Mom was folding laundry on the bed. I was pairing up socks, rolling each pair into a tight, little ball, and folding one cuff over on the outside to make a neat package.
“Don’t be disappointed,” she said, “but you won’t be getting much for Christmas this year.”
“How do you know?” I asked. It was, after all, still summer. School hadn’t even started yet. Santa couldn’t have already decided if I’d been naughty or nice.
“We don’t have as much money since Daddy left. So I won’t be able to buy a lot of presents for you.”
I looked down at the pile of laundry and dug out a match to the sock in my hand. What could that possibly mean? Had my parents been buying my Christmas presents all along?
“You already know this,” my mother said, “but please don’t tell June that Santa Claus isn’t real.”
Even though I was only nine, I knew I couldn’t tell my mother that I had believed in Santa right up until that moment. I didn’t want to make her sad…
This year, I’m planning to write a series of posts about my journey into and, later, out of Christianity. I guess I should start at the beginning.
I was born into a multi-faith family. My mother was of Jewish heritage, although her father was an atheist and their family did not practice religion. My father was raised in the Catholic faith, and his mother was very devout. They went to Mass every week, said the rosary every day, and their home was filled with reminders of their faith.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been surrounded by friends and family members who were different than me. I never thought I was unusual in this way. Even with a start like that, I was still ignorant of the amount of diversity around me. I was six years old before I realized that not everyone was Catholic or Jewish.
I stood on the front stoop with my mother, looking down the block toward Trisha and Diane’s house. My two friends had invited me to go to Vacation Bible School with them, and since school was out for summer and I was bored, I wanted to go. My mother wasn’t so sure it was a good idea.
“It might seem strange to you,” mommy said. “They’re not Catholic…”
I change my mind a lot. For most of my life I have been on an involuntary spiritual journey that has led me into and out of Christianity, through explorations of Buddhism, through agnosticism and into atheism. And now I am not sure where I am heading.
This year I’ve decided that I’m not sure I want to be called an atheist anymore, even though I don’t believe in god(s). I know according to the dictionary that I am an atheist, but I’ve become disillusioned with the atheist movement, which largely seems to thrive on making fun of believers and ignoring the desire for spiritual fulfillment that most people feel.
Although I have some Christian friends in America, over the past years, I have found myself viewing all religious people as some sort of monolithic negative stereotype, hell bent on controlling everything and everyone, and teetering on the edge of insanity. I spent the summer in Lithuania where I met people from all over the world, I found that I’d made new friends who were Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Buddhist, agnostic, and “just spiritual.” Although we didn’t talk very much about religion, we engaged in meaningful and interesting conversations about many different topics. I found myself rethinking the stereotypes I’d come to accept, and wanting to engage more fully with people of differing backgrounds and philosophies. I want to be open to see where my own spiritual journey will take me next, and I am not willing to be pegged down by labels or stereotypes, even those of my own invention…
I don’t have a problem with intelligent design (ID). In fact, I believed in something like intelligent design when I was a kid and it allowed me to be both a creationist (believing God created the universe) and to accept science and evolution (God set the ball rolling, set up the rules, and used evolution as a tool). Eventually this led to me dropping the creationist beliefs.
I do support ID as a philosophy because it gives fundamentalist and evangelical kids a way to accept evolution. Born-again Christian kids are going to be taught some form of creationism whether skeptics and atheists and scientists like it or not. I for one would like that to include at least a rudimentary acceptance of evolution as a concept. And since ID is basically a “God of the gaps” theory, it will eventually collapse under scrutiny by those who take the time to think, and the individual may be left with naked evolution.
Literal young earth creationism on the other hand, is part of a mindset that does not leave much of a window for thought at all, and it is a much more insidious philosophy.
I can live with people thinking that God started the evolutionary ball rolling, and even with the idea that he tinkers with it a little bit — as long as they keep their religious beliefs out of public school science classrooms, unless they actually scientifically discover verifiable evidence of God’s tinkering…
I’ve been surprised, actually, to read about several skeptical authors being touched in strange ways by their encounters with the evangelical Christian subculture. I’m working on a memoir about my own experiences as an evangelical Christian, and as I go back through my old diaries, Bibles and photo albums, and as I listen to recordings of old sermons and contemporary Christian music, I am surprised to find myself feeling the tug of the old faith and lifestyle. I could never go back, because I’ve learned too much about the universe, human nature, and myself, and I could never stop myself from thinking “outside the box” again. But on an emotional level, I can still understand the appeal. Radosh touched on that appeal several times in his book, while at the same time not shrinking back from pointing out the absurdities, prejudices, and hypocrisy he encountered.
To give our readers a glimpse into the book, I asked Daniel Radosh one question from each of my favorite chapters, and a few general questions to satisfy my own curiosity…
Ok, maybe not embrace, but befriend?
Recently on a whim I bought a book from the new books display at my local bookstore (what else is new, right?). The title is The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church. I’m on page 53 right now, and I had to stop to think and write about something that’s been on my mind since Sam Harris’s first book came out. I’ve been thinking about it even more since I read about half of Chris Hedges’s latest while having coffee at the bookstore a few weeks ago (I decided not to buy it).
Here’s the question: Is fundamentalism the authentic religious voice?
My answer is “no”…. but I seem to be in the minority of opinion.
The media features fundamentalists or extreme conservative believers every time a topic regarding morality comes up, as if these are the only people who can speak for believers, as if they have authority to speak for all people of faith on these issues. Not only are atheists and agnostics left out of the conversation, but moderate and liberal believers often are as well. They are not taken as seriously as those who are literalist or extremist in their views, and are often considered “soft” or “lax,” as if they were not “true” followers of the faith. When journalists act this way, they are echoing the fundamentalist point of view…