It's hard to know when the earliest inklings of Atheism began; really I suppose, it depends on which gods are being rejected. The idea of a person, frustrated with his or her life, getting ill, screwed over, even frustrated with the simple hardships that living consists of, makes me believe it's perhaps earlier in history than we think. Those bitter few were probably less likely to carve it in stone somewhere, so their doubts are lost to the annals of history.
One of my earliest memories of skepticism happened while I was in a private Christian school. Our class was going to adopt a whale named South Paw. South Paw got her name because she had a little paw print shape on her left fluke.
Holy shit. I'm a south paw! I am going to be co-owner of a whale that's just like me!
Pretty big news to little kids, right? What better way to get us pumped up about the most bad ass class pet that we're not actually ever going to meet than to show us a video about humpback whales? It was exciting. It was movie day, and it was only borderline educational. We got to watch movies and eat lunch in a different room (because extension cords were a real luxury in the mid 90s,) and we were going to watch a video about South Paw the humpback whale.
On the grainy curved screen of a boxy, donation TV, we watched humpback whales breaching all afternoon. It blew our tiny little minds. As any excited little kid with pizza-greased fingers pressed over my mouth, I gasped, "Holy Cow!"
Some lady, who to this day I can't remember why she was there, some TA, a volunteer parent, who knows, leaned over and said sternly, "You shouldn't call anything holy but the lord. It's as bad as cursing!"
We thought she was joking. Lady, we're in Christian School, we don't curse. "Holy Cow" is on the list of words Christian kids *get*, right up there with crud, or fart (when we were old enough, of course). As a class, we batted it off, and when another whale sprouted from the waves, its body arching backwards like an Olympic gymnast, we said it again.
And she stopped the video.
"If you say that one more time," she announced, "We aren't going to watch this video. It's very important that you understand what it means to be holy, and you can't use that word about everything."
We settled back down after that, apparently no longer allowed to show enthusiasm. All I remember thinking was whatever my second grade equivalent was to, "Fucking really? What is wrong with you?"
Even if I thought that woman was an idiot, I never doubted God. I did, however, from then on, decide that there were people who were morons, that took God too seriously. Even now, the things that I resent about being raised religious have nothing to do with God, they were the actions of people who used God, religion, as their indefensible argument. God was the "times-infinity-plus-one" of grown up logic.
God was sort of a consultant in my head for a lot of my early years, and when I felt distanced from Christianity, and it's almost as though he retired. It never occurred to me that while I was asking him if he thought my feet made good camel shadow puppets, he was whispering into the ears of other people that you can just go ahead and hate people for whatever.
Religion, whether or not the deity it's based on is real, and that religion is God. A god exists in the actions, beliefs and words of its followers, and it has movements. It is capable of genocide and charity. The acts of the religious are the acts of their God. Arguing for or against a pillar of someone's beliefs is as genuinely ridiculous as arguing against a literal pillar of the Parthenon. It is simply too big and inflexible to respond to vocabulary.
When I think of the far right, of racists, of anyone who believes that their god should have control over someone else's behavior or more importantly, their beliefs and thoughts, I think of that lady in second grade, who was ostensibly protecting God from being compared to a cow.
Institutions, religions, these things are faceless. They are suits of armor that any one can slip into, whether or not they intend to save lives or end them. There is no point in arguing. Challenge their actions, challenge their syntax, but most importantly, we have to challenge them. These arguments cannot be "us versus them." It has to be "You and me."
I have never wanted in my life to be political. I started writing this before having a few days ago, and I feel a bit defeated. Over and over again, I see a lack of certainty. We have red flags waving from every corner of our eye, and whatever political matador is waving it has successfully kept our attention bouncing around, one alluring threat to another. We are afraid of fundamentalism, and it is difficult not to see that as a vine that hangs on the branches of religion. We are running in circles protesting each other instead of finding ways to keep ourselves intact.
I see potential damage to very basic things, mostly, another human's life.The position of president is a fractional god, at this point. We can't simply attack him or the idea of his goblinesque administration.
We need to focus, but I can't figure out on what. We can't watch things erode the value of another person's life simply because they don't apply to us yet. The question is, what the fuck does that entail?
I don't know what it means to be "good" at being social, or to have a lot of friends. So far as I can tell, it's just people who do it more often than they don't do it. A lot of my conversations are awkward and it takes me awhile to warm up to people. I write primarily because I know people who read it will understand exactly what I have to say. When it comes to speaking, I fumble a lot, my mind darts down rabbit holes and comes up with banal anecdotes that don't really matter to anyone. In spite of that, I try, and in that sense, I guess I'm social, and I guess I'm okay at it if for no other reason that I keep trying even after it ends poorly.
Every so often, something happens and not only do things end on a bad note, but they leave you bitter, or broken. You get in a fight, or someone you know gets in a fight with someone else you know, and you're left unsure of who's in the right or if either of them are. Knowing how to react feels like dismantling a bomb.
I put myself in a lot of strange situations socially. It's part of figuring out how to do comedy, and partly because I don't think I'm good enough at differentiating between what would be a generally normal social interaction and a strange one. I've definitely hurt people that way, by expecting something of them they weren't prepared for (Hey I'm homeless tonight, can you help?) or by leading them to believe they could expect more from me. I don't do it intentionally but it's a learning process.
Occasionally, your social role and how you really see someone becomes starkly clear. For me, that tends to happen whenever I have to go to a hospital.
Thursday, I am sitting in a hospital room divided by a pulled curtain. On the other side of that a drunk woman is moaning. The fluorescent lights here paint everything pale and it strikes me that this is an odd place to choose lighting that can make everyone look sick. I'm waiting for him to come back from a CAT scan, and I wonder to myself, What am I doing here?
I didn't ask myself that because I didn't want to be there; of course I did. There was an accident, you go when someone you care about gets hurt. It was more the intensity of how I wanted to be there. The second I realized that was where I had to go, my focus became a pin prick, it made a camera obscura and all I could see was this blurry image of something outside of where I was.
I have to get to the hospital. I have to make sure he's okay.
I knew that he'd gotten into an accident before I got the call. He was late and didn't let me know. Simple as that. It's a strange thing to know about someone. There was no future, no spirals of worry, imagining him banged up or destroyed. No regret about any fights we'd had, only a vague sense of responsibility because he'd been coming to pick me up. A friend gave me a ride, I went through a couple rounds of security, and then I saw him. His face was half caked in blood before they took him to the scan and I was left waiting, listening to the assorted ramblings of the drunk woman behind me.
When he saw me he smiled, a kind of smile that's still bright even with half of his face looking like a Halloween mask. I held his blood covered hand and watched him smile at me just because I was there with him.
No ulterior motives. No other sentiment besides, "Hi!"
They took him for a scan and I sat there. I listened to the drunk woman, texted a friend, but mostly just sat there and wondered, what was I doing there?
It gave me time to think about how complicated things can get when you don't know what you're doing. Especially if you don't understand why you're doing it, or you're in a situation where you're forced to wait on an outcome. There's a lot of room for accidents in my life.
(He is fine, by the way. He cleaned up, and escaped with a lucky concussion and a car that looks like a dollar bill after laundry day.)
We hurt each other, but usually, we're not setting out to. I think the fact that it's often unintentional, or at least misunderstood, is why it's so difficult to deal with. If someone wanted to hurt you, wanted revenge or to tear you up to build themselves, those are digestable, logically, even if they're hurtful. Those are motives, but a lot of the most painful things I've encountered are accidents.
We're trying to get over our losses or we're convinced we are past them. We use people because we need someone to talk to, or a warm body to just exist with us. The longer you're out in the social miasma, meeting and connecting with new people, forming friendships, you end up with an entanglement of lives. Everyone you know knots together. Sometimes they hurt each other, and sometimes they hurt you or you them; it's hard to know how to handle it. You doubt yourself, doubt the people you know and love, doubt humans as a whole.
It's the person who whispers to you that they love you when they themselves don't really know any more. It's how someone insists you can't change even though they had no idea who you used to be. It's pushing because you don't know how else to show someone you care about them. It's believing some other fallible person can save you. There are moments you don't really think about, moments that you inadvertently shape someone with. Often, it's senseless and it hurts. We begin and end things, repeat ourselves and our mistakes with other people.
I never thought I would be the kind of person who hurt people the way I did. I'm still puzzled when I see people I know do the same things and hurt people I know they care about. I still get myself into situations I probably shouldn't, so I guess I can't blame them. That holier-than-thou attitude that I know what the right thing to do still lurks in me, either from when I was religious or when I was so closed off I wouldn't take any risk if I had any doubt in my mind that I might fail. I learned walking into that hospital room what you do in the face of doubt: you go with purpose.
I hadn't realized it, but this is something that I'd been working on for awhile. When I felt lost in my life, directionless to the point of being suicidal, I made the conscious a conscious effort with my choices to only choose what I didn't know. I felt lost, and that came from doing with what I assumed I was supposed to do, so I stopped. I chose uncertainty, and I made that choice with a sense of purpose. I wanted to know what happened on the paths I'd never taken. Sometimes it sucked, sometimes it was fine. In rare moments, it amazed me.
Later, when I was single, I made the conscious choice not to get together with someone solely because I was lonely. I fucking wanted to have someone, almost anyone, but I knew how that would end, and not well for me. I waited. My days were fine but I'd cry myself to sleep. I'd wake up, live, then fall asleep, crying almost as if to ensure that I was empty by the time I was dreaming. When I finally decided to look for someone, I had a purpose; I wanted to find someone I liked and that I was a person I liked when I was around them.
There is a difference between having a sense of purpose, which I don't know that I do, and acting with a sense of purpose. I'm hoping the latter breeds the former.
I can never always know how my actions effect everyone involved, and I'm trying to keep that in mind about the people I know. Everything is so tightly woven. I don't want anyone to get hurt, but sometimes being indecisive about how to let everyone come out clean leaves you hitting someone hardest. I tread lines when it comes to caring about people and I know that. The thing that I hope saves me is my intent. I may not know what I'm doing, but I know my intentions thoroughly. I won't act until I'm sure of it, until there's purpose. That's the best way I know how to navigate. The truth beyond that is relative and open to a lot of interpretation.
We get banged up, there are accidents, and often, we're forced to wait. The only thing that makes you feel sane, that you can be trusted or trust others, is understanding why you're there in the first place. You went there with a purpose. The rest follows.