Friday, March 21, 2008


Friends, I am participating in this weekend's Blog Against Theocracy event in the blogosphere. If you click on the link, you'll find a list of all the other blogs who are likewise participating, and discover some very fine reading, I'm sure. I'll be keeping my post on this at the top of my site all weekend, despite posting other essays later.


When I was thirteen years old, I became an atheist. I was definitely not pressured into this decision. My father's parents were fundamentalist Baptists -- Bible Baptists, as they are known in that part of Oklahoma. My father was not quite as vehement as them, but definitely carried their DNA. Mama had become a convert to Hinduism and the teachings of Edgar Caycee after our return from India, which certainly made her unique in the small Texas and Louisiana towns where we lived, but she was not an atheist. I had been pursued by the local Baptist Church in one town, where I prayed, learned missionary skills, and attended revivals.

Until I changed my mind. It was an honest comfort to give up on g*d and accept I was alone with things. Alone with all of humanity and nature and history, which was plenty. I had to keep my atheism secret, of course, except from my mother who was astonished but not upset with me.

(Easter 1967, Dilley, Texas: Maggie, age 11, and her little brother Bill, age 8)

As my adolescence progressed, so did my social conscience. By the time I was 20 and an official bleeding heart revolutionary, my ethics and morality were at fever pitch. I explored and became comfortable with other spiritualities -- wicca, Judaism, Buddhism, the Society of Friends -- but as cultures, without an accompanying belief in g*d. I liked being an atheist. It gave me freedom, especially of the mind.

Things began changing, again without an outside influence I can trace, when I was in my early 40s. I began, slowly, to have creeping tendrils of what, for lack of a better word, I called faith. Faith in something immense, unknowable, which loved me (in an abstract way) and all the universe, something which was the universe and yet also distinguishable from it. At that point in my life, I had a good job, a strong community, my health and a sense of hope. I didn't need g*d, but there she appeared.

I was enormously upset by this internal change. It was akin to giving up being a lesbian, that cataclysmic an identity change. I didn't talk to anyone about it for a long time. When I did confide in friends, a few were upset with me. Some didn't see what the big deal was. One or two were going through a similar experience, which was a relief.

I found I wanted to talk over -- well, deism -- with people for whom it had always existed. The faithful, as it were. But I was terrified of being preached to again. Eventually, I found two women at work, both friends, who became trustworthy confidants. Both of them were devout Christians, one from a scarily Baptist background, the other German Catholic. But, to their everlasting credit, they each absolutely resisted any urge to proselytize. They listened, explained concepts and terms when asked, and, repeatedly, affirmed that it was fine for me to doubt. One friend held me on a beach as I wept, looking up at the stars and freaking out about the very idea of g*d. She never said one word I could construe as a push.

That was 1997 or 1998. A decade later, I'm still feeling my way. Most days, I'm a deist, though not every single day. I have intermittent faith, idiosyncratic definitions, and no conviction there is an afterlife. I do not believe I am made in g*d's image, I assign a female gender to g*d only to make a fucking point, and I don't think g*d is looking out for me (EVER) in an individual way. I resist egotism and arrogance as part of faith, to the best of my ability. And I am definitely not a Christian.

A couple of years after I had to give up being an atheist, my world crashed and has not stopped deteriorating. I lost everything I listed above as my assets, except my inner strength and self-love. I even lost my brain for a while. I'm grateful that my shift in identity occurred before this crash, so I have no doubts about why I might have changed. I didn't have to find g*d, I wasn't driven to it by desperation. That's important to me.

But the point about the timing of it all that I want to make for this essay is: I am not convinced my coworkers would now be able to resist the temptation to preach at me. Nor can I imagine myself now feeling the same degree of trust in conversation with those who are practicing Christians. We have, as a culture, been shoved toward theocracy so hard, so contemptuously, that polarization has crept into personal relationships everywhere.

Freedom of religion includes freedom FROM religion.

The idea that our governing institutions must include religious ideology is an ancient one, suited perhaps to small homogenous groups whose culture was also governed by geography. We outgrew its utility long before we finally adopted another way of doing things, just as we've outgrown economies long before they stop enslaving increasing numbers of the citizenry. It's manifestly clear that those who advocate a return to theocracy do so for either emotional (fear-based) reasons or its advantage in wielding power, or both.

It isn't enough to simply tell them No at every opportunity (which we still have not done). We have to refuse to allow them to frame the discourse. The change in atmosphere as indicated in my own personal life above reveals how successful the theocrats have been in subverting our belief system in this country. Fortunately, I don't have to explain here how this was accomplished and how we can change things: Someone else, Sara Robinson, has written it far better than I could in her series on Learning From The Cultural Conservatives at Campaign for America's Future (hat tip to Jesse Wendel at Group News Blog for promoting these essays and gathering the links together). Read them with enjoyment at --
Part I Messing With Their Minds
Part II Talking Up The Worldview
Part III Taking It To The Street

I'm going to focus, instead, on advocating the removal of existing theocracy from our current government, and that's the institution of marriage. As a lesbian-feminist, I have absolutely no interest in trying to make the definition of marriage as it exists stretch to cover me and mine. I of course comprehend the need for all the tax breaks, legal protection, and validation of our families that occurs with state-sanctioned definitions. But "marriage" carries a residue of religious meaning that taints it, in my opinion.

What I want is for the government to stop conferring legal value to ANY marriages, anywhere; to switch the definitions and support to civil unions, without discrimination as to how those unions are formed; and leave marriage to religious institutions. It's a relic, like baptism or many funeral services. We bury the dead without necessarily invoking g*d, let's do the same for those creating loving commitments that they wish to have legally recognized -- just as we grant divorces without church interference.

And, while I feel concern for all those children being raised in toxic religious environments, kept from public schools or association with those whose belief systems differ, indoctrinated with fear and judgment -- and I do worry about their eventual dysfunctionality when unleashed upon our real world out here -- still, I know the best and brightest of them will find a way to independent thought, reality-based ethics, and love amongst us heathens. After all, I did.

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