Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 33

In the thirty-third chapter of The Amber Spyglass, Mary, Lyra, and Will all swap stories about their journeys to this very place in order to better understand what is ahead of them. In the process, Mary finally reveals why she stopped being a nun. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.


I stopped believing in God on September 18th, 2002.


I know that trigger warnings operate under a pretty specific purpose and that they generally are brief notifications of content that is likely to upset people in ways beyond being uncomfortable. Obviously, not everyone is triggered by the same things, but I enjoy using them, as there are days when I can’t handle reading about something that affects me personally. I was going to include a basic trigger warning on this before I shared this story, but I felt that it was not enough. Just warning about talk of homophobia, abuse, rejection and other such things that I’m going to address wouldn’t cover the effect this might have.

So allow me to bend the accepted rules on trigger warnings just this once: This story is one of the last things I have held on to as a writer because it is possibly the most painful experience of my life, and one that, even after thinking about it for days, has been enormously difficult to think about in detail. This will upset you. It still upsets me in a guttural way, and it’s been over nine years since it happened. I am hoping that when this is published, it will provide the same sense of relief and freedom that writing about my experience of being bullied did during Mark Reads Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. But it’s hard to imagine this memory not being full of pain for me.

This is the story of how I came to stop believing in God, and there will be talk of violent, disgusting homophobia, rejection, bullying, suicidal thoughts, and the quest for personal acceptance. If you are particularly sensitive to these things, or if you really don’t want to read something like this, I would probably save this review for another day. I know it seems a bit strange to say, “HEY Y’ALL, MY LIFE IS CRAP, WALLOW IN MY SAD.” But this story will help explain why I’m drawn to this trilogy and why I am the way I am today. And it is immensely disturbing. This will upset you, and I know that because of how terribly upsetting it is to me. And I lived it. I just wanted you to know that so that this review did not take you by surprise.

Thanks for reading.


It seemed like an illusion every time I stepped onto the grounds of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The white and stone-gray building, all angles and straight lines, reminded me of a doctor’s office, or that strip mall further down Central Ave that we would pass if my mother needed to go to the Riverside Plaza. It was unassuming, if there was any such building that deserved that word, because it seemed so plain for a Catholic church, especially one in this town. A few palm trees were scattered haphazardly around the perimeter, and roses separated the actual church from the school on the same grounds. I was supposed to head into the classroom today, but I was early, so I walked over to the large double doors on the south end of the building and popped inside.

The ceiling of the church was impossibly high, and I remembered then the first time I ever step foot in this building. I recalled walking right back outside because it seemed that the place was violating the laws of physics. Again, what was inside was a trick, too. It was nothing like an office building. An arched ceiling, rows and rows of mahogany pews stretching obediently across the floor in straight lines, empty save for a few parishioners praying silently in the vacant space. The alter was wider than what I expected and it was still hard to get used to, though I came to love how the various priests or Fathers would utilize the space during Mass. The musicians always played out of a large alcove on stage right, and I dreamed of being able to perform at Mass one morning.

I stayed to the back, as I did any time I came to Mass, because I had been taught that I was not quite worthy yet to proceed to the front. I was near the end of my schooling to become a member of the Catholic church as an adult, and this particular church offered a year-and-a-half long class that allowed a believer to be baptized, receive their First Communion, and then get their Confirmation all at the same time, on the night before Easter. As I stood in the back of the church, admiring the crimson rug on the alter, I imagined myself there, the building full of my new family members, my godfather at my side, and I imagined how complete I would feel. It would only be a few more days until this happened. “It’s like no other feeling in the world,” my teacher would tell me when I asked, like an excited child who is going to their first day of school. I’ve since forgotten her name, but not her face. I don’t forget the face of people who lie to me like that.

But I had no idea what was to come, and in those final moments before Easter arrived and my new life in God was about to start, I was hopeful. Nervous, too, but I was hopeful that I’d found a way to have a family again, and hopeful that I’d found a way to eliminate the burning sensation of sin and shame that I’d been living with.

It didn’t last very long.


I came back to the church that Saturday evening, the parking lot overflowing with cars, a line down Streeter, and the din of believers rolling out of the double doors. I still had hope in that moment, but I felt a nervous dread creeping through me. What if I wasn’t pure enough? What if I said the wrong thing or my faith was not secure? I reached up to wiggle my tie, freeing my throat, and I could feel my heart pulsing below the collar. I’d never worn anything this nice before; my godfather’s father said I must be presentable before God that night. So no Dickies shorts, no band tees, no slip-on Vans. It was the first of many things that made me feel as if I was betraying myself, but I knew that I’d have to change myself if I was going to be a good Christian.

As I walked from the van towards the church, my godfather’s dad slipped his arm around me and smiled that goofy grin of his, quickly saying, “I’m very proud of you, Mark. You’re joining the family of God today. And that means you’re part of our family, too.”

I smiled, appreciative of his words, and wondered what my own family would think of this. My parents didn’t know anything about my conversion to Catholicism, and I was sure my mother would have pitched a fit had she known. She always called Catholics traitors, and had told me since a young age that they had clearly never read the Bible before. They were betraying God’s words by having false idols. But I didn’t take much stock in her opinion of other religions, and she wasn’t in my life anymore.

Was I replacing my family? Had I found one that would accept me? Would I feel better when I looked in the mirror and saw my bronze skin and knew that there was a part of my life that might give me a culture to belong to? I thought about how disconnected I felt from the lives my adoptive mother and father came from. I was a Mexican kid with a Japanese-Hawaiian father, and a mother who was a mixture of Irish, Welsh, and a ton of other things I wasn’t sure of. She was white, and she made a point of saying that. And here I was, a latino kid who wasn’t dark enough for the other latino kids at school, who didn’t speak the right language, who had no traditions that they could relate to, and I wondered if I’d find a new kinship in these people because we shared a religion.

But this paled to the other thoughts that began to stream through my head as I separated from my companions and headed to the front of the giant hall, just to the left of the altar, where I met my teacher. She was a large woman with rosy cheeks, a bowl cut of auburn hair that seemed to magically press to her head without any gel, and she was always ready to give you a hug. I always let her give me one, and in those days, I craved that sort of physical affection, even from strangers. She greeted me with the biggest hug yet, holding me longer than she probably should have, and I held her right back.

“I’m proud of you, Mark,” she said.

Thanks. Really.

“I know this has been a hard journey for you,” she said, pulling away, looking up at me, her eyes sparkling with a mixture of joy and excitement, “and I know it’s been rough doing this on your own. But you did it. You made it here.”

I smiled down at her. I’m nervous, I admitted.

“Oh, don’t be!” She gently slapped my arm. “I know this is a huge moment for you, but there’s nothing to be worried about.” She leaned in closer, as if she was telling me a secret. “You’re receiving the Lord’s grace and love today. There is no more important moment in your life.”

I smiled back at her and I meant it.


Standing on the altar was overwhelming, but not in a way I expected. The lights that I’d never noticed before were coming from all sides; for some reason, I’d always assumed the place was lit by natural lighting, but this was also the first time I’d attended a service after the sun when down.

There were twelve of us that night, and our godparents sat in the front row to our right. I could see mine, but he wasn’t looking at me. He seemed distant, both in a personal sense and literally. He was so far away from where I was on the altar, but I wanted him by my side. I felt a pang and rush of excitement as I realized he was wearing that charcoal shirt I liked him in so much, but I panicked. I wasn’t supposed to be thinking these things right now. I couldn’t ruin this moment, and I knew that if I kept my mind pure, I would feel the Holy Spirit enter me when I was baptized and I would feel the sin rush out of me, and I’d be a blank slate, and I’d get to start over and all these thoughts that plagued me would disappear as the water ran down my head. I would get to start over, and I would have God in my heart, and I would feel whole and normal. God would be in my very heart and stomach when I consumed the bread and drank the wine, and he would become a part of me. And I would become a part of a family when I confirmed my faith to the entire church, and I would finally belong to something.

The music swelled to my right, and a hymn was sung to open the ceremony, and I was so terrified and overjoyed by the prospect of my future that I could feel my stomach turning in knots. Parishioners were still pouring in the back of the hall through those double doors I loved so much, and there was no room to sit anymore. Everyone who wasn’t in the front room seemed like a shadow, beings with a shape but no solid form, and I saw them dance down the aisles and against the back wall, trying to find a place to witness this holy act and affirm their own faith in God. There were no faces out there in the sea of faith and even those close to me seemed to lose their details.

I was the youngest of the entire group; most of those who made it through the class were twice my age, so my teacher found it necessary to give me extra attention. Sometimes, she made me feel like a child, but I didn’t really mind. She cared, and I was desperate for that sort of attention those days. “When it’s your time to be baptized, to accept the Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I want to save the best for last,” she told me the week before this. She was talking about me, and she meant that I would be the last one for each round. And so I watched as each classmate as mine was brought before the head priest in his silly frock and hat, and they were blessed by god, their heads across the receptacle of holy water, the water dribbled over their heads, prayers said for their eternal salvation. There were a lot of tears, and I was shocked by the sobs of an older Korean man who was becoming Catholic in order to be the same religion as his wife. His name was Rick and he was quiet in class, rarely speaking up to say anything at all, but now he was crying out with joy and the crowd responded, almost like this was much more than a baptism, and his wife stood next to him, tears welling in her eyes, happiness crossing her face.

I had no friends at the ceremony, and I had no real family there. My godfather stood at my side, motionless and stoic. As it came to my turn, I walked to the priest, who I had only met a few times, but he greeted me with warmth and anticipation. I couldn’t ignore the contrast. A man who was essentially a stranger in my life was more welcoming than my godfather. This was not a new revelation to me; the past few months had become more and more tense around him, and I had felt I was losing my friend. While I lived with him. Yet it was nothing like the sensation on that alter, an abyss stretching between us he mechanically gave me my blessing, refusing to touch me for more than a second, merely placing his face alongside mine to mimic the act of giving me a kiss on the cheek. He knows, I thought, and the fire rushed to my face, and the shame returned. He knows I’m lying to God, he knows I’m lying to these people, and he knows what I am.

I turned to the priest, to that sparkling bowl of blessed water, and I had tears in my eyes, too, but they were not the same as Rick’s, nor his wife’s. I was mortified by what was about to happen. By breaking my concentration and allowing thoughts of another man into my mind, had I sabotaged my own baptism before it began? No, I told myself, this is the moment you have been waiting for. Remember what your teacher told you: this is the most important act of your life, and you will feel the Holy Spirit enter you as soon as the water is poured on you.

So I bent my head down, not listening to anything the priest was saying, his voice booming through the hall and echoing in such a manner that it was impossible to hear what he was speaking about even if I tried. I waited. I was seconds away from salvation.

I felt a chill run down my spine as the holy water dripped over my head and then it rushed over my hair, down past my ears, and it was cold, frigid, and I waited. I felt it drip from my nose and I opened my eyes. I could see the water slosh as it poured from my head and I waited. I heard the priest say something and then my godfather’s hand was on my shoulder, gently directing me to stand upright. “You are now washed free of your sins,” I heard the priest say, but his voice rang as hollow and as vacant as the spacious room. My godfather gave me a mediocre hug, saying, “Congratulations, Mark,” in a monotonous voice, and then he turned to walk off the alter.

I felt nothing. I felt no spirit entering in me, and as I watched my godfather sit in the front row and stare off into nothingness, I thought about how handsome he was, and the very thought seemed to choke me.

I felt nothing. There was no Holy Spirit, and it didn’t work. I felt the church before spread out, and it was as if I stood on a large plain, almost like a desert, and my family and friends stood in a circle miles and miles away from me, and all of them were having conversations with one another, and as I tried to run to one side to hear what they were saying, it was as if the sides of this circle continued to stretch away from me.

I felt nothing. There was no Holy Spirit in me.


No, no, I’m doing that.

Father O had a face crowned with gray hair that you wanted to trust more than anything. He was my favorite of the priests at this specific church, but in this moment, his mouth and eyes scrunched together in disapproval and fury. “Mark, it’s the only option left to you.”

I am not wasting the summer before I go to college on a retreat. Not one like that.

He sighed heavily, placing his forehead in his right hand, thumb and middle fingers touching his temples, and when he looked up, the fury was gone. In its place was sadness, the kind when a pet dies or when a friend betrays you and leaves you behind, or when you are reminded that the world is full of disappointments.

“Do you realize how powerful that sin is inside of you? Do you realize what will happen if you continue to let it grow?”

It can’t possibly get any worse, Father.

“And you are certain you felt nothing? I have been a member of the Catholic church a long time, and I have been in the position to witness more baptisms than I can ever recall, have given the bread and the wine to so many people, many I will never see again. I have never heard of someone feeling a vacancy of God during His most holiest blessing.”

Why would I make this up? Why would I choose to feel this?

He reached out his left hand as a concession, and he placed it on my right leg. “Mark, this retreat…” he started. Forlorn again. “It’s only three weeks, but it’s a powerful three weeks. There is something broken in your soul if the cleansing water of God does nothing for you. If you do not eradicate this sin, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I started to cry. It was sudden, unlike any I’d had before, and the idea of an eternity in hell hurt me so badly. Father, I sobbed, I did not choose this. I didn’t choose these thoughts and I cannot control them. I paused, choosing my next words carefully. God made me this way, I declared, straightening my posture, defying his words.

His look was one of fear and sympathy. “My son, this is not a path you want to take.”

No, it is. I have been trying too long to make this go away.

“You will divorce yourself from God,” he warned.

I stood up. Then that’s what I have to do.

As I started to walk away, he followed closely, chirping at the back of my head. “But this retreat–this retreat, Mark–we can pray it away! We can give you the spiritual cleanliness you want, we can reach into you and pull out those thoughts and rip them from your soul, and it will be like you are born anew again–”

I whipped around, the fury inside of me growing. You mean like what I was promised when I was baptized? When I took the body of Christ inside me and drank his blood and confirmed my faith? Is that the cleanliness you’re speaking of?

“Mark,” he said, much quieter than before, his face a wrinkled mess of emotions, “you are letting him get to you. You are giving in to your rage and allowing the devil to control you. I know what it is like, to struggle with sin. We all do. Let me help you. I know what it’s like to go through what you are going through.”

I looked him in the eyes; they glistened. He cared, but he wasn’t listening. You don’t know the slightest thing about what I’m going through, I stated plainly. And then I turned and walked through those double doors for the last time.


There were garages, and there were sweeps of the hair.


The calls started a few days later. I hadn’t found a place to live just yet, so I was still in the dejected laundry room. My CDs were in a box on the floor, and I had a duffle bag packed. It wouldn’t be long before I knew I would have to leave, so I wanted to make it easier. I was trying to nap that afternoon, but I’d never been good at falling asleep while it was still light out.

My godfather’s dad tapped on the window that looked into the kitchen. They had refused to put blinds or drapes on that thing, and it annoyed me now more than ever. Sometimes, they’d have people over late and would socialize in the kitchen, and the light would glare into that little laundry room, and it would just make me feel more alone. I looked up now at the man who was kicking me out of the house, and he held up the phone to me.

A wave of fear crept through me. I wasn’t supposed to receive phone calls at the house. It was one of the weird house rules that I had. You’re part of the family, they would tell me, but you can’t use the phone or eat with us at the table. I walked through the house to the kitchen and saw him standing there, exasperated, and he spoke when I took the phone from him.

“You brought this on yourself.”

Confused, I put the phone to my ear.


“Is this that faggot Mark?”

Oh, fuck, how does he know?

What? Excuse me?

“Hey faggot, I heard you love sucking dick. Do you have AIDS yet?”

What are you talking about? How did you get this number?

“Your days are limited, fag. You better remember that at school tomorrow.” Click.

I slowly placed the phone on the counter, and I felt my heart beating so quickly that it was only a matter of time until it burst. What had I done? How did someone find out?

The phone rang again, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see my godfather’s father staring at me. He knew, too.

I answered. Hello?

It was a girl this time. “Do you not want me, Mark, because I don’t have a dick? Is that it? What kind of faggot doesn’t like fucking girls?”

Please, stop calling. This isn’t my house. Please stop this.

“You fucking homo. I hope you die of every STD ever. Which won’t be hard to get, you faggot.”

I hung up before it could continue. The phone started ringing again immediately, so I reached over and pulled the telephone cord out of the wall. I turned to the man of the house, my eyes red with tears, and simply said, I’ll be gone today. I shuffled towards my room, walking as if I was in a dream where my feet were made of concrete, a dream I had often those days, and I stared at my possessions. A box. A duffel bag. The last two years of my life had been a constant stream of movement from one place to another, of living out of a bag and a box and making sure never to buy anything that couldn’t fit in one or the other. It was a period of nomadic certainty: I would only last a few months before things were awkward, before I was asked to move on, before friends explained that it wasn’t their fault, it’s just how things were, before families told me that they couldn’t help it, but I couldn’t stay.

This was simply the same cycle, repeating over again. The dull weight of sadness that I was also used to had returned, but I’d learned how to cope with it by then. It was constant as well, with ebbs and flows and this was what I’d come to expect of my life. So I bent down, picked up the duffel bag and slung it over my shoulder, and then knelt to grab the box, too. I walked out of that laundry room without that cursory, romantic glance you see on television or in movies all the time. There was nothing I wanted to remember about that place, about a room that never belonged to me, that had no inch that would remember I was ever there, about a house that was completely foreign to me.

I passed one of my godfather’s little brothers on my way out, and discovered just how right his father was: the kids were getting attached to me. “Where are you going, Mark?” he said, his eyes barely straying from the Tony Hawk game on the TV.

I’m leaving.

He paused the game. (In those days, it took something akin to a nuclear apocalypse to get him to stop gaming.) “What? Why? You’re coming back, right?”

No, it’s time for me to go.

He was like me when I was a kid. Quick to tears. He started crying quietly and got up off the floor and clung to my leg. This felt poetic, and the fact did not escape me. It made me hate what was happening even more. I felt like I was being teased, that God wasn’t answering my prayers so much as mocking them. You want to be gay? Fine. Here’s what your life is going to be like.

I had to peel the kid off of my leg. I ran my hand through his jet black hair and told him I would be back, just not to live there anymore. He stomped off in the direction of his parents’s bedroom, and I knew he’d be complaining, so this was my chance. I walked through the kitchen to the back door, and slipped out before anyone else could see me. I briskly made it across the street, and I was hoping this last idea would work, or else I’d be doing a lot of walking to find somewhere to live.

The driveway of the apartment complex across the street was gravel, and as I slowly made it up towards the top, you could hear a car grinding its tires against the rocks. The sound was really satisfying to me, and it reminded me of how grating it was to my mother. Maybe I liked it so much specifically because she did not like it. But this was one of my mother’s friends. Well, more like a friend of a friend, but I’d known Sergio for many years, and despite having not spoken with him for at least a couple years, it was my last chance.

I had sweat forming on my brow, and a drop slid down my right temple, so I put the box between me and the side of the apartment to wipe it, and then ring the door bell. It was only a few seconds later that the door opened and I stood there with everything I ever owned in a box and duffel bag, my eyes still raw from moments ago, and asked the man before me if I could live with him.


Because I had been supporting myself for two years and because my lack of any money, and because I’d lost nearly every friend I had after someone outed me, I wanted to go to the school that was the farthest away from Riverside, and would offer me the most money. I ended up settling on Cal State Long Beach, who offered me a full ride because I was valedictorian. (TAKE THAT, HATERS.) It was near the beach, only three or four other graduates of my high school were going there and they were still friendly with me, and I could start over.

The idea that no one knew me there was the most intriguing and exciting concept of the whole thing. I would get to come out on my own terms. I never figured out who was the first one to out me. I thought it was the priest for a while, but that seemed too absurd for a while, and I’ve since spoken to my godfather since this all happened, and he claims it wasn’t him either. But I suppose that is the nature of that sort of rumor in a small town full of violent homophobes: once the information is out, it spreads like a virus and there is no way of tracking down the source.

But my past didn’t carry over to college, and those first couple weeks at school were transformational for me. No one knew I was gay, but when I told people, no one cared. That’s all I really wanted. I wanted normalization. It’s a concept I’ve spoken of many times before, but by all means, I did not have a “normal” childhood or teenage experience, and I just wanted something in my life to not be a spectacle.

I started feeling a bit lonely, though, separated from any familiar faces or places, and it was just halfway through September that I sought out the campus’s LGBT Resource Center. I needed to find someone like me, to talk to others who might be able to help me with what I was going through.

In hindsight, I think it’s odd how far the LGBT group meeting space was from the main part of the campus. Was that done intentionally years ago before Long Beach became a queer haven of sorts? Either way, I walked way out past the art buildings, into an area with portable classrooms and unfamiliar walls and walkways, until I saw the door with the rainbow triangle on it. It was closed, but there was a meeting for queer youth in two days: September 18th at 1pm. I didn’t have classes at that time on Wednesday, so I made it a point to build up the courage to come.

When I did show up, it’s easy to recall the sensation of stepping into a room of people who know you’re okay and not only care deeply for you, but they intrinsically know that you’ve probably struggled just to get to this point. We did introductions that afternoon, as I wasn’t the only new face in the crowd, and I met folks who were gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, and transgender, people who were never a part of my life until just a month before my 19th birthday, and none of them looked at me with scorn or hatred or fear or with violence in their eyes.

It became my turn to introduce myself, so I gave them my name. I’m Mark. I’m from Riverside. I’m…gay. And it feels good to say that. And I used to be a Catholic and now I’m here.

One man to my right laughed. We would later make out and it would be wonderful. “I know how that is, man. Ex-Catholic here, too.” He smiled at me and I felt a rush of joy pierce my heart. “Do you still believe in God?”

It felt like I took an hour to answer the question, but the thoughts that raced through my mind in the next couple seconds were overwhelming. God had not brought me to this group, and I hadn’t prayed in months. I felt no divine will within me, and when I tried to be closer to God, it almost felt as if he was pushing away, as if he didn’t want me. But I knew that was just perspective, and I knew that it clashed with the abyss in my chest. I never once felt like I belonged when I tried to believe in God, and in just ten minutes in this room, I felt more alive than ever. This was not God directing me. It was my own heart.

No, I replied. No, I don’t.

I stopped believing in God on September 18th, 2002.


Unlike Dr. Mary Malone, I do not miss God terribly, though her admitting that was both heartbreaking and absolutely understandable. I miss the idea of what I was promised, that I would become part of a family, that I would have stable rituals and beliefs that provided a rigid backbone to my life, that I would have people and a God to turn to when I needed it. But in all my years of Christianity, I never had any of these things.

I’m not a fan of speaking in hyperbolic extremes when it comes to religion, both because it’s so uniquely personal to a lot of people and because it’s rarely correct. But in my life, I have not once felt that God was looking out for me, that I was part of a greater sum, or that somewhere in the universe, any sort of being had created me or loved me at any point in my existence. I went through a period after realizing this that day at the beginning of my freshman year of college where I was convinced that other people were lying about their experiences, and I think it was because I thought it was unfair. I thought it was unjust that other people in this world got to know God and know His love and his grace, and my life was devoid of that. But I grew out of that bitter, vindictive phase, and I claim only to be an atheist for myself now. It’s just nonsensical for me to think otherwise.

I don’t tell people this story because being outed, being rejected by your church and your family and people you thought you were your friends, is both terrifying and ridiculous. I guess that through Mark Reads, I’m coming to realize just how absurd my whole life is, and when putting it down in words, I know that a lot of awful shit has happened to me, maybe even to a point where it doesn’t seem real. And I get that, more than you probably know. But I think there’s also a part of me that is beginning to believe that my life is in reverse, that I did all the truly fucked up shit early on, and now all I have ahead of me is wonder and beauty and joy. Maybe I’ll find God someday when I’m older, though I doubt that. For now, my life is vacant of divine love and eternal faith.

And I just want to say that I would not have spoken about this for a long time, or come to terms with being treated this way, had it not been for Dr. Mary Malone, for her story of her loss of faith, of her discovery that something as simple as marzipan could inject so much life into her, for Philip Pullman’s trilogy, for this entire story. Maybe it’s not the case with everyone, but God and Christianity held my life back. I was miserable as a Christian, and it wasn’t until I discovered there was an entire world outside of God that I became happy with who I was.

Thank you, Philip Pullman. I could have used this trilogy back when I was a confused sixteen-year-old kid who ran away from his parents and needed a shoulder to lean on and a friend to tell me that what I was feeling was perfectly all right. But you know what? I’ll take it right now, too.


There’s a spiffy new banner this week (HOW COLORFUL), and here’s the link to the full image it is cropped from. Additionally, this week’s spoiler thread on BridgeToTheStars is up!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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274 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 33

  1. Inseriousity. says:

    This is a very sad story. Perhaps the saddest part is that this bigotry could (not definitely though of course) be passed down onto the boy, who once didn't really know/care about it and held onto your leg as you were leaving. I think it takes a very brave person to go through a bad time and still keep hope that there's a brighter future. I wish you all the best. 🙂

    I am not religious. However, I'm not an atheist either. I believe there's something, not necessarily the Christian God that is dominant in western society but something. Despite that, I don't think it's wise to spend so long looking towards the stars that you become blind to the suffering around you.

  2. First of all, Mark, I want to say thank you for sharing your stories with us. You have become someone amazing, and you are so good at sharing your life in ways that encourage us to reflect on and share ours, too. Thank you for trusting us enough to tell us your stories.

    (TW for EDs/suicidal stuff)

    I stopped actively believing in God after the night I woke up, heart racing, panicking because this was it, this was the night I was going to die. I prayed and wept and cried out to God to slow my heart rate, to heal my eating disorder, to not make me hate myself as much. I remember saying, into the void, that I wouldn't even mind if I still hated myself, just could You please make it not this bad? Just a little relief, please.

    I'd planned my own death a hundred times, I'd made the first slice into my left wrist and panicked suddenly because what if the Catholics were somehow right and I'd go to hell for it? I'd starved myself and cursed myself and hated every atom of my mind and body for so long I could barely remember what it felt like to be a normal human being. And so I prayed, and my heart kept racing, and I felt no reaction from God or anything else. I fell asleep with tears on my cheeks, because God wasn't listening to me.

    And I woke up with the thought that God really didn't care about me. If God existed, He had decided I didn't need any help with this, and I couldn't believe that God would do that. Instead, I began to believe that God was a watchmaker God, who set up creation and walked away. It wasn't that He didn't care about me, just He didn't care about any of us. From there, for months afterward, my hold on faith slid away because there was nothing for me to hold on to, until I landed where I am now, an agnostic and a humanist. If there is a God, I don't think it matters, nor do I think anyone can ever prove it. But it doesn't matter, is the point, because what matters is us, here and now, being the best of humanity when we can and trying to not be douchebuckets when we can't be our best selves.

  3. George says:

    I'll just leave this here:

    "Marzipan" chapter (UK edition):
    "As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She found a stirring at the roots of her hair: she found herself breathing faster. She had never been on a roller-coaster, or anything like one, but if she had, she would have recognized the sensations in her breast: they were exciting and frightening at the same time, and she had not the slightest idea why. The sensation continued, and deepened, and changed, as more parts of her body found themselves affected too. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn't known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, deep in the darkness of the building she felt other doors opening too, and lights coming on. She sat trembling, hugging her knees, hardly daring to breathe, as Mary went on:"
    "Marzipan" chapter (Canadian & US edition):
    "As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn’t known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, she felt the other doors opening deep in the darkness, and lights coming on. She sat trembling as Mary went on:"

    • George says:

      Also Mark, thank you for sharing this, I want to give you all the internet hugs!

    • chrisjpardo says:

      Good work in pointing this out, it's a bugbear of mine that this was changed; such a fantastically well written passage, but it can get lost easily in amongst the bigger focus of the chapter.

      • chrisjpardo says:

        Actually, I'm re-evaluating my own comment above. I think this passage IS the focus of this chapter. Mary's story is just a vehicle for it.

        • Laurel says:

          I totally agree and this is my favorite chapter in the whole book. I thought it was interesting that Mark did not focus on this at all in his review, and instead focused on Mary's revelation (as it were) of no longer believing in God. But THIS chapter is the MOST important one I feel, of the whole series. Lyra was tempted! She was awakened!

          Mark, big hugs to you. I am so proud of how far you've come in your own awakening and self-love. Blessings.

          • chrisjpardo says:

            I agree. I was a little worried that the importance of this chapter (it is nearly over, after all) may be overlooked because the subject matter of Mary's story is obviously such a powerful one.

    • knut_knut says:

      I don’t understand at all why this was removed from the US editions. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, and to be honest, I don’t think many kids would even understand that it’s about Lyra’s sexual awakening. Plus, it’s something natural, we all go through it. The whole conservative American attitude towards sexuality is absolutely ridiculous.

    • Harrison says:

      I really love this passage because just reading it, I can remember exactly how it felt when I went through the exact same thing. The rush of excitement and possibility and happiness. That's good writing.

      It's a shame that something so wonderful could be treated as being so wrong. To the point of it being censored.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Thankfully, my Kindle edition has this passage.

    • ChronicReader91 says:

      Thanks for posting this. I have the US version, lucky me! Censorship makes my blood boil anyway, but to censor something so beautiful, real, and well-written? And that was, oh yeah, KIND OF THE POINT OF THE SECTION? :@
      Besides, what kid would read that passage and immediately realize it's sexual in nature? I know I wouldn't have had I read it as a preteen. (Well, I was kind of a sheltered and naiive preteen, but THAT'S BEYOND THE POINT.)

  4. Sophi says:

    I love you for telling us this in total faith. Thank you very, very much.

    I was a fucking mess throughout reading this. I stopped believing in god on the 1st of September, 2006, when I was eleven years old and my best friend died three days before I started secondary school after a long, drawn out illness. God wasn't there or he didn't care. I went to bed crying and praying and hearing my parents shouting downstairs and I'd look into her eyes and she wouldn't recognise me and god wasn't there.

    And after that my life went relatively to hell. I barely came out of my room for three years and my friends were books, because gradually everyone got tired of me crying, got tired of me not wanting to spend time with them, got tired of me always wanting to be alone. I wouldn't eat on the weekends, as punishment.

    I'm still angry. And evidently, I'm still grieving, because I haven't cried this hard in a very long time.

    EDIT Fucking hell. I blame this on the holidays blurring my sense of time. The 1st of September is tomorrow. You posted this a day before our fifth anniversary, Mark. I just… I don't know. I've teared up all over again. It's like a personal present, I don't know.

  5. cait0716 says:

    I'm so, so sorry you had to go through that Mark. But I'm glad you're able to talk about it now and share your story with all of us.

    I accidentally outed my best friend freshman year of high school. He had come out to me when we were eleven and, for me, it was never a big deal (Along these lines, my mom had told me that Eddie Izzard wore makeup because he wanted to and left it at that. I sort of failed to realize that people could judge each other based on things like this). He'd rather be with boys than girls. Whatever. It meant we could bond over how cute Jonathan Taylor Thomas was.

    There were rumors all through middle school that he and I were dating, but I never paid much mind to them. They didn't really affect me, and if someone actually asked me I'd assure them that we were just friends.

    In high school he started dating someone who went to another school. And again, I didn't think much of it. For Christmas that year he gave me a bracelet and, of course, I wore it.

    One day in class another girl commented on it.
    "Oh that's a pretty bracelet"
    "Thanks. R gave it to me"
    "Aww, are you guys dating?"
    "No, he has a boyfriend"

    The words hung in the air for a second. She looked startled, but recovered. Our conversation continued on to the homework assignment. And I didn't really think much more of it that day.

    But the next year was really rough for my friend. He had to be escorted from class to class by teachers. By the time we graduated, though, our school had a strong student LGBT group and I do think the environment there has changed for the better.

    I probably should have realized, after all those years, that I was his beard. But it also would have been nice if he had said it at some point. I was naive to the point that I didn't think anyone could care that he was gay. And sometimes I wish I still lived in that bubble.

    And, again, Mark, I'm so sorry for what you went through. That some unthinking person outed you and that your classmates were so vile and judgmental. I'm sorry you couldn't find comfort in your church or your family. And for all the people who never bothered to look at it from your perspective. I do hope that writing about it is helping you heal.

  6. PUDDING says:

    You should write an article on which you like better, Harry Potter or Twilight.

    • PUDDING says:


      • xpanasonicyouthx says:


        There are other outside factors, but I think this IS something that I might do someday.

    • Mark's Watcher says:

      "Sweet spring,
      Full of sweet days and roses,
      A box where sweets compacted lie"
      -George Herbert

  7. Darth_Ember says:

    EDIT to note: Teal deer alert! Long post. Scroll on by if you just wanna talk about HDM instead of reading my waffling.
    My parents are… well, my mum is an atheist. My dad claims to be one, but he was raised Catholic, and it stuck – he has so many attitudes that come out of that mindset. Once I was old enough to realise, it disgusted me – he still did things the same way, though he held it as some kind of thing of pride that he didn't believe that stuff anymore. Like making a show of burning the fancy tablecloth, but going ahead and eating off the same table that it ever was.
    But I was raised to make my own decision… such as it was, it wasn't as though I was made aware of many options. I don't know how old I was before I realised that there even were any non-Christian religions, other than some vague understanding that the Indian kids in the school did stuff a bit differently, like how they kept their hair long or wore some kind of thing on their hair, and that it was something religious for them.
    There were Scripture classes in primary school. They weren't compulsory, I don't think, but it wasn't like they provided anything else to do. I played along, knowing as I did so that I was playing at makebelieve, because I liked some of the ideas, like angels – they're people with wings in the pictures, I was young, they seemed awesome to me – and because the Scripture teacher was a nice old lady who let us play with a felt board and put the people on it to make scenes.
    And then in high school, the teacher for the scripture-y stuff was this cool younger guy who was really cheerful, and it was better than maths classes, which would've been what to do instead. And I even went to some of the bits of it in break times, because you got lollies if you could answer questions right, and everyone was so cheerful.
    But they weren't really like me. They seemed to really believe this stuff. I was just there because I liked mythology and sugar.

    I was never really sure what I was – I found a book on Wicca in the school library, and some of it looked interesting enough to spark a vague interest in that sort of 'spirit of the earth' mysticism. And even these days… I went to a Reiki course with Mum, because it sounded interesting from the stuff in the books. Everyone else there seemed to feel something special. I didn't. I sat there while the lady waved her hands about to 'awaken' Reiki in me, wondering when all the stuff in the books was going to kick in. And it didn't. Getting reiki, giving it… nothing. As the hours crawled by I found myself more and more tense and angry and miserable – these other people seemed to be feeling something special, and nothing was happening for me.

    And on the personal front… my sister and I have never been close, and yet she felt she could, on one of her visits home from her university, condescendingly tell me I couldn't be asexual when I hinted I might be. Why? Because she knew me better than that. Better than myself, apparently, given my struggle to identify as anything at all. So I have posters on my walls of the stars I liked when I was a teen. That doesn't change the fact that I have tried to work out who I am, only for her to dismiss it totally when I was trying to talk to her. But then, she's always been the 'normal' one. I reduced her to tears once, after countless little digs from her about my flaws, by telling her I pitied her patients if she became a psychologist or counsellor. Fuck it, I stand by that. She pick-pick-picks to upset someone. I lash out in one big wave when I'm pushed too far. But given her inability to understand anyone different to her (we had an argument once where she said being poly couldn't work for people, because she would get jealous so obviously everyone would) I'm not of any mind to retract it.
    So I never really got along with people in person – so what? My friends online are still "real friends" no matter what some people say. I'm more comfortable relating to people online. And I'm okay with that – online I can find people who are more like me, instead of struggling to understand people who function in a way that has been decreed 'normal', knowing I'll always be different to them.

    So I sympathise, Mark, though nothing I've been through could be as bad as the stuff you've posted from time to time. And I don't want this to be like I'm waving around my story or whatever, because I couldn't one-up you even if I wanted to, and I don't want to. So I guess I'm just saying these things because what you post reminds me of the experiences I've had, things I still find it hard to deal with.
    Sorry to anyone who found this boring or too long.

    • Harrison says:

      It's always extremely annoying when someone insists that they know you better than you do yourself and that your beliefs and really what you believe in.

      When I was a few years ago and had just recently "come out" as an atheist, one of my friends would always insist that I was not and that it was, in fact, impossible to be an atheist and that everyone believed in god deep down even if they didn't think they did. I thought it was pretty presumptuous of my friend to correct not only my own personal beliefs, but the beliefs of EVERYONE. In any case, despite these personal differences, we are still friends and I still don't believe in god. I don't think he does either anymore. (Funny how some people can be adamant enough about something to try and force it on everyone else, only to lose their conviction for it later.)

      • RoseFyre says:

        (Funny how some people can be adamant enough about something to try and force it on everyone else, only to lose their conviction for it later.)

        I feel like a lot of people do this – the religious right and such. How many anti-gay-marriage politicians have been outed as being gay? Maybe it's that they know deep down that they believe the same thing as you (or don't believe, or want, or don't want), but don't feel like they can express it, and don't feel like it's right, and therefore try to stop everyone else from being that thing either, that thing that they don't want to be.

    • barnswallowkate says:

      I'm athiest and my husband is like your dad – raised Catholic, doesn't believe most of what the church says, but it's such a strong element of his culture that it isn't completely gone. It's interesting to read your experience as a kid with parents like that because I'm worried about how we're going to deal with religion when we eventually have kids. He wants them to go to Sunday school because "that's just what people do." I'd rather have them raised knowing facts about all religions but not being told that any one in particular is more correct. Obviously we'll have to work something out when the time comes.

      Apparently I have to split this comment up…

      • barnswallowkate says:

        I think with young kids religious teaching gets into their hardwiring. I still have this subconscious, molecular-level assumption that eventually, somehow, good people are rewarded and bad people are punished, and it's just not true. I wish I didn't even slightly believe that because I think it affects how I live my life. I assume that some magical day everything will be calm and relaxed and I'll spend time with the people I love and do the activities that make me happy, when instead I should be pushing hard now to make my one and only life as brilliant as I want it to be.

        I tried Wicca and paganism too and eventually came to the conclusion that all religions are equally imaginary, so I feel you.

        • Darth_Ember says:

          I never went to a Sunday school or anything – it wasn't ideal that my schools used Scripture, but that was just a thing. I think my parents wanted me to discover religions for myself and decide for myself when I was old enough.
          And regarding your dilemma, I really don't think "what people do" is the best way to decide a thing; it tends to lead to perpetuating traditions that are not even slightly helpful.
          If a kid wanted to go, after being told it wasn't something their parents agreed with all the way, but they wanted the kid to decide for themselves, that's one thing, but I have to admit I don't 'get' the idea of having a child taught these things unless they want it, when you yourself don't believe it.

          • barnswallowkate says:

            Oh yes, if my kid wanted to go that would be another story. But I think I went to Sunday school (or summer bible camp? or something?) when I was 3 or 4. I can't imagine a kid that young wanting to go or really understanding what it was. Then again, they're probably a lot more opinionated at that age than I realize and maybe they would choose to go?

            "It's just what people do" is like my #1 hated justification for anything so I'm sure I'll fight against it if it comes up 😉

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          God I feel the same as EVERYONE ABOVE ME. I mean, it's weird how this can be such a personal, almost OFFENSIVE thing for friends and family.

      • pennylane27 says:

        I'd rather have them raised knowing facts about all religions but not being told that any one in particular is more correct.

        My sister and I were raised like that and we're both atheists like our parents. But two of my cousins, who were also raised like that, got baptised by choice at sixteen, when they started going to a Catholic highschool. I'm not sure I understand how that happened. You just have to let them choose. My father still denies his baptism because he says he didn't give his consent, and he is as atheist as they come.

        • barnswallowkate says:

          That's really interesting! Although my brother and I were raised the same (a little religious education early on, no regular church, implicitly athiest parents), and he got his first communion and confirmation and went to a Jesuit high school for two years. So I guess I can see how that happens, and I think at that age I'd be OK with them choosing for themselves. Just like I'll have to be OK with them if they are not geeky and bookish like me (the horror!).

          Parenting teenagers sounds scary, I am glad I'm not planning to do it for another 15 to 20 years.

          • Harrison says:

            The thing that worries me is the idea that they might choose too early. If I had my way, my (future) kids wouldn't be exposed to anything religious until like… 13. But that won't ever happen. Religion permeates our society.

            • barnswallowkate says:

              Oh yeah I know what you mean. If a kid grows up hearing everyone around them talk about a certain religion like it's real, they're not going to have the perspective and info to really choose.

              It reminds me of this book (Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, it's amazing) about super-fundamentalist Mormon sects, like the kind Warren Jeffs came from. They would say "Oh these 14 year old girls chose to marry 60 year old men because of their faith." But of course these girls had been raised hearing that this was how things were from birth, they were told they'd be abandoned by their families if they tried to leave, and the book is centered around a woman who was murdered for leaving the church. So they never really had a true choice.

              Luckily that's an incredibly extreme example, and I see tons of people commenting today who found what worked for them eventually no matter how they were raised.

              • Yeah. I feel like in the end people tend to discover what they truly believe, if they actively try. (Some people who are really passive about their faith might not ever question it, but I think most people do at some point.) I just wish it could happen in a vacuum and that people didn't have to fight through all amounts of preconceptions and brainwashing to get there.

                That book sounds fascinating; I might have to read it.

          • pennylane27 says:

            *gasp* What if my children don't like reading? I don't think I can be ok with that. I'll smother them with books from day 1!

            Seriously though, if teaching children and teenagers is scary and hard, I can't imagine how it'll be when they are actually my children.

            • barnswallowkate says:

              Right?? I was a bookaholic & actually almost lost friends from reading too much, so I won't know what to do with a kid that actually wants to do things. I keep telling myself that my brother liked books plus organized sports, and my sister-in-law liked books plus cheerleading, so it will all be OK. Alternatively, my plan is to brainwash them early into liking books and birds (and maybe doing dishes? hmmmmm) but I don't think kids ever go according to plan.

              • momigrator says:

                You are right…

                I don't think "kids" and "according to plan" can ever truly belong in the same sentence…

                But, my son loves books at his current age of 3! YAY!

    • trash_addict says:

      I had a very similar path to you – my father's a fervent atheist who wouldn'y allow me to be baptised as a baby because he wanted me to make my own mind up when I was old enough. My mother's a lapsed Catholic but I would say still very much believes in God. I never attended Church but was sent along to Catholic Scripture classes at school. I was genuinely curious but never felt that *thing* in my heart. I enjoyed the stories. I followed that curiousity all through my teenage years, attended Christian youth groups (I had a lot of Christian friends) and sometimes almost convincing myself I believed. But something stopped me. All those questions I had, which I truly bombarded people of the church with, which could just never be answered. That emptiness where I knew faith should be. The fact that I never actually believed those things that they wanted me to think were wrong. I had no problem with gay kids, why should I? Like you I investigated other things like Wicca as a teenager, but yeah, that special feeling? Never found it.

  8. chrisjpardo says:

    Mark, thank you so much for sharing such an important point in your life with us. I can't begin to imagine how hard it is to open up to strangers about this kind of thing (I have enough trouble opening myself up to people close to me), but I'm also glad that you feel you have this community that you can trust in this kind of way 🙂 It also puts into perspective things I complain about when I've had a wonderful upbringing; a loving settled family, in a lovely part of the UK, good friends, no money worries, decent education, university, a good job… Maybe I should just think sometimes about how lucky I am.

    However I'm going to be the boring person talking about the little things in this chapter. The big bits, namely religion, I'm sure will be well covered by everyone else, so instead here are just those little things that bring joy to my heart:

    I love that now they're rested, Will and Lyra seem to take such delight in telling their stories to Mary (and also that these take such a long time, and rightly so; it's 3 books worth!). It'd be pretty easy, and understandable, to be traumatised by the whole thing, but these kids are so awesome that they realise the good that they've done. It's also good that all the little coincidences and chances that have brought them to this point are recognised. God, a lot has really happened, hasn't it?

    I'm especially happy for Will. This has rightly been Lyra's story, albeit for a few moments when Will has had to take charge (which some people had a problem with?), and she's been responsible for much of what Will's had to do: meeting him, asking to go to his Oxford, losing the alethiometer, being kidnapped, coming up with the idea of going to the world of the dead, having their daemons torn from them, freeing the ghosts…

    I'm not saying that this is bad, but I think it would be easy for Will to hold some resentment here; he's been through a lot, and lost 2 fingers! But, he did get to find his dad I guess, which was what he wanted. Here he seems just as happy to tell the stories as Lyra, and just as excitable. I'm he's been able to take great pleasure and joy in what they've managed to achieve, and I'm sure part of that is a relief that it might all be over, and he might be able to finally go home back to his mother.

    I guess after all they've been through, it's just nice to see these two children relax, and enjoy telling stories. I also like Lyra thinking of Will as a "lazy thing" just for sleeping a little longer than her, it's quite cute.

    EDIT: And Mark, you've said numerous times how you felt like this series was written just for you; even more so for this chapter!

    • Harrison says:

      I also liked the "lazy thing" comment. After everything they have done, I don't think I could call them "lazy." 🙂

      • ChronicReader91 says:

        That did make me chuckle. I don't think anyone could hold a few extra minutes sleep against them at this point!

        • chrisjpardo says:

          Haha, because Will's obviously done NOTHING over the last week or so apart from fight his dad, journey to the Himalayas, jump between worlds, have part of his soul torn out, journey to the world of the dead, cause the death of a deity… TIME TO WAKE UP WILL.

          • ChronicReader91 says:

            Seriously! What is wrong with kids these days? Laying around, expecting everyone to do everything for them, NO responsibility. THEY'RE what's wrong with our multiple universes.

  9. SteelMagnolia80 says:

    Mark, I'm not sure if it's possible to feel love for someone you've never met and only chatted with once on IM, but I'll say this for myself and on behalf of everyone here…we love you tremendously. You open yourself up to us, no holding back anything anymore and in return, we respond with tears, open arms (on the astral plane) and acceptance.

    I want to apologize for your experiences growing up. It horrifies me how much damage both cruelty and ignorance can do to a person. I am a Christian, but it has never been in my nature to judge or place ultimatums or put people in boxes with labels. My friends were thankfully never afraid to come out to me due to that fact. My love for them never wavered.

    I'm glad you decided to read Twilight, as much torture as it was. Because it brought you here. It brought all of us here to you, sharing with you. Thank you.

  10. Cupcakes says:


    That is all.

  11. Anseflans says:

    I'm this close to catching a plane to America and track you down and hug you until the sun explodes.
    Mark, you are so brave, so so brave, thank you for sharing your life with us.

  12. Araniapriime says:

    You are not alone, Mark. I love you, and whatever deity or divine spark or evolutionary forces made you who you are today loves you too. Your soul is perfect just the way it is, and you have so many friends here it's beyond counting. Friends all over the world!

  13. Many Rainbows says:

    Mark, thank you for sharing this. I can feel the pain in the memories, how deeply it affected you. It just makes me want to cry, and to give you all the hugs in the world.
    You are SO STRONG, Mark. Stronger than you give yourself credit for. there are a lot of differences in our stories of our lives, but yet… there is something there that is the same.
    It is amazing to me that you and I are about the same age. To me, you seem older, though that is probably because of the hurt you have had to deal with. You had to deal with the reality of the world long before your classmates, or your friends.
    I am sorry to ramble Mark. I just.. i can see parts of me in you, and I just can't believe how STRONG you are, to be able to share this with the world, while I have trouble sharing my life with people I want so desperately to call a friend.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      And to give some context that I sort of referenced in this post: I never was able to do this until recently. I'm very honored you'd call me "strong," but please don't think you also won't reach this point either. If you'd told me I'd be telling hundreds of thousands of strangers about this moment five years ago, I would have laughed in your face. Then locked myself in my bedroom and sobbed for a few hours BUT THIS IS NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.

      I don't know what will help you find your inner strength to face things that are difficult for you to deal with, but don't think it's impossible. 🙂

      • Many Rainbows says:

        I know what you mean. I have alluded to my past, told bits of it here and there to people… but yet, the deepest pain, the parts that hurt me the most, I have yet to mention to all but.. 2? people. Sometime in the next few months, I am expected to deliver a 'sermon' or 'talk' at church. I wrote it months ago.. about finding myself, and talking about some of the pain… and yet, I am terrified of standing in front of the congregation, almost entirely people with adult children, and give this talk, because I feel.. who am I to talk of this stuff? and I am so afraid of making my past known, of just how low I have gotten in my life, of just how hard it is for me to open up to people and allow someone to get past my barriers. I am afraid that, just by talking about it to someone, I will end up hurting more than ever, because I am so afraid. So the fact that yes, you have told your story to all your readers… that takes strength and guts. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for, and I wish I had your strength. Because even with all that has happened to you.. you are still able to see GOOD in the world, you are still able to keep going.

    • notemily says:

      Mark is my age too and I'm amazed by him. How is he that stable and wonderful and compassionate and able to share his experiences? Can he teach awesomeness classes?

      • xpanasonicyouthx says:

        OH MY GOD. I would be the best/worst/best teacher ever. I would have the WORST time trying to stay on topic.

        • Many Rainbows says:

          So? You are awesomeness personified. Just teach us all to be like you and you would be the best teacher EVAR!

  14. Noybusiness says:

    "I have never heard of someone feeling a vacancy of God during His most holiest blessing"

    Two words: Placebo Effect. For much the same reason, if with inverted results, people who believe in Voodoo and believed they are cursed to die actually die of metabolic shutdown.

    I try to be charitable because it seems this person was well-meaning in his own way (correct me if you disagree), but the idea of him talking about your imaginary "sin" inside you makes me so angry! Stop giving advice to anyone ever!

    Personally, if asked if I believe in God, I'd have to answer "yes and no". Do I believe in the Abrahamic God with all the trimmings thereof and that things have supernatural explanations? Certainly not. At the same time, I can't help feeling connected to something out there, that there is such a thing as good and evil, and in the eternal existence of the soul – most likely in the reincarnation sense – for the same reason that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed.

  15. monkeybutter says:

    Hugs, Mark. I guessed that Marzipan would affect you strongly because it's partly about how denying sexuality resulted in Mary's loss of faith, but I didn't expect anything like this. Thank you for sharing. That sort of betrayal and alienation was heartbreaking to read, and I also hope that you got all of the bad out of the way while you were young just so the rest of your life will be wonderful. I've gotta say, though, that two parts made me laugh and I love you for them:

    I ended up settling on Cal State Long Beach, who offered me a full ride because I was valedictorian. (TAKE THAT, HATERS.)


    One man to my right laughed. We would later make out and it would be wonderful.

    You're the best.

    Marzipan is probably my favorite chapter. It delves into Mary's history, and I like the idea of past memories and sensations being triggered by a related stimulus, here something as simple as marzpian. The way it forces Mary to reevaluate her life, and realize that caring about her needs and accepting her sexuality as an important part of her life, is really powerful. And I'd guess you were touched by the chapter as well. I enjoyed reading about BOTH of your journeys, so much so though that I can't really muster my full fury at the censoring of Lyra's sexual awakening (it's asinine, pointless, and combined with the prevalent violence and sex being portrayed as a bad thing, whether unwanted, uncomfortable, or manipulative, reveals a lot about the mentality of the American publishers.)

      • Seconded! This is probably my favorite chapter in the whole series, including "Authority's End," because of the focus on Mary's journey. I haven't been through anything like what she had been (or you had been, Mark: ALL THE HUGS), but I love how much it brings her to life and, in a way, validates my own feelings and choices about being an atheist who grew up in a deeply religious area (Idaho).

        I like the idea of past memories and sensations being triggered by a related stimulus, here something as simple as marzpian.

        Showing, once again, Pullman's thesis on how important and wonderful — vital in every sense of the word — the physical world is. Matter, yay! Sensations, yay! Bodies, yay!

  16. Hanah_banana says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story Mark. Thank you for telling it and for being willing to open your life out to people who, whilst part of perhaps the most wonderful community on the internet, could still be considered to be a group of total strangers.

    I am so aware, and more aware every day, of how lucky I am to have been born into a supportive and stable family, to have been born white and straight and fully able. I am female, but other than that I fit neatly into all of the boxes of life which for some reason have been earmarked 'privileged'. I have almost never had to suffer because of something about the way in which I was born, or for any of my choices or beliefs. What suffering there has been has never been more than a momentary anger or fear at a passing comment or look; nothing which could remotely have been said to have left a lasting mark or to have affected me apart from in that moment. And although I've always been aware of my privilege and tried to be a decent human being, it wasn't really until I found the internet and this community in particular that I started to become more aware of the millions of other people not enjoying my privileges and, more importantly, of the ways in which I could try and put a stop to the unfairness of the world to people who are in any way considered 'different'. I've always been accepting of people who aren't like me in some way, and felt bad and sorry for them when they suffered, but it somehow never occurred to me that it had anything to do with me. But now I've joined all of the equality-based societies at my uni and I actively campaign for social change. I have long and vociferous arguments with everyone I know about the importance of language and moderating speech to cut out the sexist, racist, homophobic crap that litters every day language and is for some reason considered acceptable. And that's almost entirely down to you Mark, down to your honesty and generosity of time and nature and the fact that you've always been willing to call people on their privileged BS.

    So thank you, Mark, thank you so much. Thank you for sharing, because no matter how supportive every one is and how much better sharing rather than bottling things up is, I'm sure it must still be hard to relive these awful memories and tell strangers about it. But I'm so grateful that you did. And I'm so sorry for the horrific things of which people are capable, and that you suffered so badly for no good reason at all, and I'm so glad that things are so much better for you now.

  17. pica_scribit says:

    The US edition of the book cuts the paragraph following Mary's marzipan story to ribbons. Apparently Lyra's incipient sexuality was just too much for US publishers. (Killing God, gay angels, and heaven is a lie? No problem! Adolescent girls having sexual feelings? No. We're not uncomfortable with female sexuality, per se, but….) Here's the original version:

    As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She felt a stirring at the roots of her hair: she found herself breathing faster. She had never been on a roller-coaster, or anything like one, but if she had, she would have recognized the sensations in her breast: they were exciting and frightening at the same time, and she had not the slightest idea why. The sensation continued, and deepened, and changed, as more parts of her body found themselves affected too. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn't known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, deep in the darkness of the building she felt other doors opening too, and lights coming on. She sat trembling, hugging her knees, hardly daring to breathe, as Mary went on:

    • barnswallowkate says:

      It's really ironic that Mary is like "I lost my belief in God because the church tried to censor these feelings" and then the publishers are like "BTW we're now going to censor these feelings".

      • notemily says:

        Perfectly stated.

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          Sort of like the irony about a trilogy about the oppressive/suppressive actions of a church in the social/political environment then being gutted for those very themes by the very church when it's made for a movie. Oh, holy irony.

          • Ha. Holy Irony. Haha.

          • Patrick721 says:

            I had an english teacher, one who was so amazing I took her for all three years I was at that high school (sophomore-senior). At times, she would yell "IRONY" loud enough for other classrooms to hear. And right now, I'm hearing Ms. McInerney's voice in my head, shouting it at the top of her lungs.

    • t09yavors says:

      In (minor) defense of the publishers who dont deserve it and who have earned my ire for this crap, the trilogy is sold in not only the young adult section of book stores but also the independent readers section, aka books for ages 11 and younger. Meaning that parents would most likely be reading with their kids and might get upset, even if their kids don't get it.

      • notemily says:

        Too bad, though. I mean… seriously.

      • evocativecomma says:


        • t09yavors says:

          And it is smart business to not alienate the people who are most likely to be buying the books for their children. Again, it isn't right but there is at least logic to it.

          • theanagrace says:

            I understand the logic and your point, but when I read it as a preteen, the wording of that passage was vague enough that I didn't get any of that subtext that I get reading it now as an adult. I think they could have left it in and only suffered minor upsets perhaps.

  18. LilithDee says:

    Tell them stories.

    For the record, that's my next tattoo. I've been planning it for years, and it was going to be my first tattoo but then I chickened out because I was at a dingy tattoo parlor in Vegas with an artist who literally pinned me against the counter while he was doing the mock-up on my shoulder (I don't know for sure that he was being intentionally creepy, but goddamnit I've got space issues and I nearly kicked him in the balls). I got a desert lizard instead. Um… >_>

    But Mark, you are a fantastic writer, may I just say. You wrote that story with such grace and beautiful insight. I'm sorry you had to go through such shit, but the beautiful thing about Pullman (and Gaiman, OMG READ GAIMAN – start with Neverwhere or Sandman or American Gods or HELL I don't care where you start, just… you will be so happy when/if you read his work, I know it) is that his story FOCUSES on stories. What we tell. Why we tell it. How we make sense of the random chaos that makes up our lives and how we find the grace of life through intention. If I've ever felt anything divine, it's been an awareness of energy and light – not any god at all but consciousness and stories and… marzipan (which is just a metaphor to relate my crazy ramblings to the book, I've never actually tasted marzipan before). And so there is no way more perfect to review this book than to do so through telling stories from your own life. A review that isn't personal is a review that doesn't focus on what is, to me, the most important aspect of this book. Thank you so much for sharing that story. I think the image of a young, lost man tousling a child's hair just before he disappears from that child's world is going to stick with me for a long time.

    And, um, your review has me quite choked up. I must away to work, now.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      LilithDee, this is a fantastic comment, a fantastic tattoo idea, you are fantastic, and for such a flurry of fantastic-osity (and for those who actually read this far down in the comments), I will confirm that the "secret" book I am doing as a one-off before I read The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings) is one of Gaiman's. That's all you get for now. But thank you!

      • arctic_hare says:


        I have my suspicions as to which one it is, but I shall wait (eagerly) and see. 😀

      • Hanah_banana says:

        This is FABULOUS news added to a FABULOUS comment and I really hope you enjoy the Gaiman! It took me a while to get into his books and his writing style but now I love them with a fierce and fiery passion.

      • ChronicReader91 says:

        Le gasp! Which one is it? Tell me the secret! I have to a bunch of his books and I don't know which one to read first. I really really want to start with Good Omen… but also American Gods….but also Neverwhere… but also Stardust, even though I started reading it before and lost interest, I'll totally give it another shot… I just don't know what to do! *sobs*

        • cait0716 says:

          Whenever I can't decide on a reading order, I settle for chronological. In this case, it would be Good Omens, Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods. Any order works, though, because they're all pretty awesome

    • FlameRaven says:

      This. I didn't say too much yesterday, but Sandman was exactly what I thought of during yesterday's review when the ghosts talked about telling stories. The theme is present to some extent in most of Gaiman's work, but it's definitely a major theme in Sandman. I just started rereading that series again yesterday and I am loving it so much. I can't wait until we get to the actual reviews of it, if only so I can start quoting things, because there are so many lovely lines. 🙂

    • arctic_hare says:

      That's a really great tattoo idea! I love it. <3

    • Harrison says:

      You know, I've never actually thought about getting a tatoo, but I might have to get that one someday.

  19. Maya says:

    I just want to say (like so many of the others here) how moved I was by your story. You're such a fantastic writer, and it's so incredibly brave of you to share this with others, even on a site full of people who feel so connected to you. I hope that others will read it and feel the same kind of courage to share their stories.

    I think I may be in the minority here by being both religious-ish and at least mostly believing in G-d (raised Jewish and still a fan of my religion for the most part). I know I am within my group of friends. I'm sorry for the way your loss of faith came about and I'm glad you've found at least a little comfort with it. And I'm especialy glad these books speak to you, which is the point of books in general.


    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Actually I think the majority of people who read this are actually religious, but I could be wrong. Either way, thank you, and thank you for being a part of this community, too!

  20. Tonja says:

    Mark, there are so many parts of your story that I relate to, and yet, I cannot fathom the terror that must have been your constant companion, running from place to place and person to person in search of sanctuary.

    I was not raised in a religious home, and though my mother was a Scientologist for a few years, I was never forced, let alone encouraged to participate. My father is probably an agnostic and doesn't seem to think about God at all. Despite this, I've always felt inexplicably drawn to express myself spiritually and religiously.

    I did a lot of exploring and attended many different kinds of Christian churches in my tweens and teens. Like you, I was looking for a community and an identity. The Christians I knew appeared to be prosperous, healthy and had lives full of happiness. I don't know how I got the idea that belonging to a church and religious community was a key ingredient to the secret sauce, but I was determined to grab ahold of that prosperity and happiness for myself.

    I too went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. My fiancee was a Filipino who was raised Catholic. I wanted to share not only a religious identity with my husband and new family, but I wanted to sit at that glorious table of abundance with my new tribe.

    I never did find that elusive bit of happiness and prosperity that seemed to come so easily for other Catholics. Maybe I was doing it wrong. Maybe I just hadn't really accepted Jesus. Maybe God could see me for the Pagan I still truly was. Those bigger questions never bothered me the way they seemed to trouble you. Perhaps that is part of my straight privilege – that I never had to worry about anyone outing me as heterosexual. I think there was more to it though. I've never been able to see myself as a spiritual child in need of a parental God to take care of me. In fact, I thought I was doing pretty well for myself and failed to see myself as dirty, sinful or otherwise flawed and in need of purification.

    When my ex-husband left, I clung to my Catholic faith like it was a life preserver. I lit candles, put a picture of my estranged spouse in front of my statue of the Virgin Mary and prayed the rosary until I was hoarse. I felt no divine comfort, no divine intervention – only emptiness and desolation. It was the first time in my life I ever felt an absence of God and it frightened me. I went to confession, searching for guidance, support, sympathy. I spoke to my priest, who, while kind and reassuring, spoke of my pending divorce in a detached and clinical manner. For the first time, I saw the Church not as the repository of Western culture, but as a business enterprise interested only in cold, hard cash.

    I stopped being a Catholic that day.

    But I didn't stop feeling or recognizing the divine all around me. When I dispatched my Catholic trappings, I felt the Gods of my ancestors rush to my side, welcome once again in this Pagan heart. Truly, it is not unlike the awe I feel when looking up at the night sky during an eclipse, or the stark landscape in the desert, or the orange, purple and burnt umber of canyons. I find I still believe in God, only I spell their name N-A-T-U-R-E.

    After my husband left and I put aside my Catholicism, it felt as though a curse had been lifted. I'm sure Sleeping Beauty must have felt something similar. My loneliness and despair had left me. The world had color once again. When I embraced who I really was, much like your experience, I drew friends both old and new like a moth to a flame. Suddenly my life was full, and though my community likes to keep it weird, I wouldn't trade it for the gilded promises of the Church. If Eve took the first bite of the apple, I was more than happy to help her finish it off.

  21. knut_knut says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us <3


  22. pennylane27 says:

    You know, I read your warning thinking that I'd be fine, being a straight white girl and never having experienced bullying or abuse of any sort. I wasn't expecting to feel such a mix of emotions. Disgust, rage, loss of faith in the human race, and finally hope and some sort of weird joy. I am still in awe of the way you turned out to be; despite all the terrible shit you've gone through, you still manage to be this funny, compassionate, brave person.

    I don't know, I can't express myself in a more articulate way, but hopefully you get the picture.

    Also, googleads thought it appropriate that the ad at the bottom is for some sort of weird Catholic gifts store. WTF.

  23. barnswallowkate says:

    I'm going to echo everyone else here and send love and hugs to Mark through the intertubes. I just can't imagine anyone ever thinking you're less than awesome and I basically want the earth to swallow anyone who was shitty to you. I also can't imagine the rest of your life being anything but "wonder and beauty and joy" so I hope that happens. And I hope you get that feeling of belonging to and mattering to something bigger through your friends and chosen family, both real and internet.

    Also, LOL forever at the current ad at the bottom of the page for baptism or christening invitations.

  24. frogANDsquid says:

    I just typed a reallllllly long passage, and while I'm not ready to hit the submit comment I feel a million times better for typing it. Thank you Mark.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Aw, thank you, frogANDsquid. You are awesome! I would love to read your thoughts when you feel comfortable about it.

  25. arctic_hare says:

    All the hugs, Mark, just… all the hugs. *hugs* Thank you for telling us your story; I know it couldn't have been easy to type all that out, and it breaks my heart that you lived it. You can rest assured, though, that none of us here would ever judge you, and that we all love you and care about you.

    I don't remember when I stopped believing in God, but that's because I don't know if I ever really did. My family's approach to religion when I was growing up was haphazard; we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but in fairly secular ways, and I vaguely remember attending a Christian preschool, but I was never taken to church or anything, and although my mother and her side of the family are Catholic, I was never baptized. So I never really felt a connection to anything, and I don't know what it's like to have it, so I can't miss what I never had. And it never interested me much as a kid, either, any more than it does now as an adult. I had other things on my mind as a kid, and then as I grew older, I got more convinced that the Christian God probably doesn't exist anyway, or is a massive asshole if he does (the whole "God's plan/will/everything happens for a reason" bullshit people tend to say to those grieving is one of the fastest, easiest ways to piss me off). So I don't have a revelatory experience to share, because I never had any faith to lose.

    One thing in Mary's story that really struck me is when she speaks of wondering if anyone would be the better for making her miserable, and she concluded that no, there's no one there. This rang so true to me, because one of the things that helped convince me that I didn't believe in that God is that I can't see why any supposedly loving God would want followers to be unhappy, why he would condemn people to hell for things like being gay. Why do I want to worship a cruel deity like that? I never understood that.

    I also really liked what she said about her family's disappointment, about it feeling like their beliefs depended on her continuing to be a nun. Because it really does seem that way in real life, doesn't it, with some Christian people? You know the type – the ones who want to legislate their morality on everyone else, who believe that there's some kind of "culture war" going on and flip out over any other religion being acknowledged publicly, who get all huffy about store clerks saying "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". As if their own personal faith depends on these things. Obviously I'm not talking about all Christians, but there's a very vocal group of them in American society that I get this vibe from; Pullman is drawing upon reality here in Mary's dialogue about that.

    I don't feel hollow or empty, as an atheist; probably that's because I never really had anything I lost. If anything, I think I appreciate things like the beauty and wonder of nature more, because it feels that much more amazing and miraculous to me. But I also don't begrudge anyone their religion, so long as they are not using it as an excuse to hurt and harm others whether through hateful words or violence or both. It can be a wonderful thing for some people… but it is not something that is for me, nor for others. You're not alone, Mark. Not at all.

    • pennylane27 says:

      Wow. You just put everything I was thinking into actually coherent words. Just wow.

      • barnswallowkate says:

        Same here!

        • chrisjpardo says:

          Me too! I think I had a similar kind of upbring too.

          I went to a Church of England primary school, because the village I grew up in had a CoE church (which I was christened in, which doesn't really bother me) across the road from the only school (and not a lot else). Sure, we did some hymn and prayers in assembly once a week, but in the classroom it was all totally secular. Religion was covered as a topic, from an historical context, and we were informed of different types and beliefs. We had school services in the church a couple of times a year, for Chrismas and 'Harvest Festival', which was basically putting tins of food into shoeboxes and taking them round to local old people. It was basically all about being nice to people.

          Basically, at no point in my childhood did I feel religion was 'important'. My parents were quite content to let me make my own mind up religiously and politically, and as far as I'm aware none of my friends/family are religious. It doesn't seem to be very common of people my age (26) or less here in the UK. Religion never really comes up in conversation in my life at all; for example, I only really knew my dad was definitely an aetheist a few months ago. He cares so little about it though, that I don't imagine he'd ever spend the effort in categorising himself as such.

          It's a bit of a culture shock to find out that not everyone is lucky enough to be given the space to make their own minds up about these kinds of things.

  26. BradSmith5 says:

    Dang, man, this is like one of your best ones! I read everything. Beautiful. I'm shocked at how the chapter reflected your life like that. How long did it take you to write this piece––like a week? Or was this something you had prepared earlier, and were saving? I'm just curious. The end result is excellent.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      It took me about 4-5 hours one evening. I've gotten remarkably fast at vomiting thoughts, haha. 🙂

      • BradSmith5 says:

        You're kidding me. One night!? That's some articulate, expressive vomit you've got! 😉

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          Well, I know a LOT of authors (Brian K Vaughn being one I can think of off the top of my head) who say that the only way to become a writer is to keep writing, and I can attest to the supreme truth in that. When I started Mark Reads, this review would have taken me a week to write. Now that I'm finding my voice, it only gets easier.

          • notemily says:

            Have you read Y: The Last Man?

          • BradSmith5 says:

            Yes, and you have been writing! I'm just amazed that you're so good at sharing tales about your own life. I mean, I can write fiction or satire all day––but when it comes to personal stuff I'm like "UM UM UM" and then one sentence gets done. And then I delete that one sentence, ha,ha,ha.

          • @Arachne110 says:

            This is inspiring. I've also been trying to "find my voice" in my writing and the toughest part sometimes is getting started and pushing past the first few paragraphs that just feel so damn awkward.

  27. Natalia says:


    I believe in God, though I don't have a religion. I just think there's something out there and I thank it for giving me a loving family, for making me feel protected.

    I hate that people made you feel unloved. I hate that they took that away from you. You are a good person and you deserve everything that is good in the universe! I've met you and you're a gentle, welcoming person. Maybe I just saw you during a happy moment, but that's the image I have of you.

    Keep smiling, Mark. You deserve it. And hey, WE love you. 😀

  28. Sherri says:

    Hi Mark! I love your stories, I hope they are cathartic for you. Maybe you or any of the other commenters who are atheists can help me out. I just (in the last 6 months or so) realized I am an atheist. My family are not religious but spiritual (new-agey type beliefs in reincarnation and energy, etc) I have always been very anit-religious and it has come as a bit of a shock to realize that all of the beliefs I grew up with are basically a different kind of religion – and I don't think I believe them anymore. I really, really want to, but I can't make myself.

    My mom passed away in May and everyone in my family and all of her friends feel she is out there still and I wish I could make myself believe that. It kills me to think that she is just gone. What is the point of this life if all it is is misery and hardship and then you die and that is it.

    I think most people who become atheists have to go through this phaze of figuring things out – so if anyone is out there with some advice I would welcome it whole heartedly.

    • burritosaurus says:

      First of all, I just want to say, I'm so so so sorry about your mom. My mom died 2 weeks shy of a year ago, and the impending anniversary is looming over me, so….I'm sorry.

      I've been an atheist as long as I can remember. My mom was really religious, so I went to church a few times a year, but to me it was always just an interesting story. And then my mom died, and it was down to my siblings and me to pick the verses that would be read at her funeral (I picked based on Harry Potter) and so many people coming to our house saying "She's with God now" or "Your mama is watching over you from heaven now" and on and on, and I really wanted to believe them. I wanted to think that she was somewhere–anywhere–and not just gone. I hate to think about it, and I wish I could just make myself believe in god and heaven for comfort, but it just feels like a sham to me.

      I don't know if that ramble is any help or comfort to you, but time, really, is the only thing that helps, I think. If you want to talk about it more, I'd be more than willing to lend an ear.

      • Sherri says:

        Thanks Burritosaurus! Death sucks and there is no getting around it. Yesterday would have been my parents 45th anniversary so it is pretty raw right now. I

        I'm curious what passage you picked from HP. My dad is a huge HP fan and I would love to point something comforting out to him from those books.

        • burritosaurus says:

          My godmother brought over a list of verses that she thought were better than the "usual" ones used in funerals, and my brother read them to my sister and me so we could pick. None were really jumping out, you know, because…really, how do you pick something like that? And then he read the one that ends with the verse that's on James and Lily's headstone–"the last enemy to be destroyed is death"–and I said "That's the one." I think my siblings were really shocked to get such a solid opinion from me, but we went with it. I can never remember the whole thing, but I looked it up for you. It's 1 Corinthians 15:20-26

          "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
          For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
          For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
          But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
          Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
          For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
          The last enemy to be destroyed is death."

          To me, it's just about accepting that everybody dies–that we live and die is what ties us together with everybody else and all the plants and animals in the world, and as much as it sucks to lose people you care about, there's no stopping it. So I think it's about realizing that, accepting it, and not being afraid of it. More recently for me, it's also about grief and, well, I guess destroying that, too.

          To add to it, my mom is the one who gave me the first 3 HP books during a time when we weren't getting along, and they've come to mean so much to me, and it's brought me extra comfort knowing that I have her to thank for that, and remembering how she came into my room laughing at me for staying up all night reading Phoenix, but then she brought me tea and toast. I keep trying to remember things like that and be glad for it, because I'm just so tired of remembering things and being sad or thinking about things that will never happen and being a wreck.

          I hope you and your family are as ok as you can be. You're right, it sucks and there's no getting around it, but some days it won't suck as much.

  29. Nomie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us, Mark. I can’t think of anything else to say that doesn’t sound pitying or patronizing to my own self-critical ears, so I will leave it there. <3

  30. Raenef says:

    The sense of community here… we're all here to listen to each other. Thank you, and thanks to everyone in the comments, for telling your stories.

  31. barnswallowkate says:

    You guys I think this is one of the most beautiful comment sections on this site ever <3 <3 <3

    • arctic_hare says:

      I agree! <3 <3 <3 I love reading everyone's stories, and it's so true to the spirit of this chapter.

      • barnswallowkate says:

        I'm glad you agree because after I posted that I was like "Everyone is talking about some of the worst things that have ever happened to them, and about losing fundamental beliefs that change them to the core, and I'm calling it beautiful. I hope I don't sound like a jerk!" I meant that all our love and bonding is beautiful!

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          HAHAHAHAHA omg you don't sound like a jerk at all BUT I WOULD HAVE WORRIED ABOUT THE SAME THING.

  32. Katie says:

    You know, there are times when I think we could have passed each other in the halls (English and PoliSci – Long Beach Class of 2005, at the grocery store (former resident of the 909), and had I known you and what you were going through I would have tried my damndest to make you realize just how awesome you are. If I had a TARDIS I would have given you all the hugs.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      OMG WHAT.

      what if we had classes together

      WHAT IF

      • Patrick721 says:

        You two should try and remember your old class schedules, and compare them, and then freak out when you realize you had classes together.

  33. Sophi says:

    You know everyone's getting ads for churches in hilarious irony?

    I'm getting one for GAY TIMES MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION HOT OFFER! with some shirtless guy flexing and I have finally stopped sobbing and resumed laughing helplessly

  34. notemily says:

    Mark, I just want to thank you for telling your story. I feel like anything I have to say in response would be inadequate, but I'm so glad you've made it to a point where you no longer have to feel that there's something wrong with you for being who you are. I don't know what makes people pick up a phone and call someone to yell slurs and insults at them for being gay. I second the people who have said they're amazed at how awesome and compassionate and brave you turned out to be. I feel like, in your place, I would be sobbing in my bedroom forever, unable to function.

    My own thoughts on this chapter.

    The thing is, even without the original lines, the first time I read this book, I felt the doors opening inside Lyra. I wish the uncensored lines had been there, but the passage was as powerful to me as if they had.

    But it's so ironic that these passages are censored, because it goes against everything Pullman is trying to say with these books. That there is nothing wicked about enjoying being alive and in your body. MISSING THE POINT.

    I do have a few issues with Mary's story and this chapter, as much as I'd like to crawl inside it and live there. Because although I remember vividly the sensation of being young and liking someone and wanting him to kiss me, and it's a sensation I've experienced many times, it's not quite the same positive memory as it is for Mary.

    Because those wonderful feelings and first kisses always seemed to lead to bad things later. Jealousy, fights, breakups, guilt. It seemed that every single time I felt that way about someone, that feeling would fade, to be replaced by a feeling of dissatisfaction, almost boredom. And then things would start to go bad. I'd start to like someone else, maybe, and feel horribly guilty. How could I like someone else? Why was I having these feelings for someone who wasn't my boyfriend? Why did these feelings feel as real as the ones I had had for him? I was confused, and I felt like a bad person. A good person would only feel love and affection for one person at a time, not be fickle and disenchanted as soon as the shine wore off. I was like an addict, always chasing that first-kiss high, after which nothing would be as good.

    So gradually I stopped believing in the promise of those feelings. I felt they were lying to me. They were an illusion caused by hormones or the thrill of getting to know a new person for the first time. They weren't the truth; they weren't love. I didn't know how to love. I had never had a relationship that got better over time instead of worse. My relationships had brought me only regret.

    So it's kind of funny, really. Love didn't lead me to stop believing in God–I stopped believing in love instead.

    Now, I simply feel healthier when I'm alone. I don't have to deal with the confusion, the constant anxiety, the worries about am I doing this right, what am I doing wrong, how do relationships work. I don't have to deal with the loss of sex drive from my medications and how that affects relationships. I don't have to deal with the shame, the memories and thoughts that always seem to invade my mind when I'm in bed with someone and ruin the mood for me. I don't have to apologize for spending most of the day on the internet, or wanting to spend most nights indoors watching TV instead of going out and socializing, or being a slob. I can just be me. I'm not happy with how my life is, because I have depression and I can't support myself monetarily and some other reasons, but at least those are my issues to deal with and I don't have to worry about how they affect anyone else.

    So this is what this chapter and Mark's story inspired me to write. I've always been an atheist or at least agnostic, but if I believed in anything, it was love. Now, I'm not that person anymore, for good or bad.

    • Hello, Twitter friend. I would like to give you a hug. This is a beautiful post; thank you for sharing.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      I just want to say that I have been through similar experiences in that second-to-last paragraph there. It is why I choose to live alone. I mean, seriously, just because I want to spend a couple hours writing or playing a video game doesn't mean that I HATE you, ex-girlfriend that wants to spend every second being with another person. Being out of a relationship is so much more comfortable than trying to explain that previous sentence every single frickin' day.

  35. leighzzz31 says:

    I haven't posted in a while, Mark, what with travelling and working and basically living in airports and cars lately so I've been trying to catch up with your reviews the last few days. I'm actually really glad I caught up on this chapter which just so happens to be my favourite in the whole series. But also, I had a feeling this chapter might mean quite a bit to you, Mark, and I'm kind of regretting I was right.

    First of all, I'm unashamedly crying my eyes out right now. I've been following you since Harry Potter and every single one of your personal stories has moved me but this has pretty much wrecked me. I guess trigger warnings are there for a reason.

    Nothing about my own story of realising I don't believe in God compares to even a tenth of what you've been through but I think I can understand what you went through after you realised. I did smile at the fact that we both seem to have come to that conclusion in the same year; I think I probably realised sometime in July (It's weird how specific the date is; I'd never remembered that before). I was a lot younger, I was sitting on the couch in the living room and I'd just finished The Amber Spyglass. I think my little sister was in my mum's bedroom next door, still incredibly ill and suffering an asthma attack. I don't know whether it was the night before or several weeks before but at some point during her illness, my mum had let me into the room to see her. I cried buckets, I remember that, because I could never cry as a kid. And, at some point, when my parents had fallen asleep in the kitchen and I was alone with my sister, I got on my kness and pressed my palms together and spoke to someone who wasn't there. The memory is really strong because it's the first and last time I prayed to someone called God.

    My sister got better (she was back to annoying the hell out of me by August). But that wasn't because of God and what I had tried to say to him. I knew that as I sat there on the couch, beating my fingers against that orange book cover. Because God wasn't real. I had this vivid image in my head right then – and it's still pretty strong to this day – that I'd been in a dark room for a while and Phillip Pullman – with his words and his stories and his pages – had pointed out there was a torch in my hand. And I simply turned it on.

    I still have a few issues with the 'God thing', what with family and friends and feeling pretty proud of myself for being an atheist, but that almost literal lightbolb moment I had when I was eleven pretty much shaped a lot of who I am today. Just like 'marzipan' did for Mary Malone and all your experiences did for you.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing, Mark. I'm so glad you're finally happy with who you are and what you are, which incidentally is JUST PLAIN AWESOME.

    I'll go dab the mascara out of my eyes right now. 🙂

  36. feachme says:

    You are an amazing person. So, so, so much love to you, always and forever.

  37. Meg says:

    there's so much amazing stuff in this chapter that i wish we could talk about. Mary's loss of faith is relevant to all of us who once believed and now don't or can't, but i can't help feeling like it's not really what this chapter is ABOUT.

  38. plunderb says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Mark.

    I think that Mary's story is one of the most "dangerous" parts of this trilogy. All the stuff about God being decrepit and fighting against Him in a battle with gyropters and legions of angels seems too fantastical to be a real threat to belief, but a simple story about living fully and joyfully without God is a really powerful and dangerous idea.

  39. rumantic says:

    I have no words, and everyone else has said a million times better what I couldn't, so I've settled for upvoting almost all the other comments here.

    Thank you Mark, and also to all the wonderful commenters and community, and the mods who help keep it so by deleting shitty judgemental comments and the like.

  40. sparkerworks says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. You are a brave and beautiful person.

  41. rabbitape says:

    Thank you for sharing that, Mark. I haven't been through anything like what you went through, but I do feel deeply for you and for what you experienced. Hopefully telling your story has brought you some peace, because I know that there are kids out there, who are hurting, who will read that, and feel less alone. It's small consolation, but you have definitely brought a measure of peace and comfort to others. And more than a measure of joy to the rest of us.

  42. Danielle says:

    I am sending you all of the hugs on the astral plane.

  43. ChronicReader91 says:

    “Thanks for reading”? No, Mark. Thank YOU for writing. Thank you for sharing your painful, personal story with us, and for all the stories you’ve ever shared in the course of your reviews.

    I don’t want to compare anything in my own life to your experiences, as I’ve never experiences anything comparable to the violence of the bigotry you were submitted to, but there were certain parts of your story that ring true for me in uncanny ways.(Warning, serious TL;DR ahead.) I was baptized into a small protestant denomination instead of the Catholic Church. I was 13 at the time- by far, the youngest of the group of mostly early-20-somethings. I truly believed that moment was going to change my life profoundly. I honestly believed that the reason I had never really fit in around the other young Christians, or felt the joy that I was supposed to feel during church services, was that there was something seriously wrong with me. I was obviously a depraved sinner. I thought that dip in that water would be all it took to let me “hear God’s voice” and “feel his presence”, like all the other Christians I knew were always talking about; the parts of the bible that I found absurd, or unjust, or cruel, (read: most of it) would be made perfectly clear; all the “sinful” questions and opinions that were always lingering in the back of my mind (but that I didn’t dare voice) would be swept away, never to return. Finally, I would be an official member of the church family. I wouldn’t have to be an outcast among the youth group anymore. I would belong. Instead, when the pastor submerged me in the water and lifted me up, I felt…nothing at all. I was far too scared to tell anyone, but I spent the next few days, trying to figure out what went wrong, why I wasn’t “fixed”. What I would describe as the only true low point of my life came a few weeks later, as I lay awake crying in the wee hours of the morning, having been praying for what felt like hours, confused and terrified, wondering why God had even bothered creating me if he knew all my efforts to reach him would fail, and I would remain “unsaved” and go to hell. Was that all part of his perfect plan? If I’m just collateral damage- the extra who gets killed off in the great cosmic screenplay of God’s story- who was I to complain, or question his will? But I did complain, and question, and for the first time, I didn’t feel guilty about it.

    I wouldn’t call that the day I stopped believing in God. Even if I could remember the exact date of that night, I wouldn’t assign a date to that revelation, but that night was definitely the catalyst that made me start to want to learn more about other religions, and eventually, that scary taboo word “atheism”. I’ve tried to go back to Christianity several times in the past seven years, only to find it as unsatisfying as ever. For the record, that’s the first time I’ve ever put those experiences into words. I’m not an “out” Atheist, and everyone I’m close to is pretty deeply religious. But I’m growing more confident in my beliefs and opinions all the time.

    So, that’s my story. I’m sorry to unload here, but as I said your story really did strike a chord with me. You should be proud of yourself, Mark, for all the courageous stories you’ve shared over the course of your reviews. You’ve written about things that are for too painful for me to even imagine, but I’m sure there are others who suffered from abuse, or bullying, or bigotry, who found comfort and solidarity in your words the way I did here. As I said above- thank you for writing.

  44. Domi says:

    There's a comment somewhere above that someone feels like they could have passed you in the grocery store and I feel the exact same way. When I started reading your sites (I came here for the BSG and I stayed for everything else!), I thought it was kind of funny that we were both from Riverside. I got the chills when you started describing OLPH, as I attended that school and church until around 6th grade. BUT THEN, I was a PScholar at CSULB too! I'm 2 years younger than you, so its not unlikely that we crossed paths at some PScholar event or something. (In my head this totally happened and I am excite)

  45. t-town says:

    I honestly don’t get how people can be so fucked up with religion. I really don’t. I live in belguim, catholicism is recognized in the constitution as the religion of most people. I go to a catholic school, have religion classes, i did my holy communion… But never, ever have I believed that god or the holy spirit would wash away my sins, nor has anyone ever said to me it would be like that. Never, ever has a teacher told me that being gay is wrong, we talked about it a lot in religion class ( just like we did about the hidden meaning in some bible stories, every big religion other than catholicism, the big questions in life, sexuality…). I believe the community here stands much further from religion than they do in the us. When I tell someone I’m gay, or that I don’t believe in (a) god never, ever someone has told me to go away, insult me or whatever. Not even my grandparents made any comment about it, and they’re very religious (but then again not in a litteral, it’s written in the bible so it’s true, way). They even told me they thought it really good that I could they them this. Of course there are some poeple who have homophobic feelings, but i feel that most of the people here have open feelings toward gay people. Which I surprisingly don’t find often in your stories or the stories of my fellow commenters

    • notemily says:

      I actually think the US is something of a special case in its proportion of religious zealots. I'm not sure exactly why (Puritans settling here? Something to do with the Western expansion? Missionaries? Slavery? All of the above?), but we seem to have more than our share of people who insist that This Is The Way Things Are, All Other Ways Are Wrong, and You Must Believe Or Else. One of my least favorite things about this country.

  46. porkercat says:

    First off, Thank You Mark! I don’t think I have ever commented on here more than a couple sentences but this review made me want to have some sort of connection with this community that wasn’t just one sided. I always read the comments here and they make me feel like I know all of you and that if we were all to meet it would be FANTASTIC and we would all be best friends. Just like others have already said, I am so very happy you came out of all of that as a wonderful person and that it didn’t end you because honestly I don’t know if I would’ve made it. I’m happy you found acceptance finally and that you’re healing. And selfishly I’m happy you started writing about it so that I can heal with you. So again, thank you for that. Like others on this site I am also struggling with my sexuality and faith and it feels amazing to have a group like this to talk and listen to when no one else does. Maybe five people know I’m bisexual and at 24 I still feel like I have to hide it from my ‘best friends’I don’t even know what I believe in but after a teacher told me (when I was 9) that if my parents are not going to church then for sure they’re going to hell, I don’t think I like Abrahamic God very much. It doesn’t help that I’m joining my fiance’s church so his family won’t get kicked out when we get married. But it does help that I don’t feel alone when I’m on your site. So thank you <3

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      <3 you are so welcome, and I hope things work out with you and your fiance. <3

      • porkercat says:

        Thank you Mark <3 Yeah thankfully we're just doing this church thing for the sake of his family and after that I want as little contact with them as possible :S

    • I am so sorry that you feel like you have to hide yourself from your best friends even. That makes me really sad. I hope everything gets better for you. Hugs.

      • porkercat says:

        Yeah well I 'tested' them (my two girl friends cause the boys know and they're totally fine with it, it never even comes up) and asked how they feel about girls who like girls etc and they're both very uncomfortable with it…. But they're both great people and I don't have other girl friends for the reason that I'm always terrified they will figure it out and get awkward :S

    • Marie the Bookwyrm says:

      Wait, if one member of the family marries outside the faith, the whole family gets kicked out!?! That is so screwed up!

  47. aliciaspinnet says:

    I've been reading since Mark Reads Twilight, but this is my first time commenting. Mark, your story made me tear up. I think it's horrible what you went through and I'm so happy that you've come through it. I think you are incredibly brave for sharing something so personal and if I can send you all the hugs on the astral plane then I will.

    I was raised Catholic but I've been atheist/agnostic (I go back and forth but I'm probably at the atheist end of the spectrum if I'm honest) since I was a teenager. There was never any big reveal, it's something that I just gradually realised. Funnily enough I had the same experience as you when I had my confirmation – the bishop annointed me, it was the moment that I was supposed to be entered by the Holy Spirit and I felt absolutely nothing. Luckily I was already becoming skeptical so it wasn't the big let down as it was for you.

    A few months ago I was just walking home from work when the thought popped into my head – there is nothing after death. When i die I will cease to exist. It took my breath away. I just found it so hard to fathom not existing. Over the following weeks the thought kept recurring to me, and it scared me so much. At times I almost wished I was religious so I could avoid thinking about it, but I couldn't lie to myself. I am so grateful that you are reading these book right now, because it lead me to reread them, and I am finding them so comforting. It's lead to me feel much more accepting of the fact that while life is short, its also beautiful, and that there is joy in just being alive, in the very smallest moments.

    I love this chapter for its celebration of love and sexuality. How wonderful to see this represented as something natural and beautiful and as part of the whole experience of life rather than something to be ashamed of or hidden away.

  48. Thank you for sharing this story with us, Mark. I was deeply touched by this post, and can see all the care you went into in publishing it, and also how difficult it must have been to do so. I don't normally comment here, as I don't really feel I have anything to add most days (though I voraciously read all the posts and comments). However, just this once, I wanted to know I have a deep affection for you and this little spot of internet that is your home. <3

  49. PeanutK says:

    Mark, I should be doing my homework right now. I should have closed down the computer as soon as I finished reading your review, just like I've been doing at both your blogs since I started school again. But, I 'm taking the time to comment today, because how can I not after you just shared something so personal, sad, and touching, with all of us?
    I can never claim to have felt the amount of pain you did throughout all the experiences you've shared with us since your first Mark Reads project. It's amazing to me that you are able to share all of this with so many strangers. I'm sorry you had to go through such awful things, but I'm glad you did free yourself from it, and that you found life outside of God and all the things you were told as a child and young adult. Obviously, I've never met you personally, but from what I've been able to gather from all of your stories here and your reviews, you are an amazing, kind, funny person who more than deserves that happiness and freedom.
    I also want to thank you for sharing all of this with us. Not only is it touching that you trust your readers with some very personal stories and experiences, but it has also helped me personally. It's strange, I've read this series before, but hearing your experiences and how they relate to this book has helped me come to terms with my own loss of faith and embrace the reality I've only recently seen for what it is. I think it helped reinforce things the series had been saying to me all along. It's hard to explain and I don't want to ramble, so I'll just say thank you. And I also want to say that I wish you the best, and if I could I really would give you all the hugs.

  50. Cakemage says:

    Mark, your story broke my heart. No one should have to go through all that, but I'm glad you made it through and became the person you are today. Reading that helped me realize that, even though my own path to being an out gay atheist (or gaytheist, as I like to call it) was at times traumatic and fucked-up, I was and am really lucky in a lot of regards, mostly when it comes to my loving and supportive family. Even though they're Christian, and wish I would become one again, they accept me and don't judge me, and it's good to have reminders of just how rare and special that is.

    Thank you.

  51. Jenny_M says:

    I'm usually just the girl with the random non sequitur comment or image or video, and I'm not always terribly comfortable commenting on serious things. But I wanted to let you know that this made me cry, and I am so sorry that you had to go through this experience. I couldn't imagine, and it honestly makes my heart ache. You have a powerful gift with words, and the things that you share with us here take such courage to write that I am constantly awed and amazed. I look forward to coming to both sites every day, and I am so excited about taking further journeys down the road with you and your writing. Thank you for sharing what you do.

  52. Marzie says:

    You're a fabulous human, Mark. Several friends follow the blog and you have brought us much enjoyment. But tonight, it's all about admiring your courage in sharing your darkest time. Anyone who couldn't see that light in you, just as you are, was blind. But we, your readers, don't need a spyglass to see the dust that dances in and around you. Thanks for sharing with us, and for your trust.

  53. SecretGirl127 says:

    MOTHER – While I was reading your story, all I kept thinking was, "damn, if only he'd met my mother when he was young. She's such a fag hag. She would have scooped him up, kept him safe, and told him to be proud." She's also an atheist, so you would be considered a true double winner in her book, unfortunately, you were in the wrong small town.

    PULLMAN – If you are still secretly looking for the Lord, don't despair, according to Pullman's world, you do have God in you, because every time that wind blows, you in hale nasty, stale, decrepit, God particulate. Ummm, breathe deep and get your glory on!

    • I feel like it's a little bit of a copout to call Dust god, since god was a character in the story who died. But I understand the sentiment. If I was going to believe in a god, I'd want to believe in a god that was very much like Dust. But I'd call it Dust if I believed in it, and it wouldn't me much like the Abrahamic god, so I guess I'd get rid of the middleman and cut the name god out altogether.

  54. B. Anon says:

    Long-time reader, first time commenter here. ((HUGS)) to you, it couldn't have been easy to share those painful memories with the entirety of the internet.

    Story time: I can empathize with your experiences with religion and orientation, even though mine are significantly milder than yours and not as intertwined. I told my best friend in 5th grade that I thought I was bi and that I liked both girls and boys. Another person overheard and told the teacher, and my friend confirmed what I had told her. The teacher, principal, my mom, and I had a mandatory meeting. Mom was told that unless I went to counseling for my "mental illness" I would not be allowed back in school. And I lost every single friend I had. I have hidden a part of who I am since then, with the exception of my husband and a few friends.

    As far as religion goes, I tried very hard to be a Christian. I prayed the prayers and sang the hymns and read several Bibles and went to churches every Sunday. It didn't work. I didn't feel anything that they said that I would and none of it truly made any sense. But I was brought up and surrounded by people that claimed you could only be a good person if you were a Christian and that if you had doubts that you were just not doing things right. It wasn't until I was an adult that I finally gave up. I didn't go all the way over to atheism, but I did find a set of beliefs that give me peace. It may end up being a lie, but it's a happy lie. It has the unfortunate side effect of painting a big ol' target on my back. I am not as despised as people in some other groups are, but I've been set up as a scapegoat for problems and portrayed as a monster that the kids should stay away from too many times. This part of me is hidden away from most people as well.

    It is wonderful when you find people who accept you as you are instead of disapproving or hating or worst of all (in my experience) "caring" about you in spite of who you are. I'm lucky that I have friends that I can be myself with. It still terrifies me that my family will find out or the general public. I barely survived the depression that was triggered by my past experiences, I don't think I could handle all of that again on a larger scale. I will probably sit here for a long time with my mouse pointer hovering over the "Submit Comment" button and I might cry after I click, but it may actually do me some good.

    You're an inspiration as well as entertaining, Mark. You've gone through some horrible things, but you've dealt with them and have the courage to tell your readers about them without sugarcoating or excuses. You don't have to tell us about your personal life or past but you do it anyway. I know that it's probably not for our benefit but we sometimes learn a different perspective or get reassurances that we're not alone. Thank you for that.

  55. Hella says:

    You're story made me cry Mark, but I'm happy that you told us it anyways.

    I never really struggled with both religion or sexuality, not because I was "normal" but because I was lucky enough to be in a family and community that didn't hate me because I wasn't a straight Christian girl. Of course I tend to be oblivious to a lot of thinngs based off stuff that happened to me as a child. Most of my drama comes from other points in my life. I knew many people who were gay, lesbian or bisexual and hardly anyone I grew up with seemed that religious (which is funny because my town has like 5 or 6 chruches) so me being an atheist also never really seemed to effect my life. Of course I didn't have too many friends and I tended to cut myself off from people sometimes, so there may have been people like one friend. At first I thought she was fine with me being atheist, but she started to talk about about God in our conversations and this eventually drove me away from her because I realize that she was trying to convert me even if she said she was not. Most of my family is not religious, though some are. I don't see those often so it's good.

  56. Indigo Sto Helit says:

    Hello. My name is Hannah, I’m a first-time commenter and a bisexual atheist, and because of this chapter review and all the associated comments, I am about to come out to my friends after I put down the iTouch.

    Thank you, Mark, and thank all of you who shared your stories. I don’t always believe the world is kind, or that it’s good, but I do believe it’s beautiful. And there is something beautiful here. We are here, and we speak, and we feel, and we learn, and we love, and if I believed in holy things, I would call that holy.

    At services at my synagogue on Saturday mornings, we would rise up on our tiptoes and sing kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, which means holy, holy, holy. And every time I would rise up on my tiptoes, I would feel a little like I could just take off, leave the ground behind and go up, up, up into the sunlight streaming through the skylights, dissolve into the dust motes that danced in the beams, lose myself in the holy, holy, holy and never come back.

    I don’t believe in God, but I do still feel that, the holiness. And I believe it’s love. There was love in that synagogue, love under that roof, and that love came from me. I felt it because I loved the sunlight and my classmates and the songs and the whole warmth and smell of the place. And to me, that was more miraculous than the Red Sea splitting for the Israelites, more miraculous than Sarah giving birth to Isaac. It was and is a miracle to me that I can love. That as long and as hard as it has tried and tries and will try, the world will never take my capacity to love people, places, and the sunlight streaming through the domes. That I need no Authority to regulate my love, to tell me when I can and cannot, because I have that power in myself. No matter what has been done to me, I will not break. I will not lose my faith in my ability to love.

    Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh. Thank you for writing this.

  57. Coughdrop01 says:

    This was wonderfully written and also thank you for sharing something that is so painful for you to share. As someone who struggles with sharing things that are deeply personal, I admire you so much for this. You are so very courageous, sir! Are you sure about the ravenclaw thing? Because your gryffindor is showing. <3

  58. rachelsaurusrex says:

    Here's my marzipan story. Feel free to skip my self-indulgences. But it's different in that it's not the believers that shut people out because of difference of opinion. It sometimes goes the other way.

    I remember reading this chapter and remembering feeling my own heart house opening up. Remembering I'd been to Spain before. I had that kind of experience when I met my exfiancee. We kissed for the first time and it was like wow. I didn't know kisses could actually make you see fireworks. It was so powerful that we stopped kissing and turned our attention back to the movie, Muppets from Space. But as you can guess from the word exfiancee, it wasn't meant to last.

    The summer after our engagement, I went back for a second summer on staff at my favorite church camp in the woods of central Pennsylvania. I loved the people and the atmosphere and the way that we had fun with the kids. It wasn't a place of indoctrination or altar calls or anything. It was more like "Hey kids! Trees are cool! God loves you! Let's love the Earth! Yay for God!" Before I'd left, I knew that J and didn't see eye to eye on religion. Mainly, I believed in some sort of God if not the technical divinity of Jesus, and he believed that if you bought into any sort of organized religion, you were only deluding yourself and that it was one of the worst things you could do. He tried to trap me with crazy hypothetical situations that would force me to admit that God doesn't exist and I would simply call him out on his games and refuse to play them. I think the fact that I was smart enough to do that was something that was attractive to him.

    Anyway, toward the end of the summer, J came to visit. He happened to come to camp at the very moment we were participating in a very meaningful footwashing ceremony. It's part of my denomination to stress the servant aspect of Jesus' teaching and one of the ways we symbolize both giving and accepting service is by washing each others feet. It might seem silly or gross, but it's meaningful to me. He said it kinda freaked him out. It brought back memories of his own camp experiences where the counselors preached perfection but led far from perfect lives. He didn't like thinking that I was doing the same. Telling kids that I was a perfect Christian, but then knowing what I did behind closed doors. I tried to explain to him that my camp wasn't like that. I never told kids I was perfect. I told them not to pull leaves off of trees and to paint the rocks to make rock pets.

    Soon after that he left to study abroad in Japan for a year and I started my year with Brethren Volunteer Service, coordinating workcamps, which are not nearly as forced-labory as they sound. I knew that the next time I would see him was Christmas, when I was planning on visiting him in Japan. But I never got the chance. We were talking on gchat one morning and something that I'd feared was coming happened. J dumped me. I was, with my neo-pagan deist pseudo-christian beliefs, too far down the rabbit hole for him. I was devastated, but I got through with the help of a counselor and friends and a little bit of retail therapy.

    It was about a year and a half later when J was back in the states, in college taking a Janterm class about Judaism, Christianity and Islam that he contacted me and said that despite all the shit he put me through, I was the best example he knew of someone trying to the actual example Jesus set as shown in the gospels. It was a compliment I never expected to receive but was mighty welcome nonetheless.

    That's my tl;dr marzipan story. I've been back to Spain since then, and that's my favorite analogy for that feeling of inward expansiveness.

  59. Allison says:

    Thank you for sharing that story. I never really stopped believing in God. I don't know why. I like the idea of an invisible powerful being who listens, observes and not interfere. That's my idea of God. If I were God I would do that. Heck I'm not God and I still do that because I'm antisocial. I'm Pentecostal by family and a liberal Pentecostal at that. My family hates the Catholic church and its beliefs, I feel you got the really bad end of Christianity. Anyway my point is that I'm happy you followed what you believed in. My motto is to do whatever makes you happy. I've been lurking on your site for a while and I knew you would love these books and that you would connect with this chapter.
    I can't wait for you to read the next chapter. Mark, you are still not prepared.

  60. ABBryant says:

    My tl;dr Marzipan story for yall:

    I grew up in a very religious house (Ma is an assistant minister in the church) and for the longest time I thought I was absolutly sure in my religion. There was one time that Ma was sick and I prayed and she was healed the next day. But I still had doubts.

    Every year the middle school/high school group does this big "amazing (g)race" thing over a weekend before it gets too hot outside. My team and I had been running back and forth along the beach for almost two hours. I asked them to hold up a bit so I could rest and they wouldn't. And then I go and whine "But I'm freakin TIRED!" Well obvs that was the wrong thing to say because at the next pit stop where we had to wait for all the teams to get in, I was made to apologize in front of the entire group of participants for my "Foul and sinful mouth". I tried to explain that, A: freakin was not a cussword, and B: it was a linguistic intensifier, I did not mean to blaspheme. They wouldn't beleive me. And out team was delayed 30 minutes, causing us to end up in next to last place.

    Then in biology I made this awesome group of friends. If you can imagine the guys from "The Big Bang Theory", we were them, only in high school (I was Wolowitz). That's when I realized that all non-Christians were NOT after my souls to drag me down to hell with them. And then I realized that the 'miracle' I had performed when I was six had absolutely nothing to do with me praying. Ma had had one of those 24-hour flus (a/0!!).

    After a lot of soul searching throughout the next two years I realized I pretty much fit the bill on my internal beleifs as a pagan. When I tried to tell Ma that, she ended up using it as part of her sermon on how all pagans were going to hell. When I confided in someone I thought I could trust about my suicidal thoughts, they ended up all across the congregation in less then a week. When one of the people I most looked up at the church to was forced to marry a junior minister to remove her gayness, I knew I had to get out of there.

    AND THEN I watched "Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone". I'm fine with blood and guts type horror, phsycological, not so much. There aint much light in the house and my ma has a bunch of angel statuettes scattered around the greatroom. you can probably imagine why this was not a good idea. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would die eventually before I could use the head at night again. I realized that I don't think I would go anywhere really after death.

    Since then I have realized that I'm a pagan/agnostic/atheist combo. little bits of here and there stuck together to make one whole. When I try to explain this to any resident that asks at work, I get the 'you going to hell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' look from them and a pamphlet. But I have a new job that pays more lined up and I am moving in December so I only got a couple more months to deal with this crap.

    tl;dr summary: lots of crap + TV = pagan/agnostic/atheist

  61. ADB says:

    Like many here, I just want to say how moved I am b y your story. I feel I want to say something. I want to show you even more that there's more people out there that get it. But the strange thing is, I don't think I really do, as much as I feel I do on a visceral level.

    I'm not gay. I have no issue with it whatsoever, but I just love women and don't find men the least bit attractive. So I can't really comment on that aspect, except rush to people's defense when I can. I've long ago stopped being defensive when accused of it (though still offended that it's thought of as offensive).

    I was raised Jewish, within a Jewish community. I'm technically an agnostic now. I'm not very religious, and my stance is that it's impossible to know one way or another what's out there (though my guess is everyone on Earth is wrong), but it's still a part of my culture and heritage. What anti-semetism I've encountered is so few and far between, and almost never directed at me.

    (I was told the comment was too long, so I'll continue it in a moment.)

  62. ADB says:

    (continued from the last)

    I've been recently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which explains why I was always "the weird kid." This is where my story becomes closest to yours, where the bullying came from. But it's still a far cry from your experience because no matter what, I had a family who loved me for who I was (despite using abliest language and attitudes, but the fact that I'm only now catching on and they let me be who I am anyway tells me it's not really that bad).

    All in all, I've been relatively lucky, which just makes me feel that much more guilty when I read a tale like this. As much as I "get it", I feel I can never "get it." I just wanted to share this with you, hoping you still read all the comments. I eagerly await your reviews every day, so in that way you've become a part of my life. And I care about people, perhaps more than I should.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Aw, please do not feel guilt at all! This is not like a competition of who hurts more or who was more in pain. Thank you for sharing this, and I am really stoked that you feel so strongly about me. Thank you!!! <3

  63. syntheticjesso says:

    Your story makes me so sad. Like, I want to just sit down and cry.

    (Uh, disclaimer before I go on- hormones are making me way, way, WAY more emotional than usual. See my comment a few days ago on the Doctor Who post… yeah…)

    It makes me so upset when I hear about people who corrupt Christianity and use the Bible to judge and hate and put people down. I want to shake them and tell them that that's NOT what the scriptures are for!

    I know EXACTLY the feeling you had at your baptism, minus the feeling that it had to do with any kind of specific sin. I was raised in a Pentecostal church, where speaking in tongues was basically expected of everyone, even if they never said it outright. I remember being at church camp, at the altar call one night, and trying SO, SO, SO hard to speak in tongues. It was pushed as something that would automatically happen as soon as you got your relationship with God "right", and there was so much pressure to get to this mystical point. I was convinced that something was wrong with me, that I was doing something wrong, that meant I couldn't feel this… whatever they were trying to say it was. I always felt ashamed. I'm really kind of glad that I was too shy to speak up to any of the adults at that camp to ask about it, because I probably would have gotten a similar speech to what you got: there's something wrong with ME, I need to try harder, etc, followed by "Now really examine yourself, surely you're sinning somewhere?"

    Having had that experience, it makes it sort of a sore spot when I see the way Christianity has been twisted into this big, judgemental, hateful, unhealthy religion. For a long time, I didn't go to church, because at every church I went to, I saw it. I want to cry and scream and say "NO NO NO STOP IT GUYS, YOU'RE GIVING MY GOD A BAD NAME. CUT IT OUT" but of course I can't. It gives me a much clearer understanding of how the church and "religion" can push people away from God. I think the only reason my experiences didn't push ME away is that I was able to see some of the horribleness of the people in my church firsthand, and I had a little light bulb come on that oh, it's the people who are screwing this up.

    So with that said, I want you to understand that I really, deeply mean it when I say that I am so, so, so sorry that you had to go through all of this. I want to sit with you and just cry and give you SO MANY HUGS.

    I'm not going to do the whole "they weren't REAL Christians" thing, because a) it's not my place to judge their hearts, and b) it's a stupid, useless thing to say anyways… but at the same time I want to apologize on behalf of, I don't know, Jesus? God? Something like that. I feel like, as a follower of Christ, I should apologize to you for the horrible way you were treated in His name. Does that make sense? I feel like I'm maybe not making sense. I feel like a member of a country whose dictator has committed horrible crimes against the world- almost guilty by association, even though I would never ever ever ever condone such things ever. I hope you know what I mean?

    (Hi, I am also perpetually afraid of people misunderstanding me and thinking I mean horrible things when I really don't. I'm actually a little afraid to post this comment, because it IS such a personal and emotional topic for pretty much everyone. It certainly doesn't help that my thoughts are in the form of vague ideas, images, and feelings, not concrete words, so I have a lot of trouble converting from my thoughts in my head to words that people will understand.)

  64. SableFlag says:

    This is one of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever read. Mark, this was absolutely beautiful. I know to some extent what it feels like to be told about this experience you’re “supposed” to have and then feel absolutely nothing. It just happened to be confirmation, not baptism. I remember feeling like a liar when I claimed the faith as my own, because I’ve never felt it to be mine, not really. It just makes me so mad whenever I think about how over 18 years of my life I felt like I was missing something, and that the entire time I was told it was my fault for not praying enough or not reading the bible enough.

  65. Marney says:

    Mark – I've been reading your posts for a long time now and although I enjoy them immensely, I never thought I'd actually comment. (I don't know why. I just don't comment on blogs.) I have to comment now, though, if only to tell you how completely moved I was by your story and by your courage in sharing it. Posting on the Internet is like screaming your thoughts out in the middle of a crowd – anyone can do anything with them. They can ignore you, they can yell back, or they can walk up to you and give you a hug, saying "Thank you for sharing. I've felt that way too, and I thought I was the only one."

    Thank you for sharing, Mark. Thank you for the posts that make me laugh, the ones that make me cry, and the ones that help me try to find something better in myself.

  66. I've been saving reading this post until I had the time to give it proper attention. Mark, I don't know what to say. Like so many other commentators I send you love and respect. We can't change your past but we can change other people's present and future and I promise that I will be there for anyone who needs someone the way you needed someone.

  67. flootzavut says:

    I can rarely comment at the moment (still reading though!) but I just wanted to say that I was appalled by how your church treated you and their concept of Christianity seems so utterly divorced from grace, which should be at the heart, that it just makes me so sad. I wouldn't tolerate anyone in our church treating a person that way… that anyone claiming to be Christian would be so lacking in Christlikeness. I know my horror at how you were treated doesn't really make a difference in many ways but for what it's worth… *cyberhugs*

  68. @maybegenius says:

    I'm way late reading this, but… Mark. Your story is just heartbreaking to me. It hurts me that you had to go through so much pain and terror and outright bullshit. "Hurts" isn't even a strong enough word. It makes my soul ache. It's so weird to hear parts of this story, too, because I'm from Riverside. I know the church you're talking about. I used to drive by it all the time. It's surreal.

    SHOCKINGLY, I *also* moved to the Bay Area. Hm.

    Your story guts me not only because of the cruelty you experienced, but because I can relate. As a teenager, I desperately searched for God. I was a young girl who relished in the stories they told me — that my perfect future husband was just out there waiting for me and all I had to do was remain chaste and pure for him. That love and acceptance were just a prayer away. And I remember the moment that all came crashing down for me, too. Because, like you, I desperately searched for that feeling that everyone kept talking about. I kept waiting to hear God. But he never spoke, and I never felt it.

    Strangely enough, the moment that started the chain reaction toward my own atheism was when I was away at a Christian Youth retreat my freshman year of college. A young woman stood in front of all of us and told us she USED to be a self-harmer, and a lesbian. But one day, Jesus appeared to her in a dream and she was miraculously cured of her depression AND the horrible lonely sin of her homosexuality. And we could be too!

    And I was sitting there, surrounded by people who were nodding and clapping, and all I could think was, "Is everyone for real? Everyone is seriously applauding this woman being 'cured' of homosexuality?"

    I never went back to a church or a youth group again after that. My ultimate break with God came two years later, but that's a whole different story.

  69. Thank you for sharing this Mark, and I hope it did help! I'm so glad you've been able to find people.Thank you for sharing this Mark, and I hope it did help! I'm so glad you've been able to find people.

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