Note: I’m talking about faith and religion here. Just a warning in case the topic is not your thing.
To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly.
I come from a Church-going family. We didn’t go every Sunday, but most Sundays for the majority of my childhood. When I got older my mother allowed me to choose whether or not I wanted to attend. Predictably, I stopped going–although more from a lack of interest than a lack of belief. In fact, quite the opposite.
Still, over time Sunday became more synonymous with football than church.
A good decade after I’d last set foot in a church, I got a job as a custodian for the Park Village Elementary School (I know, lofty ambitions). It included an overtime gig opening up the gymnasium for a Nondenominational Christian church group on Sunday mornings. I did it from time-to-time.
The church was called the Vineyard and they were some of the best people I have ever met. They were friendly, jovial, courteous, and kind. And more than that, they seemed genuinely happy. They were able to actively enjoy each others’ company and each moment as it came. The key was their faith.
I grew curious. The pastor readily made time to talk to me about life and belief and whatever else. Those conversations were amazing. They helped define the 2nd half of my intellectual–and spiritual–life.
It started me on a journey to rediscover my own faith.
Only problem was, try as I might, I couldn’t find it.
I am a student of history and philosophy. And in studying those fields, I learned things that irreparably damaged my road back to religion.
I have a much more objective understanding of the Bible’s historical context. I see syllogism and allegory in the Christian Bible. I do see truth, but what I don’t see is even remotely believable literality. I know how the Bible came to be. I know where many of the stories come from. I know how the meaning of certain biblical terms has changed over time. I see how the various denominations pick and choose what they want to believe.
Besides, time exalts and mysticizes history. People freely believe that phenomena considered impossible now was somehow possible a thousand years ago. I understand why they believe it and why they would want to. I just can’t believe the same.
When I try to look at Christianity objectively–which is virtually impossible since Christianity is the foundation of my values, morality, and culture–I see the same holes and inconsistencies that I do with, say, Islam or Mormonism.
However, I also understand the very human desire to continue, to not end once this life is over. I share that desire vehemently. I likewise share the desire to have a greater purpose for my life. I’ve felt the comfort of believing there is a God who loves us–me as much as anyone–and wants the best for us all. I, too, can see the beauty of a world without suffering.
Those hopes are indescribably powerful. I think they’re essential to the human composition. It drives our social and moral evolution. It’s why I find logic in Pascal’s Wager. It’s also why I find Atheism lacking even though I find it logical.
But these are issues of faith, not religion.
Religion is the rulebook. And I admit, part of me wants that rulebook. Part of me wants the religion of Jesus Christ to be true, for cruel and evil people to suffer while the virtuous are blessed for eternity.
But the rest of me looks at some of those rules (eating shellfish being an abomination, stoning disobedient children, the submission of woman) and not only do I NOT accept it, I don’t see Providence in it. All I see human judgmentalism in those rules. I only see inequity.
And I don’t buy the whole “His ways are mysterious” bit. Strange, he made it possible to understand astrophysics yet made an enigma-hidden-in-a-riddle-lost-in-a-mystery out of why eating lobster is a sin.
I find the idea that someone must burn in hell with rapists and murderers–simply because they are gay, and despite any other qualities they might possess–not only offensive, but ludicrous.
What’s more, I don’t believe in evil. I think people learn and continue cycles of abuse and neglect. People have chemical imbalances and structural deficiencies in their brains. People get indoctrinated into belief systems that embrace fear and anger and hatred–and they have mental and emotional compositions that make them susceptible to that kind of messaging.
Not only could an omnipotent God see those potentially insurmountable flaws within us, It would have CREATED them. Damning or saving us based on a rulebook, inattentive of those shortcomings, is cruel and unfair. It’s like condemning someone for being blind. What “loving” God, ruled by nothing but Its own Will, would choose to be cruel and unfair?
However, from a human perspective, punishing those that hurt others can be appealing. The thought of Adolf Hitler burning in hell makes me all warm and fuzzy. And I don’t possess the magnanimity to wish him anything better, but that only reflects the cruelty within me.
So, for the above reasons (and enough more to fill a book), I came to the conclusion that I reject religion. It’s a personal conclusion, of course. That decision is profoundly individual. And it’s trans-rational. Echoing the sentiments of St. Paul, it has to make sense and it has to feel right.
I consider myself a spiritual atheist. I could perhaps call the force of creation in the universe, God. The fact that everything, from the most insubstantial subatomic particle to the most enlightened abstract thought drives instinctively and unstoppably toward organization suggests, to my mind, a possible kind of intelligence. However, the nature of that intelligence is factually unknown and unknowable thus far. Will Durant expressed it best:
We are moments in eternity and fragments in infinity. For such forked atoms to describe the universe, or the Supreme Being, must make the planets tremble with mirth.
As for what happens when we die, I can’t say, and I don’t think that’s the point. I hope there is some kind of eternal me (and you!) that lives on. I continue to hope, but it’s not my focus.
Some might find such a perspective restricting. I find it liberating. I search for what affirms and optimizes existence. It’s things like life and love, compassion, kindness, honesty, sincerity, truth, friends and family, faith and philosophy, music and story. They all profoundly enrich the experience of being.
I can’t imagine that any wise and loving God would wish for us anything else.
(Angel image from: http://samscotti.blogspot.com/. Atheism image from: http://chan4chan.com/archive/tags/arrogant)