any of this… hahaha.
    Just know that Kate and I appreciate both you and Brad almost more than humanly possible. We truly love you guys, regardless of if we agree on everything. I have a lot of friends, but not a lot of best friends. (Yes, we’re all still in high school.)

    And I will speak for both Kate and I and say that you and Brad are some of our best friends.

    If you have any questions or anything about what Kate and I believe, or anything, please know that Kate and I are here for both you and Brad. We’re not going to sit here and cram what we believe down your throats either… I’ll never understand how that’s “being a friend” to someone.

    But know that we care about you guys very much.


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