On Wednesday, I watched a lot of my Patheos Atheist colleagues writing their takes on the results of the US election. I knew I wanted to say something, and I even started to formulate what my thoughts would be, but I just couldn’t bring myself to write it. Some of it was that I was trying to prepare myself for this weekend away from my normal life, surrounded by people I love at a place I love, talking about and listening to others talk about things that matter. But some of it, in truth, was that I was just not in a mental space where that was possible.
I’ve started to get there, spurred by the difficult conversations of Day 1, but Greta Christina‘s talk today has finally put me in a place where I can start to say it.
One of my first thoughts when the realization of what happened on Tuesday finally hit me was a hard truth: What little faith I had left in America was gone. I had lost it utterly.
Now, I’ve never really been comfortable with patriotism, which in my youth was strongly tinged with religious or quasi-religious elements and was sometimes even a bit jingoistic. When I was a music minister, I hated the Sundays that fell around Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July because I knew that I would be required to include patriotic hymns. That always felt perverse to me, and I was always uncomfortable being forced to make these inclusions despite my own reservations.
And I have long been aware of America’s deep flaws, not just the historical sins of slavery or oppression of Native Americans but ongoing violations like the school-to-prison pipeline and mass incarceration.
But at base, there was always a sense in which I thought America had some boundaries. There were some ideas that could never be mainstreamed through our political process. There were traditional, if not institutional, barriers to keep dangerous people from attaining the highest office in the land.
I was wrong.
Greta’s talk today was entitled “The World We Live In Now,” but one of her first points is something that I also realized after Tuesday: Part of what we lost was simply never there at all.
When I deconverted almost five years ago, I did lose something. I lost a faith that had been a part of my life since birth; I lost communities that I had been a part of since birth. I lost my own music. I lost a way of looking at the world. Most of all, I lost an entity that had cast a shadow over my entire life to that point.
But the reality is that the world I lost when I lost my faith was not fully real. I thought it was, and people had been telling me for years that it wasn’t real, but I continued to believe until I simply couldn’t believe anymore.
And so it is now that I, a straight, white, cisgender, progressive-leaning man, lost a world¹ that wasn’t completely fair but that still seemed to have some baseline of justice. But that world, as Greta noted in her talk, was an illusion, and plenty of people — women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants, disabled people, and so on — were telling me so. And I didn’t listen.
I should have listened.
And yes, there’s much more that gets lost in a shift like this that doesn’t equate to the losses of religion: community, a support system, a sense of belonging, a certainty that brings a sort of false comfort. As Greta said, “We lost a lot of work,” and I think that, at least for the moment, that seems like a completely realistic assessment. Already, we see marginalized peoples’ safety being endangered in parts of America, and I am terrified of the moment when I see that come to my own backyard (if indeed it hasn’t already).
But that loss of a world that contained a little hope for justice and right — that is not an insignificant loss.
Still, here we are.
I agree with Greta about one thing in particular of this new world that we’re all coming to terms with:
You all are in it. I want to be in this with you. And I want to help if I can.
This world we’re in is not okay. It is not just. It is not right.
But as I have discussed with many people in the past few days, there is no savior, no magic bullet, no one who’s going to sweep in and fix all this. It’s on us. To quote Greta from her talk: “The only justice is justice that we make.”
We can and we must do something to help each other. Let’s listen and do it.
Image via Pixabay
¹ Here, I use “world” poetically, not as a reference to Earth as a whole. (Although perhaps maybe I should go that whole distance as well.) ^