R Scott Okamoto
I Don't Miss God. Really!
I am no longer a Christian. I don’t know exactly what that makes me, but I would guess somewhere along the agnostic spectrum. I will not ever purposefully try to talk anyone out of his or her own faith, but I do find myself having to respond or explain myself. It seems when someone extricates himself from the faith, it causes great concern. So, I will be writing about my thoughts and observations of my faith journey. None of the things I will bring up are new. Most of my friends who are still Christian wrestle with these issues all the time. I just concluded I didn’t need Christianity any more. I was done wrestling.
About 10 years ago, while talking with a good friend about my doubts and issues with Christianity, I admitted that I was no longer praying, going to church, or reading the bible. It all just didn’t make sense any more. Maybe it never had. My friend frowned and shook his head. He said he agreed with everything I was saying, but he was terrified at the prospect of a life without god.
When you grow up or grow into a life of faith, it becomes a part of your identity. You grow accustomed to pray for everything. You are taught to thank god for good things. Everything you do is done through the filter of religious “dos” or “do nots.”
I plan on writing a lot more about my process of walking away from Christianity in future posts. It began when I was a child and culminated in my early 30’s. I really wish it hadn’t taken that long.
But this post is more about the overall peace I feel. When my friend spoke of the terror of life without god, I was not surprised at the idea. Certainly I had wondered about it all myself. But once I made the decision, I never missed talking to god.
I didn’t miss god because the great deity I’d spent my life worshipping, asking of, thanking, raging against, and talking to was…me. Or it was a construct I’d formed over a life of faith. As my faith grew or transformed, so did my god. I grew up praying to a god who condemned gay people to hell. And then, oops, he loves gay people, even if they sin. And then, oops, he loves everyone the same, and, hey it’s not a sin to be gay! My god changed with my growth. Except he didn’t change for other friends in the same way.
As a kid I often noted how people prayed aloud in church or Sunday school. Some prayed in gushing, childlike voices, as if to a kind, gentle father figure. Some prayed forcefully, as if rising up to show both deference to and worthiness of, a powerful god with a quick temper. So many kids at APU talked to god as if he were a close buddy with whom they surfed and ate tacos, bruh. It goes on and on. Evangelicals really took the concept of a personal (or personalized) god to heart. Catholics and other liturgical believers didn’t succumb to this customization in quite the same way. Prayers in those churches are generally scripted.
Obviously, I can’t speak for all Christians. For me, I’d created a god in my head that knew me, understood me better than my parents, had big plans for me, and brought friends into my life. And I prayed to him as if he were a guardian who was the only one in the universe who really knew me. When I realized he wasn’t all these things to so many billions of people living in suffering and tragedy, I started to doubt. And then things like the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary made me not want anything to do with a god who would allow that to happen, or worse, make that happen as part of his perfect plan.
The final jedi test for me was facing the Darth Vader (Return of the Jedi, not Empire Strikes Back) of Geri’s cancer in 2015. Everyone has seen that meme that says, “There are no atheists in foxholes or at the bedside of a dying child.” I’m gonna call bullshit on that. (It’s a pretty messed up Hail Mary of a way to try and prove the existence of a deity.) From diagnosis to cure, I never once considered praying. I definitely did not ever want to go to church. If ever there were a test of my agnosticism, that was it.
Whereas Christians might tell me to give the pain and worry up to god, I went through it. I felt it all. I embraced it. And it was terrible. But I felt it all with my family and friends. They helped me, cried with us, and brought us food. When people tell you they are heartbroken over your news or that they are feeling so many emotions, it helps. It helps way more than someone saying, “I’m praying for you.” It’s cool when people say that, but it’s not as personal. When they pray, “God, please heal Geri,” they aren’t telling you that they are suffering with you. They might be. But they aren’t communicating it to us. They are turning to their deity to ask if he might help.
Naturally, some people did both, and of course we were grateful for any support people offered. It all helps. But my brother telling me he couldn’t sleep or eat when he heard the news let me know he was going through the pain with me. When we saw traci for the first time after the news and she just cried and held Geri, it helped beyond measure. We were not alone. Whether or not my brother or traci prayed didn’t matter. They, along with so many others, were with us through it all. They were prayer incarnate that we didn’t need to wait on. If god is love, our friends and family are god.
I’m not afraid. I am loved. Life is a mystery. I’m cool with that.
If you’re interested in our journey through cancer, I created a blog for it on Caringbridge.