Get Real: Losing the Love of God

Note for new readers: I lost my Dad, Dan Farris, a few months back. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and what it’s doing to me. I keep a digital recorder with me all the time, and I record thoughts and impressions about the process and the milestones.

Here is one such thought. I relate it for the same reason I wrote my book, Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist — we have plenty of books and speakers to tell us about the WHY of atheism, but very few to tell us about the HOW. Yes, getting free of religion is about understanding the emptiness of religion, why it doesn’t work, why we shouldn’t accept it. But staying free of it, living your life day to day in the real world, is about figuring out the minute-to-minute HOW of thinking and living outside religion.


From the Bible to Dragon Ball Z, we’re all primed from childhood with stories to make us think we live in a universe of heroes and great gifts, of cosmic beings taking notice of us. Earthshaking, dramatic events focus on ME. The universe rotates around ME. God has a plan for ME.

The real world seems always something lesser. It disappoints you with its mundane realness, pushing you back to the more pleasing dramas of holiness and grand adventure.

But after a few years of watching things like Dragon Ball Z, you begin to realize the characters are not doing anything but fighting, having these narrow, contrived adventures that center around mere violence.

Fortunately, Dragon Ball Z, and all similar entertainments, are presented as fiction, light diversions from daily life. We have no problem weening ourselves away from it.

Unfortunately, the Bible is presented as ultimate truth.

But if you take the time to sit down and think about this supposed holy book, you realize it’s nothing at all about you, that it is a cold and impersonal attempt to rule you as if you were just one nameless sheep in a vast, anonymous herd. Your name is nowhere on its pages, and nothing in its dead, two-thousand-year-old stories relates to the real world you live in. It’s just another form of fiction, pumped up by hush-voiced reverence — like a bad play reviewed by the author’s banker.

By contrast, in a way that can never come across in books and movies and temples, we have real adventures — adventures of discovery and learning and growth, but also adventures of love.

Real love, not holy book love. The way people touch us and hug us, the way they care for us in the mundane moments of everyday life, can’t be related in a book. We have real feelings, wonderful epiphanies of love and affection, of skin-to-skin and heart-to-heart touching and being touched, that fiction can never give us.

Beyond mere fighting or holy dramas, these are the adventures life holds for us. They are greater and grander than anything we can find in fiction, or religion.

If you hold yourself back from some of this stuff, as I’ve known people to do, and for religious reasons … If you hold yourself back from the passion of love, the depth of feeling for your fellow man or woman, attempting to substitute the supposed depth of your feeling for your “savior,” you are cheating yourself and them. And oh, my, it is an ugly cheat.

This love you can feel for another warm, welcoming human being, someone who holds you in the embrace of their affection — for years! — nothing in religion can match that.

Religious people talk about eternity all the time, but that’s a pale shadow when compared to the reality of ephemerality. I had Dan, my Dad, in my life for 35 years. And I loved him, and it was a lot of love. But it was when I lost him that I woke up to understand that what I had for him, what I have for him, is an immense love. In realizing that, I saw that this same immense love is all around me. There are people in my life right now with love like that. People that care that much about me, and that I care that much about.

Recognizing and returning that love, that’s something that can’t wait for eternity. But this is a lesson you can’t always get in church.

My love for this man, and the loss of him through death, focuses me back on the people around me. I’m not distracted by this fiction of holy love. I understand that the real thing is what other people have for you, and what you have for them.

And the time to express it is NOW.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM.

    Hank, I love ya man.

    No, seriously, it’s the people who inform us and influence us that we love. My parents informed and influenced me and I love them. My wife and daughter inform and influence me and I love them. My friends inform and influence me and I love them. You, Hank, inform and influence me and I love you for your information and influence.

    Some people I love more than others but even the people who have informed and influenced me badly deserve recognition for their efforts (once I determined how poor their efforts were).

    • Hank Fox

      Thank you!

  • dd

    Rush has a song called “Faithless”on their newest album, and the refrain is:

    “I don’t have faith in faith
    I don’t believe in belief
    You can call me faithless
    You can call me faithless

    “I still cling to hope
    And I believe in love
    And that’s faith enough for me
    And that’s faith enough for me.”

  • Ophelia Benson

    I’m reading your book, Hank.

    I absolutely love it. What a writer you are.

    Ranger just about did me in. The M&Ms – sheer genius.

    I love “It was the peace of understanding that, while there might be quite a lot of the world unknown to me, there was nothing purposely concealed.” Yes.

  • Crudely Wrott

    Dammit, Hank, there you go again. Making my eyes get all blurry.

    I’ve lost three parents (father, step-dad and mother) and each time my sorrow found its relief in the memories of love and moments in time that have not dimmed to recall. It is a profound course of emotion that not only has mended my broken heart more than once but has made it grow until it is near to bursting out of me. In that sense, I know just how you feel.

    (this portion of my comment is simply to echo what ‘Tis said at #1. Thanks, ‘Tis.)

    I see that there is love enough to go around. We create it. Ourselves.

    Here, have some of mine.

  • F

    You are one amazing dude with great observations and thoughts that you articulate so well.

    I never really thought about the HOW, because the HOW was with me, even way back when I was religious. I thank my folks for that, who are really pretty decent Catholic people, who didn’t let my irreligiosity change our relationship.

    Damn, you’re good, Hank Fox.

  • magistramarla

    You write so beautifully and manage to say perfectly the ideas that have been hanging around, unformed, in my brain.
    Please, please re-post this on Valentine’s Day.
    It would be so appropriate.

  • c2t2

    Well said.

    I was going to add a tongue-in-cheek “hey, don’t insult DBZ by comparing it to the bible!” but I guess they both tend to eat your life, amirite?

    But I digress. Well written and moving post.

  • den1s

    You were lucky to have a dad like that to immensely love…. very lucky indeed. My ‘father’ was a complete jerk whom I never loved in the slightest.

    • Hank Fox

      Denis, pretty much the same thing happened to me. Someone told me once “There’s the family you get, the family you find, and the family you make.”

      In my case, Dan was the family I found. I only met him when I was about 23. I was not very close to my father, and my stepfather was an abusive ass. So I was lucky enough to find a Dad, fairly late in life.

  • Robert B.

    “Like a bad play reviewed by the author’s banker.”

    Great simile!

  • J

    Losing my father was really what cemented my atheism. I don’t tell that to religious folks, because they’ll assume that I reject their beliefs out of bitterness over my loss, and that’s not exactly the case.

    I was lucky enough to not be raised with religion – my father had been raised Catholic, my mother Presbyterian (and that mix was why I don’t know anyone from my father’s family.) I regarded the book of Bible stories I had the same as the book of Norse mythology that sat next to it. I used to think of religion like this: whether it’s true or not, it seems to help a lot of people cope and feel better, so it’s not a bad thing.

    When my father was in chemo and radiation for lung cancer, I felt completely helpless, and naturally I looked for any way I could feel a sense of control and influence over the situation – like prayers. When he rallied and seemed to be improving, I actually fell down on my knees and thanked whoever was listening.

    A few days later I was driving home for his funeral.

    I went through a lot of rage and hate and bitterness after that, it’s true. Eventually I realized that so much of that negativity was directed at myself – thinking that if I had been a better person, if I had prayed harder, if I’d had more faith, then a miracle might have happened and he would still be with us. And right after that I realized that, far from making me feel better and helping me cope, all the ideas of faith and prayer and afterlife were doing was making it harder for me to handle his death.

    That was the turnaround moment. Realizing that it was all a load of nonsense that was dragging me down, rejecting it, and accepting the world for the way it is – that made me feel better than any idea of gods or heaven.

    “I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.” – Marcus Cole, Babylon 5

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