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Posts from the ‘Agnosticism’ Category

Why I Am Not A Christian (Part II)

5.) THE WAY NATURE WORKS DOES NOT SUGGEST THAT A GOOD, PERFECT, LOVING CREATOR IS BEHIND IT ALL.

One fact that many Christians will offer in support of their beliefs (one that I relied on myself, for many years) is the beauty, majesty, intricacy, and phenomenal complexity of the natural world, and biological life in particular. There is a verse in the book of Romans that is often quoted in conjunction with this idea. It says that God’s, “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20 English Standard Version).

Now, I will concede the first statement. The world IS beautiful, majestic, intricate and MIND-BOGGLINGLY complex. However, it is also cold, harsh, bloody, unfeeling. In the biological world, it is rarely love and kindness and generosity that are rewarded, but rather brute strength and selfishness.

There is so much waste and brutality, and not just incidentally, but intrinsically. So much of what we consider beautiful and inspiring and precious in nature – birth, growth, development, nurturing – would never exist without predation, parasitism, pain, death.

People may suggest that the harshness of nature is a result of the fall, that it wasn’t always the way it is now and someday God will restore it to the way it was meant to be. But if that is the case, the world before the fall must have been an entirely separate reality from this one. If the lion were to “lay down with the lamb” as the Bible says will happen when all is set right again, the lion would starve. Lions are carnivores. Their teeth, their musculo-skeletal systems, their digestive tracts, their biochemistry require them to eat a diet of meat. And that requires the death of other beautiful, sentient beings.

What exists now must be fairly close to what God (if he did indeed create it) intended it to be, as there is no way to extract the death and pain and still have the same beautiful reality. And if it is a revelation of the character of God as the Bible posits, it paints a pretty grim picture.

Why I Am Not A Christian (Part I)

Watch out. it’s gonna be a long one…

As you might know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I used to be a Christian. A real, true, Bible-believing one. And in very many ways it was very good. In very many ways, Christianity was a beautiful thing in my life.

The central idea of the Christian faith, according to most Christians of my acquaintance, is that the world is broken – we are broken – and God in the form of Jesus Christ came to fix (save) us through his love.

I still believe that in a way. Clearly, the world has problems – big ones – that seem to stem mostly from humanity’s many psychoses. Clearly we need fixing. And I do think that the fixing will depend, ultimately, on love.

But I can’t call myself a Christian any more.

How I ended up here is a long story, involving the discovery and study of a lot of new information. In my search for truth I have gleaned information from numerous academic fields – biology, geology, physics, sociology, archeology, history, psychology, and more – and this information has all played a part in landing me where I am now. But at the end of the day, it is a few simple realizations about The-Way-Things-Are that keep me from believing as I used to.

1.) REASON AND VERIFIABLE FACT, RATHER THAN FAITH, MUST BE THE FOUNDATION FROM WHICH ANY PERSON BEGINS THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH.

 

The world is full of many religions, many philosophies, many ideas that conflict with each other. Even within Christianity there are diverse and contradictory points of view. They can’t all be true.

There are people in every one of these religions who testify earnestly and whole-heartedly of the truth and power of their beliefs. I know. I have read their testimonies and heard them speak. They share stories of emotional and physical healing, supernatural experiences, profound moments of insight and divine intervention. And they all concede that, when push comes to shove, their particular set of truths must be taken on faith.

And that is a problem. If faith is our basis for rejecting or accepting a philosophy, our likelihood of accepting the one true faith over a false one depends almost entirely on our location in the world and the relative prevalence of the various philosophies.

It is a fact that almost 100% of people die professing the same faith they were born into. And that is understandable.

Growing up as a Christian, I easily discarded the tenets and stories of other religions as mythology, based on their implausibility and departure from my own experience of reality. The main reason I believed the story of Christianity with all of its own implausibilities was that it was asserted to be true by those I loved and trusted. If I had been born into a good and loving Muslim family, all my experiences of goodness and love would be through a Muslim lens. I would love and trust my Muslim parents, just as I did my Christian parents. And I would believe that the truth they proclaim and live by must be true. I would want to be a good Muslim just as I wanted to be a good Christian, and I would have no reason to accept Christianity on faith over Islam.

If faith is the only identifier of truth, then all “truths” are essentially indistinguishable.

If one Truth exists, then, it must be recognizable by any person, from any race or religious background. In other words, we must have a universal “measuring stick” for gauging which philosophy is the most true – i.e. which is the most correct, good, and consistent with the physical reality that we can all see and feel and touch and agree on.

You can’t just accept on faith that the Christian perspective is the correct one, adopt the Christian definition of truth and goodness as your own own, and then turn around and use it as the measuring stick to measure itself.

All you’d be discovering is that Christianity is the most Christian.

To say that Christianity is the most true and the most good, you must appeal to a standard of truth and goodness that is outside of and apart from Christianity, one that is universal among humans. And we DO have such a standard (or close to it), written into the human heart/soul/psyche/mind/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.Whether we realize it or not, the things we human beings nearly unanimously define as “good” and “right” are those that promote and protect life, health, and happiness. Regardless of whether this understanding was imprinted on us by evolution or a god, it is real, and it is the only tool we have.

And since we have this tool, it is not only permissible but IMPERATIVE that we use it. We must hold all philosophies up, side by side, and ask, without prior commitment, which is the most true? Which is the most right and good by a universal definition of right and good?

If there is a god out there who is the ultimate truth, the search for truth and goodness will inevitably lead to him.

While Christianity may be more true/right/good on a number of levels than many other philosophies, it has not turned out, in my investigation, to be the most right.

2.) CHRISTIANITY DOES NOT HAVE A CORNER ON GOODNESS.

There are loving, selfless, generous, upstanding people in every religion, and selfish, violent, abusive people in every religion. And the proportions, if considered across history, don’t show much variability when other factors (i.e. education level, access to information, economics, etc.) are taken into consideration.

At this point in my life, I have friends who are Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, Universalist and “spiritual” and I have not found any higher rates of integrity, generosity, love, or wisdom among any one group. Those friends who do exhibit higher rates of these traits tend to take their beliefs, whatever they be, more seriously. In other words, they spend more time thinking about life and how it should be lived, and they clearly come to similar conclusions, just not within the same religious framework.

If one group of people was in possession of the ultimate truth, we would be able to see a clearly defined difference in their lives, don’t you think?

3.) THE BIBLE AS THE INSPIRED WORD OF GOD SEEMS VERY, VERY UNLIKELY.

When I began reading the Bible objectively (in other words, not assuming it was ultimate truth but asking if it could be), I ran into a LOT of problems.

For one, it is not understandable by the average human being. I am decently educated, and there are many parts of it that are confusing and meaningless to me, that were clearly written to one certain group of people in one time and place. Why would God include all of that in his book of ultimate truth, addressed to all of humanity, knowing that it would cause confusion and division?

Even theologians who have dedicated their lives to studying Greek and Hebrew and understanding this book, and who are seeking God earnestly, come down on every side of every practical issue.  So, as a guide for living life, it is basically unusable.

I suspect that many human beings I know personally, even in their relatively limited, finite states, could write a better, clearer, more concise, direct, and less “abusable” explanation of God and what-it-all-means than what we have in the Bible.

In addition to its prolific incoherency, it is full of horror. While some parts of it promote love and grace and forgiveness, other parts of it have God condoning and commanding murder and rape, and glorying in the punishment and destruction of human beings (not to mention animals). Why would violence ever need to be God’s method of operation? He is God. The number of other possible solutions available to him are infinite.

Even the parts that are more focused on love and grace are laced with the idea of Hell. Jesus himself mentions Hell numerous times. There is no question in my mind that to be a Christian (i.e. follower of Christ) is to accept the idea that billions of people will be suffering pain and torment for eternity. There is just no reasonable way around it, based on what is written in the Bible (I know there are denominations of Christianity that do not believe in Hell or believe that it is only temporary, but to get there you have to do a lot of creative “interpreting”.)

And there are some major things wrong with the idea of Hell.

While I do believe there is a place for justice in a healthy world, Hell is not justice. How is it just that failing to figure out the right answer during this one brief, crazy, messed-up moment in time deserves an eternity of torture? And for God to create a feeling, thinking, sentient being in the first place, knowing he/she would end up in Hell – that would be an evil act. And God is supposed to the the antithesis of evil. He is supposed to be Good.

Or if, perhaps, God somehow did not know the future (which, really, would make him not God at all), why would he create the system he created? He could have created ANY system he chose! Why would he not just blink people out of existence rather than allowing them to suffer forever? He didn’t need them before. He doesn’t need them after. If he keeps them around to suffer as a testament to his justice and power and glory, he is not good and he is not God. He is an evil, selfish, masochistic narcissist.

And why must it be a death (the death of someone supposedly sinless, no less) that somehow puts all to rights? That is completely arbitrary and makes no logical sense. I, in my limited finite humanity, can come up with a number of other ideas/scenarios/solutions for dealing with humans and their imperfections that are far more just and loving than The Cross. If there was a god out there, he would be infinitely smarter and more loving than I.

4.) IF GOD WAS THERE AND WANTED ME TO KNOW HIM, HE WOULD TELL ME.

God could easily show up in my bedroom right now and sit down beside me and introduce himself. There is nothing stopping him from doing that for every person. If he is God he has all the time in the world and can be everywhere at once.

Christians will say it would violate my free will, but that is not true. Having all the information does not violate a person’s free will – it simply leaves her more capable of making a better decision.

And according to most Christian doctrine, that is what God wants – what he MUST want if he is good. He wants ALL of us to make the right decision. He wants all of us to know him, all of us to be saved. If God came and showed himself to me in a real, tangible way, I would still be free to choose my self over him, just as Lucifer and a third of the angels did according to scripture.

In fact, it would be unfair and unjust for a god to provide us with only very vague, conflicting, incomplete, second-hand information and then hold us accountable (with Hell as a possible consequence) for coming to the correct conclusion.

To Be Continued…

Greta Christina

I’m telling you, there are some brilliant minds in the world. And the one that happens to reside inside the head of Greta Christina, atheist blogger, speaker, and author of growing renown, is one of them.

My first exposure to Greta was in an article entitled “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do With God,” which profoundly affected me. I already knew when I read it that I no longer believed in the Heaven-Hell scenario, and while it had been one of the most joyous discoveries of my life that no human being was going to be suffering torment for eternity after all (I had a little, solo crying dance party in my apartment over it) I had also laid awake for a few nights, feeling the weight and fear and incomprehensibility of my own very likely, eventual non-existence, and for the finality with which I would be forced at some point to say goodbye to my parents, my siblings, my loved ones. For a while, it was terrifying.

I think I would have come to terms with it eventually, but her article helped speed the process along.

When I discovered her blog, it was with great delight. Every mental debate I have had regarding Christianity (or personal-interventionist-God-based religions in general), she has addressed there, it seems, and nearly every “Aha” moment I’ve experienced in which things instantly made so much more sense, she has already lived.

I’m not sure I agree 100% with every single one of her thoughts and opinions, but it is nice finding someone who has not only been where you are and come to many of the same conclusions about What-It-All-Means, but also expresses them so thoroughly, so eloquently-yet-plainly, so frankly, and, to boot, very humorously.

Here is an article of hers I read just yesterday, posted on Alternet.org, on why skepticism is not only NOT a bad thing, but necessary in living life to the fullest: Why We Must Always Be Skeptical.

I’m not even going to try to review it, because I will just end up saying exactly what she said, only not as well. It is longish, for an internet article, but you’re just going to have to read it. It is worth it.

I encourage you to check out her blog, too, particularly if you are interested at all in philosophy or religion. The first time I landed there, I was lost for hours wandering through post after amazing post going, “YES!” “Totally!” “Oh my gosh, duh!” Maybe you won’t feel the need to share with the world your inner acquiescence, but I think – at least on some points – you will acquiesce whole-heartedly.

Before you stop over, a little disclaimer: Greta Christina frequently uses some colorful language. If that is offensive to you, be warned. Also, one of the main topics she addresses in conjunction with religion and other social constructions is sexuality, both in general and her own, specifically. She is quite liberal on this topic. If that makes you uncomfortable, this blog might not be your cup of tea.

Invictus

Last night I watched Invictus, the recent movie about Nelson Mandela and his enlistment of the South African Rugby team to help lead the country into reconciliation after the apartheid. It was really good. My favorite movies these days (and books too), seem to be ones about real people, especially those who have persevered through hardship and changed the world. It is impossible not to be inspired by them.

Mandela spent 30 years in a cell the size of a large walk-in closet. I didn’t get the details on how, exactly, he was treated while there, but, well…it was prison. And he was separated from his wife and children for the entirety. He missed millions – billions – of the precious moments that make life, life. He wasn’t even let out to attend his own son’s funeral. How bitter that experience would make most people. How did he survive that with not only his sanity and gumption intact, but with the magnanimity that allowed him to forgive and love and to work tirelessly on behalf of the country that had abused him? How? What was IN him? Where did that hope and grace and energy come from?

My Christian friends would probably say it came from his Methodist faith (or from the spirit of Jesus, whom he knew in the context of Methodism), but the thing is that Mandela’s story is not unique. There have been people all throughout history who have persevered in the same way, who followed other religions, or very different versions of Christianity, or no real religion at all. While it may be that his religion provided a framework of values for him to hold onto, I don’t think it facilitated any sort of mystical connection with a supernatural being that gave him some sort of added spiritual power. His choice to hold on to hope and choose to love and forgive was most likely just that – a choice. I doubt he felt anything supernatural at all while locked in that prison cell (then again, extended isolation has been known to breed such things as visions and revelations, both bad AND good). But my own experiences cause me to conclude that it was “life wisdom” – a thing that, by my definition, comes partly from a good education, partly from innate intelligence and a constitution prone to philosophical thoughtfulness, partly from the ability to step into another’s shoes, and ultimately from having positive, loving relationships with other human beings at some point in life. This is just my hypothesis, of course, but I am in good company.As the Dalai Lama once said,

“I have a certain amount of appreciation for others. It didn’t come from Buddhism. It came from my mother.”

Anyway, I want to print the poem by William Ernest Henley that, according to the movie, was a sort of rallying cry for him during his time in prison, and for which the movie is named. It is full of truth – truth that I need to be reminded of right now, particularly, but could benefit from on almost any day of the year.

INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Amen to that, I say!

The Hardest Part

Considering the fact that I have spent nearly my entire 28 years of life believing in the existence of God and seeing all of reality through a Christian lens, it is surprising to me how easily I have been able to let go if it. There has been a lot of mental effort and some mortality-related anguish in coming to my new conclusions about reality, it is true, but for the most part, it has been a fairly smooth theoretical transition.

The practical journey from faith to none, however, is turning out to be really difficult and painful…probably the most difficult/painful thing I have ever experienced.

It is probably one of the most gut-wrenching feelings in the world to know that you are breaking your parents’ (the two people who have loved you most purely and selflessly and unconditionally in your life) hearts, and be unable to do anything about it. (Trying to talk myself back into faith at this point is out of the question. I have seen too much through the crack in the door to be able shut it again and forget. And pretending would be even worse – relationships built on pretense are not relationships at all).

Along with the fact that I am causing deep hurt, worry, grief and pain to the people I love the most and, in their minds, separating myself from them in both this life and the eternal, I am also dealing with a degree of loneliness I have never before experienced. Close relationships – the kind that allow for the exchange of real, true, unfiltered thoughts and feelings from the deepest parts of your heart and mind – take years to develop, and many of the ones I have grown in my own life have been compromised. I am fortunate to have a sister and one close college friend with whom my relationships have been unaffected by my change in perspective, but losing that relaxed, all-knowing, complete openness with my parents, especially, has, in a way, set me adrift in the world.

On top of all that, there is a lingering possibility in my mind that somehow I HAVE been deceived. I can still look at my current self through my past eyes – as a selfish and/or deluded person, choosing her own way over God’s. I can hear my parents’ and friends’ remorse-tinged conclusions that Satan (or my own pride or fear) has blinded me, and their hopeful resolutions to pray me back into the kingdom. Those voices, that point of view, has been engrained in me from the time I was born, and though it no longer makes any sense to me on hardly any level, it is still my “default setting.” I still sometimes wake up in the morning “thinking like a Christian.” And so, there is still a little tiny inkling of fear that maybe they are all right. Maybe I, and the billions of people in the world who cannot, for whatever reason, believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” are all wrong…are all headed for Hell.

But then that thought – the thought of Hell – brings me back to my senses…reminds me of how I got here in the first place. It reminds me of all the contradictions I had to rationalize, all of the mental hoops I had to jump through, to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, believe in the Bible, even in a contextual, allegorical sense. No. There is no going back for me. Maybe there is a God. Maybe there is an afterlife. I am still open to that possibility (again, I am a “soft” atheist – I lack belief in a god, as opposed to a “hard” atheist, who believes definitively that there is no god). All I know is that, if there is – He/She cannot possibly be the God revealed in the Bible. Any god who would create, for the sole purpose of his own pleasure, beings with the potential to go bad and end up in eternal anguish, could not be good and could not be God. If God exists, he/she would be completely self-fulfilled. He/she would not need anything or anybody. And to create sentient beings able to experience pain and grief in order to meet some kind of need for “glory” him/herself would not be good or loving or “god-like” at all. This, to me, seems very clear.

At the same time there is a lot about life that I don’t know. And there are now some questions – BIG questions – that I don’t really have any answers for. But these I will get to another day. This post has wandered a long way from its original topic, not to mention grown ridiculously long. Oops! I will be done now.

Waking Up

So, it has been about six months now since I first “came out” to my friends and family. I know it was a big shock for all of them. If you had told me a few years ago that in the not-so-distant future I would not only reject my faith but also identify myself as agnostic (which is really just a euphemism for “soft” atheism) I wouldn’t have believed you for a second. Or maybe I would have.

My journey from faith in the God of the Bible to lack thereof, from my perspective, really has been very gradual; a natural “waking up.” Even at a fairly young age I realized there were a lot of inconsistencies in what I believed – a lot of points at which my faith-based view of the world did not match up with my experience of reality. I guess I simply thought that I had enough reason to believe in spite of it all. As I grew older and gained more knowledge of people and places and life-in-general, those reasons dwindled, and the inconsistencies concurrently became magnified. It was just this past summer that I finally realized it was not only rationally acceptable, but even necessary, to question EVERYTHING – to wipe the slate clean of all my assumptions and begin there, at “ground zero” to seek truth.

I want to be clear here – I never set out to disprove Christianity or to separate myself from the community and culture and people and way of life I grew up in. That community and those people have made up the majority of my whole world for most of my twenty-seven years, and while (like all of humanity) they are imperfect and have their share of problems and pain and foibles, they are also some of the best people I have known, full of love and generosity, who have been the source of untold joy and beauty in my life. I know many people have left the church or lost their faith because of mistreatment or even abuse by pastors, family members, and/or fellow believers, but that is not my story. While I have had a few uncomfortable church experiences and mild conflicts with certain members of my Christian acquaintance, the countless good experiences have by FAR out-weighed them.

No, my journey out of faith was not intentional…it just happened. There were events that catalyzed the process at certain points (particularly in the months leading up to my “official” de-conversion), but for the most part it was a natural progression driven by honest inquiry and the desire to perceive reality as it is – to find truth. And just as my belief in God was based on a huge patchwork of accumulated knowledge and experience, so too is my unbelief. There is not one reason that I no longer believe. There are not even a few reasons. The reasons are almost everything.

While I will likely address a lot of those reasons at one point or another in this blog, its purpose is not solely to provide an explanation or defense of my beliefs. Rather, it is a place for me to “think aloud” as I am re-evaluating almost everything I have held to be true; to vent the frustration, pain and hurt that has come with making this transition; and to share the new joys, insights and delights I am discovering in this new world of free – absoLUTEly free – inquiry.

If you are here, I welcome you – no matter WHAT you believe.