Please welcome today’s guest writer, Ashley Pace. Ashley is a freelance writer and journalist based in Montreal. After Calvin (2011, B.A. Interdisciplinary Studies), she earned her master’s degree in journalism, and she now writes words and code to solve problems and tell stories. See her recent work at: ashmpace.github.io.
I don’t believe in a god anymore. This wasn’t without cost, and there was grief, naturally. But after grief comes normalcy. Also, humour.
After declining to attend church services with family for several years, my partner and I received a Christmas greeting card in the mail from a relative. They had posted it with a well-meant, if speculative, “Happy Diwali” stamp, as if to say, “I understand what has happened.”
(Incidentally, converting to Hinduism is not what happened, though my partner has a family history. Also incidentally, Diwali is in autumn.)
Perhaps the confusion was warranted. There has never been a big announcement, no coming-out situation, for my shift in worldview. It doesn’t seem that a change in one’s personal beliefs should warrant communal pomp and circumstance. They are, after all, personal beliefs. I am still the same person I always have been—perhaps moreso, now, with the nagging doubts addressed. While I don’t hide the fact that I’m now churchless on Sunday mornings, I don’t make a point of telling people, either. Just as I don’t tell people that Saturday is my laundry day. (Now you know.) It’s personal, and also not good conversation.
Though I have stated many times that I will not be attending church with family, strangely, it has also been necessary to clarify that I do not want to attend church. There has been some suspicion that I merely suppress my own beliefs in favour of my partner’s. Which just goes to show that family does not always know you best.
The most perplexing incident by far was receiving an Easter greeting card (from a different relative) that stated, “He is risen! Even if the man in the chair says otherwise.” For several hours, I worked through mild annoyance at the thought that this was some mistaken, paternalistic view of my marriage. It took a phone call with my relative to discover that this was actually a reference to Stephen Hawking, as my partner and I had recently watched and recommended The Theory of Everything.
In trying to maintain normalcy with my family, these relatively minor incidents have surfaced. I try to handle them with the charitable attitude and grace that I learned during my Christian years—attitudes which have outlasted those beliefs. Perhaps this is because my shift towards atheism was a gradual and organic one. Indeed, it felt less like an uprooting and more like a transfer of weight. Before, I prayed to a god. Now, I ponder the same things in self-dialogue. (Usually, but not always, inside my head.) Before, I gave thanks to a god. I still feel gratitude—perhaps moreso, now, where divine blessing is replaced with joy at the sheer luck and privilege of this fleeting existence.
More probable, though, is that my previous attitudes are still around because becoming an atheist really didn’t change too much of my self, as a person. Certainly, when it comes to family, some of the shared language is gone, and we differ in our concepts of where things like love and goodness and badness stem from. We wouldn’t write the same things in a greeting card, necessarily. But we still write greeting cards, and send them. Because at its core, a shift in worldview doesn’t have to mean a shift in personhood. (Also because, unlike most, we still use snail mail.)
And while such a change for others might provoke stronger family reactions, my hope is that those who find themselves in a similar transition can feel supported and draw grace and goodwill from the many sources where they can be found—even if that source is no longer divine.