A Catholic and an Atheist walk into a bar. Ok, no, scratch that. A Catholic and an Atheist walk into a party. The Catholic is dressed as a clown, the Atheist as a French Onion Seller. By the end of the night, the Atheist has the Catholic’s phone number, and few years later they’re married.
There’s no joke here, though all the elements are pretty much there. The Catholic and the Atheist come to know each other Biblically, or, Biologically if you prefer. Over the course of two years, two children pop out. Cute little half-breeds – Atheist/Catholic, Atholics-Catheists, a veritable yin-yang of contradictions and belief, existing harmoniously. The Atheist agrees the children will be raised Catholic. The Catholic agrees that the children will be given the choice of whether to stick to the faith.
The Atholic-Catheists grow up. They experiment with their beliefs. They question. They exist in a pleasant between that constantly shifts.
And then, the Catholic gets sick and dies.
And that’s where we are now.
Incase any of you aren’t very good at guessing, I was one such Atholic-Catheist, my father the devout Athiest, and my mother the sceptical Catholic. And this post is about my very personal relationship with God and the Atheists. (There’s a band-name in there)
When people ask me now a-days how I would define my belief, I am usually quite unwilling to respond. My reasoning for this is that I have a deep-seated fear of fundamentalists on either side of the spectrum. Perhaps the advantage of being raised by a lukewarm Catholic and an Atheist who enjoys Church music, is that I never had to pick a side, because there was always a middle ground.
I am suspicious of anyone who is 100% certain of anything because, as Obi-Wan put it, only Siths deal in absolutes. And because I’m a John Mill girl, personally, and I believe that we should be willing to question everything. Blind faith, in whatever form, is utterly abhorrent to me, and it makes my flesh crawl.
Until recently however, it wasn’t something I paid much mind too. Depending on the company, I defined myself differently, willing to play Devil’s Advocate and challenge conceptions. Since the loss of my mother however, I have learnt to keep a tight lid on my spiritual beliefs. And this is because of the ugly habit fundamentals have of attempting to use my grief and bereavement as a recruitment tool. I don’t know, maybe they get a ‘Faith-Miles’ for every person they convert.
I remember the moment it became clear to me why I was so uneasy with people telling me my mother’s death was part of God’s plan. You see, nothing could endear me less to a God than the idea that the entity of whom I should rely and pay homage to was actually directly responsible for the loss of my mother. Why on earth should that make me feel better? I’ve just been told I have to worship an invisible asshole, who sits on his ass, picking off people by the millions and leaving us to suffer and guess as to why.
I was always more comforted by the idea that God did exist, but that he had no control over us in our earthly lives. He was just there to listen, to understand, and to welcome us when we died. Like a benevolent pen-friend we’ve spoken to for years, coming to pick us up at the airport. Except there’s no return ticket. The pen-friend kidnaps you, gives you a harp and puts you on a cloud to chill for eternity. Awkward.
Atheists, as it turns out, aren’t much better at the comforting thing. I can’t talk to them about my uncertainty of the whole “God’s Plan Malarkey” without incurring a torrent of cynical, self-satisfied mockery about the baseness of the belief and its ludicrousness. (Because sure, comfort me about my dead mother by insulting her, and what she believed: that’s smart). For all their criticism of religion, I’ve never met a fundamental atheist who hasn’t acted like he’s an elite member of a ‘Chosen people’, going out into the world and leaving debasing comments on religious posts like an inverse-missionary, spreading the word of science.
“You’re right, of course Madeleine,” they say, “There is no plan. There is no God. When we die, that’s it. We are extinguished from this earth. Worms eat us. Or crazy grandchildren keep us in a pot on their mantelpiece. End of.”
Thanks guys. Great. Fucking. Comfort.
I know what you’re thinking at this point – Madeleine, you can’t live as a contradiction for the rest of your life, becoming more Atheist in the company of Christians, and more Christian in the company of Atheists, but currently I don’t see a way around it. I want the comfort of Catholicism without having to associate with a misogynistic, militant pedo-ring and their Machiavellian God, and I want the empirical nature of atheism without having to join the smug-club and their ‘hope you enjoyed the last few months with your mother, cus you’re never going to see her again’ attitude.
I don’t want to call myself an Atheist, but the day my mother died, I was no longer a Catholic. And it wasn’t because I was angry at God. It was because she was my link, my connection to the crazy bastard, and when she went, there was nothing in me any more to believe in him. Maybe I stopped believing in him a long time ago.
So where do I stand? Agnostic? Pagan? Spiritual? Where do you go after living 22 years as an Atholic-Catheist, only to lose the Catheist?
I think the worse problem is that there’s no answer to these questions which isn’t religious, and apparently I’m thoroughly allergic to those. It’s no good telling me that she’s with God, because I won’t believe you and it’ll just be uncomfortable, and it’s no good telling me that she lives on inside of me and my recollections of her, because that’s not good enough.
At the end of the day, I keep my religious belief to myself because I am un-swayed. I live in perpetual flux. I am a rambler of religions, a tourist of spirituality, and if anyone tries to – however kindly – impose any one ‘right’ answer onto me, I will run a mile, screaming the other way.
“But then Madeleine, what do we say when you’re upset? What do we do to comfort you when you come to us, desperate for answers?” they ask.
I don’t know. How about shut up, and give me a hug?