“Citius, Altius, Fortius”

27 Feb

Michelle Senayah was riding her scooter with her husband in West Africa when there was an accident. Her husband has minor injuries. Michelle has massive head trauma, and needed to be airlifted.

It’s things like this that solidify my atheism, make me question why anyone does believe.

Michelle is talented, intelligent, brave, strong willed. A quick run through of her site shows me all this and more. This is a woman who contributes, contributes more than 2.00 in the grocery line or 5.00 at work. This is a woman who has helped build schools. A woman of substance who travelled and learned and shared. This is someone you want to know.

This is someone who is now on life support, her parents and husband beside her, hoping.

How can anyone believe in any sort of god when people like Michelle work their entire lives to make a difference, and their lives are cut short, or irrevocably changed? How is that right, or good? And if it’s just “fate”-why would you want to believe in this? She has something to offer this world-her talents tell me that she is a hopeful woman. Why take that away? Why believe in something that would take it away?

Or was it evil that did this? Well, couldn’t an all knowing god defeat Mr. Evil Pants before it became an issue? Or is god strong, yet not strong enough to actually interfere? Was someone not praying hard enough? I forgot, gods don’t actually listen to prayers since prayer doesn’t work.

I can’t grasp how in a world where bright and talented people have accidents, do the wrong things, that people can believe a higher power guides them. Life is just horribly unfair sometimes-people who don’t deserve it get sick, get hurt, die. Trying to attach a value or a reason to this sickens me, and ultimately saddens me.

ETA: I’ve also figured out what else irritates the fuck out of me-people who assume that my lack of faith or belief is because I’ve had an uncomplicated life.

I fucking wish.

Any ideas how many times it would have been easier, and yes preferable to believe in a god? MANY MANY times.

I watched cancer eat my mother alive. I watched her die in front of my eyes at 11 years old as I pretended not to breathe. I watched them turn the machines off. I held on, waiting for her spirit, for something to fill that room and tell me there was a reason.

There was no reason. There was, as there is now, nothing when her body was finally allowed to stop, to complete the process at 1pm it had begin at 8am.

Don’t try to believe my life is simple, free of pain, heartache or loss. It’s not.

It’s a life, full of bliss and horror, as many many lives are.

28 Responses to ““Citius, Altius, Fortius””

  1. radical mama February 27, 2008 at 11:33 am #

    I guess it depends on whether you believe that a god is “hands off” or “hands on.” I believe the former, which makes people responsible for the things that happen in our lives, not God. Human responsibility is one of the reasons that I like Quakers.

  2. jen February 27, 2008 at 11:35 am #

    oh, wow. no. and again with the lack of health insurance causing a problem too.

    i’m not sure i think god’s job is to keep everyone safe – i’m not sure why not, but i just don’t think it is.

  3. thordora February 27, 2008 at 11:50 am #

    Then what’s the point of having a god is they can’t help you? If she gets better, I’m sure more than one person will point to god’s miraculous will or some such crap.

  4. radical mama February 27, 2008 at 1:03 pm #

    I think of God as a guide, not an intervener.

    What is the point of having a God if all you are going to do is ask for favors and get pissy when it doesn’t happen? I mean, on that note, why work when you can play the lottery?

    I also don’t try to judge who does and who does not deserve hardship. Everyone has the light of the spirit inside of them, some of us choose to ignore it, some of us embrace it, and some of us try to negotiate with it. True humanity is seeking the light in everyone, even when it seems an impossible task. It’s easy to love people who are good. It’s much harder to love people who are challenging or hard to understand. I don’t do this enough myself, so don’t think I am being accusatory.

  5. thordora February 27, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    I get that. I just don’t understand why people need someone/something hovering over them. Why they need someone hanging around to talk to or ask favours of.

    And why a light in people? And why should I love you if I’m evil? It doesn’t make sense in terms of self preservation-if you are a “bad” person, you would endanger me. Why would you want to love everyone? Tolerating people I understand, but I have never, even as a young child understood loving people just because. It serves no purpose on either side.

    If there is something that’s omnipotent, isn’t it rather crass to act as a guide? To do nothing to stop or prevent atrocities or simple trageties?

  6. radical mama February 27, 2008 at 4:11 pm #

    You made a deliberate decision to be an atheist. Not everyone “chooses” to believe. They just do, because it’s what they feel in their heart. So it’s not a matter of meeting a need, but following a belief.

    There is a difference between liking everyone and loving everyone spiritually. I can’t control whether or not you like me if you are an evil person, but I can control how I react to you and what I choose to believe about you (that you are inherently good but are making poor choices). Loving and forgiving are healing acts, and completely selfish in that respect. They bring me peace, so I choose to continue doing forgiving and loving. I don’t want to be consumed by hate and pessimism, as I find that sort of lifestyle emotionally draining and spiritually bankrupt.

    And no, I don’t think it is crass. I believe that God gave us free will and personal responsibility. I would rather have that, and all of the shit that goes along with it, than to have a puppetmaster in the sky controlling my destiny. People create tragedy through their own actions. By driving recklessly, for instance. And people need to solve those problems, and not rely on God to act as a magical fixer of all problems.

  7. thordora February 27, 2008 at 4:35 pm #

    See, that’s where you’re wrong. I didn’t choose to be an atheist anymore than I choose to believe in the flying spaghetti monster. My heart, and my brain, tells me that believing in a myth is wrong.

    If faith was inherent, if people just believed, then children could be left to their own devices instead of being indoctrinated with various parts from various books that people believe to tell them how to live. If faith was inherent, I would then be a believer, wouldn’t I?

    I have never believed in any god. I’ve tried. I’ve wanted to. But it never made sense, to live my life under someone’s commandments, to believe that perhaps I have free will, maybe I don’t, to believe that I’ll burn in hell…to even want to believe in any creature that cherry picks their love and compassion. It makes no sense whatsoever to me. Never has.

    Being a good virtuous person is not something one needs to believe in a god to do. Living ones life for ones self is enough.

    Many things in my life have been unforgivable, and I don’t believe them to be worthy of forgiveness. Because some acts are reprehensible. I will not love people unconditionally because not everyone is equally deserving, sometimes, neither am I.

    I will never understand blind faith-I will never understand faith at all. Didn’t understand it as a child, understand it even less now. At least when I was young, I believed in other imaginary things.

  8. sweetsalty kate February 27, 2008 at 5:38 pm #

    A lot of what radical mama has said has resonated very deeply with me. Before losing Liam, more of what you said would have resonated, thor. I know – weird. You’d think that having to watch your baby son die would push you that much further towards the “eat me, religious nutbars!” camp. (…not how I characterize you, necessarily, but how I’d describe the crisis of faith that such an event throws us into).

    Compared to the very graceful and provocative comments here, this is going to be a few disjointed points. So I’m just going to run with that.

    I see religion and spirituality to be as inividually interpreted as sexuality. Some people like it to be institutional, and get comfort from the ritual and repetition and community and predictability of a church and a book and a chaste, incense-swinging man in a purple velvet cape. That interpretation rubs a lot of people the wrong way because of what the church represents – what they may see as hypocrisy, a bloody history, oddly unchristian values.

    I’m kinda indifferent to church-based religion. It’s like a knife. In some peoples’ hands it can be a threat, meanacing, make me want to run in the opposite direction. In other peoples’ hands it can create a gorgeous, nurturing, fulfilling feast.

    Thor, the way you’ve expressed your feelings seems very church-based. I get that. The please-answer-my-prayer thing, the elitism, all that.

    But I think there’s just way too much in the world that can’t be explained to resort to saying that there’s nothing but cells and dirt and meaninglessness. (not to put words in your mouth)

    I was a cynic. Then the night that Liam died, something was in the room with me – something so incredibly profound, I could almost touch it. It took him, but only at the very the moment I gave it permission. After twelve hours, this was … indescribable.

    So I’m left with my own crisis of faith, of sorts. Something of a reformed cynic. I don’t recommend the method, but I will say it’s left me a more compassionate person. More open to the possibility of a God that’s a hell of a lot more complex and more sensible and more sad but also more full of love than any religion would ever allow.

  9. thordora February 27, 2008 at 5:57 pm #

    I don’t want to dishonour what you said, but I’d venture a guess that the thing in the room was your own heart.

    I find beauty in the things that are real, sorrow in those that cause pain. I see worlds within our own, marvels that are explained by science and reason. Personally, my being doesn’t need a godhead of any kind for this. My mother did, and many, many others do.

    It’s not even that’s things are church based-I don’t understand the release into the arms of some unknown and unseen being-I don’t understand that belief one bit. Maybe my experiences have been a little more cells and dirt-but the only profundity I’ve ever seen stemmed from men and women, and the world around us.

    I envy your experience Kate-not the circumstance, but the peace it’s brought you. I begged with myself when younger to find a path into believing something, to finding an opening in my heart to allow something bigger in.

    Never happened. As I age, I grow more sure of this, that my life will end when my body expires, that I will live only in memory, that I might support a tree or a berry bush when I’m gone. I find comfort in the continuity of my atoms.

    But I also envy your surety.

  10. radical mama February 27, 2008 at 6:10 pm #

    I say you made that decision because you were raised in a Christian home in a Christian country. Rejecting that part of your culture required more thought than someone who never questions the way that they were raised.

    You say that you believe with every ounce of you that there is Nothing. But for someone who does believe in Something, it is often the same inner conviction, without wondering what we get out of it or how we can personally benefit from Faith. Personally, I don’t think either of us is wrong. I think we can respect each other w/o understanding or agreeing.

    As Kate said, I think you are equating religion with spirituality. Religious institutions indoctrinate. I teach my children kindness and compassion w/o any mention of God, although my belief in those values comes from my faith. I also teach them feminist ideas and ideas about the environment, which some people find offensive or mythical. All parents indoctrinate their children in many contexts just by sharing their existence.

    I agree that you don’t have to have any sort of faith to be a good person. I happen to be married to a very good person who is an atheist. The entire concept off believing in God baffles him, but he doesn’t oppose my going to Quaker meeting or taking the girls. We don’t try to talk each other into changing our beliefs. We just accept and love each other as is.

  11. sweetsalty kate February 27, 2008 at 6:13 pm #

    I don’t know if I’d say I’m peaceful. I’d say most definitely not. I’m not sure of much.. except of what happened that night. Whatever it was, it wasn’t me.

  12. thordora February 27, 2008 at 6:18 pm #

    Why do you consider my atheism a decision, and you faith something that just is?

    My mother continually attempted to groom me into her religon-schooling, mass, etc, etc. My core non-belief never shook. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to “not” believe in god, yahweh, oak trees, or anything else.

    My point with indoctrination is that if religon was something that just was, you wouldn’t have to teach it-it would be like breathing. I indoctrinate my children everyday, by choice. Absolutely. 🙂

    I guess the core of what I really don’t understand, and have a dislike for is the ability many people have to offer their experiences up as proof that gods do exist. And I just really don’t understand (literally, I’m not being facetious) how anyone can believe in a higher power when there is so so so much suffering and hatred in the world, most of which is spawned by religons.

  13. radical mama February 27, 2008 at 6:51 pm #

    My faith is conscious and I take full responsibility for it every day that I wake up. It’s something that I revisit and challenge regularly. I never want to be lethargic or passive about it. That’s why I left the Catholic Church. I didn’t want some guy who didn’t know me from Eve telling me how to be a wife and mother (when he had never experienced parenthood or marriage), telling me to be humble and give to the Church (while he lives in a bigger house than me and drives a new SUV paid for by my generosity), or telling me that I can’t have an abortion when he would never know the fear or outcome of unwanted pregnancy. ETC. It’s up to ME to discover the right way to live and to own it and embrace it. You choose to believe that there is no God, in spite of the way you were raised, in spite of what you are told by mainstream society, etc. I am not saying that you had a lightbulb moment. Just that when you do something that is not the status quo, it is conscious to a certain extent. I believe in feminism to my very core, that it is the ONLY way, and you would never be able to convince me otherwise. I’ve felt this way since I was a child, despite being raised by very anti-feminist Catholic parents. But regardless of how deeply I feel it, I have to own it as a decision that I made because I am rejecting what I am told every minute of every day. I don’t know that I made this clearer or murkier, but that’s the best I can do. You’re making my brain hurt. 😉

    And I would never offer up proof of God’s existence based on my personal experience. I think that is arrogant and I generally feel a bit of contempt to people who say, “God speaks to me, tells my XYZ, therefore do what I say.” (Looking at you George Bush…) To me, it is an irrelevant question and I don’t have to prove it or disprove it. It just is. Or isn’t. I don’t believe in being saved, or in Heaven or Hell, or in Divine will. So I don’t think you are going to get the answers to your questions that you are looking for from me. In fact, even my use of the word God is a misnomer, because what I believe in is very very different from what most people mean when they say “God”. It’s misleading for me to use that term. And even though I see a lot of evil in the world, I see a lot of good as well. There will always be both, God or no God. And as I said, I don’t like religions. They are run by egoists who seek to control our behavior, our politics, our bodily autonomy, blah blah blah.

  14. sweetsalty kate February 27, 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    Just for the record, I’m not offering up my experience that night as proof that a God exists.

    All I mean to say is that to me, it’s proof that more exists in the world than what we can see with our eyes. Would I elect to call it “God”, or do I believe in one “God” as painted by religion? Not at this point, no. Not in the typical sense.

    Just wanted to make that clear. Not attached one way or another – don’t care what anyone else believes or doesn’t believe. Not arrogant. Just questioning.

  15. radical mama February 27, 2008 at 8:56 pm #

    Arg! Digging myself a hole here. My comment was most certainly NOT directed at you Kate, or anyone else here.

  16. thordora February 27, 2008 at 9:44 pm #

    I’m making all our heads hurt. 🙂 I’m groping for something, badly…on a day where I can barely breathe.

  17. sweetsalty kate February 27, 2008 at 10:02 pm #

    No worries radical mama! it’s been a really graceful and interesting dialog, especially considering the differences of opinion. Really great.

  18. Sam February 28, 2008 at 12:27 am #

    I think when God lets somebody die, it must be because there was some bigger catastrophe going on that had to be like, dealt with. So if one person dies, it’s because God was saving like five other people. That’s how I see it.

  19. Marcy February 28, 2008 at 1:00 pm #

    I’m really sorry to skip the other comments and write in haste. I hope to come back when I have more time.

    Faith is a decision, whether faith to believe in God or to not believe in God. It is not a whim decision, as if you could decide to believe something you think is untrue or a myth or makes no sense. It is a rational decision, in which you consider the evidence and see what conclusions it leads you to. The same evidence leads different people in different directions.

    I believe in God, the Christian God, not a puppetmaster but not a clockmaker either, sovereign, in control, but not violating free will — not because it makes my life problem-free, but because it makes the most sense to me.

    In times like what you posted about, I don’t feel the need to twist my mind into submission — I can tell God exactly how angry and confused I am, and trust that he is big enough to take it and still love me. My comfort, such as it is, comes in believing that there are more important things than a good earthly life. If there is no afterlife, no heaven, then Christianity or any religion is the stupidest, most foolish thing ever, because it’s patently obvious that religion doesn’t solve earthly problems. It helps with a lot of them, but so do other things.

  20. Marcy February 29, 2008 at 10:08 am #

    Another quick thought, on the question of why would anyone want to love everyone, when some people don’t deserve it.

    Depends on the definition and motivation of love. If love is the same thing as approval, then it doesn’t make sense to love everyone. But what if love is recognizing that all people were created equal, equally bearing the image of God, equally weighted with glory and shame alike, or potential, if you’d rather. What if love is desiring the best for the other person, including their sanctification or rehabilitation? If love has to be deserved, would anyone be worthy? No one is without shame, without sin, without flaws and disappointments and betrayals and abandonments. Does the good anyone does really outweigh the bad? This is where that sad tired old phrase love the sinner, hate the sin, comes in.

  21. thordora February 29, 2008 at 10:21 am #

    I’d have to believe in sin first methinks. 😉

  22. kate February 29, 2008 at 1:33 pm #

    Ok, wow. First, I admit I didn’t have time to read this entire dialog happening in the comments, but I do want to say THANK YOU, Thordora, for so eloquently explaining your atheism. I couldn’t agree with you more (especially the part about if this woman recovers, it being a “miracle” to some people.) My family wholeheartedly disagrees with my thought-process, in part because my sister was “miraculously” saved from breast cancer…I’m sure it had nothing to do with the chemo and radiation her body was subjected to.

    Anyway, I found you via Sweet:Salty Kate…I’ll be back. You are a gifted writer and I find it so affirming to find others of my belief.


  23. Marcy February 29, 2008 at 2:53 pm #

    Thor, how can you say that some people are evil and don’t deserve to be loved, without believing in sin? Is it just a name thing? You do believe in evil, and that some people do it. To me, that’s sin.

  24. thordora February 29, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    Because it isn’t sin. Somethings are unforgiveable. Some things, on our deepest level, are just plain wrong.

    Dark is just dark. It has no value. It just is, as does the light.

    (I’m sure having to “confess” my sins at 9 years old when I had none had a lot to do with this particular belief)

  25. crunchy February 29, 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    T…..My mom and I agree with you. ….
    I cannot find it in me to feel or need a being out there to give my life reason.

    I also cannot believe in any doctrine that a church makes up. Why is one more right than another? It is just another example of humanities flawed ego.

    I think there is no doubt more to ‘life’ than meets the eye….but not souls or spirits or gods. I think it is bigger than that.

    I agree that there is no such thing as sin. There is bad sure..there are nasty people with bad intentions. But good and evil?

    I also hate hearing that you need religion to have morals or ethics

    I do fine thanks.

  26. thordora February 29, 2008 at 8:11 pm #

    I think all too often we mistake morals for religon. Which sucks. I consider myself a highly moral person-for all my flaws and crabbiness (woman who refused to share the fucking sidewalk today and WALKED INTO ME I’m thinking of you) I try and live my life with a “hurt none” attitude-hurt being physical and emotional. I always have. I firmly believe that extramarital affairs are WRONG. Not evil, just WRONG.

    I always try to find the difference between right and good. It’s a hard line to follow.

    It surprises people when they hear the litany of things I find repugnant. They are my personal laws. I try to govern my conduct by them.

    Organized religon, putting all other things aside, bothers me from the perspective of history. How can something applicible in the 3AD still apply now? How do you rationalize a god/gods that continually oppress woman? How do you cast aside centuries of that, and mold it into your image?

    Of course, I don’t understand gay christians either (or gay muslims, etc) Why do you want to go to a party where no one wants you?

    Bertrand Russell (and old favorite) sums it up best:

    “And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.”

    Perhaps there is a god. I’m prepared to be wrong IF confronted with the evidence. But I doubt that something that huge, if it exists, would find my logical questioning offensive. We want our children to question and rail against us to find their way-why wouldn’t a god want the same for theirs?

  27. Marcy March 1, 2008 at 1:06 pm #

    Some things are unforgivable — I’d say forgiveness is never deserved. That’s why it’s forgiveness instead of excuse, vindication, exoneration, etc. If forgiveness is never deserved, then nothing is beyond forgiveness, or else everything is.

    Morals and religion — yes, I get irritated with that. Christianity is not about being moral, it’s about theology — it’s about sin and redemption and reconciliation with God, and while morals and ethics are tied up in that, the heart of the religion is about God and not about being good.

    I also agree with you that God prefers honesty and questioning over pretense. I think the Bible is full of that, and I think it’s the entire point of Job.

    I’m curious about your distinctions between evil and wrong, and between right and good. Can you post about that sometime? It reminds me a bit of Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in which he talks about “bad” vs. “evil.” That little book was one of the biggest and most interesting things I interacted with in college.

  28. Deb March 7, 2008 at 12:46 am #

    what a refreshingly respectful dialogue……

    my two cents is that it comes down to choice and experiences.

    as kate and radical describe, my belief comes from direct experiences and then my choice to believe in something on faith.

    your choice is just as valid and real as mine or anyone elses…..

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