Saturday, January 28, 2012

Confession of a Former "Atheist"

"...but the Lord laughs at the wicked for He knows their day is coming." Psalm 37:13

"A fool says in his heart, there is no God". Psalm 14:1

Have you ever been in this category of fools? I have. I was at one time an "atheist" (which I would spell f o o l with a capitial F). I was not a rabid, in your face, don't talk to me about God kind of unbeliever. I was more the milquetoast, limp wristed variety. I adopted this mindset not so much that I really believed God did not exist. I came face to face with an old fear that in different circumstances could have been deadly and I knew the possibility of going to Heaven was not on the table.

If you read my previous blog, you know that as a child I developed a very negative picture of God. Let me make this disclaimer. I am not casting dispersion upon any denomination or religious organizations. I am simply relating how I processed what I was taught. Please, no hate mail.

That out of the way, I was raised in a family that went to church every Sunday, every Holy Day of Obligation and other special occasions. We were not what we referred to "C&E" members, those who only darkened the doors on Christmas and Easter. I also spent the first 8 years of my education in a school run by our denomination. The good part - I received a strong foundation in the existence of God, the reality that there was a Heaven to gain and a Hell to avoid at all costs, and that our behavior determined where you wound up eternally. The bad part - the older I got the less I believed in the system. God in my mind was not "seeker friendly" at all. He was more a composite of Svengali, Scrooge and "The Great Oz" (picture the image from the movie) whose sole purpose was to scare the hell out of you. As a young child, I remember having a real desire to know Him but as time went on, He became more and more unapproachable.

So with this firm belief in God, how did I become an atheist? Now I need to share with you on of my other childhood quirks. As I write this I can hear my sisters voice in my head saying: "You always were a little weird, Mary!".

As a child, I was really afraid of volcanoes and earthquakes. I grew up in South Jersey and as far as I know that area has never had any active volcanoes. I do not remember experiencing any earthquakes either. My fear of volcanoes came from hearing a story in school about Mt. Etna in Italy. We were told that a farmer was out in his field on day and to his amazement, here was a volcano growing in the field instead of his crops. We lived in an area with large commercial farms and in my childlike rationale; if it could happen there it could happen here. My fear of earthquakes came from watching a news cast of an area that had been hit very hard. I remember watching on our television which in those days was a small screen with grainy black and white images that were adjusted by moving the "rabbit ears" on the top of the set. We were on the cutting edge of technology for our day, we had 3 remote controls and their names were Pat, John and Mary. I asked my mother what had happened to the people in the buildings that were not destroyed and she told me they all died. Again, in my childish understanding, I drew the conclusion that when an earthquake hit, everyone died. I remember sharing these fears with my father who did his best to explain to this small child that the chances of a volcano erupting in our back yard (like I had dreamed) was practically impossibility and that an earthquake while not impossible was highly unlikely. I wanted to believe him but I still had my serious doubts. As time went on my fears abated....until.

My husband Joe and I were married in 1972. One morning we were both awakened at the same time in the early morning hours. Neither of us could figure out why. There were no loud noises, no sirens going off. Our bedroom faced Spruce St. which though out the night was a popular "cruising" area and there was nothing out of the ordinary happening there. We both chalked it up to being a fluke and went back to sleep. The next morning when he woke me up he informed me that we had a minor earthquake! I emphatically informed him that this was not possible. He assured me that it had indeed occurred and may have been perplexed at the velocity of my refusal to accept the truth. He went on to work and I was left grappling with my old childhood fear.

An earthquake...unthinkable. What I had feared for so long had happened. To people who live in very active quake areas what we experienced would not even raise an eyebrow. Buildings did not shake or fall, windows did not blow out and the sidewalks and streets did not crack open. At this time, we lived in an apartment in a four story brownstone row home. Our friends Ken and Wendy Stern lived 2 floors above us and their bedroom was directly over ours. They had a waterbed. Had this been a serious quake, several thousand pounds of water and bed could have come crashing down burying us in the basement without an opportunity to make a "Perfect Act of Contrition". The my ultimate fear really could have happened and I would have been doomed. That day, on my way home from work, while riding the Mid City Loop I made my decision. I would be an atheist. I would just believe that God, Heaven and Hell did not exist. I had to talk myself into this because in my heart of hearts I really did know God was real but this was the only solution I had to quash the fear I was experiencing.

In Proverbs it says that God laughs at His enemies, and why not! He is God. What can anyone do to Him. He is all powerful. At Gethsemane, Jesus spoke two words and the Roman cohort, the Temple Guard and all the other officials were knocked to the ground when He spoke two words. What could God do if He lifted His little finger? He is omniscient, He know everything. Planning a sneak attack against Him; He knows all about it before you do. He owns everything so what is left for someone to use against Him. Of course He laughs; He doesn't need to do anything else. But then, the thought occurred to me....what if God is like a parent. What if "Little Mary" has money burning a hole in her pocket and wants to go to the mall to spend it. The only way she has of doing this is to have her parents take her. In her sweetest voice she approaches her parents with her request, confident they will be in complete compliance. Unbeknownst to her, they have different plans to surprise her with something special. She is shocked at their refusal to accommodate her and decides to pull out all the stops to get her point across. She throws a fit. She accuses them of not caring. They do not love her and for their information she lets them know that she not only does not love them, she even hates them and wishes she lived somewhere else. She storms off to her room and slams the door. What do her parents do? They look at each other and laugh. They worked hard to keep a straight face and not lose their composure during her rant. They know something she does not. They don't take seriously her words because they realize, she is only a child and acting childishly. This is something that they will eventually address to help her learn how to handle disappointment. They know the surprise they have planned for her will reverse her ideas about them.

As I sat on the bus that day and made my decision, I would not be surprised to learn that God fell off the throne rolled around the floor laughing. Why? He knew as Paul Harvey would say "the rest of the story". He knew that in less than 2 years I would make a complete 180 degree change of heart and give my life to Him. He knew that 30 some odd years later I would be passionately pursuing Him as opposed to running from Him. Maybe the reason that He laughs at His enemies is that in many cases He knows the end of the story, and He knows we are in for a big surprise. Perhaps He is laughing so hard right at something right now, His sides hurt. Perhaps that something is me.


  1. I really enjoyed the comparison of the little girl becoming angry with her parents (who laughed)because they wouldn't give her what she wanted when the whole time they knew they had something better in store for her, with God laughing at those mad at Him. Neat. This blog certainly helps us see God in a new light.

  2. Your sister still says..."you always were a little weird, Mary". I loved this blog more of the same..