Letters and Diary Non-Fiction posted April 1, 2015

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Blame, the final frontier

Are You Listening, God?

by Spiritual Echo

Dear Atheists Contest Winner 
Dear Atheists;

I understand...I really do. Some Christians tend to form their own terrorist groups, blaming those who don't share their belief system for the ills of the world.  They want evolution taught in the words of a two-thousand-year-old chronicle, curse science and thank God for advances in medicine.

It's a bummer. 

Nowhere is this more obvious than in American politics. The Democrats are painted with the innuendo of heathenism, while the Republicans mount their Bibles at the podium and solidify votes based on core values that even Christians, as a whole, don't share.

Even today, into the last leg of the Presidential term, there are still people who swear that Obama is a Muslim. That fact alone is delivered with a sneer, as if religious association is a prerequisite for a good president. Now, people can be pro or anti-Obama, but personally, I can't see what difference it makes who guides a leader's personal ethics, provided he has core values the voters can endorse.

Aside from Kennedy's young age, the furrow of hate and disparaging remarks that followed his election campaign was that JFK was Catholic. In the days preceding socially correct conversation, I can still remember the repugnance his spiritual affiliation evoked. It wasn't pretty.

Through my lifetime, I have found it fashionable to label myself an atheist, although as I shall explain further in my commentary, it was never true.

I always envied the faithful as a young person, particularly the Catholics. One childhood friend invited me to church with her family and I was delighted to accept. All I knew about Catholicism when I walked into the church as a pre-teen, was that my friend, someone I considered a real bad-ass kid, got to dump her sins on some old fart wearing a dress, and scheme with me on Monday how to drive everyone around us nuts.

I was impressed by the opulence and the rituals. "I didn't know you spoke another language," I whispered from the family pew.

"Sssh! It's Latin," she answered, warning me not to talk in church.

That was pretty cool information to me, someone who had never heard of Latin. But I was encouraged because as a Latvian kid, no one ever heard of my language either. I was sure we must be connected somehow, the names being almost identical.

I suffered through the high mass I didn't understand, with the singular thought that after the service, I would get to walk into one of those booths at the back of the church and be forgiven all my sins. I craved absolution. Like most kids my age, I thought everything was either my fault, or I was a victim to some higher force. To my ever-lasting disappointment, I was told I could not go to confession because I was not Catholic.

In hindsight, the opportunity to unload the secrets of my childhood, and family sins, skirted by me like a teasing spring breeze. Unlike the other children lined up for their forgiveness, I had some weighty issues. My home was filled with evil, destructive physical, sexual and emotional abuse. I stood waiting with my friend's parents while she received absolution. I pretty much figured no one was interested in my sorrows. The curtain was my portal to have a word with God, but I was denied access.

Our Lutheran, family church was central to cultural rather than spiritual activities. Located in downtown Toronto, it was a half-hour streetcar ride to reach St. Andrews. The only time my parents attended was during Christmas or Easter, but I was dutifully sent each week to attend Sunday school, and later, to take my confirmation classes. From a very young age I rode alone, never questioning why I was forced to attend services my parents ignored. Except for the friendships and diversion, the lessons and services had absolutely no impact on me whatsoever. God had no relevance to me. He hadn't saved me from acquiring knowledge and scars, and if anything, my domestic experiences sharpened my instincts and turned me into a skeptic.

During my entire forced participation in the church, I spent the time accumulating evidence that the God-fearing people who preached His word, were hypocrites. The same people who spouted doctrine showed repeated irreverence towards other people and continually displayed self-interest rather than any compassion or signs of Christianity.

During my teen years, I became a self-avowed atheist. God had certainly not shown His presence to me. I openly mocked classmates who were believers and tried to provoke debates with inane questions meant to challenge my church-going classmates.

"So, did Eve have a bellybutton or not?"

It was a stage, a continuation to search for strength when I was weak and looking for help. Although I can no longer call myself an atheist, more than most, I know how a person comes to deny God. I had no one, and I mean no one, to help me grow up or find spiritual worth in a world where I was continually kicked in the teeth--and lower.

While I was denying the existence of God, I was still passionately involved in presenting proof to the faithful as to why my point of view was correct. Friends would shake their heads and walk away, not entering into a fracas with a bruised soul.

It was only when I slipped into spiritual apathy that I could probably claim Atheism as my designated faith. What I didn't recognize at the time, was my era of lost hope. I certainly had not sold my soul to the devil, but I'd adopted a shroud of sadness as my only protection against the fatal acceptance that life was meaningless.

Whether it is a survival instinct or some genetic predisposition, I searched for and found idols to worship. They weren't cults or movie stars, but very popular and acceptable outlets for my energies. My entire childhood was spent being the victim or watching my mother fill the role as the focus of violence. I, very correctly, understood that the only reason we were subjected to such cruelty was the lack of money. There were no social agencies, relatives or a concerned community that had the audacity to look past closed doors. We were stuck because my mother had no job and no money. Earning money became my new 'god.'

I didn't want the luxuries or the baubles that money could buy; I wanted the freedom, the power over myself to determine how I would live. I began working at eleven-years-of-age, and always had my own money stashed, hidden away as my just-in-case passport.

That deity of safety has never been abandoned. I fought my own crusades during an anti-woman, pre-feminist era, and I won. Of course, today, I will freely admit that God helped me find the path to self-determination, but I'll be damned if I will negate my participation in the battle.

While many people defend their religious affiliation with zealous passion, I really don't understand what all the fuss is about. So, you're an atheist, a Jew, Muslim or Christian. What kind of person are you? To think that anyone with different religious affiliations does not have ethical core values is repugnant to me. If being a good 'Christian' is a phrase that describes people with noble and virtuous habits, then I've met a whole lot of 'Christians' who don't believe that Jesus is the son of God.

Working with and for Jews for almost thirty years was likely the single strongest influence in directing me back to my religious quest. What captured my imagination by their faith is the relevance of the teachings.

Of course, even within the Jewish faith, there are both secular and pious followers, but what caught my attention, was the rationale behind so many rites and rituals. Man plays a huge role in the teachings of Judaism. Philosophy and scholarly study seem to be woven into the genetic tapestry of Jewish life. The lessons all relate to life as it once was and the relevance to modern struggles. I loved being part of these conversations. In every church experience I've had, the preaching weighed me down. There's no question in my mind, a good pastor in any sect can keep old teachings relevant, but none like I found within the community where I worked and made friends.

During this introspective period in my life, I didn't question separate ideologies or surrender my neediness to any church. It was more like the door being cranked open a wedge.

I flirted with mysticism, and still don't have a definitive answer where I sit in regard to spirits or ghosts. I visited fortune-tellers, had tarot card readings and listened to psychics, some of whom scared me while others made me regret the cost of admission. But I was still looking.

I began referring to myself as an agnostic, someone who wanted to believe, was searching, but was skeptical about an omnipotent God. The agnostic label peeled back to a new-age scenario. I freely admitted to being spiritual.

My relationship with God began to take form as I grew older, and I began to recognize everyday miracles. I discovered that my belief system was still in place. I needed no entrance fee to draw closer to the power of the universe and any pressure to accept one person's doctrine as absolute faded into some filing cabinet I labelled redundant information.

There are some religious zealots who might still refer to me as an atheist, but I couldn't care less. The Jehovah Witnesses continue to amuse or annoy me, depending on my mood when they arrive without making an appointment. I totally understand that my local 'witness,' Lynette is living her faith, trying to save me from eternity in Hell if I do not accept the word of Jehovah.

"Call me ahead, I'll bake a cake," I'd tell her. "I'll be more than happy to spend an hour discussing your views if you give me notice."

In seven years, she has refused to do so, therefore I give myself permission to be in a surly frame of mind when she arrives unexpectedly. My conclusion to rudeness is simple. If Lynette will not be respectful enough to value time I am more than willing to accord to her mission, I will respond by two simple words. Don't jump ahead. They're not the ones you anticipate.

"Go away."

When some members on site sign off their reviews with the words, 'May God bless you,' I am both humbled and grateful that they wish His benevolence to shine down on me.

I've walked this far on my spiritual pilgrimage alone and I have really NO TOLERANCE with sponge and squirt preachers who respond with a litany of Bible verses to back up anything they choose to argue and try to prove. Yet, I have always welcomed open-minded discussions about religion.

It is pointless to have 'discussions' with zealots and it is ridiculously naive to imagine a handful of words or a Bible reading will result in an epiphany. People who have absolute faith, or unquestioning adherence to a dogma or philosophy, do not discuss, they lecture. The same zealots may be atheists or Christians.

I continue to be fascinated by why. "Why do you believe what you just said?" "What happened to you in your life that sealed this absolute conviction to your soul?"

These are the questions that intrigue me, and can engage me as I learn about other religions and the power of faith. But just as I need an author to show me the story, not tell, so do I need someone of deep faith to demonstrate his belief system for me to accept his words.

I once rejected the church because I hated the association, even in the context of being part of a congregation, lumped into the company of people whom I could not respect. The need to witness a living faith is part of my silent worship and frankly I pray for people of many faiths, usually with words of gratitude that they are part of my life. Sometimes, I even pray for my enemies.

Extremists exist in every religion on every continent. I understand totally how Muslims suffer to be lumped into the cauldron with terrorists. I also understand how warped fanaticism will latch onto God, the indisputable word that somehow makes people scramble, defend or incite a war.

The atrocities being committed under one banner today are not confined to the Arab world. People of many faiths, including Christians, have historically justified grievous acts against humanity by using God's name.

And yet, reading the prompt for this essay asking for a letter to an atheist, describing--in a respectful way--how atheists have been treating Christians, it floored me. It did not offer an open selection of how one group treats others with different belief systems. It targeted atheists as having to explain their treatment of Christians. Hmmm...

At best, I would like to apologize to my high school friends for my surly disrespect of their religion while I was in my atheist stage. Sorry.

How else did I offend my multi-cultural and varied religious friends? If it's any consolation, my vicious tongue and condemnation of their behaviour wasn't based on religion. In fact, I didn't know where or what most of the people I knew worshipped. For many years, society took on the attitude that three things should never be discussed--politics, money and religion.

If I offended a Jew, calling me an anti-Semitic would have been laughable. But lately, religion and politics has seeped into every part of our thinking. The pro-choicers are considered murderers by some groups, often the same individuals who ferociously defend their right to have sub-machine guns in their gun cabinets.

I do know, that some people would say I'm not a 'true Christian.' I prefer to ignore the far right, letting them think and operate inside their own small minds.

I do believe that there should be a separation between church and state. The evolution of society and changes in global intimacy created a clash of beliefs. It would be as wrong for me to state that atheists have mistreated Christians as it would be to round up those proclaiming their Christian status expecting a joint meeting of minds on any subject.

As we approach Easter, the most sacred religious holiday in the Christian calendar, perhaps we can all take a moment to reflect on the symbolism and meaning of the celebration--forgiveness.

My living faith does not care whether people believe that Jesus is the son of God. I care even less what someone calls their god, or even the denial of any deity, but I will always expect an accountability of actions.

But when it comes right down to it, if I accept that Christ died for my sins, forgave me--then perhaps I should forgive myself. My doubts, my fears and even a life-long quest to know God is not proof of my failure, but rather my commitment to enlightenment.

Regardless of whom you may call God, for my atheist, Christian, Muslin and Jewish friends, happy Easter. Let's all be kind to each other.


Dear Atheists
Contest Winner

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