113. poinephobia

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By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
— Psalm 37:1 (King James Version)

I’ve been a little crazy this week.

This past Sunday marked the first “preview gathering” of SafeHouse Church that many of my friends are a part of, and that Seth (my ex-pseudo lover) is a pastor of. To be honest, I’m a little jealous of what they have going. They’re having meetings, band rehearsals, and volunteer training meetings, and it’s all making me feel unhinged.

Part of it is feeling left out, and this sort of phantom limb pain that comes from the memory of what all of that was like; of being part of a church, being actively involved in the planning and execution of services and events—and most importantly, doing all of that with my friends, and with people I loved and cared about.

In the last entry, I touched on my growing desire to find atheist/nontheist community of my own—my “tribe,” as it were. To find anything close to the equivalent of the church experience for any nontheist is next to impossible. We’re an independent-minded lot. We tend to think for ourselves and resist being herded into anything. It’s more likely that, as many have suggested, I’ll find community in the various groups I eventually volunteer with, sort of piecing together a nontheist “network” from those people I meet. But it won’t ever be anything like what I enjoyed years ago, in church orchestra rehearsals and the like.

That’s over.

It’s a bit like being exiled from your former life. But that begs the question of whether it was ever mine to begin with, and whether all of this wasn’t inevitable, in a way.

There are days when I do miss being a Christian—in particular, the days when I’m feeling lonely and depressed, and there’s no way that anyone can understand the immeasurably dark place that I’m stuck in, and no way that I can humanly express any of it. It would be really nice to have a god who listens. And like that phantom pain, I wish I could get that belief back sometimes. But it’s gone. Even if I wanted to, there’s no way that I could ever go back to being a Christian, not after opening the door to atheism. It’s a bit like Alice going through the tiny door and then eating the cake—you simply don’t belong anymore. As the moral of the story goes in Igor Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat,

“You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.

No one can have it all,
That is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.

One happy thing is every happy thing:
Two, is as if they had never been.”

Part of me is also going crazy over everyone being there at church with Seth every week, chatting with him like absolutely nothing is wrong (because for them, nothing is wrong—because he didn’t brutally mangle their hearts); singing “worship” songs along side him to an imaginary god they fancy exists; being at church community events with him; listening to him preach; getting pastoral advice from him (as the “pastor of community care” or whatever the fuck he fancies himself); going to his apartment for dinner/parties where he’ll mix them drinks because he’s also a fucking bartender.

Then there will come the day when he meets someone, and that guy will also be in the lives of all my friends, further alienating me; and this guy will be Seth’s husband/partner, and they’ll love each other and be a staple of the community; and everyone will think what a great couple they are, how wonderful Seth is and how wonderful the other guy is…

Sigh. If you think that sounds like jealous ramblings, you’d be spot on. I fully acknowledge this, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it. If there were a way to kill these feelings and forget all about Seth and all that happened between us, I would. Yes, those painful emotional moments are what define us and make us who we are; but this thing is still consuming my mind like a raging, out-of-control fire, nearly a year after the awful, infamous night of my birthday party when he dashed my heart to pieces. It’s almost like these thoughts and feelings are large enough to be another entity entirely.

Yes, some of my ire at the Church is fueled by my love/hatred of Seth—some transference, if you will. It’s completely irrational, and completely and totally unhealthy, but the moment that SafeHouse comes up or is mentioned, I basically turn into a crazy person. All of those raw, barely-beneath-the-surface feelings for him come bursting out and onto the paving stones like sulfuric acid, re-opening those wounds.

And of course this would all be happening right around the time that I formally became an atheist in the first place. It feels as though everyone I know who is going to that church, who I’ve considered my family for some time since my own family is less than welcoming, has slammed the door in my face and is rejecting me by virtue of building a community around the very beliefs that I have rejected so that I can’t be a part of their lives anymore. And these are people with whom I have history, with whom I have shared experiences.

Yes, I’m unhappily single, and that’s a factor (I need a boyfriend!!); but I’m also feeling increasingly isolated. Some of it is me pushing people away—and that’s bad. But I also don’t know where I stand with them now as a nontheist. I’m different, and you can’t choose whether you truly believe or not. It would almost be easier to cut ties with everyone and start fresh. But that’s hardly a mature reaction, nor is it healthy.

… but is this healthy?

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One thought on “113. poinephobia

  1. Randi Jo Brist

    I think the loss of “community” you feel as a non-church member (defined as a nurturing group of non-family members that you see regularly) is partially a result of the breakdown of traditional communities since the onset of the industrial revolution, urbanization, etc. I think you wouldn’t have felt so alone as a non-theist if you lived…let’s say…in upper-class London in the nineteenth century. You could have had a gentleman’s club to attend, or perhaps you would have had a group of like-minded comrades from university…you would have been immersed in a community not based on religious affiliation (but on class, location, upbringing, etc.) from day one.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the increasingly specialized and isolated communities we enter into in our modern society. The upside is we seem to have the option to choose our own communities now. The downside is that most people don’t choose at all. They either end up in a community that they don’t really belong to because they feel a duty to that community, or they are too busy to engage in the functions of a community at all.

    I think having a community fills a whole bunch of basic human needs, and it’s both frustrating and liberating that in this day and age we end up in ideological-oriented communities, vs. location-oriented communities. Now it seems like the lucky ones find their group, and those of us who don’t fit in the right theoretical, socially constructed boxes feel alienated. It’s funny, since I stopped attending church two years ago, I ended up in a book club that has essentially been my community better than church has ever been. Instead of spending regular time with people in a bible study that make me feel guilty for asking questions, I’ve found a group of friends to discuss literature and current events and life problems with. It’s not perfect, but it’s preferable to getting psychological spankings every week from “well-meaning” church members.

    I can’t completely understand your pain from my own personal experience, David, but I respect it. And I admire you for admitting your need for community in the first place. Good on you for standing your ground and looking elsewhere for “soul”-nourishment.

    Incidently, one of my favorite versions of “Rivers of Babylon” from Mad Men:

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