It's Easter. For many, it's the most important day of their faith calendar. For others, it's the first time they'll go to church all year. For folks like me, it's just another Sunday.
I glided from twice-a-year Catholic into agnosticism back in 2006 or 2007, and became a full-on atheist a year or so later. (Funny, as agnostics and atheists by definition don't organize, there aren't rituals to welcome you into the non-faith community, so my dates are a little fuzzy).
It's been an interesting journey, and more or less a happy one. Which is why it's always such a surprise when people put on the long face after hearing of my new secular outlook. Once, a very well-meaning acquaintance said to me with quivering voice, "I just think it's so sad that you lost your faith."
I used to say that I wasn't one of those angry atheists; that I don't care what anyone else believes so long as they keep their religion out of my laws and don't try to coerce me to follow their far-fetched religious notions as my only legal option. Y'know, dumb things like you can't buy alcohol on Sunday, or two gay people can't get married. That kind of stuff, that has no real justification other than the Biblical - in a society that is increasingly diverse, religiously, wherein not everyone follows the Bible as the best guide to a moral life.
Then I met Shorebird (not his real name), my, um -- boyfriend? I guess that's the right word. We share a house and a bed, but we haven't applied for a marriage license, even though we live in one of the relatively few places in America where the document would be legally binding. "Domestic partner" seems a little sterile - but that's another topic for another day.
Anyway, when I first went out with Shorebird, his Facebook profile said, "Christian." And I thought, "well ... this could be a problem. Not with me, I mean ... I'm one of those open-minded atheists, but he might not appreciate where I'm coming from, and -- oh hell, just go out with him and see what happens. He is awfully cute."
And on the third date or so, I broached the topic of religion. And to my relief, he wasn't as stolid a Christian as I might have first imagined. In fact, he was struggling with the idea of faith quite a bit. And by "struggling," he was beginning to wonder if it all wasn't just a load of Bronze Age hogwash. I innocently suggested he listen to a brilliant work by Saturday Night Live alum Julia Sweeney called "Letting Go of God." It had helped me come to terms with being a big, bad, atheist - and if it didn't have the same effect on him, it might give him some things to think about - or a quick chuckle.
Fast forward six months or so, and Shorebird has embraced atheism full on. (Where's my toaster oven? Just sayin'.)
But he didn't stop at Julia Sweeney. He now reads Sam Harris, Dan Barker, and his personal favorite, Christopher Hitchens, with relish. And his brand of atheism is just a shade angrier than mine. Once, I thought it would be fun to watch a documentary called "Jesus Camp." I had seen the film in theatres before, and it had given me a good laugh. So I got my hands on the DVD, and to my mild disappointment, Shorebird didn't think it was funny. He later described it as "watching child abuse for two hours." Turns out that his upbringing (as a Pentecostal, where folks spake in tongues with alarming frequency) was a little more intense than my Catholic upbringing (all of that eating the Lord's flesh notwithstanding), and he had been left with considerably more scars. And he's given me a lot to think about.
I still don't feel a lot of anger toward religious people; rather than shake my fist, I'm much more inclined to just shake my head. But I'm inching toward that anger, especially when I see innocents (and that includes most kids, and certainly the gay ones) being put through the religious ringer. You might think that gay kids committing suicide was something terrible that happened last summer, when a new story about a gay suicide hit the news wire every other day. The truth is that gay kids have been killing themselves at a fairly steady rate for years, a rate that continues today, even though that story in 2011 no longer seems new.
So all this is to say, I'm ambivalent. Which isn't saying much, I realize. But it's an ambivalence that is especially present for me today, the most important day of my former faith calendar. But I'm not anti-Easter, not at all. For instance, I don't really have anything against bunnies and eggs, mostly because some of them are made out of chocolate and to the best of my knowledge, ancient pagan fertility rites never made people feel bad about their sexuality - just the opposite, I would imagine.
Happy Eggs and Bunnies Day, everyone.