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Losing My Religion

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I was awoken at 5:30 am on the morning my father died from lung cancer. My mother had come into my room screaming, yelling in anguish at her husband’s fading. I ran to his room where the rattle from his remaining lung played like the noise of a child running his stick against his ribs. Suddenly, it stopped and there was silence. I ran to where his body lay on the single bed that spoke of a failing intimacy between my parents that illness alone did not enforce. Punching the place where I believed his heart to be, I screamed and wailed, begging him not to leave me, not to give up after all I had done to take care of him. But he was dead and nothing I could do would change that.

I made all the arrangements for his funeral.  My mother was incapable of making any decisions so it was left to me, at just 21, to make sure that everything went as he wished. Dad had always wanted Paul Robeson singing “A Tree” to be played at his funeral. He had worshipped at the altar of nature, saw his god in rocks and rivers and felt his blessings in the sun for almost all his life. I wasn’t allowed to bring in the record for the crematorium to use so hymns were sung instead.  Songs of someone else’s religion rang through the room whilst Dad fell to Mother Earth.

One day, two weeks or so after dad died, we came home from church. I was looking for answers, for reasons why life is taken away too soon, looking for something to replace the empty space where faith used to be. Missionaries had been at the church that day, entertaining us during the service with a guitar and tales of Africa.

Shortly after we got home the doorbell rang and we were treated to a personal visit from the missionaries. The young woman who had played guitar asked me if I believed that Jesus was the son of God.

“I’d like to believe,” I began, “but I just don’t know…”

“You can save your soul, you know. It’s too late for your dad, his soul is beyond redemption, but it’s not too late for you”

In tears, I ran to my room and left my mother to cope with God’s sales reps on her own. What kind of God would arbitrarily condemn a man’s soul to hell and then send one of his followers to tell this to his daughter, a young woman who was grieving and trying to look after her mother, to somehow take her father’s place?

This was the day I lost my religion.

I know that many of you reading this, committed Christians or not, will say that this young woman was wrong, that it was only one person’s interpretation of the bible and was not necessarily indicative of Christianity as a whole. And there you have it: one person’s interpretation.

Aren’t all religions just mankind’s attempt to explain the universe and their place in it? Their interpretations of what a group of MEN wrote down hundreds, if not thousands of years ago?

I totally respect the right of anyone to follow their God in whatsoever way they choose. In many ways I envy the comfort that belief and faith can bring. But for me, there is no one to rely upon but myself. I try to be nice to people and treat them as I would want to be treated not because I think it will get me into Heaven, but because it’s the right thing to do. If I screw up and hurt someone, I have no one to blame but myself and no apology to make other than to the person I have hurt. I have good friends who are religious and I am more thankful than they know that they can see me as an OK person, even though I don’t share their beliefs.

This is why I am an atheist.
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Writer, photographer, creative fantasist.

18 thoughts on “Losing My Religion

    1. I apologise for my tweet. It came across as uncaring and exactly in the same manner as the young offensive woman I spoke of. I was wrong and I am sorry. I appreciate the prayers.

  1. oof. What a thoughtless young woman, to say such a thing to you!
    Mind, I was told last year, at a funeral, that God was only planning on saving the people whose names the vicar knew. Charming.

  2. As Voltaire said ‘If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him’.
    Any belief system involving a concept of God must be defined in human terms as human terms are all our brains can cope with. They are necessarily going to be inadequate and so the very last thing religious people should do is to try to enforce their anthropomorphic understanding of God on others. Sadly many do this, as you yourself experienced. The arrogance of many so-called religious people astounds me. Its effects can be seen from the women stoned to death under Sharia Law to the cold-blooded murder of doctors who perform abortions in US clinics.

  3. Although I didn’t have that particular awful experience, my own different experiences and internal debates lead me to the same conclusions and beliefs as you. Very well expressed, Nettie. I lost my religion more gradually than you. Unlike you, I don’t think I do envy religious people the comfort their religion gives them – I find a comfort in my interpretation of things, to be honest. Funnily, two people came to my door today to sell me their religion; I sent them politely away. But it did make me wish they didn’t feel so superior that they thought they should come to try to save me.

    1. I read your story, Glynis, and it made me so sad and so angry. The mother should have been there for her child, but I am glad that you were. And I believe you did what you did becuase you are a good and caring person. For me, God didn’t come into it.

  4. I have never had a religion to lose, but believe that the central tenet of most religions ‘be nice to others’ is simply a pretty good way to live. Thank you for telling your story.

  5. Thank you for writing what must have been a painful post Nettie. I’m so sorry you went through such an awful experience. Those missionaries had no business talking to you in such a way and at such a time and I sincerely hope someome has pit them straight; Sadly I know there are too many similar stories.

    You know I am a committed Christian; I wouldn’t say it gives me comfort, at times it can be very disturbing and challenging. One thing I do believe, and though my church would disagree I believe I have Scriptural grounding for it, is that we can’t be ‘saved’ in the way most evangelical Christians tell you. Not my place to go into it here, it would be totally inappropriate, but I thOught you would like to know that we don’t all believe in eternal damnation for everyone but an elite group.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling on. Another beautifully written post. Lots of love xxx

    1. Oh, Becca my love, you know you are the best advert I know of for Christianity. I know you don’t feel this way and I know you don’t think I’m the spawn of the devil. Not on a good day, anyway. You are one of the best people I know and your friendship has enriched me on many, many bad days.
      Thank you. Nx

  6. Nettie – I am so very sorry about the loss of your father. And how heartless – how very heartless – to treat you as those visitors did and say those things to you. I can understand why you decided then that organised religion was not for you.

    For what it’s worth, I agree with you that everyone has to follow her or his own path to spirituality. As humans, we simply do not know the truth about some of the larger questions in life, and each of us has a different way of searching for those answers. I admire you for not accepting someone else’s views without even thinking them through. No matter what those larger answers are, I believe that treating others with compassion, kindness and dignity has to be part of it. I wish you’d been treated that way that day…

  7. What a moving explanation of your beliefs. I used to be an atheist but I am now agnostic. To be an atheist is saying that you know beyond doubt that there is no ‘God’ for the want of a better term. I can’t say that, because I don’t know – how could I?

    I totally agree with your view of men trying to explain the universe and our place in it. I think that’s what makes us human. We are all curious and always on the quest for answers – if we were not, there would be no development/progress.

    However all organised religions I’m afraid claim to have THE answer. That’s why I’m not a believer. Religion is also a useful tool of the powerful to divide and rule, and use as a weapon of war.

    I do think there has to be a reason for our existence however. I don’t like the term God because of the image that conjours up. I have and will always have an open mind to the many possibilities, but it will remain closed to the bigots like the woman you spoke to that awful day.
    Thanks Nettles x

  8. brave words – I am sorry you had to cope on your own back then. I lost my faith (did I ever have any or was it just expected of me?) after a Church of England primary school and a Roman Catholic secondary school and years of traveling the globe. I am happy and very content knowing I am an accident of evolution, I do not need to go’somewhere’ when I die. It does take courage to admit to these views and I admire you for declaring such so young.

  9. What a moving blog entry and how I agree with every word you have written. I didn’t lose my faith when my father died, because I didn’t have much of a faith to lose, but I lost the potential to have faith.

    I’m still desperately angry that my father died, as I’m sure you are. I can’t seem to reconcile that with believing in a God. Even now. I’m not sure that I ever will.

    Thank you for such an honest and beautifully written post.


  10. My respect for this post Nettie. It is moving, brave and honest.
    I’m so sorry for the passing of the father you loved and still love in your heart. Faith is very hard in the face of things that are unjust, not fair and simply not comprehensible.

  11. Nettie, this post must have been very painful for you to write. But I applaud you for writing it.

    I think that belief is just that, it is belief and not knowledge. We all have the right to our own beliefs but none of have the right to force those beliefs on to others.

    Like you, I sometimes feel sad that I have no knowledge of what will happen to me and the people I love. I often wish that I had a belief to follow in and am surrounded by both believers and non-believers.

    After many years of internal debating I have come to the conclusion to listen to myself. To trust my instincts. And my instincts tell me that what will come will come. I cannot change or prevent it. They also tell me that if there is an afterlife, I will not be judged on my church attendance, or praying, or telling others how to believe or not. Instead on how I lived my life, the respect and compassion I showed to others.

    Take care of you, Nettie.

  12. Nettie, I’m sorry I came to this post so long after you wrote it. Everything you write is so beautifully done as you have a pure heart and can reach down and make us feel whatever it is you’re saying.

    This line struck me, “I try to be nice to people and treat them as I would want to be treated not because I think it will get me into Heaven, but because it’s the right thing to do.” This is half of the Golden Rule that Jesus taught. The other was to love your God with all of your heart, your soul, and your might. I always confuse the last word with “mind.” Anyway, you are living by one of Jesus’ teachings, and that is what God wants us to do. In fact, you, in your “non-Christian” life are probably more Christian in a lot of ways than some people who show up at church and act one way then do not live by the Word during the rest of the week. A brief word for victims of the Catholic priest abuse scandals, speaking of one’s religion attacking them. I wonder how many of them turned Athiests. I also wonder if being Athiest is within one’s heart to begin with. Some people might have a natural inclination to believe in God–I say “might” because this is a theory. Some people “wish” they could believe. I have always believed without question. It’s not in my brain, it’s in my heart and soul.

    I appreciate what you must have gone through with your dad’s passing. xx

  13. Well I see you wrote this some time ago, but I have only just read it. I can relate to your feelings about religion – years ago I would not have.
    I was brought up as a strict Catholic and even though I didn’t attend masses after my first marriage (my first husband believed in nothing!) I was still an RC at heart. My eldest sister was brought up Anglican and had always been a little put out about it, so when she was in her 30s she converted to RC. Many years later I visited her – after having had no contact with her all through my teens, 20s and 30s, I was shocked to meet such a narrow minded, bigoted person who claimed to be a very good Catholic. She quoted the Bible at me in every conversation, and tried to sell the religion to me so much I felt sick by the end of the 3rd day and returned to the other side of Australia much earlier than intended.
    The next visit was worse – she criticised every other religion claiming the only ‘real’ one was RC. I watched her speak so nicely to people after mass only to run them down cruelly once they had left. That is when I began to slowly lose my religion. My sister rang me one day and told me I was an ‘invalid Catholic’ as I didn’t attend mass…well I could live with that because suddenly I realised I am a ‘better’ Christian than she and her likeminded mass attendees are.
    I have read Joseph Murphy’s books and have come to the conclusion that whatever happens in my life, is all in my control. God has nothing to do with it. ‘God’ is our own ego.
    When my sister was almost dying from losing a kidney, I flew over to care for her. I arranged for various contractors to do the house and garden work for her from then on…months later she told me ‘God was good for finding them for her’ – my reply was ‘No, I was good in finding them, I was the one who looked up the Yellow Pages and did the interviews!’
    Last Christmas she quoted the Bible yet again in the card she sent me – I sent her one with the quote ‘A sailor may believe in God but still learns to row his boat to the shore unaided’. It went down like a lead balloon of course.
    So Nettie, yes, I’m hearing you girl and understand your feelings on religion. xxx
    (I apologise for it being such a lengthy comment).

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