Melanie peers up at my altar, a shelf of random/occult objects that hold meaning to me, and comments how weird it all is.
"She's not Pagan?" Melissa asks.
"Nope, an atheist."
Melissa looks over at Melanie. "Plus three points to you." She then turns to me. "Minus three points for you."
Angela commiserates, as our Sabbath-toiling, bacon cheeseburger eating Jew. She, too, is the brunt of occasional jokes at her vague faith, though at least she is cut some slack for her religion having pedigree and social acceptance outside of Klan meetings. She may have killed Jesus, but at least she doesn't worship rocks.
Melanie prods me, as Melissa's behest, if I still do rituals.
"Yes," I answer, aware I am making myself a punching bag, "Little ones."
"Little ones!" Melanie delightedly exclaims. "Like what?"
"Like little ones," I reiterate, though I demur in giving details until there is slightly less reason they will peer pressure one another into teasing me for the remainder of the night because I cleanse my apartment with sage every few months and when I felt my life needs it, burning candles on holidays, one invocation to fire for cure that I memorized forever ago, a Saint Anthony folk chant for finding lost things, whispering prayers that Melanie will get home safe every time she leaves my apartment, and so on.
Melanie later says it would be a deal breaker if I were a Scientologist, Cullenist (yes, as in the Twilight Cullen family), or Methodist, basically any religion I was more adamant to the degree where it came up in our daily lives. I acknowledge that I discuss my beliefs less because I bed my atheist, who just cannot believe in much more sacred than our kisses, because I do not want for a moment to see derision in her eyes. I do believe and study science, seeing it as the language the mute divine speaks. At the same time, even as I agree with Douglas Adams about being able to enjoy a garden without imagining it peopled by fairies, my soul is not satisfied with an inert universe. God may not speak to me personally, but I can't help but whisper comments to her/him/it. I have trouble pointing at something that isn't "god", as it were. I have no lack of spiritual thoughts, no matter how infrequently I give them voice for fear of hearing the scornful jokes, a decade past being dusty, about overfriendliness with trees.
Like writing, my spirituality informs my daily life. I may not feel the need to indulge audible monologues the divine as I am driving, but that is only because I am better able to align my prayers with my heartbeat so I can pray ceaselessly. When I see the moon on a clear night, I do say "blessed be" and I remind myself to be grateful to the universe that I happen to exist in such a lovely and wondrous world, even and especially as I can rattle on about magma cooling, abiogenesis, and natural selection. Were I to feel the need to doubt, that would just signal that it was time to reevaluate and strengthen my beliefs but never to abandon my spirituality any more than I would throw aside biology because I had discovered a new theory; if my beliefs could not stand scrutiny, they would be the wrong beliefs.
Still, I don't tend to explain my beliefs unless pressed, seeing them as something oddly intimate. In a bookstore, my friend Hannah once asked what I was and I mumbled out something about Discordianism, referencing a Robert Anton Wilson book, but I meant it even as I laughed it away. I am some hodge-podge of Taoism, Zen, and Neopagan beliefs, for those keeping score at home. I've done spells and I've seen results that defied my explanation, so I have faith enough that what I feel in my soul has some correlation in objective reality. Even if they didn't work, it wouldn't much matter. Faith is not about how good your magic tricks are. I am spiritual because it benefits my life, my microcosm of Pascal's Wager. I believe as I do because my life is better than if I didn't.
There have been no end to studies which demonstrate a neurological basis for belief; our brains want God even as our minds debunk the divine. We evolved with a desire for the sacred. When I taught both the philosophy of artificial intelligence and psychology, I persisted in reminding the students that ideas are little more than memetic viruses, religion most of all. Those ideas that benefited the host organism were passed on. Those that did not (like Shakerism, an extinct Christian sect that forbade sex even after marriage and propagated through conversion and adoption), died out. The students didn't buy it, didn't accept my intellectual infection, but it is hard to admit that one is a theist in remission and harder still to think one is being inoculated against something one rather likes.
It is typical enough to rebel against the religion of you parents when one are a teenager, busy rebelling against everything else that might represent parental authority. When I was more active in the Pagan community, I witnessed no end of people tearing the Christianity of their parents to shreds and then talking about the religious intolerance of others with no apparent irony. I was not raised in a particularly religious environment, though I was baptized in an Episcopalian church and spent my early years quietly terrified by my father singing "Silent Night" to my brother and me every night (food is described as "tender and mild," not virgins, and "sleep[ing] in Heavenly Peace" seemed like death; clearly a monster was after the Virgin Mother on this quiet, calm night. In retrospect, I realize how sweet and affectionate this gesture was). The most religious instruction I got from my atheist mother was that I should not believe in God, but I was forbidden to believe in the Devil. However, I developed spirituality out of this. Melanie, raised by rationalists, cycled through religious labels and came out an atheist because the universe was simply too vast for gods. Melissa, raised in a conservative Catholic family, became a liberal atheist. In the room, only Angela stuck to her parents' religion, more or less (bacon is delicious, we can't blame her). The pattern repeats the farther I look in the limited sampling my social sphere, few retaining the label of their parents, few having a religion/belief structure they discovered on their own, and the rest either saying they don't know if there is a god or know there isn't. (I am not saying I know or think there is one Heavenly Allfather judging me from on high; I am pantheistic.)
I think that a lot of the issues with any level of theism, at least amongst my friends, is that religion tends to be much more ridiculous than it needs to be. When one is depriving others of human rights or stripping science of its just place in the pantheon of society based solely on how one sees the divine, one is going to be personally responsible with creating a lot of animosity and a large number of heretics. At best, religion seems silly and antiquated; nothing to which rational (or otherwise rational) people should subscribe. I cannot even say I will sway my friends by showing them the quiet dignity of what I believe. While it is - as covered - quiet, I do not remotely think sacred practical jokes and (hopefully figurative) nose tweaking are precisely dignified by their very design. Nor do I wish to sway them. While a slightly larger slice of their tolerance would not go unappreciated, I like how my friends are and I obviously do not mind their cause me to examine what and why I believe. I would be politely horrified if any of my reasoning or actions had them espousing an attachment to my Jungian archetypes or an adherence to anything more spiritual than light Taoism. I may be infected, but I'm not about to act as some Typhoid Virgin Mary.
Soon in Xenology: When I was a girl.