Remember what it was like to be a kid?
It wasn’t as idyllic as everyone seems to think. You had worries: school and grades, social pressure, figuring out a definition of “normal”. You didn’t know what it was like to be a person yet– sure, you had no bills, no job, no major financial issues, but Susie who took the same bus as you kept giggling at your shoes and you can’t figure out why. Plus your teachers kept telling you how you’re learning important life skills that you’ll use forever, and you couldn’t see it no matter how hard you tried. And you didn’t get why you have to keep your room clean– it’ll just get dirty again, and it’s not like YOU cared.
And people kept trying to sell you goddamn fax machines. What’s up with that?
The Fax Machine Analogy
It starts when you’re a kid. You’re just going about your business, worrying about school and Susie From The Bus, and all of a sudden an adult comes up and tells you, “Well, all of those problems would go away if you had a fax machine.”
You’re innocent. You ask: what’s a fax machine?
“It’s the best, most wonderful machine in the world! Didn’t your parents ever tell you about fax machines?”
No. We don’t have a fax machine. And you’re curious. So you ask your friend: do you have a fax machine at home? What’s it like? What’s it do?
The response: “Wait, you don’t have a fax machine? Really? What’s it like living in a house without a fax machine? That’s so weird!” And she proceeds to tell you about how wonderful it is to own a fax machine: how she and her family use it all the time to send letters to her grandma, to send important papers to school and her dad’s work. She tells you about how every year, she and her family go to the fax machine store and look at all the shiny new fax machines, read about them and discuss them and maybe get a new one.
When she talks about it, it sounds like magic. But in the back of your mind, you’re thinking: Can’t you just mail letters to grandma? Can’t you just hand in the documents at work and school? It’s not like you’re not there every single day. The whole concept of a fax machine seems… outdated.
But she’s so excited. You must be missing something. You ask your parents to go to the store with her the next time her parents are making a trip, because you want to see what all the fuss is about. They exchange a fairly-uncomfortable look, but tell you to go and have a good time. If you want a fax machine, you’re of course welcome to learn about them.
You go. You realize that while the fax machine clearly works for your friend… You don’t get the appeal. You don’t get why you need one.
And you’d think that would be that.
But along comes the next adult, and the next friend. Every time, when you tell them you don’t really see why they’re so special, you’re bombarded with all the reasons why you’re wrong. People get really into it, insist you must not understand. Fax machines are amazing! How can you live without one?
It doesn’t matter how many times you say you just don’t really like fax machines. Or need one. Eventually people get pissed off and stop asking. Or stop talking to you. Or outright harass you for doing something differently.
And you start to resent it a little.
You start to actively dislike fax machines. You start to hate how people slip in and tell you “a fax machine would help with that” every time you feel like sending a letter. Or every time your printer breaks. Or you need to copy something before sending it off to someone else.
“Why don’t you just fax it?” becomes just a horrible phrase in your life. You get to the point where you want to just hit whoever brings it up. It’s not something you feel the need to be passionate about, but you start becoming passionately anti-fax out of sheer self defense.
Which you are then criticized for: why do you hate fax machines so much? Why are you so aggressive? What did fax machines ever do to you? They’re useful and they make people’s lives better! What’s wrong with you?
Growing Up Godless
This was my childhood.
Going to church with religious families who just wanted little me to understand, since I was growing up with a lack of god in my life. Being asked by my friends how I could not believe in god, since I’d be going to hell otherwise. Being told that Christian Values were the only values worth having.
This was my adolescence.
Being told I couldn’t celebrate Christmas with my family. Being told I wasn’t a real Jew because I didn’t believe in god– by someone who didn’t know the Hanukkah prayer or even the whole story. Being asked if I really knew I was going to hell. Or why I worshiped Satan, who I also do not believe in.
This is still my adulthood. Less often, since I know how to avoid it (read: keep my mouth shut), but still present.
For the record: I don’t consider myself anti-religion, but I do have a problem with a lot of religious organizations. Really, some of my best friends are religious (and I swear, we don’t coordinate our posts). Yet I still often find myself coming from a place of hurt when talking about religion. It’s deeply personal, and a lot of my religious friends have a hard time understanding why.
I don’t blame them. Religion is safe for them. It’s comforting. It’s home. And when you’re coming from a background of friendly, accepting, loving religion, it’s really hard to understand why atheists lash out at it. They know the friendly church: the one that gives them a community and home no matter where they are, the one that eases their fear of death, the one that celebrates their marriages and children and holidays.
I have seen this church,when I study religion from the pews or the words of others. It’s never seen me.
When the church hears I’m an atheist, its face changes: not to something ugly, but to something eager, something that wants to love me so hard whether I’m willing or not. The face I know is a little creepy. It’s an overactive admirer who insists I’ll love him if I only try hard enough– and I’m happy being single thank you anyway now please leave me alone.
“But that’s not real religion,” people say! I’m missing the good part! Because “real” Christians aren’t jerks, they don’t proselytize and tell you horrible things. Funny thing is, I’ve heard this from people who break their own claims just a few words later, often telling me that “you need religion for morals” or “I mean, have you read the Bible?” (Yes. In three languages.)
You know how many “real” Christians I’ve met? People who offer a genuine religious discourse and don’t proselytize all over the conversation? Three. The church to me is a hostile environment. It’s never been accepting. To me, it never will be.
You Don’t Know What You’re Missing!
“But isn’t it sad,” people ask me, “and don’t you feel a void? Don’t you want to be loved unconditionally?
Well, no. I have a lot of people who love me. I don’t need a god for that. And the people who do need one, I sure as hell don’t judge. But the desire for the love of god that so many people talk about– the one that defines hell in so many works of literature, that drives Faustus into despair and horrifies Dante?
I have never felt that in my life.
This is why I wrote the fax machine analogy: the similarities are striking. Religion is a great tool for what it needs to do. If you need religion, if you feel that void, if you need to get your papers to someone across the country right this very second— it makes sense. It makes a ton of sense. Have at it. Enjoy your love and important documents. That is cool by me.
But I’ve literally never felt the need for god (although I did use a fax machine in 2011 to get a signed lease to my landlord). That doesn’t mean I’ve never felt lonely. Or unloved. Or hurt. It doesn’t mean I’ve never needed any of the things religion provides. But I’ve never been able to find comfort in religion– and I have indeed tried. It just doesn’t do it for me.
I mail my grandmother my letters. Or email them. I drive over to my job and hand them my paperwork directly. Just because there’s one really awesome way to do something doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
I think the world would be a lot more manageable if everyone understood that.