Name: Drew Schlueter
Location: Peoria, Il, USA
Label: Zen practitioner, atheist, Humanist
Former Religious Affiliation: Lutheran Christian
I was raised in a church-like environment. My father was a Lutheran and when my mom married him she converted from being a Baptist. So, being raised Lutheran, which is like being raised Catholic but with way less guilt, I did the whole Catechism thing at twelve or so.
I believed it all, too. I remember feeling so connected to God at that age, to the idea that there was something watching over me that was more like a parent to my parents. As I grew older, though, I began to feel more and more disconnected with the very idea of a cosmic parent figure.
Perhaps I should back-track some. When I was 8 my mom’s mother was diagnosed with late-stage osteoporosis: bone cancer. Her home was a block and a half from my day school(also Lutheran). I’d walk down there after school and visit with her when she was released to Hospice care. My last few memories of this woman that I loved are of a balding, tumor-headed woman that scared me with her physical appearance. Her tone, her voice, though, was still my loving grandmother’s. I just “got” to watch her die at eight.
After she passed, a week and a half before my ninth birthday, I was in a sort of stunned shock at how it could happen. I can recall crying myself to hysterics on the floor of my grandparent’s bathroom, praying that she’d be cured. Being a child I had yet to realize that there is no cure for cancer.
Regardless, that event left me with a deep scar that I wouldn’t uncover until later. My teenage years passed with the typical shenanigans of youth. I wasn’t so much rebellious as I was obnoxious. My father descended into alcoholism, and I encouraged my mother to get a divorce from him. That didn’t happen until I was eighteen or nineteen.
By that time I was already wrestling with my declining faith. I wanted to believe. I wanted or even needed this to be true. That there was a point to all of my suffering was tantamount to my mental health at that time. So I still swallowed it all.
We fast-forward almost ten years. A few bad break-ups from girlfriends and a fiancé and I was adrift. Totally adrift. I was seeing a young woman at the time and, about a year into our relationship, I got sick. Well, sick is probably a gross understatement. I was diagnosed with late End Stage Renal Failure(ESRD). When I went into the hospital to find out why I felt so bad, the staff admitted me and told me that I only had about 12% kidney function. It was a marvel I was alive.
Six months later and I had a transplanted kidney. My mother’s. During that time I finally “broke.” All the prayers I’d offered as a child, all the times I’d given the entirety of my birthday money to the offering plate, all of the emotional turmoil, it meant nothing. There was no Cosmic Parent watching over any of us. I knew. I just knew. This was it. This one life, this one chance to be a good person, is all we are allowed.
I read a copy of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I knew it to be a fictional account, a parable of sorts, of the Buddha’s life. But, the simplicity of the story, the elegance of the philosophy really turned something on within. The lack of any sort of God, or creator, really hit me. The philosophy of “question everything” as the Buddha advises really seemed quite disparate from what I was raised with. There was no “accept things on faith” attitude with Buddhism.
That meant the world to me, and it still does to this day. I’m an atheist, and I practice Zen. I fight for civil rights and equality. I stand up for the rights of those that are being repressed, and that sometimes includes defending people “of faith” against those not of faith.
I’ve realized that being an atheist isn’t something to be ashamed of, or something to hide. And, while I don’t believe in any god or God, I’m not entirely shut off to the possibility. Like most atheists I know, I’m willing to adjust my world-view based on actual evidence. I just need proof.
My mother and, now, step-father were taken aback at my “coming out” as an atheist. My mom would caterwaul about where she “went wrong” with her oldest boy. And she retains that there’s “hope for you yet.”
I understand her position: she thinks I’m going to go to Hell. My hope is that her comments wouldn’t come off as so condescending. And it’s through our conversations about my problems with religion in general that I became “comfortable” with being an atheist.
When the woman that gave you life, then gave an organ so you could keep living, engages in a discussion about your Spiritual opines, that’s when you feel comfortable with your belief, or lack thereof. She’s even asked me about Buddhism and the practice of Zen in particular.
There’s not much I do in “support” of the Atheist Movement besides educating people and engaging people in discourse. I let them know that I encourage Spiritual Health so long as it is uplifting. I say, “Run, do not walk to that. Just don’t put my nose in it.” It’s my opinion that if people are educated, then the blind faith, the clinging and dangerous attachment to ancient rules and dogma, would disappear. Education is the enemy of faith, because the more you know the more you see we’re all equal.
And once people understand that we’re all equal, then they’ll understand that it’s great being an atheist. People need to accept each other as we are. They need to realize that there’s nothing inherently wrong with just being human. We all bleed red, we all have the same base genetic code. We all are, fundamentally, atheists; some people just have one more god than the rest of us.
I author a blog and share my “radical” ideas. I use the term because here, in the heart of Illinois, these “non-God” thoughts(please read that with a “hick” accent) are radical, indeed.