God. And why I don’t believe.

This is a topic I try to avoid.

This is what my mind did just now, to arrive at it: OK, let’s see…what have we got…did bras, don’t have enough belt pictures yet to write a post about how much I love belts, Bear will kill me if I write another post about our relationship, food could be good, but I’m full…a post about how cute my cat is? No? OK…then God.

But reader AT asked me about belief and spirituality, and I’m gonna answer, damnit. Because that’s the kind of person I am (a person who occasionally answers questions).

I don’t believe in God. It bothers my mom. It bothers a lot of people, actually, who don’t even know me.

I don’t believe in God, but it’s not because I never tried.

When I was a kid, my best friend was born again. It happened very suddenly. One day, no one was talking about God, and the next, she was telling me that I was going to go to hell, because I was Jewish. My parents were going to go to hell. I remember her words. “It’s a rocky road to hell.” I don’t remember the context. I just remember thinking of ice cream. And also being offended. There was no way she was right. I was pretty sure I knew just about as much as she did about the world, and pretty sure someone had been telling her lies.

But she swore that there was gold dust on her hands, at her bible camp. God had done that. And that sounded really cool.

 

So one night, alone in my room, I decided to find God. I closed my eyes tight. I sat on the edge of my bed, and I welcomed God into my heart and my bedroom. For a second, I thought maybe it was working. I could almost, almost imagine a bluish purple gaseous cloud, floating through the door. I prayed with all my might…”Let it be God!” and then I opened my eyes and there was nothing, and I was pretty sure it was just my imagination again, like the wolves in my closet. Or the demon face on the back of the bathroom door. Or the fairies I really, really wanted to live in the garden.

I left God alone after that. I went to synagogue and Hebrew school and had a bat mitzvah and none of those things had anything to do with believing in God. They had to do with learning beautiful music and chanting from the Torah and being a part of a people whose stories twined back endlessly into the mysterious depths of history. I loved my people’s ancient traditions. I loved being Jewish. Being Jewish made me feel proud and special and like I was part of something important. Being Jewish meant carrying the secrets of the ages around in my genes and in my songs, and having a family much, much bigger than the one made up of my immediate relatives. It also involved bagels with lox and cream cheese. And pastrami.

(source)

My life was full of magic, anyway, which seemed to be the thing that my friend got from God. Alone in the woods out back, I could imagine that I was in another world. I was an elfin warrior princess. At any moment, a silvery portal might open in front of me, and I might step through it.

I started leading services at my synagogue when I was fifteen, and I never stopped. I sang in Hebrew in front of the congregation. I was terrified and trembling with excitement and always on the edge of breaking through into something overwhelmingly good. Sometimes, all I could think about was my breath– was I breathing enough? The last note sounded forced, my voice was too tight.  Sometimes I was too scared to enjoy myself– I was waiting to miss a word, to forget the melody. And then sometimes I just sang, and I looked out at all the faces looking back, and I came so close to losing myself for a moment. It was as though my voice was a string, pulling together the past and the present. It was sacred. It was much more than I could understand.

I think you can call that spirituality. I think you can call me, standing alone in the dark on the bima (the alter), long after the congregants had gone home, looking up at the glow of the ner tamid (the eternal light that always burns above the ark, where the torah scroll is kept), spiritual. But I didn’t want to call it, or myself, anything. It felt like connectedness. But I didn’t bother to name it.

(the Torah, inside the half open ark)

I have two degrees in religion. I look around, and I see religion everywhere. I want to know why people need it so much, and, of course, I have plenty of theories. But on a personal level, I think I can’t leave religion and belief alone because I don’t believe. And because I’m religious anyway. And because I don’t really know what spirituality means.

People ask me how I am possible-- how can you be one without the other? But any other way wouldn’t make sense for me. It’d be lying. And religion is about more than God, even if God is situated firmly at its center. The way I see it, religion can be community, shared history, values, goals, daycare, summer camp, simplifying a complicated world, larger than life personalities, life events, therapy, and charity. God can be part of all of that, or God can be something else entirely. It depends who you are and who you ask.

And I’m far from alone. Even in the most dedicated, fervent religious communities, people question God’s existence. Or struggle to believe. Or find a way to believe that tickles the edges of humanism, or a vaguer spirituality.

My mom says that I probably can believe in God, if I just rearrange my definitions. But I don’t want to. I am perfectly willing to live in a world without a god, as open-ended and frightening as that can be. I am willing to admit that I don’t have answers. That maybe none of us can possibly have the answers. That even God would not be enough of an answer for me.

As a kid, I loved astronomy. I used to pour over text books that explained neutron stars and the Doppler effect and the formation of nebulae. I loved the sense of being poised on the edge of the whole inexplicable universe.  My mind would roll into the darkness, faster and faster, until it suddenly stopped at the lip of eternity, where all that can exist is the question “What was here before?” Teetering over the gaping abyss of this question felt like the ultimate human experience. It was horrible. It was awe-inspiring. It was basic and also unapproachably complex.

I have never felt that anything could fill that void.

But it is a void I don’t want filled. I love that life is spectacularly mysterious. I love not knowing. And while some people can feel this way and also believe in God, I can’t.

I don’t know what I am now, in terms of all of this. I am sensitive, I guess. Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the huge gorgeous messiness of the world, just from standing in the park, looking at the east river. Actually, I get like that a lot. Walking down the street. Riding NJ Transit. I feel sometimes like I am thrummingly alive– strung tightly, humming with potential. Sometimes I feel thrilled by my smallness, by the enormous intricacy of life on this planet. Often, I’m just pissed off because one of my rubber gloves fell in the sink and has gunk from the drain in it now and I have to wash it out and it’s gross.

Honestly, I don’t think about where I fall on the spectrum of religion and spirituality very much. I don’t know what most of my friends believe, because it doesn’t come up a lot. I just know I’d like to see more mountains in the distance. I just know I love to fly in planes and see how the world comes together. I am terrified and in love with how fragile life is.

And I know for some reason that what we call all of it shouldn’t really matter.

*  * *

OK, since I opened this whole thing up: do you believe in God?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a black turtleneck.

P.S. For Valentine’s, Bear and I ended up watching Voyager, after eating his romantic dinner. I forgot how awesome that show is!!

63 Comments »

Kate on February 15th 2012 in being different, life, uplifting

63 Responses to “God. And why I don’t believe.”

  1. lik_11 responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Wow! This is a really great post.

    Many times you’ve written about singing for your congregation- so I assumed you were religious. I love the fact that, to you, it’s more about the tradition and how you relate to it and Jewish people than about God.

    I miss attending church- at least the camraderie. But when I do go, I feel weird, because I don’t necessarily agree about God.
    Thank you for pointing out that religion doesn’t have to be about your beliefs- but about what you have to offer others and can get in return.

  2. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    first, you ARE spiritual in the truest sense of that word…i believe that we are all divine, and recognizing your divinity within IS GOD…you recognize it, you express it, you share it, in your own unique way…as an energy healer practitioner, i work with that universal connectedness in ways that astound me, change me, heal ME in the process of healing others…you do that with your blog…pretty fucking awesome, i say!

  3. Melanie responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    I grew up Catholic, and by age 12 announced that I was done with church, and was an atheist. I just couldn’t believe in the God that church preached about. A God who said, “Follow all these rules or I will smite you.” I was a non-believer until I entered recovery. A recovery that told me I needed a “higher power.” I made my higher power all the energy in nature around me, and that worked for a while. I then started studying other religions in depth, mainly eastern ones. I found that Buddhism suits me. I don’t identify as a Buddhist, but if there is anything I follow at all, it would be Buddhism.

    I saw the Dalai Lama once and he had something I wanted. The ease with which that smile crossed his face was a magic I can’t describe. His laugh was the most soothing sound I’ve ever heard. And he talked about how every religion is right, as long as you’re doing it with right thought in your mind. I tend to shy away from faiths that claim “our way is the right way.” I just can’t stomach it.

    I’m also incredibly proud to now be able to say, “You do whatever works for you, as long as it brings you peace and joy.” I didn’t used to be able to do that. It’s a nice thing to be able to do.

    You have a spirituality about you. Of that I am certain. Just continue to do whatever brings you comfort, and try not to let what others think, sway you.

  4. Jak responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Well, since you asked.

    My relationship with whatever god(s) that might be out there is complicated. I don’t know how to define it, really. All I know is that I can’t believe in my parent’s god. There’s too much there that doesn’t jive.

    I’ve studied the stars as well, and whenever I think about it I get that feeling of being so microscopically insignificant and yet part of something so much greater. There’s a hum there, of the universe working and being okay with that.

    What does that mean for me personally? That I try to be as good as I can, and hope it’s enough.

  5. Kerry responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    My favorite line in this post is “even God would not be enough of an answer for me.” I can identify with that statment, and I agree.

    Many people assume that being a non-believer is the “easy way out.” That atheism is lazy, or not trying hard enough, or simply not having the need for religion. I am currently not a believer in God or religion, but my goodness it took me a LOT of work to get to this point! After 12 years of Catholic school, coming to my understanding of spirituality has taken a great deal of thinking, questioning, and searching. I still have the desire for religious comfort in my life – I would appreciate identifying with a higher power. I just have not ever learned of one that fits with the values and empirical facts I know about my own self and life.

    Great post. Thanks for tackling it.

  6. Emmi responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    YES. Yes, yes, this, absolutely all of this.

    What you say about not believing, but not because you haven’t tried, that is me as well. I went to a Catholic elementary school, and as a wee one I so loved the nuns. Some taught at the school, but on the school grounds there was also a convent full of nuns in their 80s and 90s. They were so beautiful to me, in their kind eyes and deep wrinkles and the almost-perceptible susurrus of deep peace they exuded without effort. Before I understood what nuns were, I so deeply wanted to be one.

    Chapel was confusing for me. Everyone looked and felt so dead to me, singing joylessly along to the Alleluia (which I found almost offensive, even at age 6). I sat on the hard wooden benches and longed to be outdoors. I liked the Bible stories, the Old Testament was my favorite. My parents even bought me a Bible coloring book that had pictures to go along with the Old Testament stories. I adored it. But I never really assimilated faith into myself, even though I desperately wanted to.

    Time passed, and I went on to a private high school, attended mostly by Jewish kids. It was awesome – I got to go to tons of bar and bat mitzvahs without having to do all the study, and Judaism seemed to make so much more sense to me than Catholicism. It seemed so vast and rich. But during my teenage years I clamped onto the very trendy neo-pagan movement and gothed out with it. I clung to it so hard it led me to Salem, MA for college. No regrets – I met my husband there, and I can read a mean spread of Tarot cards now (ultimate fallback career). I wanted to feel what so many others seemed to feel with such ease, but it never happened for me.

    Now I am a happy atheist/secular humanist. Shortly after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I had what my therapist cheekily calls a Buddhist experience. I realized that this life, this time that I have – this may be all I’ve got. It probably is. If I’m wrong, hey, it happens a lot! But to quote someone much smarter than I, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. So what to do? Epicurus’ philosophies seem the highest wisdom to me, so I go with them. They serve me well.

    I generally don’t discuss religion/spirituality, actually. I don’t care what anyone believes as long as they keep from trying to convert me. But my man Epicurus said it best about god in my opinion, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”. This resonates deeply within me, but doesn’t seem to provoke much rational, logical discussion. I envy people who believe. The belief seems to make them so happy and complete. And if I wake up tomorrow feeling it, then yay for me! I’m always evolving and it’s interesting to see how my path meanders. I tend to doubt it, though.

    Thanks for this post, Kate! You always manage to find the best words to describe difficult topics.

  7. janine stein responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    I believe that there’s a force/power/formlessenergy in me and in all living things that is the same edgeless, endless potential.

    My people spend too long interpreting the shapes of the sails of the yacht, instead of seeing that the yacht in the sea.

    The sea is love, truth and compassion.

    With gratitude to you for writing about this challenging subject.

  8. Jensketch responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    This is your best post you have ever written Kate.

    Hands down. So well done and beautifully said.

  9. Spelling responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Reading this post makes me sad. The way that you see God makes me very sad. I wish I could say something that would make you see Him in a different way.

    Most of the stuff you said – I couldn’t disagree with you more.

  10. Rebecca responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Great post. I used to have a similar framework, I think. I struggled with belief but felt there was a lot that was worthwhile about my Catholic religion, and I loved the ritual and tradition and beauty of it all. I still do – from a distance. I no longer participate. No longer wish to. Not for any particular reason. Maybe I grew out of it.

    I believe in connectedness. I believe in art (in so many forms). I believe in the awesomeness of the earth and science and the universe and life. All of those things are kind of like gods for me.

    But I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in an afterlife (that is, nothing beyond the potential connectedness and possible endurance of some kind of life energy – and I know that probably makes no sense, but it’s a feeling I have sometimes). I don’t feel like there’s a “plan” for me or that “everything happens for a reason.”

    It used to scare me that I didn’t have those beliefs, but now it makes me feel relaxed (or maybe resigned – in a good way) and responsible for myself and focused on now. I like that.

    But I happily accept whatever someone else may believe as long as it isn’t hurting others or being forced on me.

    I’m very comfortable with all of this. :)

  11. Also Kate responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    My relationship with God (assuming s/he exists, which I can’t always do) is complicated.

    I grew up Evangelical, and still considered myself at least a Christian (who believed in the existence of a personal God, that being, one who wants to communicate with humanity) up until the point where I accidentally fell in love with another woman. I was 19. Then the bottom fell out of my worldview, and I’ve had trouble finding another one since.

    The trick with believing in a God, for me (I have trouble believing in multiple gods – the idea of there being only one is familiar and difficult to let go of, and I also suspect the number is arbitrary, as the nature of a god or gods would render pure counting sort of useless) is that I learned as a child to encounter God through other people. I was taught that God loved me by people who loved me. I was taught that God wanted me to do good things by people (my parents/other authority figures) who conveniently also wanted me to do those same things. Etc. Then my church slammed its door in my face, and it’s been difficult for me since to look for God in community. It feels a little too contrived. It also hurts. Sometimes, I have this weird sense that God exists in a way I can’t really describe – like something or someone in the universe /knows/ me in a way that no one else really could. Sometimes (like right now) I don’t even believe in God, and going to church leaves me shaking and feeling stupid because none of it makes sense.

    I like your description of stopping at the lip of eternity and holding the question of “What came before?” within you, and not wanting to fill that void. In the moments when I believe in God, that lip of eternity feels to me like a place where I find God – but not because God fills it. It’s more like approaching God equals opening my mind to the furious mystery of /not knowing/ and then all there is left to do is throw myself off the edge into the abyss.

    Maybe that’s not quite right, because I’m not big on jumping off cliffs, even metaphorically. But it’s the best I can describe it right now.

    Anyway, this was beautifully written and I can sympathize (is that the right word?) with the feeling of unbelief, despite sometimes wanting otherwise.

  12. Jennifer responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Oh, thank..the void that you’ve come out with it.

    (Nodding and reading faster and faster, agreeing with everything you said.

    I finally read Hitchens and then found Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain.” They put me firmly into the atheist category late last year.

    I still feel like I’m holding my breath, waiting to be called out and condemned.

    But it’s so freeing. This is all there is. This can be enough.

  13. Valerie responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    You’re a brave individual, Kate, and I don’t understand why you so often doubt your own bravery and confidence. In a world full of religion and faith, it takes a lot to stand up and say that you don’t believe.

  14. Jessica responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    This is great. I love your descriptions of spirituality, of what it feels like to take in the hum of the world around you. I don’t believe in organized religion, but what you describe can still be called God – if you want. I don’t though, but it’s still bigger than me.

  15. Marie responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    One of your comments particularly resonated with me, because it is what I say/believe, but on the other side of the divide. Religion isn’t necessarily about God. You use it to explain why you can be religious without believing in God. I use it to explain why I feel the need for the religious experience of Catholic mass and rites, but I don’t feel the need to fall in line with everything the church teaches. My reasoning is that religion is man-made, it is a tool to give comfort, community, and perhaps, answers, but ultimately you have to find your own way.

  16. Malone responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    I love to read your blog, but never comment. This time, I had no choice. I found it hilarious how your friend, a recently “newborn”, was so naive, that she told you you’re going to hell. If I had the right to apologise on behalf of her, I would. But as a Christian, I have a few things to tell you:
    - God means love; he doens’t want you to go to church if it’s going to be boring to you, you have a free will (and this is why I love Him so much). If looking at nature makes you feel His love, than that’s what you should do instead of going to church. Do charity work, sing, paint, whatever makes you feel closer to Love.
    - It must be impossibly hard for people to live without believing that there’s someone in control of everything. I felt so much lighter after I started letting Him take care of things that are impossible to me. We live in a world of sin, things aren’t always fair, sometimes the burden is too heavy for us to carry.
    - If being a Christian, or being religious (which is a totally different thing) isn’t for you, that’s absolutely fine. He’ll always be there if you need Him.
    - If you do everything according to what you believe is right, why wouldn’t you go to heaven? But more important than that, it is not for us, humans, to judge who’s going to heaven and who isn’t.
    - If you are curious about what it would be like to be a Christian, read the Bible to see how Jesus lived in this Earth. Humans are imperfect, we make mistakes, and we are no good example of how to live life. Jesus, on the other hand, suffered all the temptation there was, and was victorious. He gave His life so that we can have the choice of going to Heaven, and live eternally with Him.
    - Not everyone would be happy in Heaven. Praising the Creator of the universe might not be everyone’s taste, and God knows that.
    I’ll be praying for you, if that’s ok with you. But really, the important thing is that you’re happy. If you, by any chance, feel offended by my comment, feel free to delete it.
    (sorry for all the Grammar mistakes, English isn’t my first language)

  17. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    @Marie
    Very cool. I like that you’re coming at this from the “other side,” and if you feel like explaining your perspective more, I’d love to learn! Do you feel like you could “find your own way” without the church?

  18. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    @Spelling
    I’m not sure that I “see” God as anything! But maybe that’s what you mean?

    Also, it makes me uncomfortable when people refer to God with a male pronoun…

  19. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    @Jennifer
    Lol!! Thank the void! That was funny, but I also hope it never catches on, because I feel like people who believe in God could have a field day with that phrasing :-)

  20. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    @Jak
    I like that. Trying to be as good as you can sounds like a great plan.

  21. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    @Jensketch
    Oh no! Really? But I’ve been writing so much about body image! :p

  22. Kathy responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Its strange, I have been to church with my friends and my parents believe and so do my brothers but I have never once believed. I don’t feel lost without the belief and have no issues with not believing. ~Kat

  23. Haley responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    Thank you for writing this. Raised by non-religious parents, the only part of religion that I feel I’ve “missed out on” is the ritual and community. So I work hard to be a part of other things, and really notice when I participate in other cultural rites with a lot of history (like marriage). The whole spirituality / higher power thing doesn’t resonate with me, although I generally feel like a “lucky” person. I suppose if I were religious, I’d feel blessed, but as I am now, I have no one to thank other than my parents, my family, my friends, and my community. Maybe that’s a good thing?

  24. Abby responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    This was…really throught-provoking.

    I’m not really sure where I stand on God–I know he/she exists, and I do consider myself a Christian. I’ve found a peace in that path, and in the community I’ve found through Christianity.

    …but I believe that there are so many paths to the same thing. What is that thing? I have no idea. But…

    I don’t really know, honestly. I am a Christian…but so many times, I don’t like to use that label because it associates me with people who I completely disagree with. Judgemental people–or just people whose ideas differ.

    Honestly? I’m 18 years old. I’m pretty secure in knowing that I can only know so much, and I have time to learn more. What I say when talking about religion is usually something like, “I may not agree with your opinion, but it’s your opinion and I recognize and respect it.” I don’t claim to have all the answers about God–I never would. In fact, it seems like the deeper I go into my faith, the more questions I have. Aaaaand that’s all I have to say about that.

  25. Sarah Rooftops responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    I don’t. In fact, I’ve only ever met a handful of people who do – the latest figures across here suggest that 50% of Brits don’t belong to any religion at all, not even nominally; it’s just not something which has played any part in my life and it’s not something which speaks to me at all. But I’m fascinated by what other people believe, think, feel, accept and question and I have loved reading such an honest account from you.

  26. k responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    My dad is a Lutheran pastor, so I grew up very much in the church. And I loved it. I had a wonderful, supportive community of adults who didn’t have to care about me (as in, weren’t my parents or relatives) but did anyways. I learned so much from my church community growing up, and I would not give that up for anything.

    The Lutheranism in which I grew up is pretty liberal, and my dad particularly always emphasized the value of the church as a source of good in society. I learned to give to others, to take care of the less fortunate people around me, to seek out a career that was fulfilling but also benefited the world. I developed a strong desire to work for justice in the world, and I really thank my upbringing in the church for some of that. My parents are awesome, my siblings are awesome, and I’m an independent person who has developed a lot of this on my own, but the church was certainly a contributing factor.

    So. Church is important to me. I think that instead of being a source of conflict and fear, religion can and should be a force for good. I don’t care what other people believe (I don’t think it’s my place to force any of the things that I’ve found to be positive on anyone else), and I don’t think it matters what we call God. I think that generally everyone who’s talking about a god or gods is talking about the same thing.

    But at this point, I’m not a practicing anything. Sometimes I find it comforting to pray before meals out of a sense of tradition. Sometimes I get a desire to go to church and be in a community. But I don’t consider myself to be particularly spiritual or religious, although I can appreciate the value of both. I don’t know if I believe in God, and it doesn’t really matter to me. I know that I’m living a good life and doing good things, and if I feel good about where I’m at, then that’s enough for me. It hasn’t always been this way, and I’ve felt pressure at times to be a certain way or believe more or differently than I do, but right now, I don’t. And I feel good at peace with my level of religiosity, and it’s really enough for me.

    The part where I start to struggle is when I think about having kids. It might not happen for a while, but I’m certainly nearing the age where I could be having kids in the relatively near future, and I want them to have the chance to be raised in a supportive community like I was, and I think that the church can be a good place to find that. It needn’t be the only one, but I do respect religion and would want my children to be exposed to it and make their own decisions about how they want to participate in it. It would certainly mean changing my own practices, but it’s something I do think about.

    Thanks for the food for thought. It’s super interesting to hear a story I can relate to of deciphering the lines of religion, spirituality and belief in God.

  27. Jo responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    I love this post!

    I classify myself as having belief, but not being religious. It’s interesting to talk about and I love the similarities and differences.

  28. Sooz responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    Cool post. My oldest boy doesn’t believe in God either. At first it bothered me but then I got over it b/c he seems totally fine with it…just like you. Thanks for always being so thought provoking and interesting. I really feel like if I ever met you we could have a really fantastic conversation. You are that cool. :)

  29. Emily M.M. responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    Some believe in God. Some Allah (sp). Some worship golden tablets.
    Science. Eh, semantics.

    I am working on this one, so bear with me.

    Life is a crap shoot and confusing and scary. Anything that provides comfort along the way – how can that be bad? Hell I traveled with my Nana (baby blanket) on biz until I was 31 when I left it in a hotel.

    If you believe with every fiber of your being – go. But just do not hurt others in their quest. Try to understand that if Your God is Merciful and Created You in His Image and Likeness – why or how or what or who could have pissed him off enough to be damned to eternal hell? I mean – seriously – maybe the Catholics just misunderstood what respecting life truly means, and no one ever took the time to clearly explain with respect that aborting a pregnancy can be not only respectful to life but also just a damn tough call.

    Enough – donuts in the hall.

    Simple concept but damn hard to pitch. Any takers?
    Religion is man’s operationalization of a belief system.

    All the belief systems / faithiness / good intentions / yada yada pretty much all include:

    Do unto others. No biggie and lord knows I am not the vehicle for mass uptake but if any of u nice girls – and guys, no sexism in niceness! – can sell this – go.

    I am not religious. Tried. But figured out how to game the system and I don’t want to be a member of a club that will have me – or something.

    Thoughts? Am I too simple?

    I think any thing is possible.

  30. Emily M.M. responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    Kate – you are lyrical. :) yay

  31. Dianne responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    I not only believe in God, I know He exists. He has shown His face, whispered in my ear and touched my heart with the lightest of fingers. Only when you have felt that for yourself, and not just been told of an experience, will you know how real God is. And He is real, and oh, so beautiful!

  32. Tina responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    I believe in God. I’m a Christian, though if I were Jewish one would call me “non-observant” I do believe in the basic premiss of my religion. I was raised in church and some of what I was taught wasn’t what I’ve come to believe, but I knew from deep in my heart, at a much younger age than I “accepted Christ” in the Protestant tradition that I felt the peace of God’s love in my heart.

  33. Stephanie Ivy responded on 15 Feb 2012 at 11:35 pm #

    Yes. Absolutely. I look at the world and feel it and believe deeply in God.

    How I believe, though, is what I’m still working out.

    I grew up Episcopalian. It’s a pretty liberal denomination, but we were unobservant and it was just kind of there.

    I began studying paganism as a teen. I found a lot there. I found a lot there. More about the earth and history and ways of approaching deity.

    I kept going to church on and off but it felt uncomfortable. Not because of the churches I went to, but because of the way Christianity is largely presented in our society. Because of the megaphone held by those who practice it differently and don’t like to share the stage.

    I joined a coven and became a High Priestess. I have learned so much in that. In myself, in leading ritual, in the nuts and bolts of caring for a religious community.

    But recently I began going to church again. I’m finding myself drawn to it more and more. I’m studying it as an adult this time. It’s rich in ways I didn’t appreciate as a child.

    So now I stand not knowing where I belong. What fits. Where I will end up.

    But I do know that I believe in God. A God that loves. If nothing else, I know that.

  34. Mia responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 1:17 am #

    ‘Thrumming’ is SUCH a good word. Thank you for using it! I had to re-read that sentence a few times so I could savour it again and again.

    Oh, and I’m an athiest.

    These two statements are not connected in any way but I felt rude writing my first comment and not ACTUALLY answering your question…

  35. JessB responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 6:28 am #

    Ooooh, ‘connectedness’ is the perfect word. I feel this when I am at church sometimes, and I think it’s the most amazing feeling ever.

    I do believe in God, but church doesn’t always ‘work’ for me. Sometimes I get the feeling when I’m doing quite everyday stuff, like having a perfect moment on the walk to work, or with my family and friends, or appreciating an amazing work of art.

  36. Cammy responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 8:09 am #

    I don’t believe in a god. I was raised Catholic and was very devout for a time (I even served as a Eucharistic minister at masses in high school), but I became super interested in church history, did extensive binge-reading on the history of religion for a year or so, and just sort of evolved into non-belief. It wasn’t traumatic like when some people “lose their faith”. It was actually sort of a huge burden lifted from me, and I’ve been totally at peace with it ever since. I’m a scientist, and find an overwhelming amount of beauty and wonder in the world without having to invoke the supernatural.

    My family is still Catholic, and it bothers my mom quite a bit that I am no longer a believer. But she loves me just as much as she ever did, and has never pressured me in any way.

    This was a brave post, and I’m so glad that you wrote it.

  37. Sara responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 11:03 am #

    @emily m m- Allah is the Arabic name for god. Sorry, but it makes me uncomfortable when people say that Allah is separate from god, when islam came from the Same monotheistic path as Judaism or Christianity. As for religion, I love that so many people find comfort in different ways, whether it’s a from a form of religion or nature etc. I just hate it when people start preaching to you. :)

  38. Maria responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Beautiful post.
    And no, even as a child, I always thought people didn’t seriously believe in god(s). It was only as an adult that I came to realize there are people (including all my family) who, yes, take it seriously. It always seemed silly to believe in something that didn’t seem any different than any other fictional character. But I suppose everyone of us needs to believe the things we tell ourselves to live our lives the best we can. For me, it always came down to, with all the knowledge we have about our universe, why unrelated stories? I like that quote about (paraphrasing) “why can I not enjoy the garden without also having to believe there are faeries at the bottom of it?”

  39. Caitlin responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    There is some absolutely beautiful imagery in this post. You definitely present your beliefs quite eloquently, which hopefully means that those who disagree take the time to read and react temperately.

    I struggle with religion quite a bit. I know it’s semantics, but I actually like the term “faith” quite a bit more. Religion just has too many negative connotations for too many people. I grew up Catholic, and still am. I don’t practice, but much of the Catholic faith resonates with me. There is so much at the heart of any faith that is good, that helps us ground our consciences, our morality. I don’t believe that we *need* to believe in God to be good people, but it does help provide a basis for some.

    That said, there is quite a bit that I don’t like about organized religions. Much of it has been said, and much of it revolves around the inherent sexism in many religious hierarchies. I don’t really know how to handle that, how to reconcile that behavior and those actions with a faith system that I, for the most part, believe in. In the end, I attend Mass occasionally, don’t hang my hope of salvation (or whatever) on attendance, and am comforted when I do attend. Which, in the end, is much less important than just living as a good person and treating others well.

  40. Julianna responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    I love Jesus, believe that He died on the cross for my sins, and rose on the third day (no, not like a zombie). However, as a Christian in this country, I shudder at how some so-called Christians act. If you read the Bible, the one thing that infuriated Jesus was self-riteousness, which is why in the Gospels you see Him clash with the Pharisees over and over. Well, there are a lot of modern-day Pharisees out there who might tell you that you are excepted from God’s perfect love due to things they might disapprove of (i.e., being gay, lesbian, divorced, etc.). This is not true and acting that way pushes people away from God and His Son, kind of the opposite of what yourl’re supposed to do as a Christian, which is to bring more people into the Kingdom of God (not necessarily church, though).

    Anyway, there’s a good hymn called They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love. This is the best way, as far as I’m concerned, to practice Christianity. Take Jesus’ teachings to heart (with the help of the Holy Spirit working from within), and actually practice what you preach: forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and grace. Amen.

  41. Blaine responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter. I strongly relate to all of the things that you mentioned in this post. As a Jewish girl in the suburbs going through similar experiences, I gained value and a sense of “spirituality” (I guess I’ll call it that) through connection to the other people in the congregation, whether by rituals, stories or history. And food. Mostly food.

    For me, God never came into that equation, nor would I find it satisfying if it did. I don’t think about it very much, but it’s come to the forefront because I’m dating someone who is technically Jewish, but dissociates with any kind of affiliation, and doesn’t understand how I can separate my love of the community from its constrictive ideologies. Which is both frustrating and awkward, because my mind wanders to thinking about how I definitely want my kids to have a similar experience with Judaism as I did. And how can you have that conversation at 23 with your boyfriend?!

    Also, you’re awesome.

  42. Emmie responded on 17 Feb 2012 at 6:38 am #

    Like you Kate I love the religious rituals, particularly within the Catholic church but as for a personal savior I’m not there. I was raised in church (a holiness church so extremely conservative in their views) and as a kid it really bothered me that I did not experience the same things everyone else seemed to with speaking in tongues and being slain in the spirit. I tried for years to force an experience with God by going through the motions and waiting for it to come upon me but in my thirties I came to the realization that whatever it was other people had simply wasn’t there for me. Now that I’m almost forty I have come to embrace love and goodness without them needing to be wrapped in a God package.

  43. Bethany responded on 17 Feb 2012 at 7:59 am #

    I believe in God, and He is absolutely the most important person in my life–to the extent that I’m currently raising support to become a missionary so more people can hear about Him. But I can understand how you can love the religion without believing in God.

    I tend to attend more casual churches with less ceremony, but I do think more ceremonial services are, well, fun. I love the intricacies and the beauty of more traditional church services and how a participatory they are. Plus, you’ve got the community in there, which studies show make you happier and healthier.

    You make sense. :) I’m still praying you’ll believe one day, but I understand how you can not and still love religion.

  44. Barbra responded on 17 Feb 2012 at 9:40 am #

    I know I’m late to the commenting game, but I’m so, so glad you wrote this. We have a lot of things in common, I think.
    I have always been really involved in my synagogue. In high school, I was one of the first women (girls?) to read Torah, something I still do really often there (including tomorrow). I was president of the youth group, then, when I moved back to town in my 20s, I was advisor for 5 years. I love to go to services. I keep kosher at home. I observe the Jewish holidays (well, some of them anyway).
    And I’m an atheist. For me, these things have not collided. I love that there are so many entry points to Judaism. I love that I’m just as Jewish as anyone else.
    But. My fiance, who has a very Christian family, is a totally non-religious atheist. Marrying someone not-Jewish has brought some inner conflicts (no aufruf, my Conservative Rabbi, who is a friend of ours, can’t attend the wedding, etc). And when we think about children, even more conflicts are brought up. It’s fine for me to participate in Judaism this way, but what do we do about our kids, who will be going to Hebrew School and hopefully being bat mitzvahed? I have to hope for girls, because we are not planning to circumcise.
    This is a really long and rambling comment; sorry for that. But, so often, you hear about atheism and non-religion, not atheism, or non-belief, from someone who is an active Jewish participant. So, thanks for that.

  45. Kate responded on 17 Feb 2012 at 11:13 am #

    @Bethany
    I’m glad I make sense to you, even though you believe in God. It makes me happy when people can believe different things and still try to understand each other. Probably corny of me, but I had to mention it! :-)

  46. Kate responded on 17 Feb 2012 at 11:15 am #

    @Barbra
    I love that you read Torah! After all these years, reading Torah still intimidates me a little. Is your fiance open to your kids going to synagogue? This is a conversation Bear and I have, and then stop having, and then have again. It’s tricky.

  47. Beryl Yelton responded on 17 Feb 2012 at 11:22 am #

    Such a great blog, and pretty much says it like I would like to say it. I also love being Jewish because I am proud of my heritage, but one of the great things about being Jewish is that I don’t have to feel guilty about not “believing”.

  48. zoe (and the beatles) responded on 17 Feb 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    ooh, so interesting, kate. so very well articulated. god and religion are difficult subjects to crack open, though important discussions to have. i love your experience here! i love that you felt a connection to a community as opposed to god. that is something i don’t think i’ve ever heard (though i am not friends with many religious people).

    i grew up jewish/catholic, with two parents associated with two different religions. yet, i grew up without church. my brother and i went to hebrew school. got bar and bat mitzvahed. however, i developed no connection to judaism. or catholicism later when i ended up at a catholic high school. god felt unforgiving and tight under the pretense of a religion. what kind of god chooses favorites? i abandoned it for a long, long while.

    i still don’t know what i believe but i don’t feel so alone anymore. i believe in the universe, in souls, and spirituality. if god was or is anything to me, he’s/she’s love. the universe, “god”, exists in those moments i fill up with inexplicable awe and say, “life is beautiful.”

  49. MarieElizabeth responded on 18 Feb 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Maybe it’s because you spend so much time thinking about religion, that you can’t seem to find the faith. Being religious, in any kind of religion, has very little to do with God. I could give you all kinds of examples, but really you just have to look at the world to see them. And if you are looking for a concrete way to justify believing in God or why you don’t, you will be unsuccessful.

  50. Anna responded on 19 Feb 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Love this post. I’m going to share it with my awesome stepmom, who’s a rabbi. Great writing, as usual, and fascinating topic. I do believe in God, but as a Jew, I also recognize that Judaism doesn’t require it. And, in fact, that some degree of disbelief is quite ‘jewish’. Oh, and Voyager is totally an awesome show. Thanks!

  51. Alpana Trivedi responded on 19 Feb 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Hello, Kate. It’s nice looking at your posts again. I’m technically a Hindu. I guess you can say some aspects of it make sense to me more than others. For example, I do believe in reincarnation. But supposedly, our conduct in this lifetime determines what we become in our next life. The goal is for the soul to become purified and not take birth. The only problem with that is…well, then why should I care about how I behave now if I’m not even going to remember in my next life?

    I have a funny story. I had read a version of a Pinocchio story in one of my really thick fairy tale books. In it, there was a picture of a fairy with blue hair (the fairy who turns Pinocchio from a wooden puppet to a real boy). She was so, so pretty. I wanted to BE her. Well, for a while, my mom tried to get me to behave as she wanted by telling me that maybe if I’m really good in this lifetime and listen to my parents, God might make me a fairy with blue hair in my next life. Talk about bribing on God’s behalf to get good behavior. Well, it lasted a short time, till I found out that my mom doesn’t really know what the higher power has in mind for us. LOL.

    In any case, I feel comfortable in any place of worship as long as no one tries to convert me or save my soul. Here’s the essence of my spiritual beliefs: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Till then, hold off on unsolicited advice and platitudes.” Okay, so some of it was borrowed. LOL

  52. lisa responded on 19 Feb 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    Kate, I too believe you can “find your way” without the church. The church is just brick and mortar. I find it important to be involved in a community of people with my same beliefs. Will pray you find your way. Thanks for your honesty and authenticity.

  53. JJgal responded on 20 Feb 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Malone said exactly what I wanted to. I will be praying for you too. I’m saddened that Christians have gotten a “bad rep” and that so many people turn away from God. I hineslty believe tha MANY churches have “gotten it wrong” so severely and that’s part of the reason why. So much more I could write here but I cannot right now and I don’t want to be one of “those” pushy, preachy Christians. LOL You have every right to believe or not believe whatever you want to. But I adore you and will pray for you. Hope that’s okay with you.

  54. JJgal responded on 20 Feb 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Sorry for my typos.

  55. Kate responded on 20 Feb 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    @JJGal
    I never care about typos :-)
    I don’t have a problem with you, or anyone else praying for me. That’s nice of you. But I’m pretty sure I’ll never be a Christian, even if one day I do believe in God. I’m Jewish, all the way.
    Hope that’s okay with you! ;)

  56. JJgal responded on 21 Feb 2012 at 10:31 am #

    It’s okay.Thank you for not being offended by that! ;^) I’m not “offended” by non-believers. Like I said, you have every right to beleive or not believe what you will. BUt I will say, that sometimes it can be hard for those of us who believe strongly. We walk a very fine line between spreading God’s word and love, and being “preachy” and forceful. I try not to cross it. It’s not an “I’m right, you’re wrong therefore I’m better and you’re bad” thing, as people tend to think… and as many Christians (sadly) end up preaching. It’s more that we truly believe that salvation comes through belief in Christ and faith in God So we are saddened that some people will not experience that(notice I didn’t say works – works alone is not enough, according to my church’s teachings… but I digress…). I’m not in the business of saving people or trying to convert them or force them to believe something they will not. It’s not up to me to change anyone! But I still ask God to watch over people or be with them. And I appreciate that you are kind in your response to that, even if it MAY irritate you a little. ;^) This is a topic I could go on and on about, and not in a forceful way – trust me, as much as I identify as Christian, I have many questions and theories that I’m sure others would disagree with or judge me for. Who knows? I guess we will find out who’s “right” in the end. Until then, we all just need to live in love.

  57. Elevate Life Church responded on 23 Feb 2012 at 12:30 am #

    Yes, I believe in God. I know He exists — the three in one – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am a Christian and have walked with the Lord for almost 25 years. To know that He made a way for me to be with Him forever when he gave His son as a sacrifice for my sins because He shed His blood on the cross. I look at how my life was without Him and how it has been since He has been in my life. A day with the Lord is better than all the days without Him. I have hope and faith in Him. No matter what is happening in this world, He is with me. If man is against me, whom shall I fear? There is nothing better than a personal relationship with Jesus.

    If you really want to open yourself up to Him, ask Him and search Him with all your heart. Ask Him questions and He will reveal himself to you. However, you really have to want to …. He knows your heart and loves you so much. No one can ever love you like Him. I ask that you really cry out to Him and ask Him to answer you — He will. He will bring you the Peace and Joy that only He can bring. Nothing in this world can even come close.

    Many Blessings to you. Won’t you let Him enter your life today? He is knocking on your door. All you have to do is invite Him in and get to know the goodness of God!

  58. John responded on 24 Feb 2012 at 8:17 am #

    It took me a little while to figure out that all the responses here are by women. Are men allowed to read your blog? (I’m embarrassed to say how I found your blog, but I’ll tell you privately if you want to know, cause it is pretty funny)

    A beautifully-written piece, and brave of you to open it up to feedback. I do believe in God, and that God has a human face. I’m Catholic, but unlike some of the above comments, in my experience the Church is open to all that is all that good, true, and beautiful– there is even one Catholic group in NYC that often refers to God as the Mystery. In fact, this group puts on beautiful cultural presentations that are open to all, and they are having one soon on the kind cosmic/astronomical questions that might interest you.

    http://www.crossroadsculturalcenter.org/home/

    Many wonderful, intelligent, human people have found their home in the Church, including Jews like Edith Stein, atheists like Thomas Merton, or Southern stoics like Walker Percy (or Southern Catholics like Flannery O’Connor), or New York radical champions for the poor like Dorothy Day. You might enjoy reading some of their books sometime. 祝你平安!

  59. Kate responded on 24 Feb 2012 at 10:02 am #

    @John
    Men are allowed to both read and comment :-)

  60. Kyle responded on 26 Feb 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Beautiful. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon this (I’m kind of a kind of a random clicker…), but I’m glad I did. I, myself, am an atheist and very sure of my position, but I can appreciate good writing when I see it.

  61. Eat the Damn Cake » trying to sit in the dry patch for more than one second responded on 27 Sep 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    [...] For Yom Kippur, I wear a white robe called a kittel. Technically, it’s supposed to be a burial shroud. In Jewish tradition, you’re supposed to be married in it and buried in it.  We Jews like to be in touch with our mortality. Technically, only men would wear these things anyway, you know, back in history, when only men died and got married. But here I am, a young woman, singing the ancient prayers, wearing the too-big burial shroud.  With no jewelry, no makeup, wearing plain white Keds. I was singing for most of the day, in front of the congregation, with no water, no food, and by the time the sun set and everything was over, I was faintly euphoric and sort of floaty. My voice stayed strong—it sounded warm and glad and the husky undertones were seductive. I swayed, I opened up. Music and religion are so good together. Even for someone like me, who has never managed to believe in god. [...]

  62. Eat the Damn Cake » religion and burgers responded on 09 Sep 2013 at 7:06 pm #

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  63. Eat the Damn Cake » the only spiritual thing that’s ever happened to me responded on 05 Mar 2014 at 10:15 am #

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