“Writing is a form of prayer.” Franz Kafka
I don’t believe in God. I wasn’t comfortable saying this until a few years ago, when I became friends with other nonbelievers (secular humanists, post-theologians, Freethinkers, atheists, etc.) who showed me that admitting such a thing isn’t taboo. For a long time, I would tell people I was agnostic, or searching, or still a little unsure, or even that I just didn’t like organized religion. But I was lying to them, and to myself. I’m not searching, or unsure, and while it is true that I don’t care for organized religion, the rest was just gloss. I don’t believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful being that created me and the earth in six days and has the power to control everything, all at once, all the time. I just don’t.
I remember a few years ago I attended an Interact function for Rotary International. I was in high school, fighting with my parents every week to get out of church on my one day a week to sleep in. In addition to being a service organization, Rotary is a Christian organization, so I wasn’t surprised when everyone bowed their heads to pray before dinnertime. As usual, I sat quietly and politely, my hands on my lap, my head held high and my eyes plainly open, waiting to eat. Though I usually try to maintain as much decorum as possible, this is one area I have never been able to enter. I will not pretend to pray. I noticed a few other open eyes around the table and we smiled at each other, silently agreeing that we were there for the community service, not for the sermon. After the “Amens” and the food had begun to pass, a boy piped up across the table about Heaven and Hell. I don’t think his discussion was directed at me, or any other non-prayers at the table, but he was hard to ignore. His opinion was simple: Christians were going to Heaven. Everyone else was going to Hell. I think this was the point where I decided, once and for all, that I was satisfied with my atheism. Yet I still waited a long time to “out” myself to my family.
A few weeks ago my grandmother outed me. “Why don’t you believe in God?” she asked. My grandmother is a very religious person, and her belief in God has gotten her through some very dark times. I don’t doubt that her faith has helped her in her life, even perhaps saved her life at times, and I never intend to try and demean her personal faith. But I had to come clean.
“I just never have,” I said. “It’s nothing anyone did or didn’t do. I’ve just never felt comfortable putting my life into the hands of something else that I can’t see and can’t feel.”
“So you don’t pray,” she said.
“No,” I answered. I thought back to a few mornings before, sitting in church next to her, head up and eyes open as she prayed with all her might. I went because it made her happy. Now she knew it meant nothing more than that.
“Who do you turn to when you’re at your very lowest?” She asked.
I thought about this for a moment, but the answer that came out wasn’t what I would have expected myself to say. “I write,” I said.
She was silent, and then said, “Your writing is very spiritual to you, isn’t it?”
“Not spiritual,” I said, “just therapeutic. It’s important. I gather strength from myself through my writing.”
This answer sated her for the time being, but I could already see my name on her church’s bulletin the next week: “Pray for Kate’s Soul.”
I thought about it more and realized that although I don’t believe in God, I believe in faith: faith in my own voice. And my writing strengthens my soul as much as a prayer strengthens my grandmother’s. I may not believe that my soul will live for eternity, but my writing can. My words will. And in the strength I pull from my writing, travel, new experiences, constant learning, I can make my own Heaven right now: one that I know I will get to, because I am already there. One that I know I will deserve because I have worked hard for it. And I am finally comfortable saying it, after all these years. I don’t believe in God. I believe in me.