Faith is a Whore

by Mel Zee

 

I grew up in an Athiest family. We never prayed or went to church, except for the time my Uncle invited us to Midnight Mass on Christmas Day. We reluctantly dolled ourselves up in our churchiest clothes and practiced well-meaning smiles, hoping our secularity wouldn’t be detected. I was nine, with so little exposure to religion, my imagination went wild with stereotypes and t.v references as I envisioned what I was about to witness: heavy-set men would cry out and raise their hands to Heaven as their sight was restored, old women with headscarves would weep, clutching their rosaries so tightly they’d draw blood, and Ned Flanders would be there holding a monogrammed Bible and possibly a snake. Instead, the people were kind, welcoming and surprisingly normal. They looked and acted just like we did, but there was a distance between us we couldn’t quite put our fingers on and we left half way through the service, feeling hopelessly out of place.

 

Both of my parents grew up in Athiest households, so faithlessness was a long-standing tradition they upheld with the staunch belief that there is nothing to believe in. I remember asking my Mom once what we “are” and her response was, “Well, we’re good people.”

 

“Yeah, but what religion are we?”

 

“I guess we must be Christians.”

 

My Mom has never understood faith, and has always feared religion, which I’m pretty sure stems from the time she was twelve, stuck in a movie theatre with a jacket over her head trying to avoid watching The Exorcist. She thought that if she was to believe in God, she must also believe in the Devil, which meant that there was a pretty good chance she’d soon be puking on priests and/or doing inappropriate things with crucifixes. My Dad never mentioned God or religion as far as I can remember and I’m pretty sure he didn’t even necessarily believe we were good people, either. His parents sometimes spoke of God, but it was usually just outbursts of Jesus’ name when my Grandpa dropped a hammer on his foot or my Grandma missed a hockey game.

 

Because my parents had no real beliefs, my siblings and I didn’t really even understand what God was until it was too late—like learning an intricate language, there comes a point when the advantage of childhood receptiveness expires and can never really be regained. We did, despite our lack of faith, whole-heartedly believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I was a sensitive child who suffered with anxiety. My Dad was moody and could be difficult to get along with. Our relationship was often strained when I was growing up. One thing we shared in common, though, was our love of holidays, and we always got along and enjoyed each other’s company during them. I clearly remember my bubbling excitement on Christmas Eve, the day before Easter, or when I lost a tooth. Somethingwas going to be visiting me in the night, something I couldn’t see or explain. I had to just believe and it would come. I even more vividly remember the feeling of devastation when I discovered—within the same year—that none of these things actually existed. Once I’d lost faith in one figure, the others dropped off pretty quickly, too. I was distrustful of my parents after that and I don’t think I forgave them until my early teens when I realized there were much bigger things to be pissed off at them for. It’s a given when parents introduce imaginary holiday (/dental) figures that they’ll eventually be revealed as lies. But, why isn’t that also assumed with God (a very Athiest question to ask, I know)? Or maybe it is. I wouldn’t know because my parents didn’t tell me God was real. It wasn’t funto lie about God.

 

When I was thirteen, I became obsessed with witches and Wicca. I had seen The Craft and was fascinated by the idea that casting spells on handsome guys made them want you. So, I went to my local metaphysical store—which happened to be right next to the McDonald’s— and bought a handful of candles, some spell books, colored sand, incense, and began learning all I could about my new religion. I got really into witch fashion and started wearing all black, caked on white makeup, thick black eyeliner, and striped tights with boots—admittedly, the cartoon-version of a witch. I asked my parents to move their cars so I could practice my religion in the garage. I consulted the magic recipes in my books, poured colored sand into the appropriate shapes, lit candles and placed them accordingly, then chanted for what it was I wanted. I could have chanted for a boyfriend or hair without fly-aways, but I couldn’t. What I really wanted was for my parents to stop fighting. So, I cast a spell in the hopes that my Dad would move out. When he did a few weeks later, I reveled at my power, looked at my hands in awe. Soon, I regretted my spell when I realized it hadn’t solved any problems and reversed it. My Dad returned—curiously, after a positive meeting with my Mom, which coincided with my spell—and things went back to normal. Normal, except for the fact that I now believed I was the almighty sorcerer in control of the fate of my family, both powerful and dangerous, my hands capable of good or evil, depending on my mood. Really, I’d just been eavesdropping on my parents, taking note of the status of their living situation. But I wanted to believe I was a bad ass teen witch so badly that I did. Trusting in something bigger than me made me, in turn, believe in myself. Eventually, I grew out of my Wiccan phase. I only needed it for a while. Throughout the rest of my teens and early 20s, I considered myself an Athiest again, believing there wasn’t anything or anyone “looking out for us”, and that when we die, that’s the end.

 

When I was 27, I was in a serious car accident and broke my leg. As the other driver’s car screeched closer to us and I realized he was going to hit us, I yelled out, “Oh, God!” and when I landed face down on the curb, I muttered “Jesus Christ.” Despite these being everyday phrases we all casually throw out, I think I still had a sense of God with me there—“Please save me, God” when I was in trouble, and “Fuck you, God” when it didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. When I was in the hospital for the next week, I’d lay there with my eyes closed, thinking, “Please let me heal quickly and go home.” Who was I talking to? It obviously wasn’t myself because my injuries and healing were out of my hands, but being a non-believer, I just couldn’t imagine it was God, so why did I ever call it “God”? It’s something I’ve always done without questioning who I’m really asking for help.

 

Last year, my Dad had a brain aneurysm and slipped into a coma. My family, having never been faced with a situation so out of our control before, was sent reeling, scrambling for a way to process what was happening, searching desperately for some hope to hold onto; something, anything beyond the information the doctors were giving us. My Dad’s brother and his family have been practicing Christians since the early 80s. They seemed to be the only ones in the family with genuine hope for a miracle. I became overwhelmingly jealous of people with faith for the first time in my life. I’d judged them so harshly in the past for believing there’s more to life than cells and brain synapses, but now they really appeared to have the upper hand, holding precious information I didn’t have or know how to get. My Mom decided we should try praying. None of us knew how. We actually had to sit down with my cousin and ask, “How does praying work?” We filed into the ICU, our heads hung with dread, surrounded my Dad’s bed, closed our eyes and asked for help—this time admitting it was God we were asking. At first it felt strange and phony, but as I stood there with my parents, sister, and brother—our hands and spirits connected, begging something other than the doctors to intervene—I felt the power of the moment and embraced it. Maybe it was possible for a miracle to happen if we believed it could. Maybe all the years we’d spent in secular aimlessness had led us here to finally discover the truth.

 

My Dad died just over a week later. God did not intervene to save him. Our prayers had not been answered—they hadn’t even been heard. What had been the point of us having any hope at all, however temporary it may have been? I struggled to figure out what it all meant. Why had this happened? My cousins, Aunt and Uncle seemed relatively at peace. They believed God had taken my Dad and that he’d gone to Heaven. Best of all, they believed they’d see him again one day. My family and I had no such comfort. I didn’t know where he’d gone—if he’d gone anywhere at all. I was back at square one—confused, with nothing to believe. And I struggled with the aimless, beliefless, seemingly meaningless life around me more than ever.

 

A funny thing happens when your (non-)faith is tested. For me, the biggest rug I could ever imagine was pulled out from under me and, unlike many people around me, I had no deep-seated beliefs to hold me up and keep me from falling. I thought I knew what I believed—even if it was nothing. When death comes into your life and snatches a loved one from you, life opens up in the most terrifying way. You begin to see that nothing is black and white, nothing is absolute. And it makes you question everything you ever believed to be true. Somewhere along the way over the last year, I changed my mind about believing in nothing. Maybe it’s okay to not know why we’re here, where we’re going, if life means anything at all. Maybe there’s just as much power in admitting that I don’t know as there is in claiming I do. I seem to have used faith as a kind of prostitute in my life: picking a different one up as I needed it, flirting with it and then letting it go when I was done. I’ve pulled through some hard times that way, but it didn't work this time. This one was just too big to fake my way through. I just turned 30 two weeks ago and I feel old enough now to admit that I don't have all the answers. When someone asks me what I believe now, I tell them I’m Agnostic. It’s not as comforting and it’s not as easy, but I can’t pretend to believe something that I don’t. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe I'll always feel hopelessly out of place where faith is concerned. And maybe I'm okay with that.

Featured on Cultist (defunct), December 10, 2013