22 February, 2010

Living in the pregnant pause

(Hi, before you start you should know that this is not very much about what I usually post about--it's mainly about religion. As with many Christian traditions I halfheartedly absorbed just because I'm American, I feel that I didn't fully understand Lent when I decided to give up I'm Somewhere Else. Having thought about it more, I feel that Lent is a way of living and thinking and isn't as simple as just giving up something concrete, and I think this post is an appropriate post for me to make during Lent.)

When I was younger I used to think that all gay people felt empty and cried all the time because we're naturally unhappy people because it's an inferior state. I thought that whenever people did gay pride or anything, they were just trying to convince themselves, like the Emperor's New Clothes, and that when gay people said they were in love and wanted to get married, they were just trying to convince themselves they were in love, but really they were settling for someone they didn't really love.

This is probably hard to believe given how much I complain about being gay on this blog, but I don't feel that way anymore. There are still a lot of aspects of it that I find to be shitty, but I know they affect other people differently. Also, I just don't feel miserable. I think a lot of this has to do with my environment. When I was in high school I looked at all the shitty aspects of being gay and would just cry all the time, but I think that's because aside from the legit shitty aspects I was in an environment where there were lots of non-innate shitty aspects, like having to feel really nervous about everything I wrote and said, and having to feel cut off from being friends with both genders in different ways. These aspects were sort of under-the-radar and pervasive so I didn't necessarily see them. At Oberlin they are mostly gone, so even though I don't think that being gay is a fun time, I think that being alive while being a gay person can be a very fun time.

So, anyway, the way I used to feel about gay people is now how I feel about religious people. I drew a pretty good comic about it in class.

AFV: batter my heart 3-person God
God: (reaches down with a giant shining hand and wrests AFV's heart open) Hi! I'm here!
AFV: (looks happy)
AFV a few minutes later: (looking sad) Did that really happen. I probably just imagined it. AARGH I'm so alone in the world.

The fucking shit that God has done for me and I don't even care. Or, um, the fucking shit my brain is doing because the idea of there not being a God makes me want to die? Except, either way I just want to die so I can find out, at this point I feel like I'd rather be in hell and know there is a God. (I recognize this is kind of a messed-up thing to put on the Internet. I have no motivation to commit suicide, lots of fun stuff is happening right now and I'm a happy person, gay germs aside. I'm sure I will be agonizing about the afterlife for seventy more years, unless I get hit by a bus.)

I have actually figured out how I ruined my relationship with God. Amusingly, given that I now feel pretty normal about being gay, and horrible about God, in the time period when I felt horrible about being gay, God was just around. Sometimes people are like "it must have sucked to find out you're gay, you're so religious" but I wasn't raised in a religion at all. In fact I became religious when I was ten, after I had already started finding out that I was gay. It was my own thing. For a while I would tell God that I was sorry for being gay, but I soon figured out I wasn't. Even later, when I felt like it was an empty, horrible thing to be, I didn't think that God was mad at me for it or anything like that.

Sometimes I thought my prayers got answered. However, in twelfth grade I prayed for my music teacher, who was bipolar and would yell and swear at the kids in my class, to get better, because I knew something horrible was going to happen. I really loved my teacher, I was one of the only kids he considered worthy of apologies after he blew up. One time he awkwardly bought me flowers after making me cry in class. Anyway, I prayed a lot, and then something incredibly horrible happened. I think he wasn't even allowed back on campus afterward. After that, I didn't believe in the power of prayer, but I thought that God could change me if I wanted to be changed, and sometimes when I prayed I felt it happen--this grace, just something that altered my way of thinking about things.

Then at the end of first year I read Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. I always liked CSL when I was a kid but sometimes I think this was the worst decision I ever made. I always said Christian prayers because that's most of the little I had been exposed to, but I didn't really think Christianity was true. I remember watching the movie Jesus Camp and thinking "that sucks, those kids have a real feeling for God but they're being told all the wrong things about Him."

But then when I read Mere Christianity I thought a lot of it made sense. I started moving toward identifying as Christian. I also got interested in medieval studies and I was really moved by the way medieval Christians related to God. And I just thought that I wasn't Doing Enough. If I was Christian there would be certain things for me to read and certain things for me to do, in order to be a religious person.

The problem is because of my social shit it is pretty impossible for me to go to church regularly. For the past two Sundays I have gone to church and I think--could be wrong, could totally be wrong--that this will be the time it actually works out, because I have a friend who likes going to church and we go together, and no one really talks to us or anything, which is perfect.

Actually, I don't know why I said "the problem is." I have about eight problems. I would like to know what to do in church all the time, and be able to take communion. But it is scary to think about contacting people so I can get baptized and confirmed. Also, the really really really big problem is just that I have horrible doubts. And not just about the existence of God. I just find Christianity to be--well, I mean, it's very beautiful, and it makes sense, but--

Next year I want to live in Talcott, which is this really castle-y awesome dorm that is right next to the building where most of the creative writing and Latin classes are. Once I started thinking about living in Talcott, I remembered that the kosher co-op is in the same building, and wondered if it would be nice to join it. I remembered that last year I thought it would be nice to be in a co-op where they sometimes pray.

But then I couldn't even believe I had ever thought that would be okay, because I would probably like it a lot, and if I liked praying with Jewish people, then that would mean Christianity wasn't real. I realize now that I believe mostly in experience. I mean, I know I've experienced grace. But lots of people who aren't Christian have experienced things like that. I feel like my attempts at identifying with Christianity are just making me not believe in God because I find it completely impossible to reconcile Christianity with the things about God that I firmly and deeply believe.

Since I started identifying as Christian, I've become aware that lots more people than my parents (especially my father) are extremely contemptuous of religion. I mean, almost everyone I know is like that. It just makes me think I'm stupid and if I wasn't so stupid and deluded I'd be an atheist. I was reading some posts by chaoticidealism, who is an ASD person who's written some really good and important stuff about ASD and functioning level things, and is also Christian. She said that she has doubts, but that believing in God makes more sense to her than not believing in God, so it's actually less of a leap to be a theist. Maybe that's how I feel, now. The thing is I used to be so sure.

I keep meeting people and asking them if they're religious. Why would I do that? Who cares? Why do I need other people to make me not wake up in the middle of the night feeling incredibly terrified and alone all the time? (The other night I woke up and there was this voice singing outside and I didn't feel alone at all and I started shaking, but, fuck, that stuff never stays with me for long, of course, because that's just how stupid and horrible my brain is.)

I'm always screwing with my Facebook religious beliefs, trying to be clever and accurate at the same time. In the past year I've had "Episcopalian Quaker Deist," "Christian Universalist," "Affective Piety," "There was a pregnant pause before He said okay" (Belle & Sebastian), "Pray to God but row for shore" (a quote from Carnivale), and "Cretin." I guess these are all reasonably true (especially the Belle & Sebastian one) but "Cretin" probably gets the closest to how I feel.

"Cretin" means Christian. People started using it as a word for intellectually disabled people as a way of saying, God is for everybody. Our society hates intellectually disabled people, so now it is a Ramones song, but I like the original idea. I think that spending time with severely intellectually disabled people is a pretty good way to understand God, and this definitely isn't because I think that they are adorable saints, but I do think there is a deeper love in us that we try to constrict and deny the farther we get into the world. If you don't have language and you're not far enough entrenched in your standard culture to do impression management, I think that you experience and display that love in a more obvious way. I know a woman who tears up Bibles and scratches people in the face when she gets mad--I'm not saying severely disabled people don't have original sin--but she also hugs and kisses people as soon as she meets them. She doesn't remember people's names most of the time. I think that if we didn't remember we're not supposed to hug everyone, we would hug everyone. It's caritas.

I hope this doesn't come off as offensive but I seriously sometimes want a DDDD--Doctorate of Developmentally Disabled Divinity. I feel like maybe as I've tried harder to be standard, I've tried to make my feelings about God be standard too, and it's just not taking. It just makes me feel terrified, it has for months.

There has to be something under all the systems. There has to be something under all the words. I put all these words on top of God and now it's hard for me to see God. I'm always praying and it's like I need to pray to keep God alive. But what if there's a kind of prayer that stacks on top of God and hides God away?

I try to look at life like I have the brain disorder where you can see colors but you can't tell what anything is. Like an everlasting shutdown, but more fun. If you dislocate your mind like that, then of course you can see life is glorious, it's something more than the sum of its parts. But sometimes I'm afraid that that's all I can say about God. Maybe it's stupid that I find myself trying to say more than that.

(If you have any more faith than I do--i.e. about as much faith to fill a contact case, probably--please talk to me about this, I'm kind of falling apart.)


  1. Even if you have .00001% faith, you still have faith. Faith in something as opposed to faith in nothing.

    I hate praying. It makes me feel like I am forcing God to see the world through my perceived problems. Gods perception is so beyond my capacity of thought so rather than trying to change things with prayer I just have faith. Anger, frustration, doubt, hopes, and dreams, but mostly faith. Faith in what I don't know and don't understand and never will. That to me is grounding.

    The politics of organized religion is not my thing, but I consider myself to be 'god seeking.' I was baptized Episcopalian by my own choice when I was 13. I have been a member of a few non-denominational missionary type churches but I don't go to church at this point in my life. When I decide to go back, it will be to an Episcopal church.

    You're more than welcome to send me an email if you want to talk about anything. jessmcwade at comcast dot net

  2. "I keep meeting people and asking them if they're religious."

    Ha, I used to do this when I was little. I was brought up without religion, by atheist parents, so the whole religion thing seemed very odd and exotic to me, and I would try to get the staff at the autism camp I went to sometimes to tell me if they were religious, and what it was like.

    (I've since embraced atheism as being right for me --- a materialist worldview not only makes the most sense to me, but is most emotionally fulfilling, which is odd because people usually think it's a very bleak, comfortless philosophy --- but I do not think faith is stupid. Even if I don't feel it, or need it in my life, I can see that plenty of other people do, and that having faith can make them better, kinder, happier people. For that reason, I hope you can recover yours.)

    Is there a chapel on your campus? Maybe, if there is one, going to talk to the clergyperson there one on one might be less scary and overloading than going to church services...

  3. I think a lot of people apply labels to themselves ("Christian," "Jew," "Buddhist," etc) and then beat themselves up for not fitting that label perfectly. The labels you apply to yourself should come organically from who you think you are as a person, not vice versa. This is not to say that you shouldn't call yourself a Christian, if that's the religion you like best. But you shouldn't judge yourself based on your similarity to other Christians, nor should you be afraid to explore other religions.
    (Full disclosure: I was raised Christian, but am no longer sure if I consider myself a Christian, though I still believe in God.)
    As for doubts, I think anyone who takes their faith seriously has doubts sometimes. If you never had any doubts, that would probably mean you never seriously thought about what you believe.
    I'm sorry if this doesn't make any sense. I don't normally comment on blogs, so I feel kind of stupid, but I've been thinking a lot lately about God, religion, and what it means to be a Christian, so I thought I could say something here. I wish I could offer more concrete advice, but I don't really have any special insights.

  4. Firstly: I read your blog, sometimes. I'm autistic. And also an atheist, though I was raised Christian. I don't think the world is empty or meaningless, I am just cognitively unable to believe in a personified being who I can talk to who also somehow created the universe and has special rules about people not eating shrimp or wearing mixed fabrics or whether or not you're gay. I do think there is great wonder and power and awesomeness in existence, and I am sure I've felt the tremendously amazed feeling that lots of people attribute to one deity or another, but I guess I just can't see any reason to think it was the Christian God or Zeus or anyone else rather than just...reality, and my human brain, interacting in some cool/interesting/meaningful fashion.

    I don't have a problem with people believing in whatever it is they want (as long as they don't use it to oppress others or as an excuse to abuse people or anything) but I guess...for me, the thing about "organized" religion that bugs me the most is how it's all a way of trying to force-fit your own experiences and perceptions into stuff other humans have written down, or established as ritual, etc. Not that the writing and ritual can't be cool and fascinating and meaningful *in its own right*, I just find it kind of trivializes a sunset to say "wow look what [this particular god] did!" rather than just "wow what an amazing sunset".

    Anyway hopefully none of this was condescending or "obnoxious atheist" in tone or manner, just was reading and some things occurred to me so I wrote them.

  5. thank you all for commenting

    you guys are some pretty nice atheists, too! not so much "you believe in God? seriously? is this kind of like how you always drink the same kind of soda?"