Chapter 8: The One Where I Let My Controvert Do the Writing

Liking yourself is hard work. Many people would argue with that statement, but many people are also emotionally constipated. People in general do NOT like having to feel or process any emotion that isn’t “positive”. That’s why there are so many movies where, for the protagonist to achieve his goal, he must turn internally and battle his own demons: because it is the most important battle that each of us must fight to reach our full potential. But it’s hard and scary and requires painful self-reflection (guilt, humility), so most people remain stunted in their emotional growth.

I’ve never felt like a particularly brave person myself, but those people are cowards. How can you ever be the best version of yourself when you’re exhausted from hauling around all that emotional baggage?  I know exactly how mentally taxing it can be to face yourself, and that it might mean dealing with some unpleasant aspects of your past, but isn’t a little hard work better than a lifetime of mediocrity and emotional distress? Can anyone ever really be happy as a pantaloon? I don’t think I ever could.

I tried going through the motions and being the good daughter/student. I went to school and church, I did my homework and got good grades with little to no prompting: I generally tried to be a quiet kid who didn’t make too many waves.

But by the age of 10 I was full of questions about who I’m supposed to be and what my purpose is and I felt so EMPTY. Even after I decided I was ok with who I am, I had so many questions about life, the universe, and everything, and where I stood within all of existence.

And because I grew up in the midwest with a Christian family, the place I ended up looking for answers was the church/Bible. Not any particular denomination (my mom could never seem to find a church she was happy in, I’ll get to my suspicions on why that is later), just not Catholic. I can’t tell you EXACTLY why my mom has such disdain for the Catholic church (or women named Debbie), but I’m guessing it lies somewhere between her incredulity regarding the Pope and certain “extra” books in the Catholic Bible and that whole priest-molestation cover-up thing. For me the major turnoff of Catholicism is all of the traditional, pompous bullshit (and the child rape thing), but to each her own. In any case, by 14 I was desperate for purpose and my “elders and betters” told me that GOD had all the answers, and if I just prayed to Him and accepted Him into my heart He would fill me with light and hope.

Yea, that didn’t happen.

I tried as much as any teen girl in emotional crisis could try. I sang the songs and read the Bible and tried to find meaning in the sermons I listened to, but it all felt more like a show being put on than anything real. I would be in a room full of people singing hymns with hands in the air, wondering if they actually felt anything or if they just REALLY wanted to. Because I sure didn’t feel anything. Sometimes I would sing and cry because I wanted so badly to feel something, but nothing ever happened. I was still just me, still small and confused and unimportant in the “grand scheme”, no matter how often I was assured that Jesus loved me and died for my sins. (I might add, that’s a lot of obtuse guilt to put on a kid, especially one who is already scared and confused.)

My failure to feel whatever spirituality that my youth group peers claimed to feel made me feel even more like something was wrong with me, and pushed me towards people and behaviors that were not good for me (but you’ll just have to keep waiting for those juicy details. I swear it’s coming, but I’m not ready yet.) I couldn’t be good enough for my family OR God, so maybe I deserved pain and abandonment…

My inability to feel loved by a supernatural being made me think I should just die. Why not? I was miserable and NO ONE wanted me, no one would ever want me after all the things that I had been through….

And then I picked up an abnormal psych book of my sister’s and started reading about depression and borderline personality disorder, and I realized that I had been looking for answers IN THE WRONG BOOK! Fictional books had always been my escape from a reality that didn’t understand me, and non-fiction helped me to understand myself.

I wish it could say that it was some profound epiphany that first led me away from religion. Eventually, yea, but the first thing was Harry Potter. The church we were attending at the time was apparently bothered by the rising popularity of the Boy Who Lived and took the stance that the Potter universe was advocating witchcraft, which is just fucking stupid. I love those books now and I LIVED them as a kid. For anyone to suggest that my love of Harry, Hermione, and Ron somehow made me evil…. I would rather be evil. I can tell you I certainly FELT more reading The Prisoner of Azkaban than I ever did reading the Gospels.

The real crime was that the people holding this anti-wizardry stance had never even READ THE BOOKS! This was my first glimpse into how hypocritical the very religious could be, and was the first thing to push me away from the idea of religion. It was clear to me even at 14 that these people hating on my beloved fandom felt threatened by its popularity relative to that of their own preferred fantasy world. I see it as no different from elitist nerds (*cough*SCOTT*cough*) who think their fandoms are the only good fandoms and everything else is inferior. I get that you love what your book says, but that doesn’t justify demonizing some other COMPLETELY FICTIONAL book. But when you legitimately believe that the events and characters in your favorite storybook are real,  I guess it’s easy to feel threatened by books for children.

Since then, 16 years have passed and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to better inform my opinion. I’ve taken classes on the New Testament, World Religions, Mythology, Cultural Anthropology, Philosophy of Religion, evolution, and creationism. I’ve read Dawkins and Harris, but I’ve also read Ken Ham. I’ve gathered as much relevant information from a variety of sources to try to build the most factual argument that I can, and a lot of religious people aren’t going to like it.

God’s not real. Not the Christian God, or Allah, or any of probably millions of gods that humans have conjured to get themselves through life. I know I’m not making any friends by saying this, but hear me out.

I understand wanting to feel like someone genuinely cares about you and has a plan for you. We live in a cold, uncertain world, and we need all of the reassurance we can get. But would you rather have someone pray for you, or actually do something tangible to help you when you’re struggling? By saying “I’ll pray for you” many believers are giving themselves a pat on the back, but that’s about all it does. To offer your “thoughts and prayers” can make you FEEL like a good, caring person, and then you no longer feel obligated to follow-through with actions that actually demonstrate that you ARE a good, caring person. Emotional support crumbles under this mindset. If you have a problem and you ask for help, people tell you to pray about it and offer to do the same. But what happens when God doesn’t speak in your ear? You’re left to create signs out of your surroundings, signs that often point to nothing more than your own subconscious desires married to context. People are left floundering all because offering REAL help would take actual effort, and it’s easier to leave it in God’s hands. To an outsider, it feels like maybe people just don’t care enough about each other to expend effort for another person. To me, that is why my mom was never happy in any particular church; she wanted a community to belong to and only found superficial bullshit because that’s all there was to find.

And it doesn’t stop there. People will accept simple explanations for complex questions in the name of religion because it’s easier to just say “God did it.” When you think you already know the answers, you stop looking. Then when people continue to ask questions that you can’t answer, it becomes easier to defensively shut down the conversation than admit that you might be wrong. When the doctrine is what you’ve built your foundation on, protecting it becomes more important than seeking truth.

Some believers fall victim to a sense of religious supremacy. It’s that good old Protestant work ethic of “pull yourself up by your boot straps”. People begin to believe they do well because God favors them and they deserve it, and not because of opportunities they may have had that weren’t available to others. Conversely, it becomes easy to see those who struggle as “sinners” and less deserving than yourself. Even people who objectively are not well-off will use their ‘personal relationship with God’ as evidence that they’re somehow better than their fellows (because religious tribalism is slightly more socially acceptable than other tribalistic behaviors. I feel like tribalism also explains my mother’s loathing of the Catholic church more than anything else, personally).

I am of the opinion that religion causes more harm than it does good, and that you can live a good, compassionate life without all of the dogmatic bullshit.

For starters, the God hypothesis doesn’t hold up against basic philosophical arguments. The premises provided are inconsistent with what we KNOW to be true about the world, making God logically unlikely.

Furthermore, there is no physical evidence of a god. You can bring up all of the unfalsifiable evidence of God living in your heart that you want, but it cannot be measured. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that anything about Genesis is accurate, and if there was a supernatural hand that started the Big Bang, it didn’t leave a calling card. There is no reason to believe a god would be necessary to start the process, and if there was, he’s been very busy starting similar bangs to form planets and maybe even life all across the universe, and it would be awfully arrogant to assume that such a magnanimous being would be personally involved in 7 billion trivial human lives.

If there is a god, it is Dr. Manhattan and he doesn’t give a fuck about you.

I think the concept of a god isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in execution it seems to backfire. But that’s okay. There doesn’t need to be a god for people to be happy. In fact, I feel like the way humanity has clung so tightly to religion has prevented us for too long from finding REAL answers and being truly good to each other. We see shitty things happening and say “it’s all part of God’s plan” or “the Lord works in mysterious ways” and not “what can I do to help?” I want to change that.

And if you still want to believe in a god, fine. I don’t care, it means exactly nothing to me. Just make certain that being a believer isn’t the only “good” thing about you.

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