I’m an atheist, but last month I prayed to “God” (a lot)

Recently I wrote a post explaining why I’m not an anti-theist anymore. There was a bit of disagreement and I thought about addressing it all point by point, but instead I’m going to just make a confession that may clear some things up.

About a month ago I fell on some hard times. I had to do a project that was enormous and overwhelming under some very tough circumstances. I felt really alone as I was doing this thing I had to do. It was very hard. I was shaking at times, I cried at times, I felt helpless at times. And so I thought about ways to overcome this.

I tried meditation. It didn’t work. Meditation is something I would have had to practice for years, I saw, to get good enough at it to help me cope with this difficult thing. I searched for something else — music wasn’t enough. Being with people wouldn’t help because the work I had to do involved long hours of solitary, mind-intensive study that required plenty of writing and reading about people’s lives and how they worked.

And then it dawned on me. I had something like meditation I had access to that had been nurtured for over two decades of painstaking practice. Something that could, at least in the short term, give me the strength and peace to move forward.

No, it wasn’t the Christian God. More like Spinoza’s God, if there is such a thing. This idea that there is a consciousness made up of the collection of everyone’s experience. That God is everything connected thoroughly and intricately, and we’re like individual cells or in its great overall Mind.

Can I defend that concept? No. Does it actually exist? I see no good evidence that it does. But did it help me, practically, in my life? Yes. At that point, it was likely the only thing that did.

I did feel guilty about it at first. But then I realized that I needed this thing, that it was the only way of thinking that would help me get through this difficult time with any peace, and…well, why not? It was increasing my sense of love for people, not decreasing it. It wasn’t the God of the Bible — it wasn’t misogynistic, homophobic, or otherwise prejudiced. It just gave me this peaceful sense of connectedness that helped me study and write with gusto.

I actually prayed to this…well, I called it “God.” I just freed myself to explore this God-concept through the experiences of the people I was reading and writing about. The world came to life in the midst of that lonely darkness for me. And sure, there might have been another way to do it…but this felt old and familiar, like I was meeting an old friend. Because, to be dead honest, even while I was a Christian I had doubted that the real God was the one in the Bible anyway, so I had kept trying to peek through the curtain.

I’ve heard plenty of times, and argued plenty of times, that people who leave atheism don’t do so for rational reasons, but because of the way it makes them feel. Which makes sense to me. People smoke weed or drink alcohol not to have a more accurate perspective of life, but to feel differently about it. It helps them cope, or alters their mood or the way they look at the world in a way they see as positive. And that’s what, for about ten days in which I hardly interacted with the online world at all (which is unusual for me, as I normally post on Facebook about 4-5 times a day, at least), “God” did for me, sustaining me as I enthusiastically did the work. I felt less alone and more intensely connected to the work. And I knew it was infantile and patronizing and subservient and blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I didn’t care. It just felt good, and it worked.

I didn’t know how long this would last. But once the hard time passed and I got the work done, within about 3-4 days I snapped back to normal. I was a hardcore atheist again.

And I’ve had to think about what happened. Now, truth be told, I had had doubts about anti-theism before. A few months ago I had grown disillusioned with the anti-theistic movement once I saw how anti-social-justice it was on YouTube. But this was something different. I had to start thinking hard an honestly about whether I could rail on people for using something that I needed sometimes.

Because I think that a lot of people who say they believe in God aren’t really all that sure, either. It’s a mechanism people use when they’re falling on hard times. That’s part of the reason the poorest nations and states are among the most religious, I think. And I’ve seen this repeatedly in my own life.

Now, I agree that faith in God can be dangerous, as it can insulate harmful faith-based thinking. In a perfect world, we would all be happy without God being in the way.

But this isn’t a fucking perfect world. It’s full of pain, and hard times, and loneliness, and depression, and poverty, and war, and sickness, and anxiety, and broken hearts. And some have it worse than others. Some have it worse than me.

And it’s not pride to look at those people and put myself in their shoes. If I had had to go through that hard time, I likely would have still clung to some kind of God-concept to help push me through. So who am I to say someone else can’t have it?

Maybe you’re a stronger person than me, in that way, somehow. Fine. Go, lead the charge. But I can’t do it. I just can’t. I can’t spend the rest of my life ripping away the only security many people have in this world. It would tear my life apart, and I only have just the one and then I’m dead under a tombstone (or, actually, donating my body to science, but you get the metaphor). I can’t do it. I’m out of gas. I’m not really interested in judging people who are full-on anti-theists. Knock yourselves out. I may support you where I can. But…yeah.

But what I can’t stand and what I hate is when people take that need some people have for comfort and use it to control them like puppets. When they insert themselves into this God and make them prance and do their bidding. And I can’t stand it when it’s people who do it now or people who do it by writing a book that is over 2000 years old. I hate that. I hate it with a passion. And I want to burn that to the ground, still. I want to tell people that they can feel that satisfaction and comfort and deep sense of connection without tying it to any of the outrageous bullshit. Or they can choose not to feel it at all. Because I have done and do both.

Does this mean I’m not an atheist anymore? No. I think I still am. My reasons for “believing in” this overall sense of connection that I may call “God” in tough times are not logical; they are existential. They’re not based on reason; they’re based on emotion. If you pressed me, I’d say that no, there’s no evidence that this God exists. It just helps me sometimes. And I think that’s OK. To me, the best God-concept is the one whose existence wouldn’t matter to the general public, anyway. So it’s of no real consequence, in my view. I wasn’t raised atheist, I don’t have the experience nor the time to learn a meditation strategy to match what I learned over 2 dozen years of my life. And so I take what I have and use it.

And that’s what life is, I think. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself these days. We aren’t cookie-cutter people. Life has fucked us all up in various ways, giving us certain crutches and ways of coping that have helped in our unique experiences that seem strange or don’t work for other people, and a lot of life, I think, is tied up in taking the ways that life has fucked us up and rearranging it so that we can carry on in the limited timespace we have in this existence while doing and endorsing as little harm to our fellow primates as possible. Giving the best of ourselves and who we are. And you’re not me, and I’m not you, and part of the reason is that, for 28 years of my life almost all I knew — through a homeschooled childhood and an intense faith most people I meet these days, Christians and non, don’t and will never understand — was a deep and tumultuous relationship with God. It’s part of my psychology. And yeah, maybe it’s fucked up. Maybe I need to see a therapist or get a goddamn lobotomy to get the shit out of my head. Or maybe the best use of my time is to accept myself and accept other individual people as well as I can, and realize that my atheism may not look like yours, and never will, and that’s maybe OK. I’m not preaching to you, in the sense of saying you can’t be an anti-theist if you are one, and you’ll  see me right there on the battlelines with you whenever belief in God does some fucked-up shit or puppet-Gods need a walloping.

But…I’m writing a letter that I’m gonna leave this goddamn world, same as you, and it never wrote me nothing. The Bible is bullshit; we both know that, since you’re likely reading this as an atheist. There’s no overall life manual anyone gives you in this life that you can stand on. Life just did shit to me and to other people, and I just having been trying to cope, with some sense of empathy, in the midst of a vast, often overwhelming ignorance in others and in myself that I’m still wading through. I’ve been trying to figure it out, and maybe I have some of it wrong here or there. I know there’s a hell of a lot I don’t know. But every second that ticks by I’m alive and doing shit that is drawing my pen on my letter across the paper till the dot at the end of the line, same as you. And maybe to you my coping may look a little fucked up, and I suppose that’s OK. It would; you’re not me.

I’m me. I’m still here for you. But I’m the one who was dealt this hand of life, and I don’t have your cards…

So that’s why I’m not an anti-theist anymore, in a nutshell. It’s kinda complicated, and there’s much more to say about it that I’ll likely say, but that’s a start.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. If you’re a Christian who thinks this was proof for the bullshit God of the Bible, or really proof for God at all, you weren’t paying attention. Please read with comprehension before commenting.

P.S.S. I have a Patreon, in case you want to support what I do.

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