Losing My Religion
I once loved the fact that prayer (one who prays) and prayer (a devout petition to God) are the same word, as if the person and their entreaty are one and the same. I was a devoted prayer. My prayers were frequent and serious, often on my knees and accompanied by uncontrolled tears. I prayed hard and believed hard. That is, until I realized that the answer I received from God was always the same.
Me: “Please, God, can I have a second child? I have so much love to give.”
Me: “Please, God, can you help my husband find his way back to me?”
Me: “Please, God, do not let my husband leave me for another woman. I love him and we can make this work.”
Me: “Please, God, help me raise this child to know how loved she is and keep her safe.”
Me: “Please, God, give me guidance on how to protect this child from a world that confounds her.”
I never thought I’d be an atheist. I didn’t want to be. I still kind of don’t want to be. I was raised Roman Catholic in a deeply Roman Catholic community (you know, the kind of place where there’s an Italian parish and an Irish parish and a Polish parish and everybody has to stagger the weekend of their First Holy Communions so that the bakeries can keep up with the sheetcake requests). I went to Catholic school all my life. First at a co-ed parochial one and later, when my parents realized that I wasn’t learning anything and my brain was turning into a school-issued soft pretzel, I moved to a private all-girls academy, where I remained until I graduated from high school. This was followed by four years at a Jesuit university and then a career in Catholic higher education that continues to this day.
Much of my schooling had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, with whom I have empathized as the stressed out single-ish mom of a REALLY high maintenance kid. I loved the Saints and specifically loved the idea that there was a particular entity to whom you could pray if you lost your keys or had a niche physical ailment. There was both order and magic to that line of thinking, and I found it very comforting.
I found additional comfort in the way my religion focused on helping others. I have always been a helper. The kind of helper who lights herself on fire to keep others warm. I can’t remember the last time I made a selfish decision or put my needs ahead of another person’s wants. I don’t report this to brag; in fact, I’m not even proud of being this way. It is not a healthy path to walk in life, but it (usually) works for me and I thought it (always) worked for God.
My strategy evidently did not work for God, as my persistent praying and goodness failed to protect my marriage and, more tragically, my daughter. She is like many of your daughters: gifted, quirky, impressionable, autistic. She also abruptly decided she was a boy when she was 12. Now 15 and more miserable than ever, she lives a double life. At my home she is called by her real name, at her dad’s she is called by a boy's name that was plucked from the sky. I don’t ask what she’s called at school anymore. Despite it being a public institution, the Church of Gender Identity casts a cathedral-sized shadow over the entire campus.
The inability to shield my child from this cult was the last straw for me in regards to God. I could handle the pain of secondary infertility. I could handle my now ex-husband’s cheating and eventual departure from my life. I could handle anything except this. God knew that. I recall specifically mentioning it, multiple times. I did my part, leaning into the “Creative Hope” clause of the contract that insists that if you make every effort to answer your own prayer, God will get it past the goal line. Yet, the answer was still “No.” He threw this one at me anyway. The big one. The one I prayed and worked so hard to prevent. So, if there’s a God, He turned His back on me in a most cruel and extreme way, giving me no choice but to finally respond in kind.
I was sad when I bid farewell to my faith about a year ago. I was truly taken aback the first time I went into my default mode to pray for something and I stopped short thinking, “Hey! We don’t do this anymore!” Sometimes I still feel off-balance about the whole thing. Spiritual vertigo aside, I am grateful for the freedom my epiphany has brought.
In order for me to believe in God, I also have to believe in the kind of metaphysical nonsense that allows belief in a gendered soul. Realizing that I’m just a lump of carbon releases me from the absurd notion that one can be born in the wrong body. There is no right body or wrong body. We are all born because a lucky sperm hit an egg at an opportune moment. There is no destiny or preordination. There is only science. And since there is only science, there is no gender. And since there is no gender, then maybe there is a day when my distant, complicated, self-harming daughter can embrace that she is in fact female, as she was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, girl without end. Amen.