I can remember the day I realised I didn't believe in religion anymore. It was really sunny, and God's love was shining through the trees - only it wasn't God's love, it was just the sun. Also, I was now allowed to be gay and/or use blasphemous expletives, although as it happens I wasn't gay and I had already been guiltily dropping JC's name into petty rants for years. But it was good to know I had some options.
Other things started to happen too. Suddenly I started to fit in a little better at my liberal university, where religious folk were relegated to a sort of nerdly faith- table at the cafeteria and tut-tutted by pitying professors. I was also now terrified of death, but that was cool because it was the era of grunge rock and such fear leant a certain credence to my smudged black eyeliner.
I also began to innocently enjoy the righteousness of judgment against chumps who were still believers. I found there was almost a cult mentality amongst atheists and I was suddenly hazed into the club by virtue of my newfound disbelief. "I used to be like you, man," I'd gently coax over a pitcher of beer and wings. "But you should join us, it's the WAY." As it happens, nuns don't respond well to that. But then they shouldn't hang out in bars, the sinners. And we weren't being preachy, because only religious people can be preachy.
Like an ex-smoker, the ex-Christian can be a haughty character about the addiction they've given up. A kind of "Eww, is that religion I smell?" type mentality. Maybe it's because we've come into the light from darkness, or maybe we're scared shitless that there's a 1% chance we're wrong and we'll end up in hell. Which, if it exists, is most certainly a karaoke club with no liquor license where chipper duets sing the Grease Megamix on repeat for the rest of your life.
People I've met who didn't grow up with religion don't seem to have the same bitter defiance that I've felt over the years. Take my Welsh husband, who can calmly quip that he "hmmm, just doesn't do faith" and then flicks on Match of the Day without stewing in his stark realisation. And somewhat paradoxically, he will happily watch Songs of Praise with his mum and ask if we can go to a gospel church in Harlem "just for the ambience" when we're back in the States. Church ambience, followed by mac and cheese at a soul food restaurant, because even if you don't believe in a soul you can sure as hell believe in cheese.
I didn't grow up in the kind of family you'd see on a Louis Theroux documentary, or anything, although I say this in my stand up because it's fucking funny and a fair stretch of the truth. I haven't been disowned for my change of heart and despite picking constant fights with my dad he doesn't actually give a crap that I've strayed down the path of Dawkins.
I guess now in my later years, I'm aiming to be a softer, gentler atheist. Maybe it's because I'm a comic who can freely express herself; the shackles are off, and I'm over the post-traumatic stress of them. I'll still rip a new one into the Pope because, well, he's a d-bag, and I still think religion has caused more problems than it's solved, especially when it gets woven into politics. But I'm trying to roll with it when I meet a believer. Because just like AA, no one likes a smug dickhead in recovery.
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