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Doubt, honesty and community

May 14, 2008

I became an atheist at the age of ten. It sounds precocious, but really it wasn’t anything more than realizing that the version of god I had learned about in church just didn’t match up with the world I lived in. Some of the beliefs were lovely, but the difference between a world inhabited by an all-powerful deity managed to look just like a world subject to random chance and I decided that it wasn’t for me.

As I got older and learned more about differing approaches to spirituality, I became interested in exploring various paths and ideas. Long story short, I ended up in Neo-Paganism (many would call this Wicca, but they are different.) And wow did I love it. The pageantry, the focus on the natural world, the celebration of sexuality. Sign me up!

I threw myself into paganism. I collected shelves full of books. I joined online forums (back in those days it was nearly impossible to find an IRL group that would accept a 14 year old even with parental permission.) I meditated and conducted solitary rituals. And I immersed myself fully in pagan theology.

And I never really believed any of it. I mean, I absolutely got something out of it –  a lot in fact, but I buried all of my doubts and disagreements. The ‘history’ of ancient paganism for which there was no real evidence, the abuse of complex concepts in physics in order to pretend there was a scientific basis for magic(k), and the existence of gods and goddesses which I still saw no reason to believe in.

Eventually, five years later, I left. Totally. I dropped out of the pagan student association at my university. I gave away or threw away every last book on paganism. I stopped going to festivals and scraped most of the candle wax off of all my possessions.

I still felt drawn to paganism though and I would have brief periods of renewed interest only to walk away when I couldn’t continue to engage in practices or repeat beliefs that, for me, weren’t true. 

And it did eventually occur to me that the problem wasn’t with my atheism nor was it with my great love of neo-paganism. The problem was that I had convinced myself these things could never coexist. Except they already did exist together in my brain and I just needed to be honest enough to explore this seeming contradiction in order to be more fully who I already was (er, that’s a tortured new-agey kind of sentence, but I hope you get my drift.)

Likewise, I have been circling the FA movement since high school. I was the only teenager I knew with a subscription to Mode magazine (and seriously how much better was that than advertisement-disguised-as-magazine Figure?) I read Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann when I was 18. I was all set for a lifelong career of fighting fat-phobia by the time I graduated high school and yet I’ve spent more time on the edge of the movement than I have trying to find my place in it. Certainly part of that is due to having periods where I accepted being fat followed by periods of being sucked back into the fantasy of being thin , but another part of it was having an idea of what a ‘real’ fat activist was and finding myself never quite there.

Now before you start firing up your keyboards, I’m not really comparing FA to religion. Nor are my questions about the details of research really comparable to my lack of theism. But here’s the thing, by finally ‘coming out’ as a pagan atheist, I was able, for the first time, to actually find my place in the pagan community. I was also able to do real thinking and real introspection and I’m more comfortable and more at peace with my ‘spiritual’ life than I’ve ever been before.

And when it comes to FA, I know that asking myself (and sometimes my readers) the honest questions that I’ve wondered about can only make me a better activist. And even if it causes more disagreements, being honest will be the only thing that creates a place for me in the FA movement.

I know that some people think these are minor quibbles on the margins of FA theory and that we can, and should, focus on the big picture of discrimination. There is a lot of truth in that. Honestly, I hope to get back to the big picture on this blog. But there are strong feelings surrounding some of these issues on all sides (obviously!) and the conclusions people come to about dieting, health, science, public policy etc… absolutely inform where and how they focus their activism. So I think it’s also important to discuss these issues occasionally while trying not to have them become giant dramas. Let’s keep in mind that the very act of demanding respect and fair treatment for fat people is a fucking revolution in our society.

Now who wants a hug?

  1. squid permalink
    May 14, 2008 11:57 pm

    This post is making me think of people on the fringes of society including fat people. The people who don’t fit into the mainstream in-crowd.

    The people who feel more on the outside a majority of the time will have no problem thinking and voicing beliefs and opinions which are also not part of the doctrine of the in-crowd. As a fat person perhaps I am more able to be atheist and not conform in my beliefs (or lack-there-of) because I am already used to being on the outside.

    However, I must admit that sometimes , while I was growing up, I wished that I was part of the church groups that a lot of my friends were in. I wanted to be part Sunday school and the get togethers that had the feel of a very large family in much the same way I wanted to not be picked last for kickball or treated with something other than apathy just because I was fat. Even though I was/am rarely on the inside of conformity I think it has given me more freedom to continue being non conformist in all aspects of my behavior.

  2. bookwyrm permalink
    May 15, 2008 9:28 am

    I won’t compare FA to religion, but I will compare science to religion.

    In religion (Christian, since that ‘s my familiarity) a layperson will go hunting up a Bible verse to prove their point, and throw out all the ones that don’t.

    In science (or should I say “science”) a layperson with dig out a study, or more commonly a media story, that proves their point, then throw out all the ones that don’t.

    I fail to see the difference. There are some people, in both disciplines, that attempt to know, rather than attempt to be right, but the laity in general is just a little too absorbed with being right.

  3. May 15, 2008 9:45 am


    I have often felt pretty thankful for being fat as I believe it absolutely prepared me to be comfortable existing outside of the ‘norm’. If I had grown up with a socially acceptable body, I think I would be a fairly different person right now.


    I see what you’re saying. I think in both cases the mistake is people thinking that absolutes exist.

    In terms of science, I’m not sure where to place the blame. Education? Media? I think the only cure is more and better information though. Nothing like learning more about a subject to realize how much you don’t actually know.

  4. bookwyrm permalink
    May 15, 2008 10:46 am

    I think the biggest problem is that absolutes are easy, the appeal of actual answers to questions.

    In terms of both science and religion, the question isn’t, “how do we convince the lay people not to think this way?” it’s “how do we convince the professionals not to think this way?”

    Any good spiritual leader will guide you toward relevant scripture and expect you to make your own moral decisions with your own judgment. Any good medical professional with lay out possibilities and options in terms of likeliest and ask how you want to proceed from here. Both of these are proper professional attitudes, we only have problems when the unprofessional attitudes become too prevalent.

  5. May 15, 2008 10:58 am

    Coming to a truth about yourself is really the first step in knowing who you are!

    However, with that said you have to realize that for Pagans or people in the FA (or anyone else for that matter) they tend to be very angry and those that aren’t like them and accept them for who they are for a time. It is like getting out of an abusive relationship and realizing all the shit you put up with…anger builds up as a normal part of the healing process.

    The problem comes in when some don’t accept that anger as healing and tend to hide it away and it flares it’s ugly head when certain things are brought up. There are many in the FA movement that are willing to discuss things logically without judgement of others, they have accepted their anger and making something positive…but then there are those who are still angry at what they had to and are having to go through.

    I too, left Christianity (I was in my mid 20s though) and found myself in Paganism…like you I joined forums, bought books…and slowly got disenchanted with it. Actually, not with IT per se, but with the people. On the Christian side you have those who are angry and intolerant of anyone not Christian, on the Pagan side you had those who were angry and intolerant of Christians.

    I have found the FA movement to be no different. We are conditioned from the media from birth to think that you cannot be a good person and be fat, you can’t be attractive, you can’t have someone love you, etc. and a lot of anger for that…they have finally found a niche they can fit into and are allowed to vent all those frustrations…sometimes to extremes…of the injustices they have had to endure (i.e. creating big dramas).

    I think that just as some people who are still very angry need to try to be calm, others need to be understanding of those who are still in an anger phase. You are right…everything needs and can be discussed and debated without having to start arguments inside the movement itself.

    But, Like Paganism…it seems like trying to do that very thing is like herding cats. 🙂

  6. sarah permalink
    May 15, 2008 2:31 pm

    I know this isn’t quite the main point of your post, but I’m really taken with the idea that you’ve reconciled (or are working to reconcile) atheism and paganism. It’s given me some new perspective on a mini-spiritual-crisis I’ve been having of late, and I really wanted to thank you for that. So, thanks!

  7. shihtzustaff permalink
    May 21, 2008 5:02 pm

    I spent several years in wicca. I loved it and thought I had found what I had been missing. But I always struggled with believing in gods/goddesses etc. It just did not ring true to me. Once I came out as a lesbian I really could not reconcile wicca with my sexual orientation.

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