Catch up on part one here if you missed it.
I wasn’t always able to attend my desired church throughout high school, but during my college years, I made my way back to the Episcopal Church. I returned to singing in choirs when I could, and still went to special events at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine with my aunt. But questions lingered. Like, I understand that my aunt is very involved, but how come the cathedral has a VIP section and why do I feel so icky sitting in it? Why have some “religious” folks tried to deter me from volunteering with the homeless because I “don’t need to be around them and I can give in other ways”? What funky kind of God’s love is this?
Eventually, the questions outweighed the answers and I left the church again. During this time, I heard myself say at parties “Well I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual” even though there was little organized practice of said spirituality going on at the time. I did learn about and briefly try Buddhism, but I didn’t practice long-term. And then I dated an atheist.
Some people who knew me from youth found it incredulous that I could ever date an atheist, or they wondered if I had strayed so far from my religion that I had become an atheist as well, which I never did. When he and I talked religion, or when it came up at a dinner party where I was usually the only non-atheist in the bunch, they were calm discussions. I know all of the anti-God arguments and the tropes of “How can there be so much suffering…”, etc, because I have asked them myself. There were some who tried to paint me as a fool because they subscribed to the unfortunate but fashionable notion that atheists are unilaterally smarter than any dum-dum lollipop who believes in a magic man makin’ miracles in the sky. My calmness in stating that I have no solid answers and yet I still believe, and also respect their choice not to, has silenced even the most celebrated atheists I’ve encountered.
Sometimes I add that if we as intellectual people can agree that faith, by definition, cannot be proven, it’s a bit asinine to angrily demand proof, no? They would usually cut the snide comments at that point, and I’ve even had the brilliant Christopher Hitchens raise a respectful glass to me, which will forever make me smile with gratitude at having known him.
And of course not all atheists are rude, just as not all Christians are kind. And many are so eager to pinpoint people as one or the other that when I speak out against pervasive hatred and abuse masked as religion or perform as my satirical conservative Christian character Cookie Carter, many people want to give me a non-believer’s high five that I cannot receive. On the topic of religion, I see so many people thinking they’re just expressing their Constitutional freedom of speech when they really want to preach to others or scorn their practices.
In secular settings, if one feels that impulse to preach unsolicited, one needs to also be prepared to be told to fuck off. On either end of the spectrum, we are free to express our opinions, but someone who seeks to actually talk anyone out of their personal belief system, without direct causation or evidence of specific threat, is appalling to me. If what you are doing betters your life and is not harming others and you have not asked to be convinced otherwise, rock on!
I chose to return to church. For a while I told myself that as long as I had God in my heart, I didn’t necessarily have to go to a stone building and sing about it, but I actually missed it. There’s something about the community and ceremony of it all that can amplify one’s personal faith. So I did my Google search and I went back to church, and I was welcomed with open arms by strangers who expressed nothing but human kindness toward me. I was actually nervous walking in–so many rotten apples have spoiled the Christian bunch that even I, no stranger to a Communion wafer, was leery of anything even remotely cultish feeling or phony upon entering a new church. But at this one, I found no such thing.
This isn’t propaganda; just a personal narrative. I don’t have the evangelical impulse of some, unless specifically requested. And I wish I could somehow undo the incredible injuries inflicted upon so many by certain religious institutions. But mostly, I want us all to believe or not believe in whatever way works best for each of us.
You want to commune with nature or celebrate a higher being on your own? Do this! You want to revere science only? Live in it! You want to be a devout Christian and carry your Bible in your purse? Carry it! You want to practice a religion that I may not have ever even heard of but that enriches your life? I applaud you! I am someone who bows down to logic and has no problem asking difficult questions. I think of the Bible as a collection of stories and parables; prayers and lessons, some nonsensical, some translatable and applicable to current life. When its text is weaponized, I’ll decry it in the name of humanity and justice even as I get ready for church on Sunday morning.
I have asked myself of late if I am indeed a foolish sheep, desperately clinging to organized religion at a tumultuous time. But no—I cop to facing challenges, but I’m no fool. I worship because I want to. I’m returning to something that has enriched my life and gives me comfort in a way that’s not self-destructive like, say, cocaine or three martinis.
Religion actually can be self-destructive like the blow or the booze. Especially in many black communities where we’re often told to pray over things that need to be addressed through science, social work, or medicine, like mental illness or drug addiction. Prayer may be a comfort, but it can’t be a catch-all. Anyone who needs help deserves to seek functional help and not feel shamed by religion for it. If a particular belief system helps when coping with medical treatment, that’s a different story.
And I don’t know why I keep coming back to this particular belief system. I am skeptical enough to not simply accept that I was born into it. I don’t picture a bearded white man sitting on a cloud in the sky and I don’t know how there can be child molesters and war and all of the atrocities of the world if there is a God. But I still somehow believe that there is. I can’t answer all of the questions and I can’t even really tell you why.
And isn’t that faith?