I recently encountered a new blog here on wordpress: Russell & Pascal. It is a blog written by two friends (one a Christian, one who recently deconverted). The blog aims to have a dialog about religious (non)belief that always remains civil.
I’ve touched on it from time to time, but growing up a nonbeliever, I often enjoy reading the experiences of people who have left religion because they provide a different perspective on nonbelief. In this manner, reading Russell’s posts has been a pleasure.
In particular, I had an interesting experience reading Russell’s ‘about‘ page. In this post, he writes:
“I am an
a. A. Ath. This is so very hard. I have actual tears trying to type that word. It appears I’m not ready to admit it yet.”
For all intents and purposes, I have been an atheist my entire life. It’s not quite right to say I was raised an atheist, but I was definitely raised without religion. My parents did not invoke god (or really even discuss god) while I was growing up. Let’s put it this way, my sensus santa clausis was much stronger than my sensus divinitatis. As a result, calling myself an atheist comes as easy to me as calling myself Jeff.
A common part of many deconversion stories is a sadness in leaving a religious identity, and Russell’s expression is in line with this theme. However, for some reason, reading this line from Russell’s about page struck me differently. He was brought to tears self-identifying as what I’ve always been. I don’t know how to describe it but that I had one of those life is weird moments.
I wanted to read Russell’s line as: becoming like Jeff brought Russell to tears. Obviously, this is completely false and misses the point entirely. Russell is going from Christian Russell to atheist Russell, and accepting this means letting go of certain ways Russell understood his place in the world. In so doing, Russell was bringing himself to tears. Jeff has nothing to do with it. Jeff is a totally different person. Jeff is feeling kinda weird referring to himself in the third person. But, in the moment, I couldn’t help but personalize it.
When I encounter religious people say things like “being an atheist is lonely and depressing” or that “atheists actually know god exists but they delude themselves to justify being selfish,” my response is a hearty, often defensive “fuck you.” My reaction to Russell’s post wasn’t a defensive reaction. I want to say it was sympathy, but I don’t think that’s quite right. In my head I was saying: “Nah, Russell. Wipe those tears. Atheistland is awesome. I’m walking on sunshine! Whoaoh!“
In a post from a couple weeks ago, Russell listed some of the reasons he is not a Christian. His list had 43 points. I remember laughing to myself as I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled. There is something chuckle-worthy in how the earnestness of human conviction can result in really long lists.
For myself, I am not a Christian for 1 reason: I don’t believe in the existence of any gods. I cannot say I’ve come to this position for intellectual reasons. As I mentioned above, I’m here by parentage. However, I’ve never become a theist because I’ve never been given a convincing reason to believe in a god that mattered. More importantly, I’ve never felt compelled to seek a god. Contrary to the platitude, there has never been a god-shaped hole in my heart. I recognize that these are vague explanations. Perhaps I’ll unpack them at a later time, but I’m leaving them for now.
This world, this life, has always been enough for me. It has to be; it’s what I’ve got. I’ve got my interests, my relationships, and my ability to have a positive impact on those around me. I can be a good person and a good example. My life feels small and simple. It’s mostly getting up, getting some coffee, and getting on with it. But it’s quite fulfilling.
That fulfillment. Reading about Russell’s tears didn’t mesh with that. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to express a sense of contentment. There are things in my life and in the world that I want to be different. But that’s all just a part of the getting up and getting on with it. Living. It’s fulfilling.
To be fair, if I found myself intellectually compelled to leave my worldview, I would be sad too. It would be disquieting; my worldview defines the meaning of my life and my relationships. I don’t fault Russell his tears. I’d have them going the other direction. But, again, that’s the disconnect. That’s the “sympathy” I mentioned earlier. Leaving this life is worth crying for as well. As far as I can tell, at least. Being sad about becoming something you’d be sad to leave. I don’t know. Life is weird.