In 2007 — after 24 years of Christianity and 9 years of being a pastor’s wife — I finally admitted to myself and LiveJournal that I no longer believe in God. It’s interesting to look back and read the angst.
It’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Scary as hell, but great.
I was 31 years old. Such a baby. Can you relate at all?
— — — — —
April 18, 2007
I haven’t been talking about it much. It’s still in the making and I’m not entirely certain that I want to renounce God altogether. On good days I think, okay, sure, maybe she exists, and if so, we’ll all meet up in heaven because no good parent would send their children to burn in hell. I can mostly live with that scenario.
But, more often I catch myself doing or not doing something I would’ve felt extremely guilty about in the past. Instead of guilt, I get this rush of freedom from the realization that I don’t feel like every single one of my actions is being tallied and judged by some invisible friend named Jesus.
Like, not reading the bible (which I barely ever did), not praying (which I always kinda hated), getting drunk (drunk High School Shannon was an amazing evangelist: “My behaviour,” I would preach to my fellow inebriates, “was un-Jesusy, but He loves me anyway. And you too, man!”), skipping church, reading erotica (major sinner-points there, people), etc.
I feel more love for people than I ever have. I think because my love isn’t attached to the pressure to help anyone get Saved or find God. I’m not weighed down believing I’m living the Truth, the Light, the Right Way and everyone else is lost and poor fucking them and let’s pray about it. It’s AMAZING to be done with that.
Last time this year I sat around a friend’s fire in the back yard listening to a conversation about the possibility of past-lives. I guess I was too quiet, because someone asked what I thought. I was surprised that I wasn’t panicking about the “New Age” talk. I said, “Well, I guess I don’t have a clue about any of it. I’m open to talking about it and the chance that it’s real though.”
That felt fantastic to say. Religious Shannon would have felt sick, because no good Christian believes in reincarnation. And no good Christian would pass up an opportunity to introduce the saving power of Jesus. This Shannon doesn’t have the answers. She doesn’t know what’s out there or what has been or will be or what death brings. And for the first time, that doesn’t scare the shit out of her. This Shannon is okay with the not knowing.
Because, who does know? Christians are taught they do. I believed we had it nailed and that everyone else was flailing around in the proverbial dark. And dammit, it felt goooood to be on the Knowing Team. The team rubbing elbows with Boss Man.
But they don’t know. And maybe it is good enough to live a good life and be as loving and compassionate and generous as you can possibly muster. And what if erotica and premarital sex and lots of profanity and intoxication and polyamory and whatever the fuck else, is all just fine, fine, fine. As long as you’re not being unkind to yourself or anyone else? WHAT. IF?
So that’s how I’m living these days. My farewell letter might read:
You infuriate me because you’ve never shown up for me and you’re invisible, and we make fun of and coddle people with invisible friends. And I tried really, really hard for a really, really long time to feel close to you. And sometimes I thought I had it, but mostly I think it was just the warmth of community I felt. But I don’t need you to have a community.
And letting you go means letting go of the brain and heart gymnastics I do in an effort to contort and align everything in me into the exact right position on the off chance that you might, just maybe, possibly, perhaps choose me to have a conversation with or to comfort.
You know what else, Jesus? I’ve stopped believing I’m suddenly a bad person because I left The Fold. Life has not fallen apart, I haven’t joined any gangs, and I don’t paint my nails black or dye my hair pink (which I’m about to do, by the way: dark, dark brown with some pink highlights. Just a few chunks of pink. Don’t you think that would look really cute, Jesus?). I don’t eat baby kittens or sell drugs.
I’m no more or less depressed than I was before. I’ve got no more or less answers to life. And when I feel alone or sad or lost or scared, I can embrace those feelings instead of hoping you’ll show up and feel more bummed out when you don’t. Praying always felt like it was such a gamble. A call-and-hear-nothing-but-a-ring-tone experience. Except I’d talk to that ring tone. I wouldn’t hang up. And I’d call and call and call again. It made me feel insane, actually. DSM-IV-insane. I would pray and pray and hope hard that this would finally be the time that you decided I was good enough to cuddle.
I don’t feel insane anymore. I’m not constantly vying for your attention, love, or approval. I’m just livin’, Jesus. I’m just doing the best I can and talking about my mistakes. I talk about them way more than people are comfortable with, actually. But talking about my mistakes calms the fear that I’ll to cave in on myself alone and so messed up. Because if I talk long enough and loud enough, maybe eventually someone, somewhere will have good advice or answers or an experience to share that will fill the cracks.
So, I guess what I’m saying Jesus, is that I don’t know. I really have no clue. But living for you and with you and around you was making me feel lonely and angry and guilty. I never experienced the “freedom in Christ” I was promised. So I’m going to try life without you for a while, just to see what it’s like. And if that means my Park Pass expires, so be it. I need this.
Maybe I’ll realize that life with you was better and maybe you’ll forgive me or maybe I’ll forgive you. But, if I do – it will be on the condition that you show up.
Or, maybe I’ll just burn in hell. I’m willing to accept that in exchange for the freedom and happiness I’m experiencing now.
And, I certainly don’t know what this means for Emma. She makes us say grace at meals, which drives me nuts but also makes me laugh. We still sing the same song to her every night about you blessing and keeping her, shining your face upon her and granting her peace, which feels empty and silly, frankly. I think she’s going to be just fine. As fine as any of us are in this strange, messy world.
Walking away is a bit scary. Exciting. Lonely. Sad. Liberating. I’m going for it.
Good luck with all that saving the world business, Jesus. I really hope it works out for you.