Category Archives: atheism

I Believe

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I Believe

I’ve shared my labels in Part One and my journey in Part Two.

Today is the final in my atheist series and it’s purpose is to paint a clear picture of what I believe.  My goal is not to offend or to begin arguments (I’ve already heard plenty of them) but to state where my journey of questioning has brought me.  Most of you will disagree and that’s quite alright with me.  This is my truth.  I don’t expect it to be yours.

*For this post (all posts really) when I refer to religion I’m also referring to a relationship with God or JC.  Too often people will dismiss what I am saying by stating, “I’m not religious.  I don’t believe in religion.  What I have is different.  I have a relationship with God.  Not religion”.  I used to use this same reasoning.  Therefore religion=any following or relationship with God.

I Believe…

1.  Religion is a powerful tool often used to control the masses.

2.  Religion stifles free thought.

3.  Religion can cause and leave very deep wounds.

4.  People need religion because they need to believe that there is more than this life.  They need religion because religion provides them with something they are unable to provide for themselves.  It could be community, accountability, grace, protection, an afterlife, any multitude of things.

5.  The idea of hell is both cruel and absurd.

6.  Heaven is fantasy.

7.  This life is the only life we are gifted in experiencing.  For some of us we had the luck of the draw and found ourselves living in very comfortable conditions.  For others life is quite more burdensome.  Either way it’s pretty remarkable to have life at all.

8.  Evangelism is the ultimate ego trip.  It’s the belief that you have the ONLY way to God and that you 100% KNOW it to be true.

9.  Nothing can be fully known.

10.  Science and reason provide a more accurate measure of truth than faith and feelings.

11.  Global warming is a valid concern.

12.  Evolution did occur and continues to occur.  Creation should not be taught as science.

13.  All life has value. ALL

14.  Religion, power, and money are the most divisive tools used to excuse war and the slaughtering of lives.  This is one of those areas in which anger surfaces for me.  I don’t believe in your religion or in their religion yet I will suffer at the hands of those who want to fight over religion.

15.  Religion and politics do not mix.  Religious beliefs should not be used to form public policies.

16.  We should have freedom of religion and freedom from religion.  We all should have the right to believe what we choose to believe but we should not have the right to impose that belief on others.  I should not be subjected to prayer before a school day or public meeting.  I should not have to swear on a Bible in court.  Just as you should not be subjected to prayers or religious rituals of another belief system before you start your day at work or at your child’s public school graduation.

17.  God does not exist.  But if he does exist (because there’s always that chance), he does not exist in the sense that we believe him to.  If he does exist, my choice to deny his existence will not ultimately matter.

18.  If God does exist and he chooses to send me to a fiery hell for all eternity simply because I couldn’t find enough evidence to support his existence then he’s a tyrant and somebody I wouldn’t choose to worship anyhow.

19.  Prayer does help heal people.  Not because god is sitting up there granting wishes to some people and denying them to others but because prayer causes us to focus on what our bodies need.  It’s calming.  Just like meditation.  Just like hugging.  Just like positive thinking.  Prayer is also just as equally harmful.  It’s harmful because instead of finding resolutions to problems or actively helping persons in need we rely on god to do it for us.  Prayer is an excuse for inactivity.  It’s easier to say “I’ll pray for you” than to physically lend a hand to those who need help.  Again this topic requires an entire post!

20.  A borderless world is ideal.  Borders cause separation and division.

21.  When we become aware of this life being our only life then life becomes more beautiful.  Each day a gift.  We stop living for life after death and instead live for this life.  Right here.  Right now.  We start to value the smallest of things and respect every decision we make.  We understand the importance of making green choices, of growing our own foods, of educating ourselves on the importance of sustainable living, of choosing our battles wisely, of loving the least of us, and so many other issues that affect the health of our planet and the future of our species.

22.  A woman has a right to choose.  You can read about my opinion here and here.

23.  People should be able to marry whomever they like.  Boys should be able to marry boys.  Girls should be able to marry girls.  And a man or woman should be able to have multiple spouses if that works for them (assuming they are all adults when the decision is made).  Just because it doesn’t work for you does not mean it should not be a viable option for someone else. And those families should be able to adopt children.  I guarantee you many of those families are healthier and more capable of raising children than many heterosexual couples and singles who simply have the ability to get knocked up.

24.  In individual freedom and a person’s ability to make the right choices for their life (without government interference) but at times government is needed to change the policies on freedoms that are causing more harm than good.  For example…gun control.  At what point do we say enough is enough?!?  But that’s another post.

25.  We’ve gone backwards in educating our children.  As a society we’ve not only stolen their ability to think for themselves or outside the box but we’ve reduced them to test scores and tightly sealed the box we put them in.  Our children have become a measurement, a standard to be met.  Education is about performance not about forming well-rounded, thoughtful, and educated adults.  This method of education encourages children to find ways to meet that standard.  To appear like they are performing. It reduces them to measures like cheating.  But why not cheat…

26.  Our society values wealth, positions of power, and status above all else.  Even above compassion, empathy, and integrity.

27.  The best education is to travel the world.  When we leave the comfort of our bubble we are quick to discover that we are rich beyond measure, those who we think of as enemies are in fact not much different than us, and the experiences of seeing new cultures and different values teaches us to live the life that is our most genuine life.

28.  Religion does not own the monopoly on morality.  Morality is a human component in the fabric of societies that value what appears to be good and right.  Being religious does not make one morally superior.

29.  There is no good and bad.  Right and wrong.  These words are subjective.  I do believe that all of our choices have consequences.  Some positive.  Some negative.  But that does not reduce our choices to good or bad.

30.  The world is not black and white.  Life is not black and white.  Therefore thinking is a requirement to living life.

31.  We should continually challenge our absolutes.  We should consistently educate ourselves, question our beliefs, and seek knowledge.

32.  Empathy is king.

33.  Our voices should be heard.  Silence signifies agreement.

34.  Belief in god is taught.  Children are not in a position to take any religious stance.  My children are not atheists any more than another child is a christian.  Children are merely products of what they are told to believe.  My children are taught to ask questions, to research for answers, and to live the life that makes the most sense to them.  They know that I will love and support them no matter what.  There are no requirements to be met in order to receive that love.

35.  I believe all these things and so much more.  I believe I still have areas to grow, that I sometimes contradict myself, that I have more to learn, that I can be more than I am.  I believe that my questioning leaves room for me to change my mind, change my stance, and change my opinions.  Change is not negative.  On the contrary.  Change is positive.  Change allows for perspective.  Perspective grows empathy.  Empathy allows me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes without judgement.  And that is education!

I hope that each of you will challenge your status quo.  Do one thing this week that makes you uncomfortable.  Ask a question and seek an answer.  Have an open mind and see where that mind travels.  Start your journey…the one that leads you to your truth, your set of beliefs and your genuine self.

Journey on, friends.  Journey on.

My Journey to Atheism (Nutshell Version)

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Yesterday I told you I was an atheist and a secular humanist.

For Part Two of the atheist series, I want to dive in and explore the journey that brought me to the point I am now.

In an eensy-weensy nutshell:

33 years I was a committed follower of Christ.  Born and raised in a christian home.  My parents were leaders in our small church.  My dad teaching our Awana club and my mom the church piano player.  I attended a teeny tiny christian school on the same campus as my church for the entirety of my education years (with a quick and limited transfer to public for 5th grade where I heard about the Big Bang Theory *gasp*).

Not that one:

List of The Big Bang Theory episodes (season 1)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This One!

The 6 Stages in the Universe

The 6 Stages in the Universe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was baptized by choice and said the salvation prayer more times than I can count.  I followed the rules and rarely questioned.  I never drank, never smoked, never had premarital sex (clarify: premarital intercourse).  My summers consisted of church and church camps.  We were consistent sunday morning, sunday evening, and wednesday night attendees.  My circle of friends never (or rarely) consisted of any one outside the faith.  We all believed the same things and walked the same straight line.  Mostly.  The most rebellious thing for me…I kissed a lot of boys and found myself attracted to boys I wasn’t supposed to like, those who were a little rebellious or outside my faith.  There was the mormon, the camp leader, the jailed wiccan, the cute waiter, the arrogant twin, the heavy weed smoker, the boys I met at golf n stuff and hopped in their car to wherever, the foreigners I met on the beach, all the ones I don’t remember, and then the one I was supposed to love, the school chaplain.  The golden boy that all mothers wish their daughter would date.  He was my first love.  My first real heartbreak.  And, finally, at the ripe old age of 15 I started dating my husband!  These years were filled with natural desires conflicted with shame.  And that shame still surfaces today.

The Virginity Hit

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I married Adam when I was 20 and he was 19.  We were still both walking that straight and narrow purity line of christianity so in order for us to remain faithful to our beliefs we needed to get married so we could have sex.  Seriously.  This is a key component to why we married!  It’s almost laughable now.  Okay, it’s downright funny (and stupid)!  I wouldn’t recommend getting married at 20, waiting to have sex, or letting religion teach you about your sexuality but that’s a post I’ve already written.

During the first 13 years of our marriage we carried on what we were taught.  We attended church each Sunday.  We went to weekly Bible studies.  We prayed and did devotions, taught marriage classes in our church, voted republican, shunned science (and I have a science degree…again, crazy laughable), tithed our 10%, spanked our child, taught christian based parenting classes, feared what we didn’t know (homosexuals, democrats, feminists, eastern medicine, meditation and yoga, yada yada).  We were the model christian couple and, yet, we were both suffering with shame and small doubts.  Silently and alone.

Belief + Doubt

Belief + Doubt (Photo credit: jpellgen)

For us doubt began to trump faith.  Long story short, Adam started questioning and through education, experience, and reason he came to a place where he could no longer put his faith in god, his time and money in church, or remain in the beliefs he had held without question for so much of his life.  Adam’s leap to find answers and make room for questioning eventually encouraged me to allow myself to seek answers to the questions I had buried or excused away.  I devoured every morsel of fact and reason I could find only to become an atheist faster than Adam, surprising both of us.

Finding our truth did not mean the road was easy.  All you have to do is look back at my earlier posts and see what leaving religion was like.  It rocked our world, our marriage, our lifestyle, our friendships, our family, our sense of self.  It rocked our entire beings until we were so completely broken and angry.  Angry at ourselves for never questioning.  Angry for the way we had parented our oldest.  Angry at others for selling us lies.  Angry at religion for it’s use of shame and manipulation.  Angry at others for defending a belief that they blindly follow.  So much anger.  Anger is an important fuel to bring people to new levels of awareness but it is exhausting.

It’s only been recent that anger has subsided.  It still surfaces when I focus on atrocities and nonsense that can come from the religious.  It still surfaces when people question my morality, pray for my soul, or tell me that my children will never know peace.  And it still has a rightful place in this continued journey.  Anger is just no longer necessary for me to survive.  It was then but it’s not now.

That brings us to today.  Today our families (most of the members) are still highly religious.  My dad and stepmom are missionaries.  My mom is a pastor’s assistant.  Adam’s mom remains committed to her beliefs in god and a bigoted prophet.  But we are different and we are confident about where this journey has brought us.  Honestly, life has never felt more genuine.  More peaceful.  More accepting. Even with the amount of judgement and rejection we have and continue to experience.

Today we are,without a doubt, atheists.  Full fledged non-believing atheists.  We value the amount of studying and vulnerability we

The New Atheists @ Creepy Library

The New Atheists @ Creepy Library (Photo credit: ~C4Chaos)

experienced to reach this point.  And today we are better human beings raising more aware and socially conscious children.  We give ourselves more grace and the shame that religion so strongly forced upon us is slowly dissipating.  We take pride in our atheism and our non-belief.  We take pride in our secular values and the life that we are living.  And, honestly, after being on both sides of the fence I wish that every person could experience a life that is good without god (secular humanism).  I, personally, think that the world would be a better place without the fantasy of the supernatural and the fantasy of an afterlife.  I wish every person would find answers to their doubts, ask the important questions, give their religion a hefty once-over, and find the strength to walk away from something that feels really comfortable if and when reason trumps faith.

Journey On.

Tomorrow (or the day after…I’m non-commital these days with four kids on summer break to chase around) part 3 in the series.

Paint Me Positive

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Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.                                                                                                                                          ~Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre~

If I were to tell you that I’m an atheist some of you may choose to stop reading right now.  Some of you might cringe and have second thoughts about what kind of person I am.  Some of you will pray for me.  Some of you will get angry.  Some will feel sad or sorry for me.  Some will feel indifferent.  And a select few will send me cyber high fives.

If I were to tell you that I’m a secular humanist your feelings toward me are not as likely to be so strongly opinionated as they were when I applied the atheist label.  Many of you may have not even heard of people referring to themselves as secular humanists so there’s not a negative reaction.  Secular humanist sounds friendly.  Someone harmless.  Someone with different values than yours but values nonetheless.

Atheist=negativity/danger/red flags                                  Secular Humanist= friendly/safe/question mark

am an atheist.

But before you write me off….

I am also a secular humanist.

Atheist Bus Campaign Launch

(Photo credit: Girl with a one-track mind)

What is it about the word atheist that frightens people so deeply?  Why is it the standard perception that atheists are threatening enemies?

In a recent study (found here) a good percentage of Americans said they would not approve of their child marrying an atheist.  They would not vote for an atheist.  Atheists are more disliked than Muslims.  Atheists do not have American values.  Atheists are as untrustworthy as criminal rapists.

On and on and on the prejudiced opinions go.

I can’t blame people for feeling the way they do.  Not because these popular opinions are based on knowledge or fact but because prior to becoming an atheist I was a life long christian with these same views.  I held strong, fear based opinions about a group of people I had very little knowledge about.  In my bubble of a world, atheists were not children of God therefore they were not to be trusted.  In fact they were enemies of God sadly manipulated by Satan to influence our society with evil things like science, feminism, removal of prayer, and self sufficiency.  I’m not mocking or belittling when I state these things.  This is simply what I was taught.  What I believed.  What I practiced.  So I understand the majority in these studies.  Completely.  But I have awareness now.  Real life experience. The prejudiced opinions are just that, prejudiced.  Atheists are a pretty rad group of people.  Kind, giving, educated, motivated, involved, peaceful individuals.  Of course there are some rotten apples in the bunch but they don’t define the group as a whole.  Just like Westboro doesn’t define the entire lot of christians.

brassfielddiatribe.jpgThe media does a great job of giving atheists a bum rap too.  How can any decent person form an unbiased opinion when the media is hell bent on presenting atheists with a negative slant?  It’s difficult to filter through all the negative attention to find the positive.  People in positions of public education (media, pastors, politicians, etc) are often selling negative smut to their viewers.  A perfect example is a recent sermon (view pic on left) given by a minister in Oklahoma.  That pastor made it his mission to paint atheists in a very negative light claiming that no atheists could be found in the relief efforts of the Oklahoma City tornado.  He was willing to paint that picture even if that meant he had to lie.  We call that “lying for Jesus”.    His fact-lacking, falsified sermon was quickly and formally refuted but the seed of negativity had already been planted.  The foundation for hate already laid.

So I don’t blame people for their negative perspective.  It’s what they’re fed.  It’s what they’re taught to believe.

But we can change that.

P1050256I think the best thing atheists can do is first and foremost come out of the closet.  No more hiding.  If you are an atheist playing the religious game solely for the benefit of your friends and family it’s time to own your truth.  Those of us who come out in religious communities will likely suffer loss, heartache, judgement and persecution but the more of us that speak up, the more our society can see that their views and opinions are misguided.  We love, we serve, we donate, we’re trustworthy, we make great parents and we are kind neighbors.  Just like them.
Personal relationships are the quickest and most effective way to break down barriers.  So I encourage you to help change the negative societal stigma by speaking your truth and finding pride in your atheism.

You see many of us atheists are secular humanists.  We are serving our communities and bettering humanity just like the religious.  We’re just doing it without the God mandate.  So if calling me an atheist freaks you out and subjects me to negative space in your mind, you can always refer to me as a secular humanist.  It’s all good.

Check in tomorrow for Part Two.

Shades of Grey-The Popular One

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*Warning!  Spoiler Alert!* & R-rating

Today’s blog is a twofer.  Two for one.  Enjoy!

When I began this blog back in early 2011 I had originally named it Shades of Grey.  The title was very fitting considering I had left christianity after coming to the realization that the world is indeed not black and white.  I began to get a very firm grasp on the fact that there are varying shades of grey in nearly every aspect of this thing we like to call life.  And when we get stuck thinking that there is simply black and white/right and wrong we alienate ourselves, we fail to grow, and we go to war against those who believe our black should be white or our white should be black.  I started Shades of Grey to challenge those around me (myself included) to stop spouting off rote answers to life’s big dilemmas and instead masticate on these things and discover the whys of our beliefs, prejudices and practices.  Does society tell me to think this way?  Does my god or religion demand it?  Is there proof that concretely discredits what I am choosing to believe?  Do my beliefs make any logical sense? Am I willing to become uncomfortable and try changing the blacks and whites in my life?  This is what I was challenging.  Examining the different shades of grey between black and white has helped me to push myself, sometimes in really uncomfortable ways, to evolve.

I began this blog before the global sensation of Fifty Shades of Grey was an international maniacal craze.  Now that nearly every woman and man with Wifi or a bookstore nearby knows Fifty Shades I have found that it is time to switch my blog name from Shades of Grey to Thinking With Vitality.  This will save all the poor, unsuspecting folks who have accidentally stumbled across my blog by googling words like sex, naked, and christian grey.  If only I had pictures of Christian Grey naked while having sex!  Even I might be addicted to that blog 😉  But, I don’t.

Besides the fact that all the wrong people were shopping my blog it was simply time for a change.  I’m not as angry now as when I first came out as an atheist.  Life is brighter.  I’m not in a constant state of pissed offness (although I still get there and still have plenty to say!).  Therefore my page should reflect that.  You’ll notice the colors are more vibrant.  The bio has changed.  There will be more positive posts mixed in.  But the platform is the same.  You’ll read about religion, politics, family, adoption, women’s rights, crazy events, sexuality, acceptance and posts that are simply reflections of my general interests.

The challenge is the same: think, test yourself, quit being complacent and possibly consider moving forward in a whole new direction.

Part Two:

While I am semi on topic with shades of grey I figure let’s make this entry a two-for-one.  Two topics with the same name.  One blog.  It’s your lucky day!  Fifty Shades of Grey book thoughts are coming up here in section two so do NOT continue if you are concerned about spoilers or are sensitive to topics of sexuality.

Yes, I’ve happily read the Fifty Shades trilogy and even passed it along to friends and family. If you are a woman or a man who has not benefited in the bedroom from this steamy series I would suggest you at least give it a peek or two.  I mean it’s unrealistic sex on every other page of each book.  With all of that sex it’s hard to avoid a little “kinky fuckery”.  There’s a little something for every one.  There are fast cars, bad guys, good guys, jealousy, helicopter crashes, money, ties, whips, braids and handcuffs.  Oh and did I mention there is sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, and more sex?

Fifty Shades Quotes

My girlfriends and I have discussed this series in length.  Some friends so completely bummed with the realization that when they were finished reading, Christian Grey would no longer be a part of their nightly escape.  Some friends found the series to be a very bad idea for relationships because it left them wanting more from their boyfriends/husbands.  I, on the other hand, found the books as a great tool to try out some new and exciting…..ummmmmm…..things.  And, of course, my husband was more than willing to comply with my new discoveries.  I happen to be of the belief that Christian and Ana will always be with me even after the books have long left my shelf.  Simply because the fantasy of their story pushes and challenges the realm of my own sexuality.
The books had very little depth.  The characters were not a clear improvement from the teenage Twilight vampires and werewolves (which I devoured too!).  Hmmmm, what does that say about me?  I like things of little depth?  Ha!  Sorry, I digress…the story line may be even less developed than Twilight.  There are flaws.  For example, the extent of Christian’s possessiveness of Anastasia.  But it’s not a story of depth that we are seeking when we pick up these books.  It’s fantasy that we are after.  And fantasy you will get.  I mean who realistically holds a full time job, hits the gym enough to be in perfect shape, hunts down crazy people, attends galas and balls, has time for extended family, travels and still manages to have sex multiple times a day with back to back orgasms?  That is fantasy.  Fiction.  According the the dictionary it is “An unrealistic or improbable supposition”.  And the last bit of fantasy is so blech and unrealistic.  I’ll just tell you the author completely blew all the euphorics I had while reading when she wrote a pregnancy and baby in to the third book.  That immediately popped my utopian bubble!  Again, I digress…


While the books are subsurface entertainment I think they serve an important societal value.  These books have opened the door for women to openly speak about their sexual fantasies and desires in a way that men have long had the shameless privilege.  We are saying that our sexuality matters too!  We do this by purchasing Fifty Shades of Grey, engaging in progressive conversations, allowing ourselves the freedom to fantasize, implementing some of the more fantastical sexual situations of the book in our own bedrooms (or elevators if you prefer), voting for what man fulfills the Christian fantasy for us on the big screen, and anticipating with great excitement the day when Girls Night Out will involve women in droves filling up theaters getting a little lusty and carnivorous over Christian Grey, releasing that part of our sexual freedom that we have stifled for far too long.  Shades of Grey along with female pleasure toys being sold in drugstores and films like Hysteria are setting the stage for a revolution of female sexuality.  I happen to think that’s a very positive step in the right direction.

Men, it’s the season of gift giving, and if you want to gift yourself and gift your significant other with one purchase buy this series.  Let your girl get turned on reading, maybe even read some of it with her and be there when she’s ready to release some of that pent up energy.  You’ll both benefit! If you are not short on cash or space or adventure, hell, build your woman a red room of pain!
Ladies, buy it for your girlfriends.  Talk about it.  Laugh about it.  Be free and accepting in your discussions.  Share gritty, personal details and begin appreciating that we, too, are sexual beings with needs, wants, and fanciful desires.  Let the revolution begin.

Laters Baby.

 

Photo credits:
Color palette: www.Printeresting.com
Tim Minchin quote: www.thepositiveatheist.com
Actors for Christian Grey: www.buzzsugar.com
Christian Grey quote: www.50shadesquotes.tumblr.com
Couple reading: www.sheknows.com

Marriage After Religion

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It’s been two years since Mark left Christianity and not much less than 2 years for myself.  Prior to leaving religion we were constantly told how much people admired our marriage and our commitment to each other.  We were asked to lead marital class after marital class in our churches and often mentored newly married couples.  Even after leaving the church and religion people still approach us telling us how much they look up to us as a couple.

Ah, I wish I could say the last two years has held the same amount of admiration and bliss for us as it has been perceived by others.  While leaving religion has been absolutely the best decision for me, for Mark, and for our boys I can’t sit here and pretend that it hasn’t come with a shit load of difficulty.

A Godly MarriageIn religion you have a set of rules that you live and die by.  You have a community of peers that are there to encourage you, mentor you, and give you tools to adhere to the rules that god has set for you.  You have the guilt and shame factor that comes in to play when you break any of those rules by lusting, coveting, lying, cheating, stealing, etc.  You take pride in having been two people now formed into one flesh, leaving your parents and cleaving to your partner.  Women know that they are ultimately to submit to the patriarch (husband).  And the husband knows he is to provide.  Divorce is not an option unless your spouse is beating you or cheating on you.  Porn is considered a taboo sin and often lands a man in church run therapy sessions for sex addicts.  And, sadly, you have a false sense of security that your marriage is great because you are doing all the things god has asked with a few failures but those are quickly hidden and never discussed for fear of judgement.  And while many christian marriages appear to be happy and godly, many of them (at least the ones I have known) are really just maintaining an appearance of godly.  Many men are hiding their porn use and when their wives eventually find out they are subjected to shamefests that rival republican/democratic debate practices.  Men (and women) are hiding their true sexual desires and fantasies and resorting to biblical standards of vanilla and missionary.  Always pleasing to the third man in the sky who is ever present in their lives.  Again anything outside of the black and white rule box including questioning areas of grey is often unheard of and leaves so many people stifled, confused, and inhibited.  But they are safe there and it becomes a really really comfortable place to reside.  And in the end if you do start to question your marriage, your vows, the what ifs, you can always fall back on the belief that god chose the two of you for each other.

Remove the book, the rules, the community, because god said so lines, the lifetime of black and white and the shit hits the fan!

We left our bubble and after spending so much time questioning everything about our religion the questioning moved on to everything outside our religious walls.  They just shifted from ‘is there evidence to support this’ to
Is divorce wrong?  Is there even such a thing as right and wrong?  As a society why do we practice monogamy?  What would an open marriage look like?  A threesome?  Is pornography really harmful and bad?  Are all drugs harmful?  Are some safe and in what amounts and circumstances?  What fantasies have we suppressed?  Where do we land on abortion? Gay rights? Spanking? Politics? Lying? Secrets? Individuality? Expressions of self? Boundaries? Evolution? Strip Clubs? Prostitutes? What do we want to teach our boys about religion(s), masturbation, sex, relationships?  How do we define our integrity and morality?  If there is indeed no heaven and this moment is all we have will we regret having only been with one partner?  Having not experienced everything under the sun?  Will we lie on our death bed knowing that we lived a genuinely good and happy life?  What is happiness?  What are our natural biological drives and emotions?  How much do we fight against what we see as harmful?  How angry do we get?  When do we let the boys experience church?  Which relationships do we let go of?  Which relationships do we maintain?  Do we even maintain ours?  Is it important enough for us to stay together for the kids?  What does a voice really sound like?  How do I know I’m not being duped or controlled again?  How do I find peace within myself?  What are my new boundaries for myself and my marriage?  How do we respect each other when our answers are not the same?  What do I share and what secrets are good to keep?  Are secrets ever good? Is it possible to share all of oneself and experience intimacy rather than judgement?

And the questions just keep coming and coming and coming.  It’s an endless cycle of learning, exploring, challenging, and that can be a very scary place in a marriage.  It often feels unsafe for me.  I’m a person who is challenged with anxiety issues and severe fears of abandonment.  So to hear Mark talk through some of his questioning and to hear his thoughts that have always been hidden or silenced because of my judgement and the church’s judgement can send me spiraling in to the ugliest woman full of nasty insecurities.  And what do I do when I fear the worst and can’t find my footing?  I fight!

Mark is a man who struggles with ADHD and the need to always push the envelope.  He also is really struggling with anybody controlling him.  He feels he has been controlled and manipulated for most of his life and now wants to control his own life.  And what does Mark do when he feels others are trying to control him?  He fights!
And so just as my anxiety and fear of abandonment can cause me to unjustly turn Mark in to my enemy and I can slaughter him with false accusations and assumptions, his fear of being controlled can unjustly make me out to be a raging nag or cause him to toe the line of safe just so he feels he has his independence.  As you can see the polarizing stances of one needing independence and often losing sight of partnership and the other stance wanting to bail out before the ultimate imagined abandonment happens, causes some serious conflict.  Neither one of us feels completely understood or safe.  And the scale has become unbalanced.

It was much easier for someone like me to feel safe when there were rules to guide me and someone watching me from up above.  I work well under that kind of pressure to perform.  This newfound freedom with my own regulations is quite frightening and intimidating and at times I find myself desiring to once again hide under the confines and restrictions of religion.  It feels safer there because it’s what I have always known.  Outside of it the world and it’s lawlessness is quite frightening.
I can’t speak for Mark and how religion probably felt safe at times for him too but I have a pretty good idea in the ways a box helps reign in a wild stallion like him.

Randall Sellers  Untitled Landscape with Man and Two Women, 2005  

So leaving religion and remaining married has been a painful and arduous endeavor.  I have been quite shocked at how difficult it has been.  I’m not sure we would’ve survived at all if one of us would’ve remained in christianity.  I’m not sure how any couple ever manages living in a home with completely different ideas about life and the afterlife.  And for now that is where we have landed.  We’ve landed with an agreement to focus on what we have in common.  To focus on all the ideas we actually agree upon (because there are so many).  We’ve agreed to continue working with our therapist (who is superb I might add!) .  We’ve agreed on the urging of our therapist to actually talk less!  Yes, she says we are the first couple she’s EVER had to demand that they stop talking about tough subjects.  I have started on medication for my anxiety and find that it’s remarkable what happens when your mind is not making up stories about your spouse all the time.  I can actually hear what Mark is saying and believe that he loves me.  In my anxiety I hear what he says and immediately translate that in to a way he’s going to leave me.  For example, if he says “A threesome would be awesome!”  I hear “a threesome is something I need to have and I won’t be happy til I have it.  You are not enough for me”.  On medicine I hear “A threesome would be awesome” and recognize that sure at times I’ve thought that could definitely be sexually stimulating but that does not mean I need it, want it, or desire anything beyond the fantasy and Mark probably doesn’t either.  I recognize that threesomes and a committed, monogamous, loving marriage are not really conducive to one another.  Bravo to those who can pull it off though.  I’m way too jealous and possessive to share my husband.

Right wrong..!I’m starting to get glimpses of hope that we can land on different spectrums of what is right and wrong and still love and respect one another.  We can have different opinions without hurting one another.  We can share our fantasies, our questioning, our fears and our desires without being fearful of the what ifs.  We can still be on the same team.  Differences do not have to be deal breakers and partnership is a gift in this life.  To have someone who loves me so deeply and to whom I also return that love is actually a really safe place to be.  We just need to recognize how beautiful what we have is.  And that is just going to take some practice and some work.  I know I’m up for the challenge.

For Better…
Or Worse…

Do I think we will make it?  I do.  But not without a few more big battles and not without a mutual respect.  But I think we are nearing the end of our trauma and wounds will soon begin to heal.
Even through all of the pain and fear I can say that our marriage is deeper, richer and way more genuine than it has ever been.  Religion caused too much hiding and too much power over one another.  We lost ourselves and our individuality or if we didn’t lose it we never had it.  Our intimacy is much deeper and secrets are fewer.  There’s a passion and desire for one another that has been stifled for too many years.  We have a friendship that is uncharted.  We laugh together. We cry together.  We dance, we sing, we challenge, we flirt, we scream, we battle, we resolve, we see, we accept and we persevere.  Because of that we will not only survive marriage after religion but we will make it the best damn partnership a couple could desire.

Amen!