My friend that died was only 19. We grew up together in our small church, so even though I didn't get to know him well personally as we got older, his loss is a hard blow. He died of a single gunshot wound in the wee hours of Monday morning, and his parents are devastated.

I texted BJ yesterday, wondering when the funeral/memorial service would be. She told me what she knew, then mentioned that there was a grief counseling session for the youth of the church going on right then. Although I was grieving more for D than M at that point, I hopped in my car and beelined it over there. It was good, and I'm glad I went. We shared stories and memories of M for a good hour before loading ourselves in cars and visiting his parents to share our good memories. They were encouraged by the sharing, but I could see how torn up they were. It must be hard, to have memories of their son constantly surrounding them... even with D, I'm so far removed from the situation that my grieving comes in spurts. If I were back home with the S's, the agony of my heart would be unceasing.

The language that I'm hearing over and over again is, no surprise, that of the hope of seeing these two again. SDA's believe in the resurrection of the righteous at the second coming of Jesus, that death is but a "dreamless sleep" until then, and that the righteous will spend all eternity in heaven. I was raised hearing and reading and believing this version of things, but as I sat in that room with all the other teary-eyed young people and adults, I realized, much as I did when SOULS came last year, that I don't believe that anymore.

When C came home, I turned to him and said, "I think I'm an atheist." He replied, "...Congratulations?"

I should make it clear that C has never pressured me in any way to leave my beliefs or my church and adopt his viewpoint. He's listened to what I have to say, sat through my explanations of Bible passages and church doctrine, and even listened attentively as I read him Case for a Creator on the trip to and from the Renaissance Festival. He has not hesitated to share his side of things, of course, but his point of view is that I can believe whatever I want, but the important thing is that I believe it for myself and because I have thought it out myself. He doesn't want me to believe and follow something just because other people are influencing me to do so (which includes being afraid of disappointing people by adopting a different viewpoint). Have his beliefs influenced me? Absolutely yes, but that's because as I've begun to question and think for myself these past few years, my church's version of things made less and less sense. God made less and less sense. I began to cobble together my own philosophy, based on my observations of the world around me, and then when I was exposed to C's point of view, well... the two were very similar.

I'm not set in any particular belief system at this point. I'm still... in flux, I guess you could say. I'm not an atheist in reality, for I still believe in the existence of God, or a higher power, or whatever, but... although I believe in God, I don't believe in God. Do you see the distinction?

Honestly? I've found that I'm much happier, balanced, and accepting now that I've left Christianity. The whole "atheists are immoral heathens" thing is so not true. Atheists are some of the best people that I know. I know some really good Christians, too, but I think it has more to do with the person than the belief system. Don't get me wrong-- Christianity has a great philosophy, and if people would live life the way that Jesus espoused the world would be a heck of a lot better place. And that's what I'm trying to do-- live the life that Jesus advocated... except without the God part.

I've heard that without God you can't love other people, that there's no source of goodness without him.  Since I no longer believe that I'm an unworthy person who needs saving from myself, I'm free to see the goodness and love that I have inside of me. It comes from me, from a decision to love the people around me, and so many other people have made that decision independent of any kind of divine mandate or indwelling. Atheists, the supposedly heartless immorals, have done a damn lot of good in the world for no reason other than that they saw the suffering and neediness of their fellow human beings and wanted to relieve it.

I've also heard that being an atheist diminishes the sanctity of life, makes it just some happenstance thing that has no consequence or bearing. While I suppose that's true, in a way (for they don't believe that they are the metaphorical center of the universe as Christians do), I think it brings as great or greater a reverence for life as the belief of creation by a personal deity. Consider these two quotes:

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements - the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life - weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.” ― Lawrence M. Krauss

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” ― Richard Dawkins

The thing that really bothered me, the thing that really disturbed my previous lines of thinking, was a quote from Epicurus that I stumbled across that put a voice to the quailing doubts and angry questions I have about God. I began vacillating and questioning while I lived in ID, but there was too much at stake there for me to give full expression to most of my doubts. I broke out of one of the church's doctrines while there, and received a mighty backlash from it. That taught me not to rock the boat. But once I moved away, once the reputation of a wonderful family didn't rest upon my actions, I was free to pursue a path that made sense to me, one that resonated with both my being and my mind. I didn't come across this quote until that time, and it's probably a good thing, because if I had found it while I was still up north... I think all hell would have broken loose. It would have put me in quite the hard place emotionally and mentally, I can assure you.

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"  - Epicurus [341–270 B.C.]

I guess I'll end with that. It sums it up pretty well for me.

I know that at the memorial on Friday (and whenever D's memorial is) I'll be hearing a lot about the Second Coming, and that's fine. To me, all this talk about seeing them again and Satan out there working hard, etc. simply sounds like people trying to make sense of the bad stuff that happens in the world, and clinging to a comforting thought because they cannot face the finality of loss. But I know that they really, really believe it, and it brings them comfort and hope, so... I'm not going to say a word. Not a peep from me.

To be brutally honest, though? I do miss having that comfort... the thought of seeing the ones I love again. I just don't want to truly say goodbye.

4 thoughts:

  • Optimistic Existentialist | May 31, 2013 at 5:15 AM

    i have always felt so conflicted on this...I WANT to believe in an afterlife...but I don't think I do. Great post.

  • Cassandra | May 31, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    Of course. I WANT to believe in an afterlife too... I hate the thought of the finality of death. I'd much rather there were something to "break my fall", as it were... but I'm in the same boat as you.

  • Anonymous | June 2, 2013 at 5:00 AM

    Hi Cassandra. I'm Heather from Idaho, Jolene's friend. We met once, at my house, during Bible study. I hope you don't mind, but I've been reading some of your posts, and I can relate to how you're feeling. I'm so sorry for your and the Stottlemyers' loss, it's always hard losing a family member. Last June, my cousin passed away from cervical cancer. I was her medical power of attorney and was with her during her last days. While in the hospital on dialysis, her heart suddenly stopped and the doctors began doing CPR, lasting up to about 20 mins. Knowing that she wouldn't have any quality of life to return to after being out so long, I had to make the call to pull the plug. It was the hardest choice I've ever had to make. My cousin and I had always known each other, but didn't talk for years. A few years before her death, we had reconnected and had developed a very strong bond. I don't have any sisters, so my cousin was like a sister to me. After her death, I felted cheated, robbed of all the coming years we could have had together. I have been where you are now.

  • Cassandra | June 3, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    Hi, Heather. I don't mind at all. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your cousin-sister. Having to pull the plug must have been such a hard, devastating decision for you to make... Thank you for your comment.

Post a Comment