*For longtime readers who were following the "Leaving The Fold" posts about my deconversion, I know I left ya'll hanging back in October. Since then things have "unfolded" enough for me to complete the series (for lack of a better word), which concludes today. For any newcomers or those who need to refresh their memory, read Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4 HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. Thanks for reading.
For the next month and half, I tried absorbing all the books, blogs and videos I could find to both refresh the knowledge I'd accumulated about Christianity and the bible and take in anything I'd missed. But every time I thought I was ready to have "the talk," every visit would be a bust as I crumbled and kept up the lie that I was still working for the church.
The thought that kept rattling around in my mind was how do I do this? At least with coming out as a gay man I had some sort of blueprint. In the case of being an atheist--a black atheist mind you--I didn't (and still don't) have any flesh-and-blood people in my life that I could look to for advice or commiserate with. Meeting and greeting folks online was one thing, but actually being out and open about non-belief offline? That seemed like some fancy, avant garde thing black folks who lived in Atlanta, Austin, New York or D.C. did.
Even though I could clearly lay out the reasons for my deconversion, self-doubt kept rearing its ugly head with thoughts like "Who do you think you are? What makes you so special? You can't just leave church!" All of these things punctuated my psyche constantly, each striking with the veracity of the stings of an entire nest of parasitic wasps. The worst part though, was the nagging, festering "what if you're wrong" feeling. Usually I was successful in beating it back with logic and remembering the new knowledge I'd gleaned. Though every once in while, in quiet, still moments it return, clouding my mind and drowning me in irrational visions of eternal hellfire and other leaps of infernal fancy with the sudden intensity of a summer squall.
On top of those bigger fears, I wasn't sure what to do with myself once the initial satisfaction of leaving wore off. Yeah, I was still at my weekend job, but questions still lingered: What was I gonna do on Sundays I had off? What should I be doing on Sundays? Would I be a hypocrite if I threw on a gospel song every now and then or told someone "bless you" when they sneezed? Would I still want to play music (I still haven't touch my keyboard since leaving)? How do I tell my brother and current friends (I still haven't)? If they reacted badly, how would I make new friends? I know it some of this may sound silly, but those were, and sometimes still are, my thoughts at times.
But in the back of my mind I knew quitting my musician gig put me on a time clock for a confession. And like most things, it happened when I least expected it. But life usually drags us along whether or not we're ready doesn't it? My moment came during a normal visit to my parent's house, where we chatted about the usual stuff--work, the weather, the news, family. I went to the back with my brother to try out the new Street Fighter Vs. Tekken. After he left, I sat there plowing away at the controller when my mother poked her head in the doorway. Her brown eyes looked warm but serious, her small hands lay at her sides, and her mouth was set in a way that implied there would be trepidation behind whatever she was going to say next.
"Did reading that Modern English bible help with your questions about your beliefs?" were the words that came out of her mouth. We'd talked about the subject off and on for months, and each time I went a little in describing my true feelings about god and religion. So, I paused the game, sighed, and let out a soft but firm "No." "Do you still believe in God Kev," she said in a soft tremble, walking over and sitting down on the bed beside me. I stopped for a second, turning the wheels in my mind to wonder how I should best spin my answer to keep her at bay. But then the truth came out.
"No," I said again, shaking my head. This got the ball rolling on a long, wide-ranging discussion about how I came "to reject God." She at first linked this to me being gay and feeling bad about it, but I quickly corrected her. After that minor detour, it was on to the Bible, intelligent design, miracles/near death experiences, heaven and hell, other creation myths and their all too convenient similarity to Jesus's story, and her own personal religious experiences. Throughout we disagreed at every turn, and every time the word "but" sprung from my lips she grew more exasperated. Several times she clasped my hands, as if doing so would transmit her faith to me.
Faith was another hot topic during what was a pretty civil discussion. She kept bringing it up, saying it's how we prove ourselves to god, how we show our love to him, why it's better than depending on our own understanding. To which I answered, "that's not good enough for me. I need more." On one hand I hated the fact what I was saying was clearly upsetting her, but I was proud that I was able to state what I believe and stand by it.
Things looked like they would go south when I told her I wasn't playing music for church anymore--or going to church in general. She sighed deeply and was clearly disappointed: she saw the musician job as a way for me to get a least a little bit of "the word" and god in my life, even if it wasn't as often she liked. After a another lengthy debate, she pleaded with me not to close my heart to god and said she still loved me. Then she kissed me on the forehead and walked out of the room. So far so good.
My dad, on the other hand, was the wild card. He hadn't taken my other coming out well at all, and lot of harsh words and raised voices were exchanged between us. I wasn't sure what to expect--a screaming match, insults, threats of being disowned or forced coercion to attend church. I was fully prepared to defend myself, and if push came to shove, being totally on my own. But as I gingerly walked into the living room, where he and my mom were talking, he didn't raise his voice or seem angry. He said he had questions or doubts too, but he, like my mom, thinks it will all be revealed someday in heaven. He said I was a grown man (true) and that he couldn't force me to believe (true again), but he would still love me. And...that was it. Like my exit from my church gig, it was not entirely painless, but not torturous.
I don't why his reaction was so different from when he found out I was gay. Maybe it was because the first time around there were a lot of other lingering issues--years of emotional distance, secrets when it came to my romantic relationships, the sense that I didn't like or appreciate him, me feeling that he didn't understand me and did not want to--that caused a huge explosion. And believe me, it was explosive. However, maybe out of that explosion a new attitude emerged from the ashes. Perhaps after the dust settled and I didn't sprout horns and a tail he came to the realization that I am an adult with my own mind, and that we won't always agree. Again, I don't know. We hugged, he and my mom prayed for me, and that was that. When I left I felt a little shell shocked--but not in the numb "fuck I don't wanna go through that shit again" way that I felt after the previous coming out. It was more or less "Ahhh. They know. World War III didn't break out, and we're cool." Hopefully things will stay that way.
So that concludes (for now at least), my deconversion story. I've spent the last four posts, as well as many other ones, detailing what I don't believe. Now let me state what I do believe. I believe that we as people have the ability to be cruel, conniving, selfish and bigoted. I believe we have the ability to good, inclusive, compassionate and kind. I believe that all of these traits can be achieved and expressed without belief in a deity.
I believe the world easier to deal with when it is taken as it is using logic and reason to discern what is true and what is not. I believe it is better to be skeptical and open to the possibility you may be wrong, rather than embrace something--be it religion, political ideology, a relationship--with total certainty. I believe life in and of itself has no meaning and no all-encompassing purpose. I believe we give our lives meaning. I believe the idea that you must earn, serve or "believe" your way into an afterlife cheapens the value of this life by simply making it a means to an end that may not even exist. I believe in letting others practice their faith as long they do not try to make it law for everyone else. I believe that nothing is sacred enough as to be immune from criticism.
Lastly, I believe the god of the bible is a horrible, duplicitous, murderous tyrant who encourages the worst in humanity by stripping us of it. And I believe his "son" Jesus is not much better, coming not to bring peace but a sword, setting "brother against brother" advocating child murder and condemning billions of people to an eternity of unimaginable punishment because they did not love or believe in him. If the Christian god was proven to exist, the only thing that would change would be my belief that he does not exist. My tongue would not confess, nor would my knee bow. He is not worthy of my worship or my praise.
If there is something out there that is responsible for our existence and wants to usher us into its otherworldly kingdom when we die, I would like to believe it is better and greater than the one describe in the bible. That it would much rather delight in our curiosity and independence than in blind faith and obedience. That it thought of us not as peons made to worship and be used for its glory, but as equals worthy of respect. And that if it granted a celestial reward, the criteria for earning it would be a life lived with honesty, goodness and integrity rather than fear, superstitious reasoning and penance.