Nothing says “Welcome back to the world you left behind” like the gospel music playing in my mother’s car as we drive home from the airport. Or like lying to my grandmother, telling her that I’ve been going to church when I haven’t been in almost two years.
Nothing reminds me of how different the life I live now is to the life I left behind as much as the fact that I have become unaccustomed to both of these situations. These are no longer songs I have to endure, nor are they lies I have to tell. There is value, I find, in telling the truth about who I am and what I (no longer) believe. I never used to care that I lied – I was (and still am) doing it to spare those around me from the pain I might cause – but those lies hurt me now. I hate telling them.
Take the songs, for example. Most of them have lyrics that talk about surrender, about being nothing without God, about needing love and redemption. They sing over and over about the great mercy of the all powerful. About being loved when we are not worthy. It’s too difficult to ignore, and now I can see it for what it is. A relationship with God, in essence, is an abusive one. You are nothing without God, you cannot leave without fear of (eternal!) punishment, and you are commanded to love that which you must also fear. You are required to constantly acknowledge your worthlessness, and heap praise and adulation upon this other force which gives you worth.
However, as far as my family goes, I find I must continue to lie, but coming back has reminded me why I determined, before I left, that I would not lie about my atheism. Why I would not attend church. Why I would no longer pretend to be what I was, the way that I had in the years before I left.
But it’s still so easy to lie now. It’s so easy to talk it all, just like I used to… but it feels worse now.
I know it will take years for me to completely rid myself of the ways of thinking and speaking I learnt in my many years are a (fervent, committed) Christian, because it was completely and absolutely entrenched in every facet of my life. But I find something in living without faith that I never found in living with it – the realisation that I am not fundamentally bad, not worthless, not unworthy of love. I was not born broken (ie, in sin), nor do I need to be fixed (ie, saved).
To put it better than I have, Dan Barker (an ex-pastor) said the following:
“I have something to say to the religionist who feels atheists never say anything positive: You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil–you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace and joy. Trust yourself.”