The sound of singing prayers woke me up lightly this morning. Adrianna and I are staying in an area of Jumeirah in Dubai that apparently has two competing mosques. If you know me, you might assume that this sort of awakening would upset me, somewhat similar to my reactions to being woken up by the neighbors dogs who bark incessantly. But the songs, though I don’t understand them, are beautiful. And the idea that two groups of people who believe in the same beliefs get up early, every morning, so that their prayers might be more beautiful, and more heard by their god than the mosque down the street seems comforting to me.
I am an atheist.
Not an agnostic, I know the difference between the two. Sometimes I wish that there was room in me for doubting an existence of any higher power. But I have no room for doubt. I am completely steadfast in my own personal belief that there is nothing beyond today, or possibly tomorrow, for me. There is no one celestial to judge me, there is no one who will save my soul, in fact I don’t believe I have what most would commonly refer to as a soul.
My existential crisis began early, before I was eleven. By the time I was twelve I was able to articulate to my mother that I no longer wanted to attend our Episcopalian church with her on Sundays, because “Being in a room full of people who believe and understand something I don’t and never will makes me lonely. And sad.” So I quit going to church.
music has always been a big part of my life. Lead soloist through all my school years in chorus, we generally tended to veer away from religious music, due to our nations belief of a separation between church and state. But at Christmas time, I would go to the Christmas service with my mother, and usually be brought to tears by the most beautiful music ever written, all for a love of a being and belief I stand outside of.
I sang in Il Cantori, a chamber music ensemble at the junior college I attended, and the regular choir as well. They did not veer away from religious music at all, and for the first time I felt the rapturous beauty of being a part of that beautiful music. And yet, I felt like a fraud, a charlatan. Because I did not believe what we sang, though I loved the imagery and iconography generated by the songs. “Zion spreadeth her wings..but there was neither warmth nor comfort” I wondered who Zion was, and why her wings couldn’t provide the things all of humanity yearns for.
I ended up attending USF, a Jesuit school. I tried not to draw attention to my status as an atheist amongst true believers, being taught theology by nuns. But the sister who taught my theology class saw right through me. Rather than judge me, or try to forcefully conjure belief in me, she merely seemed to change her explanation of parts of the course for “the non believers” in the class, asking that we (I) view the bible as code, written to dictate the social contracts of a growing society. But what she truly managed to instill in me during that semester more than any other class at that college, was tolerance. My final paper was on religious tolerance, towards all faiths. Because at the core, they all have one thing in common- faith. And faith is beautiful, even if I don’t possess it.
During my time at USF I gained an unlikely friend who was a professor, and we spent hours discussing my lack of faith, my love for those who have faith of any kind, and my growing interest in religious iconography.
The most important moment of all of our discussions came down to this:
Me: “So then what? I don’t believe, in anything, and I’m quite sure at this point that I never will. For me there is no afterlife, no spiritual consequences, and most importantly, no true point to living. So why even bother?”
Him: “Well, when you put it that way, you’re right. There is no point. Your challenge is to manufacture a reason to live. And to design your own code of morals and ethics. Otherwise there is no point, no meaning to your life. But if you can create a purpose and a supporting foundation of personal beliefs to support that purpose, then your life will be meaningful, despite your lack of faith.”
I took from USF that conversation, my personal love of tolerance for all faiths, a deeper respect for those who do have faith, and a challenge to create my own purpose driven life. I also brought a love for the symbolism surrounding angels, specifically that of the seraphim. My understanding of the seraphim, the plural from of seraph, is that they are a lower class of angels. With one foot firmly planted in humanity’s flaws, and access to the upper echelons of the celestial world. Never quite ascended like the cherubs despite their lofty aspirations, but not truly rooted in the flaws of humanity, although they were more in touch with the essence of humanity than their superiors. Fiery angels with six wings and a sense of vengeance and love. And I saw myself in that image of a seraph.
Over the next few years, I tried to find what I truly loved about life, something that I could assign meaning and purpose to, so that I could embrace some sort of motivation to continue to live, and to be happy. I saw glimmers of it in the strip clubs I worked at, in the pure expression of lust towards strangers. I saw the more developed expression of that glimmer in the interactions I was witness to and sometimes a part of when I hostessed at swingers clubs. I greedily indulged that glimmer of excitement and eroticism at every chance I could, the one thing in life that seemed authentic to me, although ultimately I experimented with too many things, too many people, had too many mixed up emotions, and ended up strung out on drugs, desperately grasping at what threads of sanity I still had access to. My friends were dying and ending up in jail. And in January of 2005, in the moments of reason, I could see that that is where I would end up too if something didn’t change.
Which is how I ended up in LA. The city of angels. I hoped that Los Angeles would spread her wings and offer warmth and comfort. She did not. But my family and a good treatment center did. During my year of guided self exploration to discern the whys and hows of my fall into addiction, I continued to chase that glimmer I’d been chasing, only in a different context. I began bondage modeling, and exploring BDSM by way of being a submissive in BDSM porn videos. I loved the new experiences, and I loved the (at the time) perceived safety of not having to be emotionally involved with anyone who I wanted to experience these things with.
I was a terrible submissive. But the new and different experiences were part of what kept me clean. People often ask why I continued to try at that for as long as i did, and my only answer is I was rediscovering who I truly was, and felt a need to try on many different hats. But what finally fit was the role of a dominant. And once I found that I’ve continued to manufacture my purpose, and the foundation of personal beliefs that support my purpose, my own meaning to life.
The purpose I have manufactured and selected for my own life is to help others find that glimmer of authenticity found in erotic exploration, specifically through the channels of BDSM.
The foundation of personal ethics and beliefs I’ve built for myself is complicated, but true to my purpose.
There is no shame in what I do, or what others choose to explore.. with the exception of non-consensual activities, causing someone permanent harm, killing another living being, or assaulting “the cult of innocence” surrounding children. Children’s innocence should be protected above all else.
I strive to be as honest as I can, and expect the same from others in my life.
I strive to be tolerant of others, so long as they are not harming anyone in their actions or beliefs.
I take personal inventory of myself periodically, and try to assume responsibility for my part in conflicts that may have arisen, or situations that have ended up with less than ideal outcomes.
I am January Seraph.
I live my life authentically, according to my purpose and beliefs. And I wish the same for everyone.