I am an Atheist, but Sometimes I Wish I Wasn’t
While being raised Catholic, I have known very early on I was an atheist. When I was five years old, sitting in Catechism school on a Thursday night, our teacher helped explain the blood and body of Christ by giving us Welch’s grape juice and saltines. Being as inquisitive as I am today, I questioned, “Are we cannibals? Why does God want us to eat him?” The teacher hesitated uncomfortably, and spat out a glib and dismissive answer to soothe my curiosity. I didn’t buy it and as I questioned through the years, the whole practice and belief just never set in.
Flash forward 30 years, graduating as a philosophy major and still unable to grasp the principles of faith, I constantly question how anyone would indenture themselves to such fantasy. But there are moments when I understand, and even more, I yearn for how the religious benefit.
On my daily run, I often pass many churches where I see families, loved ones, strangers congregate outside with smiles, entering a building together for the united purpose of recognizing their faith. For most of my childhood, I saw mass as a practice of arbitrary kneeling and standing, opportunity to show off fancy clothes, and a hindrance to my GameBoy time. Being older now, I perceive a tinge of community which is lacking in my life as an atheist. Atheists don’t assemble the same way, as we all seem to be on our own secular paths in wrestling with spirituality and faith. Many of us fall into rest stop ideologies like politics or New Age spirituality for the time-being, while others just drift out there in the abyss, like a bird without a perch.
Even if people are getting together and celebrating something that seems like complete bullshit, there is an allure in that they have at least the illusion of community. In our increasingly isolating and hyper-individualistic society, community seems to be a largely disappearing, but the religious continue to boast it. I wish I could believe in all of it sometimes so I could have that belonging, or I wish atheists could band together to perform traditions together like the religious do. It’s also amazing how many connections you can make at church. You can find trusted mechanics, job opportunities, and people to watch your dogs by unifying under one roof. The religious have an effective way of being mutually beneficial to each other that the rest of the world appears bereft of.
Secondly, I find that the sense of closure the religious enjoy just as enticing. I’m not sure how many hours I have thought, written, or spoken about the origins of the universe, death, or nature of morality. The religious have that all taken care of, and spend their time more comfortably and efficiently. If you buy into the idea that an all-powerful being made the universe, dictates what is good or bad, and will send you to Heaven, it cures a lot of anxiety and frees up afternoons for golf! When you grapple with the thought of your own demise and grieve over lost ones, it feels like it would be freeing to simply say “They are with God now” or “They are in a better place now up in Heaven.”
But I can’t do it. There’s some element of my thought process that endlessly questions and cannot believe in a fairy tale just to alleviate stress. I need more concrete and scientific answers to my questions or I can’t mentally digest them. None of us really know the absolute truth, but I feel condemned to keep trying to understand the world rather than submitting to fiction. I do admire the sense of community and closure the religious savor, perhaps though it’s a trade-off for settling on a flimsy narrative. You can’t have everything, and I may value the search for truth more true to life than actually finding it.