This week, I read an excellent, gripping, poignant blog post by Feminist Philosopher Leanne Dedrick entitled “Things That Make Me Cry: The Practice of Unbelief.” The purpose of the piece was Leanne’s desire to address a misperception by some non-atheists that atheists are devoid of emotion, violently hostile to anything associated with faith, and unable to deal honestly with the Divine. She also corrects the erroneous assumption that atheists seek to “hide from, or purposefully turn […] away from, the ‘saving grace’ of religion.” In the post, she wrote specifically about her own journey from ultra-conservative Christianity to atheism.
I needed to read Leanne’s post. Her journey reminds me somewhat of my own, very painful journey away from what would be considered by many to be Christian fundamentalism. I was born and raised in the church, and I was in attendance most of the times the church doors were open. Like Leanne, I too learned scriptures, and sang in the choir, and gave speeches (little “mini-sermons”) during various church occasions and celebrations. More than that, I worked with everything in my mind, body and soul to be a sincere Christian. I saw the example of my mother, who I love deeply. She was the same in church, and out of church. While she was not perfect, she was neither fake, nor flippant with her faith. Because of her, I believed in the reality of Christ as Lord and Savior, and everything that I had been taught that came along with that. I not only believed it. It was my complete and total world, and I tried to give every ounce of who I was to it.
I never thought that this way of thinking, of living, of how my very being was constituted, would ever change.
But then life happened…
There were situations in which I was involved, experiences that I had, and most of all, questions I could no longer ignore, that ended up destroying what I had considered to be my complete and total world. Very similar to the story Leanne told in her post, there were things that I also could no longer believe. This time in my life felt like what scientists and physicists label as a “blackhole” in my very being that threatened to swallow me entirely from the inside out. The solitude and the emptiness were all consuming. Most of all, the fear I felt was completely indescribable and thoroughly debilitating.
This whole process of transition, of what felt like a complete life implosion, started years ago. And yet, even now, I am still transitioning, and still on my spiritual journey. I have not lost the faith, but I have given up categories that attempt to measure “how good of a Christian” I am. I am sure there are those in my past life who would not even consider me to still be a Christian. I wish I could say that I was okay with this knowledge; but while I am at a more secure place than I have ever been about my spiritual identity, I still have fear. I am still afraid of paying the price for the ways I have changed, and for the things I either have left, or that I am still leaving, behind.
But this is exactly the place at which I find solace in the stories of other people, other women in particular. To know that women have had experiences similar to mine, and that they have survived to the point that they have in their journey, is a gift that is priceless beyond measure. It gives me hope that there is more to the journey than where I am now, and even though I might not end up in the same place spiritually as someone else, there are those with whom I can talk along the way. There are those who talk to me as I travel, through the stories they tell. There are places where I can rest my overwhelmed mind, my frayed and weary emotions, and my fearful soul; I can rest in the safety of the stories that other journeying women have left behind to comfort me.
C. Yvonne Augustine is a third year doctoral student in Claremont Lincoln University’s Ph.D. in Religion program.Her research interests include the intersection of Comparative Theology/Religion with Continental Philosophy’s concepts of metaphysics and phenomenology. In addition to her philosophical work, her social activism includes feminist outreach through online feminism groups and education, in association with Feminist Philosopher (femphil). Yvonne can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.