Once upon a time, I was a golden child of God, feasting daily upon His scripture, wringing my hands in anxiety over pleasing Him, and losing myself to fantasies of the afterlife, with high hopes of attaining the highest possible Mormon kingdom.
I prayed fervently, every day and every night, earnest to please this deity adults taught us to respect with fear. I believed in a literal man in the sky, of a glass planet with infinite crystal balls seeing both past and future, and of highways glittering with gold and rubies and carbuncles, promised to me, if only my heart was pure enough, my life without sin, and the requirements of dress and diet followed and that God commands and gets really pissed off about if you don't follow them.
To grow up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints with parents and extended family that are fully vested in its doctrine and promises, is to be immersed in all sorts of high-priority dogma that can even supersede the importance of academia, and is only most successfully realized in Mormon-dominant enclaves, such as Provo, Utah. It creates a bubble of limited knowledge, both of the world and one's self, and is the source of much neuroticism and authoritarian inclinations.
However, while I read the Book of Mormon nearly two dozen times, along with almost as many times, the Bible, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants, all part of a good Mormon's Church education, I also was not immune to the injustices and prejudices such an exclusive membership caused the community, and my parents in particular.
We were told that people that drink were under the influence of Satan. We were told stories of how our bodies become portals for demons and spirits when under the influence of alcohol, causing us to act helplessly in ways we may not otherwise have acted. My father in particular was an animated storyteller, convincing us with his facial expressions and hand gestures, and my vividly imaginative mind took care of literally bringing such stories to life before my waking eyes, gripping me with fear.
So, when our neighbors in our otherwise cozy and indifferent suburban neighborhood got together for house and block parties, we would stay home, shades drawn, as my parents would remind us in hushed voices not to go outside during such times, nor to participate, ever, in such activities. The Devil was at work, especially on Sundays, oh, especially pool parties on Sundays, and we would be wise to avoid them, as did my parents.
This invariably led to the perceived or otherwise, I may never know, of my mother feeling rejected and judged by the neighbors, even though it was she and my father rejecting the neighbors in the first place due to ill-conceived moral standards. It made my parents appear standoffish, snobby, and deeply entrenched in the Mormon cult. Which, maybe they were. I may never know.
Regardless, I was confused as a child as to how these perfectly nice-to-me neighbors could be bad. I never understood. But I didn't dare challenge my father and his authoritarian ways, nor could I shake the fears of Satan himself influencing my life, and of allowing that to happen by fraternizing with the neighbor children while their parents drank Miller Light.
But, it was a potent seed and occurred during very formative years. The second was my maternal, non-Mormon (but Baptist) grandmother, who drank coffee throughout the day. I spent much time with her and loved her, and loved the smell of her coffee and the creamy caramel-colored liquid she would drink so religiously. A hot drink forbidden by the Word of Wisdom and that would surely carry Grandma straight to the gates of Hell.
Also while I was young, I had a maternal aunt who died when I was three years old. I still remember trying to touch her beautiful face and golden locks, just to open her eyes, to show everyone that she was really just sleeping. I naturally horrified my mother and received a quick swat from my father and was promptly removed from the room. But I didn't understand.
I didn't understand why everyone was so sad and why Aunt Joyce wouldn't wake up. It was an experience that left me cold, with many unanswered questions about time and death and life and the meaning and purpose of it all, at a very, very young age. And while I still remember that initial sense of glee before reaching for my aunt's corpse of being The One that made everyone happy again by proving she was merely a Sleeping Beauty, I also remember my parents' anger and that dark anxiety one experiences when breaking a cultural taboo.
Death and threat of death and reminders of death were common in my mother's home (as she did exert more influence than my father). Deaths in her family had left her permanently reminding us that we could go anytime, any day of the week. But it wasn't an, "Oh, let's embrace and celebrate life," sort of constant commentary, but more droll and foreboding and left me with a preoccupation with death and the end of one's existence.
This neurotic paranoia, paired with suicidal dramas, along with that mysterious disappearance of my aunt, taught me, by five years old, that death was an option. An escape. A way out of disastrous situations. Not only that, but it would teach people a lesson by making them sad about you for the rest of their lives. And when my mother was unfair, or punished me, or meted whatever sort of freedom-limiting consequence she could and every privilege she could revoke, I would, with some frequency, resort to suicidal ideations in private.
Suffocation attempts, hanging attempts, imagining jumping out of high windows attempts - this all occurred before ten years old. But, like I said, such was a learned coping mechanism, fraught with all sorts of unanswerable questions, and punished by a household swift strike the rod of God. I watched in terror on several occasions, as my mother fled the house, speeding off in the family station wagon with the promise of never returning. And I believed her. Every time.
But, whatever. So I grew up with lots of questions about the nature of existence and death, that I obediently pursued via scriptures. Scriptures that I read several times over, meticulously following the Word of Wisdom and other Mormon-dispensed Laws of God. I would get to the Celestial Kingdom, gosh darn it, no matter what it took. I mean, I even remember the first time I took a poo after my baptism and was scared I would sin somehow, so studiously read the Book of Mormon while taking that first sinless shit. Talk about source of neurosis...
I was a good child though. Number four out of eight, fully and completely the middle child, with every textbook stereotype and classification ringing true for me. I cleaned the house, did the laundry, helped with grocery shopping, planned the meals, taught the little ones how to read and put them to bed. All sorts of good, maternal, domestic acts I committed in the name of self-martyrdom to Christ. And I did in the absence of my stressed, worn-out, and surely severely depressed mother, who often locked herself in a darkened bedroom.
The middle child can only mediate and fulfill for so long however, and by fourteen or fifteen I snapped, controlling my life again by not eating nor emerging from my book-laden bedroom. This isolation naturally led to depression and by sixteen I was in and out of hospitals for everything from anorexia to bulimia to OCD to suicidal scratches.
By eighteen, I flew my parents' chaotic nest, but still believed in Destiny divined by God. I believed at that point that God was a more loving, forgiving, open, merciful deity, and that my wishes would be granted, if I only I took the right steps, praying hard enough, guided by serendipitous scripture verse, and was kind to everyone, especially the most vulnerable.
This chimera lasted well into my twenties, though began to wane considerably by the time I reached twenty-five. It guided my art, my writing, my purpose in life. Everything always came back to God mysteriously holding a mysterious purpose over your head in exchange for your soul and certain food restrictions, etc. I was a vegetarian at the time and all my anarchistic, punk politics had their roots in Christian doctrine. I was convinced Jesus was a free-loving, wandering hippie and wanted to emulate Him in anyway I could.
One of the ways I found I could help was by befriending and housing the homeless during my years in Northern California. For several years, my living room, backyard, and garage became a DIY homeless refuge for people we met on the street or through friends. And one of these, an atheist magician of sorts, would become pivotal in seeing the psychological and emotional havoc religious belief was actually causing me.
His name was Gus, a black-clad, black-booted anarchist, in his mid-sixties, with a flaming head of shining white hair that framed his chiseled facial features with Warholian finesse (a description he would surely despise). He would chirp with the birds, feeding them and the squirrels from his hands, while smoking his hand-rolled cigarettes. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, he made a local name with his biting exposes on the very real crimes being committed against the homeless, on a daily basis, under the broad daylight of council members, church pastors, homeless committee officials, the police, city commissioners, and other leaders in various cities throughout the U.S. that were condoning such with their complicit silence and inaction.
But I do digress. However, he did indeed cause to rise in me a sudden righteous anger for all the questions religion could not and did not answer in my life and life in general, and his loathing towards Believers was visceral. In fact, many of his emitted emotions were visceral, making him both magical and intensely scary, but ultimately, convincing. He was a radical, choosing to live off-the-grid in homelessness, with no address, to live the greatest of true existential freedoms. And while I do not entirely agree with all his views, that man was closer to many Truths due to his steadfast integrity and swift action against injustice while never letting anyone touch his inner source of resilience.
By twenty-nine, I had achieved pregnancy, a milestone I had longed for, also since childhood. But my pregnancy was marked by severe hyperemesis gravidarum and depression. My body turned against me and I realized, in horror, that my "natural" and untamed biology is actually my enemy, as it tried to kill me and my unborn child with violent, incessant, and I do mean incessant, vomiting. I required frequent hospitalizations to treat malnutrition, dehydration and bleeding. To make yet another novel short, I was under tremendous stress financially, emotionally, mentally, and physically, and was profoundly confused over my sudden downturn in karmic goodness.
Come labor, a blessed four hours, but four hours of hip-and-groin-ripping, Shamanic-like-tripping and primal instinct for women tribes members only to attend me, I learned, swiftly, that, what I was doing was not unusual, and indeed was the very literal way of birth for just about all of humankind. And it was painful. Psychotically painful and I did, during those brief, but intense four hours, lose my ever loving mind.
It was during a mad, swirling, psychedelic tunnel of red and searing agony that I found myself talking to God, or no one, really, begging for the pain to stop. It hurt so very badly, surely it was punishment for something I had done. And that something was simply being a Woman, forced bear the brunt of life's life-giving pains, and created by a God who was spiteful. I was angry, for no voice returned my cries (nor did the midwives take seriously my moans for drugs), and this hell could only be the design of a vengeful creator, if there was such a thing.
And something happened. My beautiful baby girl was born from that trauma, and I fell in love, instantly, my nausea washed away, my contractions gone, and my belief in God and stomach for the metaphysical also completely, entirely, utterly disappeared. And hasn't returned since.
It has only been intensified and confirmed by life events, and the deaths of close friends and loved ones, especially those untimely ones that snatch the future from the youth. They do not come back, they do not communicate with us, and I am not even entirely sure if they are any longer in any recognizable form. They are immortal in memory only, their legacy dependent upon the stories and pictures of their lives and whether or not surviving members share that.
Perhaps our consciousness persists. I would like to think it does, at some quantum level. But for me to say I believe in God is preposterous, because that would likely encompass somehow creating some ultimate compendium of all scriptures and professed revelations ever, resolving conflict between all religion, and, above all us, deny the physics of an omnipotent, time-and-space traveling being literally living in the ill-defined "Heavens" (or Kolob, if you will). But I have been alone. Many times. And have poured my heart out in sincere supplication for mercy and patience, but only increasingly found silence and nothingness.
So now, to Nothingness I say. To embracing every single mortal moment of our brief existences, daily creating purpose where there is none. To make art, and music, and beauty from an indifferent Universe. To survive in the midst of horror and to aid the survivors of horror when we can. To alleviate the suffering of others, being mindful of the conditions of the vulnerable, and respecting the travails of personal lives, deeply and passionately lived. To being awake and aware of the trappings of religion and the very real psychological dangers among far too many peoples' imaginations running amok with visions of angels and Godly hands divining purpose and issuing forth judgments.
And here we have but brushed the tip of the iceberg... I by no means present this as a sound argument against the case for God, simply my anecdotal life trajectory leading me to atheism. And while I prefer logic and science and reason over wishful hopes of divine intervention these days, I always say, I may have the mind of an atheist, but with the heart of a mystic, as I am in fact soft towards believers, much more so than they think. I also have a wild imagination and untamable intuition, and understand how, without caution, one can become deluded by fantastical hopes.
So, to Logic and Information Awareness. To the future wherein more of humankind may freed of the chains of religion, and the ignorance and division it causes in the name of an unverifiable, un-contactable Extraterrestrial. And, to the Here and Now, and in gratitude of the abundance of good relationships I have in my life. Life is short. I don't know what happens after we die. And that makes me a hell of a lot more disciplined about living my life to the fullest, which is not easy, but is infinitely rewarding and meaningful. And, for an atheist, that's heaven on Earth. The only chance we've got.