by Dawn L.

The first run-in I had with the Church was as a child. My beloved pony died. I asked my priest, a generally kind man, if she would be there when I was dead. I adored her and was considering hastening the process. My priest said “Oh, no, animals don’t have souls. The part of you that goes to Heaven is your soul, and only humans have souls.” I was stunned. I had looked into my animal’s deep dark eyes and seen her soul. If he was wrong about this, what else was he wrong about? I had studied catechism and been confirmed and sang ‘Jesus Loves Me This I Know.” It all went away. Smoke. I never went to church again.

My mother was a Good Christian Woman. In her drunken ramblings she explained to me over and over that I was evil and possessed by Satan. She also sung in the church choir.

Good old mom went after me with an axe when I was fourteen. She was drunk and it wasn’t difficult to get away from her, but I was rigid with fear that I might wake to an axe blade in the middle of the night. I left home and lived, as they say, on the streets.

I discovered Alcoholics Anonymous when I was sixteen. I had been drinking since I was seven, my little childhood brain struggling to work out strategies that would keep me from becoming an alcoholic. They didn’t work. By the time I found AA I had torn myself up with drugs and alcohol.

In early AA they acknowledged that the program would grow and evolve and change with the times, and that everything contained within the writings was meant to be suggestive. Most have forgotten this over the years. To many (very outspoken) members, the 12 Steps are set in stone, and the 12-step supportive literature has been dictated from within burning bushes . The readings tell us that in order to stay clean and sober we must turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understand him. The Set-in-Stoners believe that the words ‘as we understand him’ offer plenty of room for those who don’t want to be part of a religious program. They told me that I could make up any kind of god I want. Far from being comforting, this just seemed silly. I’m going to come up with a make-believe god, and then put all of my eggs in that basket? Nah. For four decades I tried to figure out who god was. I was in and out of the program. I collected time clean and sober, sometimes large amounts, and then went out in either sullen misery or glorious crashes. Friends died in horrible ways. I did time for bank robbery. My partner of twenty years killed herself. The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous kept me alive. The Set-in-Stoners killed my spirit by adhering to dogma relentlessly. I felt as if there was no room for me in the program.

AA is now undergoing an evolution, a very painful evolution for those who have a need to keep the program a religious program. All of a sudden one, then two, then three people are saying “I don’t believe in god. I am not going to believe in god. And I am a part of this program.”

I will be forever grateful to those first few people who said “Wait a minute—this is stupid.” It had never occurred to me to just say “I don’t believe.” The Set-in-Stoners always have an argument ready. They say “You can make a doorknob your Higher Power if you like.” Huh? If a screw comes loose does the sun go out? This is going to keep me sober?

Something entirely unexpected happened when I came to believe I was an Atheist. My spirit came to the party. I fell in love over and over—with my dogs, my seahorses, the wind, a color. I didn’t understand it– I just went with it. I felt like my spirit was tumbling through the cosmos laughing itself silly. I have a friend who is a female minister in Sweden—she reminded me that there are a million ways to worship. That I understood. I quit trying to save my devotion for some supernatural being. I unchained it, and it went everywhere.

Then I had to come to terms with the Atheists. I have mentioned spirituality in a room full of Atheists and conversation has ramped down, people have looked uncomfortably at each other, like someone farted at the dinner table. There was a gentleman who actually got angry once. He said “There is no spirit. No spirituality, no spirit, no anything. I don’t want to hear it.”

I believe the part of me that isn’t meat is spirit. There is someone looking out from behind my eyes. If someone wants to believe that they begin and end at meat that is fine. Just don’t tell me what I have to believe. I get enough of that from the Christians. The dictionary defines an Atheist as ‘One who does not worship a supreme being.’ I don’t, so I am.

Some people want to argue just because. I have a dear friend who told me “I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist. I believe we are all energy.” She listed the things and people through the centuries she could have been a part of, back to the dinosaurs. I don’t have a problem with that. For all I know, we could all be flowing in and out of some collective unconscious.

We might have been part of the same dinosaur, my friend and I. I strongly suspect, though, that dinosaurs didn’t gather together to say mass in Latin.

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