I have never had much truck with religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian ones. My mother was not just atheist while I was growing up, but actively anti-organized religion of all kinds, also looking down her nose at gatherings like her sister's Wiccan coven. I never did figure out why. Something about running into a fundamentalist Christian group when she was younger, I think? I assume that understanding in greater depth than that would cost me SAN, so I didn't  ask.

My father grew up Roman Catholic, and left it right around when he left for college. I don't know all the factors involved, but I do know a large part of it was that his childhood best friend turned out to be gay, as did some of his favorite cousins, and the Church did not deal well with that at the time. Credit where credit is due, here; my parents don't have issues so much as lifetime subscriptions, but I do not recall ever having to be told that there was nothing wrong with being queer. It was so boringly normal that the topic never came up. I do, on the other hand, remember a number of rants specifying that homophobia, like racism, was not right, not normal, and not acceptable, and that people like Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps were abominable human beings. I like to think it illustrates one of my father's better points, that he was evidently the kind of guy you could come out to in the late '60s/early '70s.

The both of them had so many layered anxieties about religion that when some of their friends got married in a Catholic church, my mother smoked like a particularly angry chimney right up until go time, and pretty much had to drag my father into the building by his tie. First time I ever set foot in a church. I wish I could have appreciated what fine karmic payback this was for Dad refusing to do anything about Mom's appalling behavior before, during, and after every single family holiday gathering ever, but I was much too young. I was maybe seven or eight at the time, and intent on more age-appropriate activities, like eating cake and running up to the bride to tell her she looked like a Barbie doll.

I don't really have any trouble with the idea that there is some kind of force greater than myself in the universe. I nose around in subjects like sociology, linguistics, cosmology, and cognitive science, where emergent systems are the norm. There are a surprising number of things that are more than the sum of their parts. I also don't have any trouble tinkering with the idea that this greater things is intelligent, or at least a black box that displays intelligent-looking behavior. It's conceivable that from some certain vantage point, the independent milling about of seven-some-odd billion individual humans gives the Earth as a whole what looks like some kind of intelligent, intentional behavior. It would be like framing an ant colony as a single machine of many parts, no single one of which has any idea of their role in the gestalt system. I don't believe that myself, but I can hold it as a hypothesis and not have it immediately rejected by the reality filters.

The part I object to is the part that requires emotional faith. I object to being asked to hand over my psycho-spiritual well-being to an entity that not only doesn't listen to anything I say, but also refuses to give me any kind of concrete feedback. I can count on the fingers of one foot the number of times I have convinced myself to stop being neurotic and just have faith that someone means it when they say they care about me, and they didn't turn out to be lying, or at least have changed their minds when I wasn't looking. Apparently I need to ignore the New Age claptrap and maintain a healthy amount of FUD in my relationships at all times, or people quit liking me. The obvious counterargument is that dealing with God is different from dealing with humans, but seriously, have you read the Old Testament? I'd like to point out that according to the text, YHWH specifically made us in His own image, dickish tendencies and all. He can be a petty vindictive sod.

If I really sincerely tried to attach myself to a Great Cosmic Power like that, I'd end up an anxious mess 24/7. I'd wander around wondering if any of the weird details I notice about things were supposed to be omens, and whether I was passing some sort of God-Administered Faith Test. That way, literally, lies madness. Never chuck a pareidolic head-first into a religion unless you want to watch them run it into the ground. Or an eideticker, especially if your holy book is awash with internal contradictions.

I much prefer my current method, which is to recognize that sometimes randomness coincidentally appears to be a part of a larger pattern, and that noting this sets off notification bubbles in other parts of my brain. (Being me, most of the time, is a lot like existing within a never-ending episode of Pop-Up Video: Entire Fucking World Edition.) I suppose it seems lonely to someone who's genuinely religious, the idea that I never experience these things as a loving external force keeping me company. I never feel lonelier and more isolated than when I'm talking to someone who won't respond, though, and God is not really noted for returning personal calls.

As previously mentioned, if we're being strictly accurate, I'd consider myself a secular humanist. I technically celebrate holidays like Secular Commercialized Gift-Giving Day, which for reasons of convenience (and laziness) shares a lot of scheduling and decorations with the prevailing Christian holiday of Christmas. I do, however, tend to use the idea of "the cosmos" in the same way that Einstein and Hawking tend to use "God", as a convenient poetic shorthand for "the sum total of all forces large and small that interact in such a way as to result in the environment I live in". I don't ascribe it any intelligence or motivation of its own, but there are days when "the universe is out to get me" is the only metaphor one can usefully employ.


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