• author
    • Julie Parker

    • February 16, 2016 in Columnists

    The scarlet letter, repurposed

    My progressive mother decided I should choose the religion that worked best for me, and so introduced me to three different neighborhood offerings: Presbyterian, Methodist, and Episcopalian. I don’t recall which one we visited first, but I do remember listening to an orating priest/minister/pastor, and matter-of-factly thinking, “He’s wrong.” I didn’t notice any improvements with the subsequent two faith venues, either. Worse still, I had to sit through a Sunday School at one of the churches, where I was studiously ignored. I heard whispered “just visiting;” suggesting I was not worth their time or effort. How very Christian.

    Growing up, neither side of my family spewed disparaging remarks against religion, but it wasn’t promoted, either. It seemed to have a vague, obligatory presence. My mother’s cousin Charley told me the first time he ever saw his aunt and uncle (my grandparents) in a church was at my mother’s wedding.

    As an adult, I didn’t read or hear anything that altered my initial experience. If anything, it became more developed. The hypocrisy of “unlimited” and “unconditional” love, while simultaneously pushing rules and regulations, irritated and annoyed me to no end.

    Meanwhile, I was learning more about myself and the universe, metaphysically speaking. I’ve experienced interesting, diverse conversations with an Apache medicine woman; a young man who pretended to channel Jesus (a woman sitting next to me at his channeling session whispered, “I didn’t know Jesus was sarcastic”); a Guatemalan shaman; a woman who was terrified of angels (due to her strict Catholic upbringing); a survivor of the Northridge earthquake who provided six weeks of metaphysical classes in her new Santa Barbara apartment; and a former soap opera star who now claimed strong psychic skills (“We will have a cold, wet winter … unless the climate warms up”). I read books, attended seminars and festivals, and experimented with various “tools,” such as tarot, runes, etc. I asked many, many questions.

    I knew that I, along with everyone else on the planet, was born intuitive. It was also obvious that, unfortunately, we are often taught to ignore those aspects of ourselves. We are told that if it isn’t tangible, it doesn’t exist. Contrarily, we are told to pray to an invisible being. Craziness.

    You can probably guess where this is leading. In my experience, I know (not opine), that there is no single, intelligent being in charge of everything. It/he/she doesn’t exist. That’s right, I’m an atheist, for those who have a compulsive need to put labels on people. This declaration is often greeted with looks of disappointment, and concern.

    With furrowed brow, they ask, “Don’t you believe that there’s a spiritual power?”


    Visibly relieved, they say, “Ah. So, you’re an agnostic.”

    “No. I’m not on the fence about whether God exists. I am most emphatic that it/he/she does not. We are definitely connected by a constantly fluctuating energy force, but there is no single intelligent being behind it,” I reiterate. “We are actually in charge.”

    It’s intriguing how genuinely freaked out some people become in the presence of self-proclaimed atheists, as if we somehow provide a portal to dark, evil forces. Naturally, those folk often had a religious upbringing, and can’t quite let go of it.

    “I’m a respectful atheist,” tweeted Patton Ostwalt, “but I can’t think of Jesus creeping out of the tomb after three days, WITHOUT hearing the ‘Pink Panther’ theme.”

    C’mon, that’s funny.

    In order for a segment of the population to sleep at night, they need to believe that someone is in charge. The idea of being responsible for their own lives feels somewhat overwhelming, and frightening. They also need to blame someone else when tragedy hits (“It’s God’s will”). Or, perhaps they need a lovely wrapped explanation of how life and the planets came to be.

    I don’t need a succinct answer for everything. I enjoy spelunking into the mysteries of the universe, which is seriously cooler than relying on ancient texts written by people who had their own problems.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, instead of “atheist,” I’m going with “hipster heretic.” I think Hester would approve.

      • Terri Connett

      • February 17, 2016 at 6:38 am
      • Reply

      This is so good, Julie! Loved the Pink Panther theme tied with The Resurrection. I always have fun asking if Jesus saw his shadow when he came out. Now I’ll have that tune in my head when I spread blasphemy. 🙂

      • Sharon Denton

      • February 17, 2016 at 9:28 am
      • Reply

      I thoroughly enjoyed this column. I love the “hipster heretic” label. Thank you for the read this morning.

    • Great column – thanks for the chuckle, HH, as Jesus and Peter Sellers are now morphed into one.

    • “Hipster Heretic” is purely awesome! Great and brave work!

      • Theresa

      • February 17, 2016 at 6:56 pm
      • Reply

      I applaud this column, not only from a writer’s perspective, but from an atheist’s. I use the term loosely. I, like you, do not believe there is a personified God. I don’t think some Great Power holds the puppet strings to our lives. I believe in science, physics, energy, love, support, and the common thread that binds us all together in the Great Human Experience. I, like you, have seen the breadth of religion – raised Catholic, introduced to born again Christianity at a Baptist retreat, then deeply mired in the charismatic movement (think speaking in tongues and people falling over while “slain in the spirit”), then after I came out of the fog of fundamentalism I dabbled in buddhism, attended the hindu festival of Ganesh at a local temple, and have sat in unified silence, meditating among the Quakers… They are each enlightening in their own way. But I choose the pearl of atheism above them all. Partly I think because it shocks people. Because it makes them recoil from me with their bombastic evangelical mumbo-jumbo. But partly it’s because it is freeing to let it all go and realize I’m still standing. Beautiful. I see me in you and you in me and we are all together. That’s my religion.

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