Let’s get this right out in the open: I’m an Atheist. For some, that means I’m the boogey man. I don’t believe in a big guy in the sky who grants my wishes, or who listens when I whisper silently, or who reads my mind when I fold my hands. I don’t believe in the presence of an omniscient, omnipotent being, who has plans for everyone on earth.
I especially don’t believe in this being, whose plans seem suspiciously convenient to the western world, while ignoring everyone else. Thanks so much God, for making sure that my family is fed and warm, but ignoring all those folks who got Ebola this year, for example. Super job. Was that part of your plan? Oh, for fuck’s sake. If I believe in you, I forgot, I’m supposed to pretend that things like this are supposed to be teaching me something: maybe it was supposed to be reminding me of your supreme power; or it was supposed to be showing me to the good nature of humanity, as seen in the volunteers? Hmmm.
To me, it’s just as easy to believe that Thor is up there. Thor, is chillaxing with his homies, Odin, and Loki, and any other assortment of Gods (and not the Marvel Universe ones, the “real” ones). What difference does it make if Thor is making lightening, or God? Loki can be playing tricks, and Odin, or Zeus for that matter, be in charge of all the demi-gods. It all made sense to a certain set of people before us; before we modern people got it right.
So, I don’t buy any of it. A few centuries from now, we, as a people, may be worshiping something entirely new, and laughing at Christianity, the way Christians laugh at those who worshipped pagan gods. Christians are kidding themselves if they think the Bible doesn’t have a shelf-life, just like any other religion. God’s no more expiration-proof than Zeus was. He won’t be out in my lifetime, but mark my words, He’ll be ousted one day, by a new, shinier, thing.
So, where does this leave me when people want to “pray for me?” What do I think of it? What do I say? How does it make me feel? Because I’m certainly in the minority in my belief system, right? And not only in the minority, but often, so far into the minority, that I have to actively hide it.
Well, when people express their concern in the form of prayer, I think it’s pretty fucking great. Ironic, right? I think that it’s nonsense, but I welcome it with open arms. Why? Because I’m not a jerk. Because, I may not agree with what others believe; I may think it’s hogwash, but I respect that, to them, the presence of God fills their heart. This means that when they express that they are going to pray for me, they are expressing something from their heart. This is truly an expression of their deepest, and sincerest care. How can I take that as anything other than sincere?
There are Atheists that argue that when a Christian says “I’ll pray for you,” or that they are adding you to their prayer list, that it’s a cop-out; they could be doing something tangible. That’s true. They could be. They could be bringing me a meal. They could be helping me pick up my kid from school. They absolutely could be helping in a more tactile way.
But, have I asked? It goes both ways. A lot of people don’t know how to start when they are presented with someone with such overwhelming difficulty in their lives; so, they start where they know, with a heartfelt expression of sincerity. That’s great. Sick people also don’t know where to start when it comes to asking; so, we say, “I’m fine,” and “I don’t need anything.”
I lost two friends since I started getting sick. Well, I consider them lost. They probably think we are still friends. But, I’ve not heard a single expression of compassion; or in fact, a single word, at all, from them in over a year. The sad part is that we lived about ten minutes from one another, when I had my first surgery.
These two families advertise themselves as good “Christian” families; they go to church, and in my mind, spread the dogma of what it means to be Christian (they pray for others, talk about being good people, charity, volunteering, you name it). Yet, when someone close to them got sick, they turned tail and ran. Not a word. Do I blame Christianity, or just plain old catty woman behavior? Because I think it’s easier, and more accurate, to blame women being mean to other women.
Had I gotten a cheap version of, “I’ll pray for you,” from either of these women, and then nothing else, perhaps the story might have been different. But, when good Christian families are ten minutes away from friends (especially in the close community of military friends) who are suffering through the worst time of their lives, and do nothing, I find it hard to swallow when Christianity, as a whole, spews values at me, especially when it tries to tell me that I’m amoral, because I don’t believe in the same God that guides it.
Still, I am smart enough to not judge thousands and thousands (or, more accurately, millions and millions) of people based on the actions of a few. Just like I hope that you are smart enough not to judge me, based on actions of a few.
People often ask me, if I don’t believe in God, what do I believe in, and what could possibly guide me? I find that answer incredibly easy to form. I believe in people. I believe in humanity. The two people who let me down are such a small fraction, in comparison to the dozens and dozens of people who haven not let me down.
I’ve gotten more help and compassion in the last year than I ever thought possible. I don’t have to worry about driving my son to school in pain, or on medication, anymore because of compassionate neighbors. I have people coming to check on me all the time. I never have to take myself to doctor’s appointments, or worry about remembering what was said, because I’m never there alone. I get offers of food, company and friendship, all the time. I’m, literally, never worried about a thing, because people are, generally, good.
I believe in humanity’s natural propensity to care for each other, to be kind and good, even if that only means that our expression of goodness and kindness is to think of each other in a positive way, by praying for one another before bed, or at church. I believe in our ability to love one another so intensely, as a people, that our kindness wraps around one another like healing arms, and that little acts of kindness heal the world. One frozen meal here, a volunteer activity there; it all adds up. That’s what I believe in. Two shitty friends do not cancel out the hundreds of kind acts I’ve seen, just for me, since I’ve been sick.
That’s my version of God. So, pray all you want, because I feel the kindness that your prayer brings. I may not feel God, but I feel the warmth and love that your belief in him brings, and that’s what matters.