Why I’m not an atheist anymore but I would never tell you what to be

21 Jan

Yesterday I was ordained as a Deacon in my Presbyterian church. It was kind of ironic since a few years ago I considered myself an atheist. I’m sure most people go through periods of doubting, or maybe just never really believing one way or another, but I was pretty adamant about my non-beliefs. I used to tell David that there was no way we’d be getting married with the word “God” in our ceremony. Now I believe that the only way to commit to someone is through your spirituality and that the civil or governmental implications of such a contract should be thrown through the window. That is about my evolution from non-political (probably a Democrat) to being a Libertarian, but that’s neither here nor there right now.

I read up on Richard Dawkins and actively scorned the people in Jesus Camp (one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen). I tried various churches, including Catholic, Baptist, non-denominational Christian, super Christian, Buddhist, Yoga… you name it, I was interested in going. I still am, actually. At the same time that I believed organized religion was a crock of honey, I have always been fascinated by the history and practice of world religions. You could never say they haven’t been meaningful in the growth of mankind and society. Blamed for both good and bad things that happen to people. The reason behind an infinite number of human decisions.

But I have since found a home in this Presbyterian church. Ours is a PCUSA type of Presbyterian and very socially progressive. We welcome everyone. Including a woman on the verge of herself, sitting on the fence watching others act and be and wondering what will happen to her.

The ceremony of becoming a Deacon involves answering a few questions and then the ritual of Laying on of Hands. I have seen this done before and thought it would be an amazing thing to do at our wedding, but I never dared to ask if that was even possible. So all the new Deacons and Elders who are being ordained for the first time kneel down, and then we are surrounded by all the previously ordained (for once ordained always ordained) Elders, who lay both their hands on someone’s shoulder. Thus everyone is connected to each other. It was very similar to the scene in Avatar when the Na’vi sit together praying to Eywa. Except we didn’t literally light up, which was kind of a bummer. But I’ve never felt such good energy from a group of people before. Sure, I’ve gone to plenty of concerts, where everyone is super excited to be there and pumped about the music, but there is something different about a sober, beautifully sunny Sunday morning energy.

In the process of becoming Deacon you have to share your faith journey during a meeting of the joint Session. This is a formality, as I’m sure no one would be rejected unless you started spouting how much you love Satan, but it’s a practice that everyone loves. You sit around with these people that you know and are growing close to and you hear some very intimate stories that brought them to where they are. And everyone is so different, so it’s very interesting.

Most everyone grew up in at least a somewhat religious family, as did I, but it didn’t seem as hard for them as it was for me to be a believer. Ever since I was a little kid, forced to go to Catholic mass (boring and stuffy) and CCD (Sunday school), I looked around at all those other chumps reciting their prayers and thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if I believed like they did. But I couldn’t. My mind just wouldn’t go there.

And then I was forced to attend a Catholic high school in the suburbs of Atlanta. Forced to take Catholic classes and confess to the school priests when I really wanted to be attending the Protestant classes that seemed so much more interesting. Although I did like my senior year Synthesis of World Religions class that the professor and I would sit there and argue about the daily readings while the rest of the kids fell asleep, eyelids heavy with senioritis. I remember during a junior year class being the only student that felt that there was the possibility of a just war. That was fun arguing me versus the rest of them. The professor spoke to me after class, continuing to try to convince me that I was wrong, but I think in the end we agreed to part in disagreement.

I then had a brief stint in a Baptist church that was mainly centered around a cute boy I dated there (although I did meet some great people who greatly influenced me during a difficult period in my life).

After that I was at Georgia Tech, a school well known for its scientists, Hindus and Muslims. Not much Christianity going on there. I did think I was friends with the only two Christians at the school, but it didn’t really matter because I was headed down the atheist road and I didn’t mind. I guess when you’ve been raised Catholic and then witnessed super televangelist Southern Baptist it’s a bit freeing to separate yourself for a minute. I called myself a “spiritual atheist” because, well, even if you don’t want to believe in God (or in my book religion was the biggest culprit of hypocrisy) it’s hard to completely deny the presence of the unknown and miraculous that infiltrates between our very atoms.

It wasn’t until I met David, who slowly introduced God and Jesus back into my life, that I began to loosen up. It’s hard to let in such a massive idea, even if you’ve not been opposed to that idea. When we were engaged we started looking for a church in which to get married. I had taught preschool at our current church several years back and thought the open-mindedness and small-community-ness of the place was appealing. Turns out their sermons and the people there were a breath of fresh air. I couldn’t help enjoying it when the main things they talked about were light, love, joy, happiness and beauty. Besides, it was like free therapy and I never pass that up.

So I’ve chosen to let Jesus and his teachings be my main path to God. I think most people believe in God, and to each their own path, and for those who don’t believe it doesn’t matter to me. I’ve either been there or I haven’t, and I have no right or interest in judging. I think that’s the libertarian in me. The smallest minority is a minority of one, and there are billions of these minorities. I wouldn’t want to discount anyone’s experiences or thoughts.

I also wouldn’t want anyone to criticize me for where I am in life. To some I’m young and to some I’m old but either way I am where I am and I know I’ll change one way or another. I’ve been discriminated against as a Christian, and it is surprising to me that there can be such a backlash. It is as if people want to be so open and unique that the idea of being a Christian (no matter how benevolent a particular church is) is just unacceptable.

I only hope that in all aspects of life — whether it be race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, height, etc. — we remember that we are all welcome here on this earth. And if you don’t remember that, then, well, what can I say. God’ll come get you.

Just kidding.

KD_Ceremony087 - Copy

Best day of my life — until the day my son was born.


Simple beauty.


3 Responses to “Why I’m not an atheist anymore but I would never tell you what to be”

  1. Bradley Odom February 13, 2013 at 1:17 am #

    Brillant. Beautiful. I just recently started dating someone who identifies himself as agnostic. At first it really concerned me, but the more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I realize that its only because of his upbringing that he believes what he believes. In his heart, I know he is a loving person who believes in many of the things I believe. For that reason, I know it is a process and with love and caring, we may just come around to the same understanding and love and forgiveness that Jesus Christ offers. I appreciate you sharing your journey. We should get together to explore it further. I have a feeling that you could help me to love him for where he is now, without judgement.
    I am grateful to be a small part of your journey, and hope to get to know you even better in the near future. xoxo

    • mamajohnston February 13, 2013 at 2:47 am #

      Hey Brad! Thank you for reading my blog and your compliments! I enjoy sharing this type of stuff because I don’t think doubt and the journey are shared as often as people who already know where they are… I’m excited you’re dating someone new! It sounds like a great opportunity for two nice, loving people to grow together and learn things they wouldn’t necessarily know if you were with someone who already thought like you 🙂 Let’s definitely get together soon! I’m really hoping we’ll be able to come to the YA function at your house in March. But either way maybe we could grab a beer sometime after church? I hope you are having a wonderful, decadent Fat Tuesday in preparation for Lent, haha. I know I am as I’m giving up sweets! I need to give my blood sugar levels at least a little break!

    • mamajohnston February 13, 2013 at 3:04 am #

      And also, thank you for being a part of the reason Morningside is so awesome. Your words are sweet; I’ve read them several times already!

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