God-fearing Atheist

You’ve probably heard the old saying “everyone is born an atheist; we have to be taught religion”. In my case, that might actually be true.

Even at a young age, doubting the absoluteness of my religion, Mormonism, came quite naturally to me.

I can vividly recall, at age seven, sitting in Primary with the rest of my peers discussing the Plan of Salvation. More often than not, I found myself disengaged with boredom. However, on this particular day I was open to the discussion. I decided to raise my hand. When my teacher called on me, words poured from my mouth. I thoroughly articulated the entire Plan of Salvation with perfection and ended confidently with, “Yep, and that’s how we can live with God again. Well, that’s the story, but I don’t believe all that crap.”

The word crap resonated in the air with a profound discomfiture. We all sat in a pit of silence, as my poor primary teacher stared at me in bewilderment like I was a small reincarnated minion of the anti-Christ. Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but that was certainly the impression.

I assure you I wasn’t a minion of the anti-Christ. She simply didn’t understand that I grew up in a home where we could talk about anything. We didn’t have taboo topics. It was perfectly acceptable to discuss anything we wanted and even dissent without being rejected. No matter what opinions we held, we still loved one another and found reconciliation. It never occurred to me the rest of Mormonism functioned differently.

However, in the awkward silence of Sunday School it was very clear I said something iniquitous. My young mind tried to make sense of the social norm I disrupted. Was my teacher upset I said crap or that I didn’t believe?

At the end of Church, my mother came from Relief Society to pick me up. My Primary teacher pulled her aside with serious concern and told my mother what I had said during Sunday School. I remember looking up at them from an awkward subordinate angle, awaiting my mother’s response.

After my primary teacher finished speaking, my mother looked down at me as if she was benevolently gazing upon an adorable child who just got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She smiled and laughed while holding my hand and said, “Oh Blaire, what are we going to do with you? Let’s go home.”

And that was the final word of the matter. She never brought it up again.

I learned three valuable lessons that day. First, for some strange reason, it is unacceptable to publicly express doubt or dissent in Mormonism, as it can result in social alienation. Second, regardless of what I said or believed, my mother would always love me. Instead of shaming, shunning or lecturing me, she simply loved me. Third, perhaps I should consider eliminating the word "crap" from my vocabulary.

. . .

More recently, I sat next to my seven-year-old son during sacrament meeting. One of his peers stood at the podium and bore their testimony beginning with the common phrase, “I know the Church is true”. Immediately following the phrase, my son abruptly stood up from the pew, his book and pencils falling to the floor while he confidently stated, “That’s not true! That’s not what God told me.”

Wide-eyed congregants stared at my son like he was a small reincarnated minion of the anti-Christ. Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but that was certainly the impression. Maybe our resemblance is genetic. In either case, I didn’t take the time to evaluate the expressions of onlookers as I quickly ushered my son into the foyer.

I’ll admit I was slightly embarrassed by the outburst, but I also couldn’t help the smile creeping across my face. I’m sure my expression was similar to my mother’s. I loved my son, his questions and his concerns, just as my mother loved me, and nothing he believed or didn’t believe was going to change how much I loved and accepted him—Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist or anywhere in between—my love and acceptance would not be limited to any label of his choosing.

My son, like so many of us, is simply seeking meaning, understanding, and value in our brief existence. Would his explanation be any more accurate than mine? I didn’t know, but I was more than willing to listen.

. . .

I’ve learned the most important concepts of love, truth, and reconciliation in Primary, and thanks to my mother’s example, I understood what it meant to be a disciple of Christ.

It seems odd how quickly Christians forget one, if not the most important, of the commandments that Jesus exemplified: as I have loved you, love one another. Jesus exuded this radical love repeatedly. When he spoke to the woman taken in adultery did he shame her, excommunicate her, or shun her? The customary punishment for a woman committing adultery was to stone her, but what did Jesus do? He said, “Neither do I condemn thee.” He walked among the meek, poor, and lowly. He healed, consoled and comforted. He didn’t reject the doubter who said, “Help thou mine unbelief.”

How do we love one another? How do we show love to those in other religious traditions? How do we love atheists? How do we love the child who simply states, I don’t believe all that crap? I’m confident in saying that if we are going to make any significant progress we’re going to have to learn how to work together without condemnation or ridicule.

As Christians, too often we find ourselves dependant on our religion for our salvation—uselessly waiting for prayers to be answered, relying on promises to be fulfilled while we idly sit on prideful thrones, all the while depending upon the legitimacy of ancient texts to dictate how we live. Have we stopped to consider the hindrances of having a religious perspective filled with eternal promises?

If we live under the premise that there is nothing beyond this existence, no God, it really puts into perspective our mortal priorities. When our time becomes finite, how will we choose to use it? When a lifetime has limits, how will we push those limits? There’s no need to waste time constantly trying to reconcile the cognitive dissonance that often accompanies religion when we become creators of our own destiny. Motivation and altruism can be self-emanate.

On the other hand, have we stopped to consider the benefits of having a religious perspective filled with eternal promises? God has commanded us to be creators of our own destiny. Religion inspires and motivates. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of a thoughtful narrative—the power to immerse ourselves in a life-changing paradigm shift that allows a person to perceive themselves as one with the divine, as children of God. If faith without works is dead then God has commanded us to act and to keep searching for the truths of our existence, not just through our faith, but also with our works. Renowned scientist and Mormon Henry Eyring stated, “In this Church you have only to believe the truth. Find out what the truth is.” (Faith of a Scientist, pg. 41)

Think of the benefits of applying religion as an active enhancement to our righteous endeavors rather than a set of irrational parameters to define an intelligence we clearly do not comprehend.

I love my atheist family members just as I love my believing family members. Believers and atheists alike can not only coexist, but can also become co-creators of our salvation when we transcend our differences in our common goal to radically improve humanity. Whether you believe it to be the will of God, the work of Christ, or the altruistic responsibility of humanity, I’ll take that journey with you.