I’m not religious — but I like to pretend I am.

Sometimes, when I’m alone, I like to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “What Dreams May Come” and believe, if only for a few hours, that someday my reality will suddenly melt away and an angel will come visit me and show me all the mistakes I could make, or maybe I’ll be hit by a car and I’ll wake up in a painting and soar around the sky with Robin Williams and I’ll meet everyone I love again.

All my family and their friends and my ex-girlfriends and their boyfriends will be there and we’ll all love each other without anger or sadness or jealousy, because it will just work. We’ll all fuck and dance and eat and drink and watch the stars in the sky and feel the water on our toes. Maybe we’ll all look like we’re 21, or maybe we’ll look however we damn well please and we won’t have to worry about that anymore.

Maybe we’ll be able to rewind time. Maybe all those forgotten memories, where I cuddled with a girl or danced in a puddle or put together a puzzle with my grandma, will all be back and clear as day. Maybe it’ll all make sense: why there’s something instead of nothing, why I, back down on Earth, got to listen to Rubber Soul and be stung by a bee and do pretend-karate and clean the dirt off of my kitchen floor.

I mean, I deserve that, I think. I haven’t been the most charitable person and I haven’t always been the best friend to everyone, but I did all my schoolwork and I never killed anybody. Maybe when I’m clutching the sheets of that hospital bed at age 79 or twitching under those truck tires at age 23 I won’t feel any pain. Because maybe I’ll already have left my body, and maybe it’ll be like sliding down a waterslide but going up, up, up.

Once, I read some article on VICE or somewhere about a group of people that made an atheist church. I remember in the pictures the speakers smiled, and the congregation danced and laughed. One of the speakers talked about how happy he was just to be alive and how he was happier not buying into anyone’s doctrine.

I wish I could be like those people. But I don’t think I can. I don’t think I could even be one of those smarmy “enlightened” atheists who people on Reddit like to make fun of. I think becoming an atheist was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

It’s not like I wanted to be a non-believer. I don’t want to think, like Brenda from “Six Feet Under” did, that death is just “dreamless sleep forever and ever.” It’s not like I wanted to picture myself rotting under the ground, maggots crawling from my arms and legs and my dick falling off. I don’t want my relatives who were slaughtered in the Holocaust to have just died.

I didn’t decide to stop believing — it just happened. I can tell you exactly when it did: I was nearly passed out on the floor of my friend’s dorm room at Michigan State, high on dabs and drunk on Hams and Admiral Nelson, and something about the way the room swirled or my head throbbed or my stomach churned made me feel like I was there, I was inches from that eternal black void, that maybe I wasn’t that Young Adult novel protagonist after all, that maybe I was going to die right then and there, sprawled out in fucking East Lansing next to expired condoms and a DVD copy of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

For me, being an atheist isn’t fun or rewarding or enlightening in any way. It sucks. It’s definitely not “freeing,” like some people say. Sure, I guess I don’t have to wake up early on Sunday. I can masturbate without thinking about the moral implications of doing so. OK — not having to worry about Hell is pretty nice.

But for the most part, not believing just feels claustrophobic. I’m in a mental prison of my own making, and I’m holding the key, but I just can’t fit it in the lock. It makes me hate the sack of bones and brains and fatty tissue in which my consciousness is stuck.

As an atheist, all I can see are little asterisks everywhere. These things I’m experiencing, these conversations and sunsets and bugs and birds and burritos, they matter to me, but they don’t really matter. Not to the sun or the stars or the universe slowly dying a heat death. You can tell because of the asterisks, those black Ann Arbor crows that dot those sunsets, those little stains of piss on your underwear, that homeless guy, sitting in front of NYPD, who you might eventually give some of your PlayStation money.

If you’re reading this and you believe in something, hold onto that heaven or reincarnation or subjective reality or whatever it is for as long as you can. Losing your religion is like losing everything. I would trade my doubt for your belief any day of the week if I could.

So, believe. Believe as hard as you can. Trust me — I would if I could.

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