Atheists: The Fourth Estate of Religion

I’d never want to live in a world without Atheists.

It’s a thankless job, but they do it with passion.

Because of my newspaper background, I recently made the connection. And if you re-frame it that way, Atheists are doing us all a free public service.

Thank them!

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Fourth Estate,” it’s a nickname given to the press. The idea is to be a watchdog, holding elected officials and The Powers that Be accountable. To defend.

Why are so many believers threatened by them? If you’re strong in your faith, a few questions shouldn’t harm you.

Either state why you believe, or agree to disagree.

Since they don’t believe in God, they make things happen. They don’t take anything for granted.

Their minds are always working. They invent things. They ask questions no one else dares.

They’re aggressive, yes. But they’re just doing their job– don’t take it personally.

Everyone needs to be held accountable, even God.

Not everything about religion is good.

And you can be a believer and still think for yourself.

A faith journey isn’t static– it’s dynamic. It’s constantly evolving.

I’m glad Atheists exist, and I welcome them in my life.

They teach me to be open-minded. They are kind. They are fierce.

They get things done.

They do have faith, in their own way. They are self-reliant. They have faith in logic and science.

That’s something I admire.

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What’s Wrong with Religion?

It’s fashionable these days to identify as “spiritual, not religious.”

But I ask, what’s the taboo on claiming a religious identity?

If you have any religion, good for you. If it makes you happy, that’s what matters.

I’m aware that for many people, religion has been a radically different influence in their lives. They have good reason to distance themselves from it and to be suspicious of anyone associated with it.

But for me, prayer and Mass and the Sacraments have been the bedrock of my life.

I’ll tell you what I know.

I cherish all the benefits of religion: tradition, structure, discipline, dogma, family heritage.

Religion is more than a belief system, it’s a tremendous supportive network. It’s a rock in the storm of life.

For many, I think the term itself implies some sort of zest beyond what is acceptable.

But in my life, a devotion to religion is, and always has been, normal. Both sides of my family, plus my step-mother’s family, are all Catholic. Irish, German and Italian! I’m a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic school till I decided to transfer to a public school after my freshman year. I wanted some variety.

My parents always took me to Mass on Sundays. The idea was if I was too sick for Mass, I was too sick to do anything else. As a child, I thought of it as boring. But now I’m thankful– my parents cared enough to instill a respect for routine and specifically, religion, in my life. We prayed over meals– though quickly! I know many parents say their children can choose to be religious when they are 18. But I think it’s sad that many are not raised with religion as children. If you’re raised without it, it seems the majority never understand the beauty and power of having that as part of your life. If you’re raised without religion, you’ll most likely continue as an adult without it. Or you’ll spend your life as a spiritual nomad, looking for a denomination or religion that seems to fit you. At least if you’re raised with SOMETHING, you have a starting point. You can choose to leave it and join another, or you can reject it entirely, or dedicate yourself to developing a deeper relationship with it. In my case, I rebelled for awhile in college by not going to Mass.

But I never stopped praying. I never stopped loving Mary, or the Saints. I kept close friendships with nuns and the priests my family had known for decades. And they helped guide me.

When you’re raised with religion, it feels natural to participate in it and share it with others. I feel a peace with other Catholics that I treasure. It’s like having a giant extended family. I love that in almost any city, I can find a Catholic church. I’m lucky that my religion is often in the majority.

I grew up surrounded my nuns and priests, especially since my favorite aunt was a Catholic nun. Reflecting as an adult, I’m both surprised and somewhat sad that she didn’t talk about the Bible to me. But for 10 years, she took a leave from her convent and lived with us. She was a living example of Christ’s love. She was FUN.

She had no enemies. She never said a bad word about anyone. We never prayed the Rosary together, although we did pray often. She just exuded a gentle and steady love. When she moved back home with her community, she would send me prayer booklets, icon cards, and religious cards for my birthday, holidays. In college, her e-mails and care packages helped sustain me when I was desperately homesick. What little money she had, she was always sending me little gifts. She was always telling me that I was special and that God has a wonderful plan for me.

We kept in touch with cards by mail and often prayed over the phone together. She’d pray the Guardian Angel prayer with me. She was a gifted listener. When I would feel afraid or nervous, I’d call her and cry and just talk it out. She didn’t often give advice but her calming influence always reassured me. She would always remind me to be kind, to give the person who had upset me the benefit of the doubt. To consider why they may have acted that way– without malice. When she died in 2010, it was if a light in my life had been snuffed out. It was a Dark Night of the Soul for awhile.

But that loss of her only drove me closer to the faith I’d shared with her all my life. Now I feel she’s a guardian angel to me herself, protecting me and reassuring me still. Now I pray to her. I keep her close to me by being more resolute as a Catholic. I remember all the times she asked me to go to Mass with her and I said I was too tired and didn’t want to get up that early. She was never angry and always accepted my decision– but she never stopped asking.

Now I see it was something she wanted to SHARE with me. It’s harder to find people now to go to Mass together.

I realize now what an act of love it was for her to want to go with me to Mass. And I feel bad that I bypassed so many opportunities in my life to do that with her.

And now, on my own, I’m starting to want to delve deeper into Catholicism. I’m beginning to read The Bible more. I’m feeling closer to the Blessed Mother, praying to her more often. I’m feeling a desire to pray the Rosary, though it’s intimidating.

I even have a Non-Denominational friend who wants to learn to pray the Rosary with me. How beautiful is that?!

If you weren’t raised with religion, please try to open your heart and consider it.

You might be shocked by the peace you feel. And if you are afraid to pray, that’s why we have so many prayers.

Just read it out loud and I promise, God will hear you. Here’s one you can try:

The Guardian Angel Prayer

“Angel of God,
my Guardian dear,
to whom God’s love
commits me here.
Ever this day,
be at my side
to light, to guard,
to rule and guide.

Amen”

He always does, even if He doesn’t answer right away.

The Last Astrologer

I was in Chicago today, and popped into a shop I saw on the street.

An astrologer. There weren’t many books, just a few items on display. It was mainly a space for her to do readings.

I decided to get one. It wasn’t that much. I’ve had them sporadically throughout my life.

But today was the last time. I think I’ve just gotten a lot smarter, better at smelling bullshit.

We went to her corner, with two leather chairs.

She had me place my right hand on open Bible, and repeat my name three times.

I was leery, but wondered what would happen.

Then she grasped my hand to read my energy.

And I have to say, I was impressed. She was more on the money than anyone else has been. She told me several things immediately that were facts, very specific about my life. She was aggressive.

I sat quietly and never offered anything unless she asked.

But there was also a point later on when it was so obvious she was just throwing darts, hoping something would stick. She asked me about what symptoms I might be feeling…. I had none of them. She was groping for some sort of malady. She said she sensed a “dark energy,” around me. That I’ve visited others before and didn’t follow instructions. Why, she wanted to know?

Because it’s a hustle, that’s why.

While she was reading my energy, she got a phone call. “Let me take this,” she said. Dropping my hand.

It seemed to be a girlfriend. She kept saying, “My dear,” and arranged to make plans for the next night. Then she apologized, and took up my hand again to resume.

I was aghast at her unprofessionalism, but curious about how this would play out.

She made a few other observations. Sat back. Contemplated. Then leaned forward and tried to close the sale. She already had the money, but she was hoping to land a bigger fish.

Because for the low price of $280, she was willing to “open my case.” She kept saying, “I’m talking to you like I would my own sister.” The syrupy over-familiarity. The pointed eye-contact. It was just so obvious.

Another time, in my hometown, a woman made a similar pitch to me. She then offered to burn some exotic 20 foot candle from Africa for something like 72 hours for me, and dig into my karma. I think that deal was selling for around $150. I told her thanks, but I can handle this on my own, and never went back.

I think working in sales has wised me up a lot– no one can bullshit me anymore.

I’m one of the few salespeople who does NOT bullshit. I don’t push anyone to buy– I’m just matter-of-fact with them. The product is excellent, so it sells itself. I’m very serious at work. I don’t pretend to be their best friend, use their name a bunch of times, and I’m not touchy-feely.  I don’t put down other brands. I don’t need to, because I know that mine stands on its own. I’m very lucky to work for an excellent company that is both ethical and supportive.

But the majority of salespeople are unethical, and tell you anything necessary to close a sale. If you waver, they will turn up the heat. I had a boss like this once, years ago. She was successful, but also practically soulless. Once, she wanted me to call back a client of mine who had just spent $300 hours ago and pressure them to spend ANOTHER $200. Just so her numbers would be better! I refused to do it, and was disgusted by her. All our clients hated her, because they knew she was so phony. But that’s how the typical “successful” salesperson is. They will pressure you, and don’t care about your needs, your feelings or your budget, as long as they get their quota met. They want another raise, they want a bonus, they want a vacation, they want to beat the competition, they want a promotion. They squash whoever gets in their way, and they do it without a second thought. They are friends with whoever can benefit them at the moment, and have no loyalty to anyone but themselves.

I do believe that some people have powers. Growing up, I had a friend who could see ghosts. She had prophetic dreams. She knew what was happening before I even told her, sometimes it was eerie. I used to envy her.

Now I’m glad I don’t know these things. I can’t imagine how it must feel to literally be haunted. How could you sleep? I’ve met several people in my life who were clairvoyant in some way or another. They are empaths. I’ve met three people who could see auras.

Apparently your aura is like a mood ring– it changes according to your current energy.

But these people are not exploiting people to make a living. They reserve their gifts for friends, or they charge a modest fee and have other jobs that sustain them. These are good, honest people.

I can see how a gullible person could so easily be sucked into this. They would return often, forming a relationship very like a therapist. They would never make a decision without consulting their “spiritual guide” first, and would spend thousands of dollars doing it.

“Maybe your chakras need to be balanced,” she told me.

No, they don’t. My chakras are fine, thanks.

I know who I am. I know what I believe.

And now I understand why religion is such a commodity.

Astrology is not for me. It’s just a convenient way to label people.

I know my faith is getting stronger, because nothing sways me anymore.

I don’t need approval the way I once did. I don’t need answers from everyone else.

I trust my gut, because I know that it is right. And I move forward.

I do believe in prayer.

That was the creepiest reading I’ve ever had. And the last one.

After Mass: On Religion, Love, and the Gift of Faith

During Mass today, I realized what it’s about. Why I go.

Why we put up with all the idiosyncrasies of religion– the demands, the divisiveness.

We do it to be part of something bigger than ourselves. To share our lives in the midst of chaos and find a still point.

We do it to admit, “I need help. I can’t do do this alone.”

Admitting we need help is the hardest thing for most humans to do. We want to be self-reliant, we want to be okay, no matter what.

I love my church, because during peace, people walk around with open arms. They shake your hand, look you in the eye, smile.

My parents are local, and I enjoy seeing them. However, I don’t have siblings, and my family lives out of state. So I do feel lonely at times.

But in this church, I get hugs, just like I do with my family. And although there are still a lot of things I’m figuring out about my life, this church makes me feel anchored. Singing songs of praise makes me feel anchored. We spend the week busy, scrambling to get things done– we deserve to rest and just be thankful for what God has given us! To stand with others and testify that yes, we’re glad to be standing here, together. The services in my church usually run two hours– and I love that! At other churches, they are usually only 45 minutes to an hour, and everyone usually rushes right out after Holy Communion, and barely talks at all if they do stay. People in this church linger. A few times a month, they head into the parish hall for coffee. There’s no rush, they want to meet you, get to know you.

That makes me feel so happy. It’s just a simple church– and that’s why I like it. It’s not high-falutin’, it’s not about artifice.

It’s just about love, service, and appreciation.

Knowing that a family is depending on me to bring them Holy Communion anchors me.

I know that I can’t live my life alone, and that I’m never alone.

I’m learning that God is more than Bible verses and dogma. It’s more than prayer and Confession.

God is truly very basic.

God is a secure feeling of love.

God is a warmth in your heart that says, “Go ahead, you don’t have to be scared. I’m with you.”

God is the absolute confirmation that all you are, and all you haven’t been– is enough, because you’re doing the best you can.

And mostly, God is feeling so overwhelmed with that truth that all you want to do is share it with others.

And not by conversion– but by acceptance. By example. By trusting.

Be kind. Forgive. Help, with no expectations or conditions.

I feel God with me today. It’s an incredible lightness, to help us float through the storm.

We don’t need to know where we’re going or why– only that we’re on the right path.

Ethics and Prayer

I define my life by ethics.

I’m a reserved person in many ways, because I don’t like to be impulsive when it comes to interacting with others when it comes to moments of impact.

I cherish the freedom to get in my car and drive on a whim, small things like that. But my conscience is what drives me to make the important decisions of my life.

And I’ve learned to trust my gut. It’s usually right.

Even if doing the “right,” thing isn’t the popular thing– even if nobody else understands, that is what I will end up doing.

And I’m proud to say I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t need the affirmation of others to make these decisions.

I used to talk over everything with my friends before I made a decision. But I found all that did was delay taking important action, and drown out my own voice. And a majority of the time, the majority rule was wrong. It also complicated my life, caused drama, and was unnecessary.

Now I feel confident enough to realize that they don’t know the facts, or the people. I do.

Now I can make decisions much quicker, and usually on my own steam.

And what has brought me to this understanding?

God. This year I’ve prayed more, written more, spent more time alone.

And in that sacred space of silence and contemplation, I’ve found own inner compass.

If I become lost for a moment, I’m no longer afraid.

I just center myself, pray, and then move forward with faith.

And you know what?

It works.

Atheists, Creative Spirits, and The Glory of Defiance

For a long time, I’ve been struggling to understand why I continually attract–and am attracted by– Atheists, artists, and creative people.

All my life, I thought I was looking for a “good Catholic man.”

I think I’ve been wrong.

I like having the culture aspect of growing up Catholic in common. But I’m not convinced that I’m only compatible with Catholics.

I’ve learned that I see God in everyone. Whether they “believe” or not. I’ve learned to look beyond the obvious.

If I am looking for a Catholic man, he will also need to be very open-minded. Progressive, not only conservative.

It’s not the answer to simply conform and obey.

It is RIGHT to question authority. To insist on thinking for yourself.

I thought maybe I was attracting these types because MY faith was weak. That I needed to pray more, do more good works, or something. That somehow, it was *my* fault– and this was a punishment.

Because that’s the way we are taught to think, when you’re raised Catholic. Guilt is embedded in your conscience. Any unanswered prayer, any bad thing that happens, there’s always a reason– God is teaching us some sort of lesson. And it’s up to us to figure out what that is, in the void.

I believe that, to a point.

But I think I was misreading it all along.

Now I see that many people who profess NO faith are the kindest, most loyal people you’ll ever meet. They will agree to help you move without even knowing the date, and stay the whole time. They will be your friend unconditionally. They accept people as they are, exude enormous empathy, and in many ways embody the Christian faith and the example of Jesus more than many of the most vocal Christians.

And many Christians are self-righteous, afraid to associate with anyone different, paranoid that allowing their children to meet, befriend or date anyone of a different race or creed. They hate anyone who challenges their beliefs.

And hate is not the answer. Love is the answer.

Empathy and tolerance is the answer.

I still identify as Catholic– but I am quick to qualify that I am also a Democrat.

It is not wrong to be gay. I also support a woman’s right to choice.

People are human– and God made us all. Diversity is the glory of life, not the bane of it.

I am a proud liberal who ENJOYS having friends and dating people who challenge me, who show me a different aspect of humanity. I like learning about different cultures. I like to listen and find out WHY people believe what they do. I don’t just interrupt and say, “Well this is what *I* believe,” and then list all the reasons why someone else is wrong. I’m not out to convert people to my point of view at all costs.

I used to be terrified of change. Now it’s comforting. Change is the one thing you CAN count on.

I accept people as they are, and I’m not threatened because their having a different opinion doesn’t make feel insecure or less of a person. I am happy to agree to disagree.

Some people just want to argue for arguing’s sake. Even if you AGREE with them, they will switch the conversation to another topic they can debate. They don’t care about a civil conversation, they just want the drama.

The only way to deal with these people is to just shut them down.

Truthfully if your faith is strong enough, you should be able to get along with anyone. You know who you are, so you can be anywhere and know that you are the same person.

I wasn’t attracting the WRONG kind of people. I was hung up on labels.

The reason I have such a strong and persistent attraction to Atheists and creative men is deceptively simple.

And it’s only recently– in the past year– that I’ve had the insight to see it.

I learn slowly, but I do work through information I’m given and make up my own mind. I will change my mind, openly admit it, and explain why once I figure it out.

The common denominator is a defiant spirit.

It’s taken a long time for me to embrace it, but I realize that I do have a rebel yell.

I appear to be very “nice”– and I usually am benevolent to most people. Unless given a reason otherwise, I treat people with respect and expect they are being honest with me.

But make no mistake, I have no problem asserting my opinions and calling out bullshit, either.

And men respect that in a woman. Too many women are submissive, desperate to agree. They don’t want to upset their man, they have no opinions, they agree with everything and put up with everything as well. Even abuse, be it verbal or physical.

At times in my life, I’ve been that woman. But not anymore.

I used to be so afraid of confrontation. But not anymore.

You can’t avoid things– they don’t go away. You have to face them and work it out.

Sometimes the only thing to do is fight, for your own dignity.

Because “fun” is not the glue of love, as I have learned. TRUTH is the the glue. When you’re secure enough and respect one another enough to tell the truth, especially when it hurts.

Because I’d rather be told the truth than flattered.

Until now, I had only done this in my closest relationships. My very best friends, and only the romantic relationships that were the deepest. If I trusted another person enough to fight with them and let them have it, that meant they were part of my inner circle. I used to be a woman with weak boundaries, who was too worried about upsetting the status quo to stand up for myself.

I was quite naive, and my kindness was often used against me.

This translated to every area of my life– friendships, jobs, relationships.

Finally, I learned to recognize these manipulators. I stood up to them. I shut them down.

Now, I’m slowly rising in my confidence. In the past year especially, I’ve gotten in touch with my anger. When you’re Catholic, you’re also taught not to express anger– but to repress it, so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. You’re taught to pray it away. And it doesn’t work.

That’s WHY a heaping majority of Atheists were formerly Catholic.

The truth is, religion can be damaging.

Silence is the weapon that kills the faith of many.

When you’re raised in a culture that teaches you not to talk about what’s hurting you, not to show emotion– just to carry on and stuff it all, it’s not good for you.

Praying is not enough. Confession to a priest is not enough.

We need to defend ourselves as well. We need to assert boundaries. We need to communicate with others directly.

Faith can be a rock in the storm. It is for me.

But it takes a lifetime to work through how to manage it in a way that allows us to balance our feelings, express them when necessary.

I’m still working on it, myself.

But every day I’m getting smarter. I’m less afraid.

And my voice is getting bigger.

This blog is helping immensely.

Amazing Grace (Underneath My Seat)

As I unloaded my laundry from my car just now, I spied something teal peeking out from underneath the passenger seat.

And I had to laugh when I saw it, because it was a journal I had thought I lost. Last summer!

I remembered going to eat alone at my favorite local diner. But I couldn’t remember leaving with it– I even asked the server and cashier if they had seen it? I thought another patron must have found it and was enjoying my journal (it was blank.)

But just now, there it is– wedged underneath my car seat.

The most notable thing about this incident is that the journal itself is religiously themed– called “Amazing Grace.” It also says, above it, “my stories, my faith, my life.”

I remember feeling particularly disappointed to have “lost,” this journal. It has inspirational quotes on every page, with Bible verses sprinkled liberally as well. I thought it was gone, and I forgot about it.

But all along, it was just hidden–and God was waiting for a better time to show it to me.

This is why I entrust my life to God.

He throws the best plot twists! My life is more exciting than anything I could write, because God is writing the story of my life. All I have to do is keep turning the pages, and enjoy the story.

I think our faith is a lot like this journal. There are times when we doubt ourselves– and may even doubt God.

But He is always there, whether we see Him or not. He is patient. And when we least expect it, our faith blazes again and shows us just what we need– just when we need to see it.

Opening the journal, I found a verse I think is perfect:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me– watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

Matthew 11: 28-29 MSG