When atheism is coming of age….

It was the summer after freshman year and I was having a crisis. Growing up was memorizing Bible verses, my mother’s lilting soprano guiding me and my sister through hymns before bedtime, Thanksgivings with at least thirty-five of my relatives clasping hands to listen to my grandfather pray. I don’t know what happened that year, but by the end of it I knew that something was off. The songs at church were hollow, answers fleeting and desperate. So I went to Peru.

 

We were allowed 28 pounds to bring with us for two months, my personal supply of butterscotch candy contraband was a luxury I barely afforded. It was not your typical mission trip for a 14 year old girl. First there was bootcamp in Florida. We wore combat boots laced to mid calf and shouldn’t show our upper arms. There was no running water and the obstacle course included army crawling to avoid being hit with swinging balls labeled with deadly sins. Lectures stretched three or four hours. This was not the Kumbaya I had in mind. The owner of the organization told us Bootcamp would break us so thoroughly, we would turn to God. Fifteen days later, when we boarded the bus to the airport, I remained unconvinced.

 

Peru wore me down. We worked nine hour days clearing inexorable jungle plants for an orphanage. If we weren’t working, we were memorizing Bible verses, reciting every known Christian song, or divided up for teaching on how the sexes ought to behave. A few weeks into it I was as firmly convinced as the rest of my friends. God was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, salvation was mine, eternal life and unconditional love lay at my boots.

 

When I returned to Washington, I was in for a rude awakening. Despite my new-found direction I was miserable. I denounced my favorite books because of the atheist themes, diverted to only listening to Christian music, suffered through the idea that I couldn’t take a high paying job and ought to become a missionary instead. I felt that my unhappiness was my own inadequacy.

 

After about six months my catalyst was a philosophical incompatibility. If God told me to love all people equally, I could not value one person over another. I could not love my best friend over the boy in my Spanish class who told everyone my Ayn Rand novels were pornographic. Nothing more for those who strive to improve themselves and the lives of others, create beautiful art, or pioneer for humanity. Perhaps through the influence of individualistic American values, I felt so against the doctrines of loving equally, of never being enough for the person you serve, of denial of self that I rejected it. I realized that I had only forced myself to believe out of an emperor’s new clothes style fear of exclusion, not because it resonated with my soul.

 

Atheism wasn’t easy. My parents commented I was likely worshipping the devil. My baby sister still tells me I am going to hell. Although it hurt me to see my family feeling betrayed, I felt more alive than I had all my life. The world transformed into a virtual buffet of intellectual opportunities, and I no longer had to skip dessert. 

 

My transition away Christianity was my coming of age anthem. Through it I found my self-esteem, a crucial missing factor in my younger years. It was the first of many deeply ingrained beliefs I discarded. My break with my family and culture on the religious front gave me the confidence to be a feminist, pro-gay marriage, and on a more personal level, to change my path from lawyer to writer. I know that if I hadn’t gone to Peru, I might still be hanging on to my childhood. So when asked if I wish I’d canceled the trip, I reply “God forbid.”

P.S. If you want some atheist inspiration, sign up for Teen Missions International trip. 🙂

http://www.teenmissions.org 

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Mulling over my failed relationship…Part 1

We’re in the Explorer, me and Emily, in the back seat. The lights glow and the bass is thumping in our throats, we look at each other and nod in approval at the general impressiveness. I am so proud, so painfully proud of him. I want to show him off to everyone. I want to waltz about on his arm and spit on the faces of those who look at us sideways.

At the end, it wasn’t like that anymore. He was looking like a dead beat in a teenagery tank top and his dingy cream colored jeans, a fake tattoo of the eye of Ra on his shapeless bicep. I was sleek sophistication, a vintage 90’s dress tight and classy, sky-high heels, hair curled up like Anna Karenina. I expected him to meet me half way, to at least run his hands over my curves as he used to and remind me he was in love. But he didn’t’, I sat in my car with Peter the Great as he watched his friends skateboard. He didn’t come over. I figured he knew I was sulking, but I suddenly needed to look as if I didn’t care. As if there was a million things on my mind and he was only a minor detail. But he wasn’t minor, he was everything. All at once, everything was dressed in poorly maintained scruff and a fake tattoo. He said he couldn’t decide whether he wanted it on his back or on his shoulder. I said his back. He said his shoulder because he “wanted people to see it when he wore a tank top.” I was dry mouthed with horror at the short-sightedness of his long-term decision. Either he would outgrow tank tops in a few years and have a pointless tattoo, or he wouldn’t outgrow them. I wasn’t sure which was worse. The image of a late-twenties Chris in a tank top made me panic. The image used to be vaguely hipster, distinguished and rich, it was now in a shitty job, self-assured, not yet grown up. I shrugged off the thought.

It just occurred to me though that at some point I stopped being proud of him. I stopped wanting to show him off, I stopped wanting to flaunt myself on his arm.

The other time was at the Volkswagen show. He asked one of the older guys with a sweet sound system in a bug to play a song for him. I almost told him not to play Beautiful Nightmare, but I didn’t want to insult him. But when the song began to blast, I wanted to curl up inside myself and die. The winy, adolescent voice and angsty, stereotypical lyrics to a boring techno riff made me feel sick. Some of the women booed loudly and said they wanted the song changed to less “Girl” music. I had decided long ago that there are songs you secretly like and a smaller repertoire of songs you reserve to show yourself off to other people. Chris clearly didn’t understand that he was playing something very lame, and although I tried to convince myself it was no big deal, it seemed like a bad omen. Chris, who’s taste I had once revered in my heart… was now evoking pity.

I think when we first started dating he was very successful at creating a very seductive picture of himself. He had the bad past, the rich family, the unfortunately failed relationships, the clothes, the knowledge, the passions and of course… the charm. He was charming. He was so fucking charming. At some point, I started to feel the picture being washed away. A bit of it would disappear and I would think that it was okay, it was only a small thing. So what if he was doing poorly in highschool? He was passionate about other things. So what if he never bought me flowers? Wanting flowers was materialistic.

I remember we went to dinner with his family at some Thai restaurant, and I don’t remember what sparked it, but afterwards I addressed my concerns that he was growing uninterested in me. I honestly don’t think he was uninterested for a time after, he simply couldn’t, or rather didn’t think he needed to sustain his hook.

It’s funny because his facade only barely got me. I almost said no when he asked me to be his. I told him I had to think about it. If I had known what I knew now would I have left it? He would have tried harder. I would have fallen harder. I remember that essay I wrote him about being dissatisfied. Even then, I thought it was an issue of his interest. I mean he had once been so romantic, certainly the ceasefire of reasons to love him must be due to him moving on? It didn’t occur to me that he had himself up to be an embellished version of what he was, and he could only keep it up for so long.

He’s really rather sad. I wonder if he realizes that the show he puts on is no longer even parallel with reality, it is angling off at an exponential pace. He still thinks he could become that person if he needed to, but I wonder if at this rate he could fool someone as hopelessly analytical as myself again. The infrastructure is eroding piece by piece. Honestly, I just want to give him a huge hug. Okay that’s a lie. I want to punch him in the face. I want him to ask me what he can do to become the person he believes he could have been. I want to help him. I want him to owe his transformation to me. I want him to appreciate how intelligent and perceptive I am. I want him to turn around and take charge of our relationship. The problem is, he’s too proud, we are angling away from each other exponentially, indefinitely, and his potential, or his achievement of it, will merely be pure speculation.

Mine on the other hand, is thankfully fully at heel.

Ruminations on Miley

So this whole Miley Cyrus fiasco. [Insert personal opinion here.] It irritates me. I wish the VMA’s and the Wreckingball video had spawned the issue before I started making a conscious effort to look at pop culture from a feminist perspective. That is, what does this mean for women’s equality? What does society’s reactions elude to? How should I be reacting?

As someone who likes to have a clearly formulated opinion, the reason why I find it so annoying is I can’t figure out what mine should be.

On the one hand, her performances are awful… really, truly lacking any artistry whatsoever. Especially the Wreckingball video. Supposedly she is talking about the pain of her failed relationship with Liam. Which raises the question, how does riding a wrecking ball naked, and licking sledgehammers with an alarming frequency add to that? Or even fit with that? I know after my last breakup I did not suddenly become so horny that through my tears I was licking plaster off of tools. Maybe I’m a minority.

The whole thing leads me to believe that someone wrote the song so that she could do a very sexual video, and it really could be any song in the world because no one supposed to be listening to the song, just watching.

Now, should she be condemned for this? One half of me grits my teeth at what is apparent, she is practically asking to be objectified in order to gain popularity. While the other half argues that her actions don’t automatically entail objectification, society simply has created an environment where this seems to naturally follow.

If that latter is true, what reaction should her videos evoke? Respect for her expression of sexuality? It’s hard to respect someone who pairs terribly unoriginal, male-oriented actions with a song that is supposed to be about heartbreak. If she had expressed how breakups sometimes make women look for fulfillment in sex, or how being single made her realize there is nothing wrong with being a little wild, I would jump to her twangy side. Miley, why do you have to make this so difficult?

On the other hand, does a sexual video and a risqué live performance a whore make? The accusations of slut ring sour in my ears. By definition, you’re calling their actions comparable to selling yourself for sex. In a way I suppose she is selling her sexuality. But honestly I have an issue with because I think people judge prostitutes without looking at their situations, but aside from that, is it fair? American society uses names like “slut” to degrade women who’s sexuality they disagree with. Should we not respect Miley as a person because she manages to make her recent performances about sex?

And here I come as close to a conclusion as I ever will. Perhaps we shouldn’t disrespect Miley because she is overtly and rather obnoxiously sexual, but because she uses sex as a substitute for actual artistic value. In other words, don’t hate on the sex, hate on what the sex doesn’t do for her music. But really ladies and gents, can we leave the slut-shaming out of it? I think she’s really taking the “there is no bad press” saying to heart, and all hopes for seeing her fade or bring out something worth watching lie in ignoring the material that we don’t see value in.