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Posts tagged ‘faith’

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…

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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.