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Posts tagged ‘family’

Christians and Pagans and Atheists and Einstein

There is a great song by Dar Williams called Christians and Pagans. If you’ve never heard it, have a listen:

Back in 2009, when I was reeling from the shock of loosing my life-long faith, scrambling to reconstruct some semblance of a worldview, and aching over the huge gash that had been torn in the safe, warm, loving fabric of my family relationships, this song was my catharsis.

And my hope.

I would sit and listen to it on repeat, fighting tears, aching inside for the all of the parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and grandparents and friends throughout human history who, for whatever reasons, have found themselves on opposite sides of a dividing line.

Having one’s heart strings stretched across the brick and mortar and barbed wire and chasms we’ve constructed between various ideological camps – it hurts.

When I lost my Christian faith, I didn’t stop loving my Christian family. And they didn’t stop loving me. And while I understand the reasoning and experiences that have led them to their conclusions, I have had other experiences that have led me to mine. Ones that can be explained in words, but not fully transmitted.

How can I expect my parents to follow the winding trail my mind and heart have travelled since I left home? And how can I begin to understand the lives they lived before I was born, and even after, inside their own minds and hearts, that have forged and strengthened their own convictions about life?

I can’t. We are all stuck inside our own heads, and there is only so much that can be shared through words.

And that leaves us in this awful tug ‘o’ war between love and pain.

I hope that someday it will be like it is in the song – that my family and I will be able to gather around the table, hold hands, celebrate the beauty of life, and choose to respect each other as equally intelligent, good, legitimate people, accepting each other’s differences and seeming crazy-ness in spite of our mutual inability to comprehend, understanding that we are all just trying to “[make] sense of history and [draw] warmth out of the cold.”

I guess we are pretty close to that already, maybe even farther along in some respects. And I am so thankful for that – for my parents’ determination to stay in my life and love and support me, to allow me to participate in theirs; for their growing willingness to engage me in conversation on philosophical topics, to ask what I really think, to clarify what they really think. I am thankful for my siblings’ continued support and communication and care.

I know at times it would probably be less painful for all of us to just go do our own things and check in occasionally to discuss the weather and other innocuous topics.

I’m so thankful that’s not my family.

The one thing I am wishing these days is that they could identify with this line from the song that I love so much, the one that goes, “And you find magic from your god and we find magic everywhere.”

There is magic in life. There is beauty and awesomeness and mystery. I experienced it as a Christian. And I experience it now as an naturalist, perhaps even more profoundly. And it is those who live in light of this magic, wherever they find it, that, I think, tend to be the kind of people that other people want to be around and who, little by little, are loving the world to a better place.

Albert Einstein probably said it best:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

I, of course, believe that the most accurate, whole, and satisfying perspective from which to experience this awe is a naturalistic/humanistic one.

But whether you consider yourself a Christian, a pagan, an atheist or anything else in between, I hope you are finding it – that magic, that sense of wonder, that keeps your inner spark alive, that makes life worth living.

If you are not, don’t waste another minute. Life is short. Go get it. And don’t be afraid of boxes and lines. Crossing them might be painful. It might stretch some cords. But love is amazingly elastic. And amazingly strong.

And the wonder is worth the pain.

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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.