when asked about religion, i tell people i am an atheist, an agnostic, or a christian.
it depends on my frame of mind.
i haven’t believed in the christian tenets since i turned 29.
but i was raised as a fundamentalist baptist, the kind whose asses politicians started kissing just as my membership expired.
at age 25, i was no longer a baptist, having been offended by a preacher’s sneering joke about the recent death of pope paul vi.
i then taste-tested a number of other christian brand names, notably presbyterian (most like baptists, i was told, but smarter) + episcopalian (progressive in politics + tolerant of gays, i was told, nicer than the other groups).
in the end, stripped of the class differences, they seemed the same.
now i’m an atheist or an agnostic. but one who likes some of what jesus had to say—a good bit of it, in fact— + wishes, like tolstoy, that more christians focused on his teachings, instead of his gruesome execution + return from the dead.
i can also be nostalgic for some of the hymns—still moved to tears over ‘just as i am’ + ‘amazing grace’; still wowed by stained glass windows; still touched by eucharist as a symbol of brotherhood + community, by the simple elegance of the pilgrim’s progress + pasolini’s the gospel according to st. matthew, + by the nativity story, especially when the air is fragrant with evergreen, snickerdoodles, + wax candles.
the correct word for me is ‘agnostic,’ i suppose, but ‘atheist’ sounds more assertive + discourages hardy soulwinners, who hear ‘agnostic’ + think ‘somebody who needs our literature,’ but who back off, crossing themselves, at the word ‘atheist.’
i'm okay with other people being ‘of faith.’ for about half my life, so was i.
i am not trying to attack anyone—nor can i disprove god’s existence or deconstruct the suspect history + infrastructure of monotheism—there are plenty of better-informed writers who can, though.
i am not now a christian because
… most of the true believers i've met are uptight assholes, though presumably they are ‘born again’ ‘new creatures,’ with a spiritual makeover by the holy ghost himself.
… i can’t imagine a plausible heaven i would want to go to—sure, if the sky’s the limit, i might be coaxed to spend eternity at a nonstop gay beach party, with everyone cute, built, + perpetually age 33, bottomless margaritas, evening book chats on proust, all-night orgies, group showers + horseplay in the morning, but that’s not really an option … er, is it?
… i don’t want to spend eternity with jerry falwell, pat robertson, james dobson, george w. bush, etc., not even if we are placed on separate stars.
… the argument that heaven will be ‘whatever we can imagine it to be’ doesn’t wash with me because, in my mind, that’s tantamount to admitting it is just an illusion (anyone else see the matrix?)
… i am not reassured by the argument that my resurrected self will be so transformed that i won’t want to fuck men anymore, won’t snicker at dirty jokes, won’t think most of the devout are sad or creepy or mean, + won’t be bored singing hallelujahs in a city made of gold + semi-precious gemstones. who would i be then? certainly not me, so what would ‘eternal life’ matter? not that i resist change, ordinarily, but it doesn’t sound like there would be any of ‘my’ life left.
… i really + truly wasn’t thinking these matters well enough through, back when i used to believe in noah’s ark, god’s asking abraham to slay his own son as a test of faith, god’s making the sun ‘stand still’ in the sky so the israelites could kill more enemies, jesus’ virgin birth, jesus’ raising the dead, jesus’ feeding 5,000 people on a few loaves + fishes, etc.
… christian righteousness never did me or people like me any favors—despite some eloquent pleading by jesus in his day, the church, the mosque, + the synagogue have never been kind to the poor, the nonconformist, the unclean, the wiseass, or the weak in faith.
… my post-christian life seems more meaningful + serene than anything i experienced during my days of faith.
… i can’t speak for what the major world religions used to be, perhaps they were lovely + beneficial movements in their heyday, but, really, they all look pretty crass now—resembling nothing so much as trekkers, door-to-door salesmen, country clubbers, or, at their most endearingly pathetic, schizophrenics.
oh, i know the comebacks too—‘you can’t pick + choose what is true + what is not true’ (oh, yeah? but i’m not the one insisting on belief in the absence of compelling evidence). ‘religion is justified because it changes people’s lives’ (e.g., the crusades, the inquisition, the witch trials, the mass suicides, 9-11?) ‘christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven’ (no shit, but shouldn’t the forgiven at least compare favorably with a control group?) ‘you must never have truly believed’ (you’re wrong there, buddy, +, besides, you’re in no position to judge that).
also, the religious should not go on + on about how the world of nature is fallen + depraved. for me, it would do their religion a world of good if they started teaching that dogs + cats are god’s elect, + that televangelists don’t have souls.