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Posts tagged ‘agnosticism’

Why I Am Not A Christian (Part IV)

7.) NO ANSWER IS BETTER THAN A BAD ANSWER.

It is true that there is SO much we don’t yet (and may never) know about how the world works, how life got started, who Jesus actually was and how the events surrounding his life (assuming he was a real person) actually played out (and for that matter, what actually went down in most of human history). There is so much that we just can’t explain based on what we currently know, especially when it comes to events (whether biological or sociological) that happened in the very distant past.

And that doesn’t sit well with us.

We humans have this beautiful and obsessive need to understand things. (Perhaps engrained in us by evolution, that we may better predict and prepare for future events and thereby promote our survival…?)

And this need has driven us historically, in the absence of clear, observable explanations, to make up explanations. Weather patterns, reproduction, disease, and so many more natural phenomena we observe have been attributed to the intervention of a god or gods. But as time has marched on and human understanding has increased (in large part due to the development and application of the scientific process) more and more of these phenomena have been moved from the supernatural “shelf” to the natural one.

Today we know that the movement of the stars across the sky is the result of planetary orbit and has nothing to do with any sort of drama being played out by divine beings. We know that earthquakes happen because of shifts in tectonic plates caused by temperature differences between the earth’s core and crust and the resultant convection of molten rock, and not because any god is angry with us. We know that babies are made when a sperm fertilizes an egg, and that children often inherit the diseases of their parents as the result of the random sorting of DNA during meiosis and the uniting of randomly selected gametes, and not because of a family curse.

At one time, these phenomena were completely mysterious and the causes anyone’s guess. Today they are not.

Today, there are other questions that stump us. How could the first protein have been made if it takes a protein to make a protein? How could multi-part molecular systems that work so intricately and elegantly have happened accidentally? How come a few rare people recover miraculously and unexpectedly from terminal illnesses? Why do certain equally rare people have visions and insights and skills that are far above and beyond what most of us ever experience?

And the list goes on.

And just as human beings have done in the past when life is mysterious and unexplainable, many of us are tempted to say, “This is evidence of God. There is no way this could happen without the intervention of a supernatural force.”

It’s the whole “God of the gaps” idea. And the problem with it is that the gaps keep shrinking, even disappearing, or at least moving to a more theoretical, distant level.

Educated, thinking Christians (and theists in general) may say that in all of our explaining, we’ve really explained nothing. Genetics may be the mechanism of transmission of traits and disease, gravity and inertia may underlie movements of the stars and planets, etc, but God is behind all of that. He created genetics and the laws of physics and set it all in motion. He may not be individually manipulating in real time the sorting and recombination of chromosomes that create each individual person, but he put the materials and systems in place that would eventually lead to the genetic combinations that would make you and me.

At this point in time, with the now overwhelming body of evidence in support of evolution and an old earth, many Christians have had to apply this same reasoning to the development of life, positing that while evolution may be the mechanism God used, he was the ultimate cause and mastermind – the one who laid the groundwork and wound the clock and knew from the beginning of time how and when bacteria and cuttlefish and giraffes and humans would come to be.

And for the sake of this argument, I can concede that. There could be that kind of God behind it all.

Of course, if that is the kind of God you’re going to believe in, there are significant chunks of the Bible you can’t accept as literal. And other parts you can’t accept at all.

At the end of the day, a “god of the gaps” is pretty much useless. For me, the current absence of scientific answers is not reason enough to believe in a god that brings with him so much baggage and cognitive dissonance. It is possible there may be something “supernatural” (i.e. forces we cannot see or detect) at work in the world, but I’m certain (for reasons addressed in earlier posts) that it’s not the Christian God.

From my point of view, it’s much better to leave the question blank and keep searching for a good answer, than to accept a bad one for the sake of immediate gratification.

And this idea of having no answer brings me to my last point…

8.) GOD AS A “FIRST CAUSE” IS NOT NECESSARY.

If you are a Christian, this idea might be one of the most difficult to wrap your mind around. It was for me.

I’d lived all of my conscious life with the assumption that SOMETHING was behind all of this crazy amazing-ness we call reality. Even if we could figure out how it all happened, no amount of time or scientific observation could ever help us figure out why, and in my mind there HAD to be a why, or, as philosophers and theoretical physicists call it, a “first cause.”

And this assumption is held by Christians and theists of all kinds, and probably most people who have lived. Everything we experience in life has a cause behind it, so we conclude that the universe must also. It makes sense to us on a gut level.

We just feel that there must be a reason for the existence of the universe, especially a universe that is so vast and intricate and amazing and incomprehensible. And for Christians, that reason is God.

But here’s the thing. If God is the reason behind the universe, he must be even more vast and intricate and amazing and incomprehensible. So, if we stick with our thinking, there must be a reason or cause behind him, too, ad infinitum.

At some point, you must accept that something just IS. That he/she/it exists without cause.

And I realized that it makes much more sense to accept the universe as the self-existent Thing than it does to push the problem back one layer onto a concept (God) for which we have no objective evidence and which conflicts with observed reality on so many levels.

Now that I see things this way, I can hardly remember what it was like to think otherwise, kinda like looking at a Rubin vase sort of picture. But I tell you, it was a huge leap for me to make at the time…

…perhaps the hugest of them all. (I will have to dedicate a post in the near future to address this, I think.)

But for now, I need to wrap things up.

CONCLUSION

While I continue to value many of the teachings of Jesus, I am not a Christian in the traditional sense. And never will be one again, most likely.

And I promise you it’s not because I don’t want to be.

Life is freaking hard and painful and unfair and overwhelming. And it was comforting beyond words to believe that all the pain and grief of life was somehow going to be made right one day, was somehow going to be worth it.

To be certain that good would inevitably triumph over evil…

To know that when Mom died, when Dad died, when my sisters and brother died, that they would not be gone…that I would be reunited with them forever in a place of perfect peace and joy…

To trust that abused and starving children would be greeted with love and nurturing and warmth and home when they passed on…

To believe that one day I would have a perfect body that would never get sick, never be in pain, never get old or wear out…

To always have someone to talk to when I was feeling alone and confused…

It made life more tolerable, and less overwhelming, and easier to keep living on certain levels, and it was a loss, I can assure you, to have this life-long foundation dissolve underneath me, along with the free, open, honest and vulnerable relationships I’d always been able to share with my parents up until this point.

There is still a lot of love between us all, but now there is pain, too. Now there is awkwardness. Now there are walls.

I would give anything to have family be the way it was when I was still a Christian. Family was my thing. It was my happy thought; my reason to get up in the morning. It was what I most valued. It still is. And I hope that someday everything will be okay somehow, but I don’t know that it will.

The point is, my life would be a lot easier and a lot happier in a lot of ways if I could believe again.

But the funny thing about belief is that you can’t fake it.

People always talk about Pascal’s wager as if it’s really an option. But I don’t get that at all. If you are just believing perfunctorily, God’s gonna know it. Saying you believe does not make you a believer.

Either you believe or you don’t. And you can’t control whether or not you do.

You can control the information you take into your mind, to a certain degree. And that is what happened to me. I quit controlling what I let in. In my search for truth (which I was initially convinced would lead me back to God and a deeper understanding of him) I opened the doors of my mind wide.

And a flood of new information rushed in.

And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see things), learning is irreversible. I can’t un-know things that I now know (unless I suffer a traumatic brain injury or we invent the neuralizer Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had so much fun with in Men in Black.)

And these things I have learned in my recent history, that I didn’t know before, are many. While I have given a brief overview of basic, foundational reasons I no longer believe in the Christian God, there are many, many more details and facts logged away in my mind that have lead me to this conclusion…

And it is those same facts that have helped me form the framework of the wonderful and beautiful new things I DO believe.

Someday soon I will share them.

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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.

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.

The Rock Pool

I stumbled across the coolest blog a couple of days ago. If you get a burst of energy like I do from stepping momentarily into the world of another person and having your own world thereby expanded exponentially, you should check it out:

http://therockpool.wordpress.com

It is so exciting and affirming to me to experience a little bit of another life, different from my own in many ways, and yet, underneath the initially unfamiliar phrases and customs, just the same. There really is so very much of the human experience that is universal.

The blog is a compilation of “thoughts on life” from a number of younger women who range in cultural/religious backgrounds from LDS to Muslim. It has been so interesting to me, discovering that most of the ideas, issues, questions and conflicts that I have faced in my own American Evangelical Christian experience, are present in the communities of each of these women. I have watched videos of Islamic “pastors” (Imams, I believe?) speak on the very ideas I was raised with in my own family and church. I have read stories of an LDS woman’s husband “fathering” a little-league team of fatherless boys and how it made her love him even more. I have heard the laments of young women from every background wondering where on earth all the decent men are, while simultaneously devising ways in which to avoid being questioned by friends and family on their “relationships status”.

It is amazing to me that there has been so much conflict between cultures through time, because if you take just a few minutes to really listen to someone, you realize that their stories are the same as yours, their values very similar, their hopes and dreams and desires for life nearly identical. It is just the terminology and “packaging” that are a little different.

My accidental discovery of this blog could not have come at a better time. I have left Seattle for a week to visit my friends and family out in Central Washington, and it has been wonderful. But also very confusing.

You see, for me, this new journey into truth – my setting out to face reality as best as I can, and to live honestly in light of what I find – is completely uncharted. My reason and logic, my experience of human beings (including myself), what I know of history and biology and physics, what I’ve read on the development of the Bible and the Christian religion and my own experience with it, as well as what I’ve discovered about the statutes, values, and practices of other religions around the world, makes me pretty certain that A) there is no personal god out there listening to each of us individually and waiting to guide us or protect us, etc. and that B) if there is some sort of impersonal “life force” type of god (which I am not at all ruling out), that god does not belong to any one religion or denomination, and is definitely not going to be sending me or any other person to any sort of eternal hell for not figuring out what exactly his/her/its nature is and what he/she/it is all about.

I think there very well might me some sort of Life Force god out there, that people who follow most spiritual paths wind up connecting with at some point. I also think people are different, and experience spiritual life in different ways, and that is why there are so many different religions in the world. What I am still trying to decide right now is whether or not having some sort of religion to hold onto in tough times, to provide a framework/foundation on which to build a stable life, is necessary for living the kind of life I want to live.

In my mind, I can picture what it would be like to be a loving, caring, serving, conscientious, thoughtful, respectful, honoring, generous, persevering, hopeful atheist.  I can picture raising a family from that perspective. I can imagine a community of atheists/agnostics/deists living and working together and loving each other – caring for each other’s children, sharing each others burdens, talking about values and principles and the meaning of life. I think atheists have just as many reasons to live the life I’ve described as people of faith do. But the thing is, I haven’t seen it. I have known individuals here and there who don’t believe in God and yet live good, upstanding, loving, contributing, communicating, open, free and decent lives, but I honestly have never witnessed any sort of community like that. And I think that sort of community is SO important. I think it is the thing that is responsible for producing the admittedly higher levels of intentional self-sacrifice and “good-doing” that exist within faith communities. I have no precedent or model out there to look toward, however. (At least not any that I know of.)

This fact makes leaving the Christian community I was born into a little scary. Although I just CANNOT believe so many of its fundamental assumptions, and cannot support a number of its life prescriptions, the culture of Christianity – of my family – still feels natural and comfortable and safe because it is all so familiar and, in many ways, so, so, so good. When I am here at home, where I am the only one who thinks the way I think, I start to question myself. I try to picture coming back to Christianity – what it would be like, if it would even be possible, how it could work. I always decide that it can’t.

All that to say, my encounter with The Rock Pool was fortunate because it reminded me that the world is so much bigger than my family, my hometown, my circle of friends, and even my country. It reminded me that I am not the only one out there who thinks weird things about life – we ALL think things that seem totally bizarre to others. It reminded me that I am not the only person who has grown to see things differently and experienced conflict with loved ones because of it. And most of all, it gave me hope for the world – that one day people might really learn how to listen to each other and realize that, deep down, we are essentially all the same, and that, though we use different terminology to talk about life and what it is and what it all means, we are mostly all saying the same things.

Oh, with what eagerness I await that day! May the World of Blog continue in its quest (intentional or not) of bringing people together…

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!

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.