How Faitheist is Restoring my Faith in Atheist Writers

Atheism is one of those mindsets that I have had a hard time reading, despite my intention of opening myself up to multiple viewpoints on spirituality and religion. Even more surprising, it’s in spite of my lack of investment in the belief of a deity. I have come to think of myself as largely agnostic, believing in some things because I want to, not because I think they are definitely right, so atheism never struck me as a perspective that would bother me.

Atheists as people are fine for me. I have enjoyed getting to know many and have rarely encountered any whose atheism seemed problematic. They all have, mostly, been along the lines of Chris Stedman. And maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I choose to believe rather that there are more of him than not out there.

But atheist writers…damn if they don’t tend towards the same trends they claim to loathe. I’ve tried reading Richard Dawkins and stopped because I was just too revolted by his prejudice and too thrown off by the logical fallacies he commits in his quest to demonize all things religious.

I’ve made it through other books, like The Atheist’s Way, which were more tolerable and had some great moments, but I was still uncomfortable with how much the slippery slopes, broad generalizations, unbacked assumptions, and disdain for “other” resembled the fundamentalism which I left.

It’s actually kind of…funny, I guess, that the two camps would look at each other as the worst while being so damn similar, but I digress.

More recently, I decided to give it another go. I wanted to have at least one book by an atheist author that I didn’t want to burn along with my theology books from the IFB.

Enter Faitheist.

It’s more of a memoir than anything, and much of it covers the coming out journey of the author. (And full disclosure, I haven’t finished it yet. I have maybe a fourth left to read).

But it’s a beautiful book—perhaps not in spite of being a coming out memoir, but because of it.

Stedman values story-telling and didn’t set out to write a philosophy book, though there’s plenty of philosophy peppered throughout his story. He carefully details his own conversion and deconversion process and the struggles of realizing he’s gay while being part of a tradition that taught that gay is a hell-bent identity.

His loss of faith is poignant, something I can deeply relate to. His search for a reason to keep believing equally so. His subsequent disillusionment and anger towards Christianity is, well, pretty damn familiar.

But what makes this book stand out to me is that he doesn’t stay in that place. He realizes that his hatred of Christianity (and religion, in general) is reliant on stereotypes and caricatures of the worst sides of religion, missing the incredible complexity of belief and meaning-making that exists within any given path. He also recognizes the way that certain sections of the atheist community resemble the close-mindedness of religious zealots.

In other words, he is able to look at what he dislikes about the other and recognize its presence within himself.

His story of atheism is a personal one. He recognizes that it’s right for him right now but that it isn’t necessarily right for others. He recognizes that people who aren’t atheist are able to be good, even intelligent people and that they can have common goals towards which to work.

His goal isn’t to eradicate religion, as Dawkins and that ilk would want, but to work towards eradicating injustice and building bridges of commonality.

Some of the criticism of the book has expressed doubts about whether he’s a “true” atheist and suspicions that he will become religious or spiritual again. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what he believes down the road. There’s always a chance that each of us will change our minds/beliefs for any number of reasons. But throughout the book, I can see his atheism grow into the atheism of someone who doesn’t need to believe in a God and, thus, doesn’t need to debunk other’s beliefs, which makes me suspect that his atheism has a better chance of being lifelong and genuine if he’s not holding to it in opposition, anger, and fear of religion.

I would love for others to read this book. His journey is one that we can all learn from, regardless of what path we ultimately choose to walk.

 

Advertisements

Review: Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams

Next week, I have the honor of having a guest blog post from Gail Dickert. Gail is the author of two self-published books: Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams and Enlightened-ish.

I found out about her first book when I was looking for resources to help me come out to my parents. In hindsight, I wish I’d read it then, but I was nervous about ordering a book about coming out before I was officially out (because someone could see and realize I was trying to come out and then I’d be outed! So the brain doesn’t work the best when it’s afraid of doing something that it needs to do).

Long story short, I went out on a desperate limb and sent her an email begging for support and advice. She answered back with a kind of big-sisterly care that I had only dreamed of, and in the process, she offered me a friendship I didn’t realize I was looking for.

Before I had officially left Christianity, I made sure to make peace with my sexuality and my old religion–I wanted to know that I had reached a place where I wasn’t leaving because I felt forced out. Unfortunately, that all happened before I met her, so her book never made it’s way into the spiritual resource pile.

I decided to buy her book when I was ready to handle reading about coming out with a spiritual focus again. I was a bit nervous about revisiting those themes, but I also wanted to get a feel for how far I’d come from those days when I thought I couldn’t be a Christian if I were bi. About four weeks ago I finished Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams. In preparation for her guest post, I wanted to give my impressions of the book.

She admits in the book that her desire in writing it is to help homosexual Christians find a way of coming out of the closet without losing their faith in Christianity, but she takes a completely different approach to reconciling sexuality with the Bible. Rather than diving into the scholarly research or trying to debunk the “clobber” passages conservative Christians so often use, she merely shrugs them off.

Although I think biblical scholarship and reasoning have their place within a theological setting; far too often I feel that people think you have to use that route in order to be a gay Christian.

Gail ignores that pressure, highlighting the personal nature of both faith and sexual orientation. It’s jarringly obvious and refreshing. When deciding the place of sexuality and spirituality, all you should need is your own approval. Nothing more than that. Coming out doesn’t have to be an apologetics course!

As a survivor of ex-gay therapy, she designed the sections of her book like the twelve step program that has often been applied to “re-orientation,” except that in her book the steps are flipped on their heads. Rather than containing “instructions” for turning “straight” (re-closeting yourself), they’re instructions for how to accept your sexual orientation and yourself.

When I started reading, I took the twelve steps as a serious twist on approaching the closet, but as I progressed I began to feel that the steps themselves were more satirical than serious. My suspicions were confirmed when I got to the last step, summed up nicely in her statement: “Give these ’12 Step’ programs a rest already!”

Coming out is serious business. Anyone who has faced the door of that closet knows how serious it can be. But there is no such thing as the perfect formula for coming out, and Gail rightly recognizes that when we rely too much on the process of others, we harm ourselves by missing the cues to our own process. She knew that whatever her steps were to coming out, they weren’t for everyone. She couldn’t map my path or your path, she could only follow her own.

Which is exactly what she does in between each of the steps. She doesn’t write the typical coming out book. She doesn’t really write a self-help book at all. She writes a memoir of discovering her attraction to girls–the betrayals, the shame, the desperation for change, the torture of religious abuse, and finally the painful process of breaking free.

All she does is tell her story, but it’s a brilliant form of self-help because within her lived experiences she offers so much to others.

There aren’t that many books I’d recommend to LGBT who are struggling to find a place for their faith, but Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams would definitely be one of them. Gail tells her story in such a way that she inspires others to tell theirs. She embraces her faith as her own and empowers others to do the same. Both through her words and her actions, she shines a light towards freedom.

I’m so honored to know her as a friend, and I’m excited that next week she will be presenting one of the freedoms from her newest book, Enlightened-ish. Just to entice you to come back, I’ll let you know that it’s about cussing!

Tales from the Lesloom: Episode Five “Coming Out is Hard to Do.”

Welcome to the fifth episode of the Lesbian Heirloom Tales. If you haven’t been following along with this silly little series, I’d recommend going back to the beginning to get your bearings. Enjoy the break from the more serious topics with these imaginative accounts of the wonderful highs and terrible lows of a girl growing up and the loving futon that was sent to help her.

COMING OUT IS HARD TO DO

After Emma discovered that she was lesbian, she couldn’t wait to tell Rebecca. She constructed elaborate daydreams of their excited squeals as they read over the information together, and as such daydreams do, they quickly morphed into fantasies about dates, telling parents, and beautiful weddings.

“I’m so lucky,” she whispered to the futon. “I’ve found out who I am by falling in love with my best friend! It’s so romantic!”

The futon rejoiced with Emma as she discovered her identity, but it quivered in fear at the memory of how it had been inspired with its mission in the first place. It knew from its maker’s experience that accepting yourself is not the same thing as being accepted—and how much a young heart needed both.

Take it slow, it tried to warn Emma.

But she wouldn’t listen. She was far too excited to have discovered a way to explain her disinterest in boys. The next time Rebecca came over, Emma was practically bursting from the effort to keep her mouth shut long enough to get her mother out of the room.

“You look excited,” Rebecca ventured as she pulled out some DVDs she’d rented, tossing them on the bed.

Emma peaked out her door once more to make sure her mom was really gone and turned back to her friend. “You’ll never believe what I found!” she squealed, rushing over to her computer. She popped up one of the websites she’d been reading earlier and swung the screen toward Rebecca. “It explains everything!”

Rebecca glanced at the screen, her face unreadable. “What explains everything?”

The futon groaned slightly as it felt Rebecca stiffen.

Take it slow, it tried to whisper again, but Emma was too far into her own world to notice the changes in either of her friends.

“We’re lesbians.” She pointed to a paragraph about halfway down, wondering how Rebecca hadn’t seen it as clearly as she had.

Rebecca dutifully read what Emma had pointed to.

“I don’t think that’s me,” she finally said.

“What are you talking about? Of course it is! It’s why we like each other instead of boys.”

“I’m not lesbian,” Rebecca said again, more firmly.

“But you said you thought about kissing girls!”

“Uh, no, I didn’t! I said I didn’t always think about kissing boys.”

“But what about . . .”

“Ugh!” Rebecca groaned, flopping her head onto a pillow. “Emma.” she mumbled into the fabric. Sitting back up, she pulled the pillow into her lap. “It was something we tried to see how it made us feel. It wasn’t supposed to be an engagement!”

The words stung. Emma pulled the computer back to herself, creating a wall of screen between them so Rebecca couldn’t see her face. Tears pricked the edges of her eyes, but she refused to cry.

“Why are you so afraid of this?” Emma snapped. “I thought your mom was all feminist and stuff, but you’re acting like a complete . . . homophobe.” She barely knew what the word meant, but she knew it was bad—and bad fit her feelings.

Rebecca glowered. The futon did its best to intervene, with one girl trembling in despair and the other in anger.

“I’m not a homophobe!” Rebecca tossed the pillow at Emma. “You can be whatever you want!”

“Apparently not. My best friend can’t handle it.”

“Oh, that’s rich! You’re the one trying to force a label on me that I don’t think fits.” Rebecca grabbed the DVDs off the futon and shoved them back into her bag.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to go home.”

“You’re such a traitor!” Emma screamed as Rebecca yanked open the door. “You’re . . . you’re a tramp!”

She regretted the words as soon as she said them, but the pain and confusion felt as though they would suffocate her.

They’d had fights before. The one who left always came back. It was like a rule between them to always come back, so Emma waited for Rebecca. She didn’t cry. She just sat on the edge of the futon, holding her laptop, and watching the door.

But Rebecca didn’t come back.

A half hour later, Emma’s mom came up and knocked on the already open door. “Can I come in?”

Emma closed out her browser and shrugged. “I guess.”

“Rebecca’s mom just picked her up,” her mother stated as she joined Emma on the edge of the mattress.

“So,” Emma snarled, tossing her computer aside and flopping down on her back.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Emma’s hands flew to cover the tears leaking onto her cheek. “No. Leave me alone, please.”

It was meant to sound defiant, but it came out as more of a whimper.

“Alright.” Her mom gently rubbed Emma’s arm. “I’ll leave you alone for a while.” She stood to leave, but hesitated. “Don’t throw your friendship away over a fight, sweetie. You don’t find many friends like Rebecca. Promise me you’ll try to work it out.”

“Okay,” Emma muttered through her hands, but inside she was screaming, I think I threw away my friendship over a kiss!

After her mother left, Emma curled into her pillows and let the tears go. She cried for all she was worth over the unfairness of love, life, and growing up. She cried in anger at Rebecca and at herself. She cried in sorrow at the loss of something in their friendship. And she cried for the sake of crying because sometimes it’s the only way to get the tension of a horrible day out.

At some point her mother brought in a cup of tea and left it. She didn’t interrupt even though the futon could see it tortured her to watch her daughter in pain like that.

Don’t worry, it assured her, I’ll stay here with her.

Although her mother hadn’t consciously heard what the futon said, she felt the assurance of the words. Nodding her head sadly, she left her daughter to cry alone as she had asked.

The futon cradled Emma as gently as it could, hugging her to its chest in the way only a good piece of furniture can. To her, it felt like the end of the world. But the futon felt sure that things would look better when they got to the other side of the night.

It didn’t say that, of course, because heartbreak cannot be cured by promises of the future, but it tried to let hope silently seep  into Emma’s tears.

Tales from the Lesloom Episode Four: Labels and Love

If you’re following The Adventures of the Lesbian Futon, you’ll remember that last week, Emma had her first kiss and was beginning to understand that she wasn’t like all the other girls in her class, who had begun to have crushes on boys. Join me this week as Emma navigates this new love of hers.

If you’re new to the Tales of the Lesloom, find out how it all began here!

Episode 4

Emma and Rebecca didn’t really notice a change in their friendship after that night—at least not right away. When they woke up in the morning, they each gave each other a shy look and a small smile. It was tense, but it was an amicable intensity.

When Rebecca’s mom came to pick her up, Emma offered an awkward hug goodbye.

“See ya,” Rebecca mumbled as they released each other. Trotting out the door, she jumped in the car and gave a final wave from the window.

Emma felt a tiny little jump in her stomach as she watched her friend’s car disappear. The world seemed to be sparkling with happiness. The colors were brighter, the song of the birds louder. Emma herself felt like she was walking on clouds.

She spent the weekend daydreaming about the future she hadn’t really dared hope for before—a future where she and Rebecca grow up, growing closer to each other rather than apart, making a home together, living out their dreams together.

Come Monday, even school didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Emma danced around the futon as she got ready, singing to herself.

“I get to see her today!” she cooed to her little wooden friend, falling back against the mattress, the pillows popping with the force of her faux faint. “I think I’m worried . . . or maybe excited. My stomach is all jumpy!” She gripped her middle and rolled into a ball.

Maybe both, the futon offered with a laugh, pushing slightly against her limp form. It took a little more coaxing than usual to get her ready and on her way on time, but somehow it managed to get the love-sick teen heading towards the bus at a quick trot with a few minutes to spare.

The poor futon had to wait all day in torturous apprehension for what its sweet friend might encounter that Monday, but thankfully, we don’t have to wait with it. Abandoning the futon to its worried daydreams and imperfect predictions, we follow Emma to school . . .

Emma didn’t feel nearly so alone as she walked to her locker, and it added an extra bounce to her step. When she saw Janie, the friend she’d bailed on that weekend, instead of shrinking back from the interaction, she waved enthusiastically. She barely remembered to keep pretending that she had been sick during their short conversation, but Janie seemed more relieved than anything that Emma was so . . . there really wasn’t a correct word for what Emma seemed to be.

Emma jogged over to Rebecca as soon as she saw her arrive at her locker. The reunion wasn’t quite as romantic as Emma had imagined, but then again, it would be hard for them to have the kind of movie-moment Emma had conjured up in her mind. Emma gave Rebecca a goofy grin, bouncing on the balls of her feet in an effort to restrain herself from hugging her.

“Wow,” Rebecca laughed. “Did you have coffee or something?”

“No!” Emma lowered her feet firmly to the floor. “I’m just really happy. It’s nice . . .” she cocked her head, biting her lower lip, “you know, having someone who understands.”

She didn’t see the initial look of pained confusion that fleeted over Rebecca’s face. She only saw the warm and very genuine smile that followed. “You can always tell me anything, you know.”

Rebecca meant what she said with all her heart, and Emma clung to the words of hope with her own desperate need. “Yeah, I guess you figure it all out on your own anyway.”

They laughed, the last little bits of visible awkwardness melting away.

“We better get to class.” Rebecca motioned towards their room.

Emma nodded, falling into step beside her friend. As they walked, their hands brushed lightly against each other, sending a chill up Emma’s arm and setting the butterflies in her stomach into full flight. Rebecca suddenly threw her arm over Emma’s shoulder, hugging her neck as they entered the classroom.

The day went by like any normal school day, but every time Emma caught Rebecca’s eye, she felt that they were sharing a secret language that the others couldn’t enter into. Every touch, no matter how innocuous it would have seemed last week, now felt laden with meaning. When Emma finally came home from school and related her day to the futon, they both sighed—one out of sheer happiness, the other out of relief. The futon didn’t admit to Emma that it had actually worried that Rebecca would withdraw from her.

“I think I’m in love with a girl,” Emma finally whispered, as much to herself as to the futon. “Is this what the crushes they’re always talking about feel like?”

The futon, having never experienced first love itself, shrugged. Probably, it said, but it secretly thought that Emma might be experiencing a deeper feeling than the other girls had known up to that point. Forbidden crushes are always a little bit stronger than general puppy love.

“What does it mean?” Emma asked.

You’re lesbian, the futon tried to explain. But it’s hard enough to understand the language of furniture as it is, and Emma had never heard that term before.

“Do you think there’s something wrong with me?”

No! the futon chuckled. There’s nothing wrong with you! There are many people who feel the same way. The futon knew that it wasn’t enough for it to whisper that to Emma, but it wasn’t quite sure how to help her see that she was normal. Suddenly, thought of a solution. You could look it up!

“I could look it up,” Emma mused to herself as if she had come up with the idea. Grabbing her laptop, she opened up a web browser. It didn’t take too long for her to discover a site that answered all of her questions. Together, she and the futon sat there and read what it meant for her to be attracted to girls instead of boys.

Emma hadn’t thought her heart could get any fuller than it already was. It was wonderful enough to have a friend who understood how she felt, but finding out that other people felt that way too and that there were words to describe that—even websites dedicated to helping teens like her—it was almost too much for her to handle. The only  thing that kept her grounded was the slight fear over how others might react, for in her reading she also discovered that not everyone was so kind to people like this. But that fear was far easier to bear than the one that she’d been carrying before—the one that feared her difference and feared understanding why she was different. Armed with self-knowledge and young love, she felt she could face anything her classmates might say about her.