Despite a church-every-Sunday upbringing in an Irish-Catholic household, I am an atheist.
I’m not proud to be an atheist. In fact, I can probably count how many times I’ve used the phrase “I’m an atheist” on one hand; it’s not something I’m remotely comfortable talking about – not that I’m remotely comfortable talking about anything.
I was born in Buffalo, NY, and lived there until moving to Indianapolis just shy of two years ago. If you were born in Buffalo, there’s a good chance that your ancestors were either Irish, or Polish; and it’s almost guaranteed that you’re a Catholic. I was reminded of that fact last year while trick-or-treating with my daughter in an Indianapolis suburb with a Buffalo Bills hat on; we came across two separate native Buffalonians who, recognizing my allegiance to the Bills, each asked us (in this order) – “How ’bout ‘dem Bills?” and then “Have you found the Catholic church yet?”
Table smashing aside, the Catholic faith is a big part of what makes Buffalo, Buffalo – and my lack of faith is just one more thing that makes me different – immoral even; and thus it is cause for shame.
I tried to be a good catholic. I went to church every Sunday (Ok, my parents made me, but still). I prayed. I read the bible. I went to CCD (Catholic Sunday-school). I was confirmed; all the things a good Catholic should do. But then I rejected it.
I wrote in the first post of my series, No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery that I rejected God at the age of 16 after a particularly rough patch of depression. That’s sort of true, but it’s a bit messier than that. I didn’t stop believing in God completely at first. I still believed in Him – it’s just that I started hating Him.
God had always been silent in my darkest moments. In fact, God had always been silent period – despite my prayers, and my generally being a good person and a good Catholic. What kind of relationship is it when one side is completely silent? No relationship at all! If your significant other never communicated you’d be pretty upset too – especially if you were suffering!
Then there’s the whole everything happens according to His design bullshit. What the hell kind of plan has to include my depression? What kind of monster would make such a plan? And what kind of God would refuse to intervene to help me when He supposedly has infinite power to do so, and infinite compassion to motivate Him to do so? I certainly don’t have infinite compassion, but I at least would intervene on a friend’s behalf and help if they were suffering and there was something I could do about it.
That was also around the age I started to pay attention to what was going on in the world; I realized that whatever shit I thought I was going through was nothing compared to what other people were going through in the “real” world. If God was real, and this was all part of a plan, then fuck that plan and fuck whoever made it.
I also started noticing all the zealots out there offering thoughts and prayers, and whatever other pathetic, useless comforts they had to those who were suffering. “It’s all part of His plan” I’d hear them say. What the hell comfort is “this is all part of God’s plan” to someone whose child was just murdered? What comfort is “this is meant to be” to someone who just lost their job? Ever notice that the people who are saying that usually have pretty decent lives? It’s convenient to think some all powerful being is controlling everything when everything happens to be pretty good for you.
I began to hate the zealots as much as I hated God. Hypocrites who have never faced real adversity I thought. Damn them!
If this was all part of a plan, then fuck that plan and fuck whoever made it.
My hatred for God simmered for years until I finally realized the simple truth – the reason all these terrible things happen to people, and the reason I’m depressed is because of people; and God doesn’t intervene for one very simple reason – there is no God.
I was 18 when I made that revelation, and my life took off in the decade afterwards. I took things into my own hands and started doing better in school. I met my future wife at college. I graduated and got a good job. We bought a home, got married, and had children. My career took off… hell, the Bills even made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years (I guess I didn’t have anything to do with that last one but whatever).
My life got better after I forsook Catholicism. But as the circumstances of my life improved, my mental state always seemed stuck in the same pattern of waxing and waning moods which I would eventually come to learn was bipolar disorder. A nagging dissatisfaction with it all has also lingered – a void which I’ve spent the past ten years trying to fill with alcohol.
Sometimes I wonder had I reached a different conclusion with my faith where things would have turned up. Would I have done as well as I have? Would I have turned to alcohol? If I hadn’t turned to alcohol, would I have even met my wife and eventually had my two daughters?
I was recently reminded by the incomparable Beauty Beyond Bones (BBB) of a different path. In a must read post for anyone in recovery (whether from alcohol, drugs, mental illness, or as in the case of BBB – anorexia), BBB details her experience in an intensive inpatient care facility for anorexia. She made it through the experience only through her faith in Jesus.
It’s fascinating that two people can hit bottom and come to two completely different conclusions about something so important. BBB almost died as a result of her anorexia, and was saved through her faith in Jesus. I was at the low point of a crippling depression and was saved, at least in part, by renouncing Jesus.
Had I read BBB’s post 2 months ago, I honestly would have rolled my eyes, and probably stopped reading as soon as I saw the word Jesus. Today, with the help of a newly sober mind I’ve rediscovered a respect for the devoutly religious. It takes guts to place all your faith in God; and… is it actually right?
Today I am sitting here as a 29-year-old man, and looking back at the past 13 years – from when a 16-year-old boy started hating God, to now. I can’t help but wonder, was this all part of the plan?
Maybe the past 13 years have been part of some divine lesson. Had God answered the prayers of a 16-year-old boy in the way he imagined those prayers would been answered… well, I suppose my bipolar depression would have just gone away… and I probably would have gotten a teenage-dream girlfriend too as a cherry on top.
But of course that didn’t happen. Instead I had to learn to accept that bipolar disorder is a part of my life. I had to learn that depression is a fact of my existence, but that it too shall pass. I became strong as a result, and that strength turned into success.
Maybe turning to alcohol to cope was in the plan. Alcoholism did push me to the party where I met my wife in college, and it gave me the courage to say something to her. Eventually that relationship would turn into a marriage and two children – and being with my daughters is certainly the closest I’ve ever felt to God.
Maybe God is real. I wasn’t given a fish when I was 16; instead I was taught how to fish over the past 13 years. Maybe.
Completely reclaiming my faith remains illusive. It’s difficult to just go back to believing in something you’ve vehemently denied for over a decade. I’m not sure what it will take to believe… maybe another 13 years of wandering? Maybe the Bills winning the Superbowl?
At least for now, trying to find Jesus just feels a bit like this:
Leave a like and follow for more! It really helps!
As always, thanks for reading! Take care!