Everyone’s heard of the Five Stages of Grief, the hypothetical progression through which people cope with profound loss. The Kubler-Ross Model, as outlined in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ 1969 book, On Death and Dying, describes these five distinct phases: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
Intro psych class is dismissed. You’re welcome.
My path to the realization that I was an atheist, however, didn't conform with the typical grief stages, though there were some similarities. I never denied or bargained, for example. But this may be because I was not wholeheartedly religious to begin with-so I had nothing to grieve. But it was a process nonetheless.
Please be aware that I just made this up this morning while drinking a cup of Donut House coffee with Pecan Praline creamer. Your experience may be different, but this is how it went for me.
Now, with the help of the Internet’s most famous cats, I will illustrate.
My Five Stages of Atheism
(with the Internet’s Most Famous Cats)
1. Oblivion (Lil Bub)
Isn’t it just sublime sitting in the warm afternoon sun on the porch with your bestest stuffed dragon friend, staring up at dust specks floating all sparkly above your whiskers? The clouds drift lazily by and you just ate some yummy cat food. Was that a squirrel? That cat food was yummy. You sure love your stuffed dragon toy. Is there anything more to life? No, there is not.
This is how it was before I was aware that I was a nonbeliever, or that there was a word for what I was. See, Lil Bub knows that today is good, but she doesn’t care that today is called Tuesday.
I always knew I didn’t get much out of God and church and nativity scenes and incense and hymns and hand bells. I didn’t question why that was so. I just went along with it. I knelt when I was told to kneel and I stood when I was told to stand. I didn’t even realize that my most disconcerting thoughts, like when I prayed with my eyes closed, hands clasped in childlike imitation, and I secretly posited, “I’m just talking to myself inside my head,” were normal. I was young, happy, and oblivious about what I believed.
2. Discovery (Maru)
There’s a coupon flyer on the floor. It looks like it might fit you, but you aren’t sure. Perhaps, if you just try. You get your nose in. It smells funny. Your ears get stuck. Must fold them down. You are a Scottish Fold, after all! Why look! It makes a perfectly bonnie bonnet, lassie! Congratulations! You’re gorgeous and ready for the Glasgow Fair!
Maru knows that anything is possible, but exploration and defiance make all the difference. No one can tell the Queen of Small Spaces that the little empty tissue box won’t fit her fifteen pound rump. Even if it doesn’t fit, she sits. She seeks out challenges in her small, immaculate existence in a tiny flat in Japan, and each time she crams her fat, fuzzy ass in a new container, her world expands. At the bottom of those boxes, Maru travels to distant lands of tuna and houseflies. She puts the smack-down on that Chihuahua next door and steals his bone.
When I was nineteen, I read Cosmos by Carl Sagan. The book started a snowball of discovery for me. Sagan’s humanistic world view and expansive descriptions of the intricacies of the universe caused my heart to soar. It was like finding a box that fit me perfectly, but it wasn’t really a box at all. It was a paper portal that opened to the world, like the back of the wardrobe to Narnia. I learned that there was a word for what I believed-and that I wasn’t alone in my views. In my perfect cardboard pizza box rocket ship, I felt like I could fly.
3. Urgent Outreach (Buddy the Barking Cat)
That dog in the street is so misguided! He still thinks that he can actually catch his tail! But you know the Truth! And you must share it with all the naïve dogs out there. So you perch yourself in the window and bark. Yes, that’s right, I said bark. You bark with all your might to spread the message to those dogs-that they don’t have to live in fear of never catching their tails! (No one is watching, so don’t worry about betraying your regal cat status. Bark loud and proud!)
(Until your human catches you on video. Then act casual and slowly revert to your usual soulful meowing.)
Yes, Buddy the Barking Cat feels so passionately about his new, expanded views on life that he has learned another language. He reaches across the aisle to share what he has learned about tails and begs the neighborhood dogs to open their eyes and accept that they don’t have to run in endless circles anymore!
This is how it was when I truly embraced my skepticism. I was done glossing over it, done finding excuses. I wanted to bark from the rooftops! I was an atheist! I wanted to proclaim, “You don’t have to hide in the shadows anymore! Be free! Be counted!”
4. Anger/Apathy (Tard the Grumpy Cat)
You’re surrounded by idiots. Your human uses a vacuum cleaner and doesn’t even realize that it steals souls. The dog is a complete, ass-kissing sellout, and that damned bird is a repetitive, squawking snitch. Every time you try to explain that you’re dying of boredom and you don’t think you can make it one more day in this house of morons, the human just giggles, “Oh, such a sour puss, look at that face. What a sweet little man! C’mere, you little fluffer-bottom, I just want to eat you up!” Imbeciles. Will no one ever learn the glorious, mind-blowing subtleties of the kitteh universe?
You give up.
This is when I slid into what is called antitheism-when everything religious turned malignant and corrupt. Antitheism is when religion becomes all about politics, power, greed, and money. Those in charge use it to control their followers and profit off those who have nothing left but desperate hope and who utter urgent pleas to the invisible, mysterious, and divine. Televangelists churn stomachs and politicians pander and dance the line between creationism and science, so as not to piss off any demographic. These snake oil salesmen are suddenly not driven or shallow, but soulless.
At this point in my journey, I became aware that I was mad. I was angry that I saw so many people getting hurt or conned in the name of God. Anger turned to apathy. What’s the point? I’m in the minority. People admit they neither know, nor care, what they believe, yet they keep warming pews week after week because it is expected.
Forget it. No one listens. Not even belly scratches can make you feel better at this point in the process.
You may have noticed it has been many months since I last posted. This stage, right here, is the reason. I was temporarily mired in apathy, but I think such resignation may be a necessary, painful, sometimes recurring pit stop along the road to…
5. Acceptance (Frank the Happy Cat)
You know what? It’s cool. The human just closed your tail in the door, and sure, it hurts, but that’s okay. You know he loves you and you got some albacore tuna from the shiny blue packet by way of apology. (Sorry, Charlie!) Your litter box is terribly filthy, but darn it, it’s your filth, isn’t it? When it’s cold in the house, you must admit it is nice to curl up in the dog’s belly to warm yourself. It doesn’t matter that he smells funky because he rolled in dead worms. Your human and the dog, they are your friends, after all.
I finally accepted that everyone finds their own way in life. No one belief is right or wrong. If our days were without challenges and we all thought the same, what fun would that be? I’d say, “You know, I think this,” and you’d respond, “Yeah, me too.” The end. No debate, no exchange of ideas, no learning. It’s diversity that makes the world go ‘round.
And in the end, whether you prefer pizza boxes, soda can boxes, or giant refrigerator boxes with holes cut to look like jolly windows, our commonalities trump our differences.
Be happy, happy cats.