This essay/post/thing originally appeared on Phraryngula, in PZ Myers' ongoing series "Why I am an Atheist". There's loads of compelling, funny, or gutting stories in the series, and they're well worth checking out!
It' s a bit long, so I've chopped it in half for your reading pleasure!
The last pit stop on my story here, the big one, also revolves around my mother. She passed away in early 2005 after years of illness. In the last stage of her ordeal, she was in a coma, with all function above the brain stem gone. I came to resent the perkiness of the staff, even as I understood why they may have used it as a professional tool or their own coping mechanism. I also resented sunny platitudes of “oh, God is good!”, “the Lord moves in mysterious ways!”, all of that. No higher brain function – it was as devastating and simple as that. I couldn’t take another prayer.
This coma lasted a couple of months, and midway through she was moved to a nursing home. At that facility, there was one particular nurse that inspired my unspoken wrath, even though she was great at her job and probably is a wonderful human being. She seemed to take a shine to my mother, as much as Mom could have been said to be there. She’d join my family and sing and pray, pat my Mom’s head and call her pet names, call on God to wake her up. Now, I was hardly in my right mind, but I found this one of the most obscene things I’ve ever seen. I’m grateful for the care this nurse gave, but I wish I had the wherewithal to gently tell her to stop, that Mom had passed away, and we were keeping a vigil by her body. To wave belief around in my face, after what I’d been looking at for weeks, well, a punch to the gut would have been preferable. Belief itself was an insult at this point.
That crystallized things for me. Questioning the facile non-answers of traditional religion, and the oddities of non-traditional religions were actually a piece of cake. As I continued along, however, I started to feel more strongly that it was more immoral to chalk things up to a god or gods. I had increasingly difficulty in justifying the impulse to blindly “trust” in something one could never see, never speak with, and never guess its whims. And in the last few years, watching what’s been going on in the US and the Catholic Church – I am more firm in my refusal to sign back up to that. This is far from the cold and lonely stereotype some believers have of atheists and secularists – this was an absolute joy, a feeling of expansion. While I can still understand – but not approve of – why people would cling to a religion or a spiritual framework, it’s not for me. As Joyce said through Stephen Dedalus – non serviam!
*Those advantages are twofold. First, there is race: I am Caucasian and the recipient of many benefits based solely on my skin – unfair as that is, I acknowledge it and try to subvert it when possible or at least make a big noise about its nefarious nature. The second is the kind of education I received: for all the Catholic stuff, those schools did do a pretty good job otherwise, and I’m well on my way to being the first woman in my immediate family to receive a MA!
**I like to joke that I came into the world just in time to see Reagan rip off the White House’s solar panels. Yay, me.
*** Which is still fun, but for secular reasons :)