FROM FAITH TO
FREEDOM, CERTAINTY TO UNCERTAINTY: A CONFESSION
I know that some people find belief to be very rewarding, but as a young person it was the one thing in my life that routinely brought me to literal tears. I was in this faith-based social bubble in Houston, Texas and my friends all believed, and so did I. I prayed a lot. I sang and worshipped, and did all this other stuff that was in retrospect fairly idiotic, but I did it becuse I believed God literally existed and that he performed miracles. Not just in the past, or in rare occasions, mind you. I was raised in a community and culture that thought that if you went on a limb and risked everything for God, that he would make it somehow magically work out. Of course he didn't. I got burned (metaphorically) over and over grasping at a mirage as a child, I talked to God and contorted my own psychology in pursuit of hearing God's voice to the point that I did hear what I thought might be God, only it wasn't, it was something more like a psychological problem. Basically I created this whole 'imaginary friend' who talked to me through thoughts in my head, and sometimes encouraged me to do things that at times made little or no rational sense.
For me religious faith was a form of pathology. Partly due to the way my mental self-esteem issues intrinsically caused me to feel inferior to all other people (I thought normal people were of value and I was not, and that my existence was a mistake. I was known to pray asking God why I was born and, why couldn't he have let someone else better be born instead of me?) I was depressed, clinically, and I have anxiety problems. My reading of the Bible was very literal and I *did* read it from cover to cover, and it terrified me with the worldview it presented and which I was too afraid to question. I was scared of God and felt like I was inches away from facing eternal torment at all times.
It became even more so once I discovered sex at the age of 20. I'd gotten to the point where I more or less was happy to have no sexual identity, so losing that asexuality was difficult for me. God's failure to respond with tangible miraculous intervention in my life, combined with a belief that this lack of action on God's part was my fault for being impure, unholy, evil... I became convinced that I was predestined to spend eternity in total agony and that this was absolutely impossible to avoid. I was a Christian who knew - KNEW I was bound for hell, and who resorted to physically hurting myself and pushing myself to extremes of spiritual discipline and self-torture in pursuit of maybe, just maybe, having a chance at a less bad outcome.
I read the Bible obsessively and it confirmed to me the unyielding, unforgiving, illogical and arbitrary nature of God in my case. I was reading - even in some cases the New Testament passages, and my reaction was that God was a terrifying monster who was going to torture us all forever. I concluded this from the interlocking nature of a bunch of passages. For example, the way Jesus is asked on numerous occasions how one enters the kingdom, and he never makes it simple, not once. He says once, I think, give away all your posessions, and there were a number of other different criteria spoken to other people, and the logical conclusion of the text seemed to be that there wasn't any way anyone could be saved given the list of criteria stated. Nobody meets 100% of God's criteria, and even the figure we're counting on for salvation doesn't clearly even meet them all. Jesus was probably not 100% without sin, because he got angry and insulted people such as the Pharisees repeatedly, in several cases, while also identifying anger as a sin worthy of damnation in other passages. Then there's the fact that God ignores his own laws when it suits him. The killing of innocents, for one, despite his statement not to murder. Rationally, then, if God ignores his own moral code, which includes truthfulness, how do we then know God is not lying when he says there is a heaven?
Well, eventually - somewhere around the time I was hitting my bleakest phase, fantasizing about physically harming myself in assorted ways, and contemplating various methods of suicide, I pulled an insane, emotionally unstable 180, and in a moment of screams and sobbing, denied the Holy Spirit. It felt awful at the time... but it was like once you learn something is incredibly bad and you shouldn't do it, but so easy to do (like saying 'The Holy Spirit isn't real.' or similar, then sooner or later after it nags at you hundreds of times that you shouldn't do it, you WILL eventually break down and say it, for the same reason that when I say 'don't think about ice cream' you will immediately think about it. It's almost unavoidable. Once I denied - or what I figured was denying - the Holy Spirit, I thought I'd just cemented my fate even more thoroughly than I had already. In reality however, I think it was part of why I'm still alive today.
That's the most controversial part of this. I think denying the Holy Spirit in my early 20s may have saved me.
Because only then was I free to explore things I thought I should never look at. Secular ideas. And after all, once you know you have zero hope, no hope at all of heaven, and that hell is absolutely certain, there's no longer any barrier mentally holding you back from entertaining the notion that the entire religion should be abandoned. I shifted from hoping against hope that I would make it into heaven, to KNOWING I wouldn't, and merely hoping that somehow I would cease to exist at the point of death (instead of eternal agony)
Guess what? The more I read online (I couldn't sneak books about atheism into my home without it being a potential source of conflict) and the more articles and debates and discussions I exposed myself to, the more I realize how much of my youth was severely screwed up by nearly-fundamentalist evangelical religious faith. I realized that the entire religion was on fairly shaky, flimsy ground, and that there was hardly a shred of solid current evidence backing it up. And that realization was so, so freeing to me. I was so happy to be secular. It was such a good feeling, not having the sense that every thought, word and action was under continual scrutiny from an all-knowing all-controlling tyrant.
Yes, I'd had some obsessive traits and was emotionally volatile. There were medical, biochemical factors affecting my emotions beyond just the religion. And yes, I'm on medications now that quite effectively stabilize that emotional volatility. I'm the sort of person who goes 'all in' on something I believe in. At one point I was going all in for the fantasy of God. Now I'm all in for life here, right now on Earth. I'm all in for science and the scientific method (test everything rigorously, assume nothing, inquire and draw conclusions based on dispassionate assessment of data and not on emotional biases) which is the best way we humans have found to identify truth from fiction thus far.
I'm convinced we can apply that reason to engineer a better future. People say the future is dark, and it's true we face crises and economic shocks and climate shifts and systemic risks in the next few decades... but if we make the right moves to augment our understanding with the right technologies and a few not-yet-discovered breakthroughs, we might come through this stuff for the better. I see the future now as far brighter, actually, than I did as a Christian. As a Christian I believed in the end times prophecies in Revelation, and those are quite disturbing actually.
Now it's up to us, the future is truly unknown and can be formed by us, and the fact that it doesn't need to end apocalyptically is really encouraging.
We don't know what the future holds. That is exciting, really. Freeing.
I know my existence is finite and I will lose consciousness permanently at some point. That doesn't bother me nearly as much as the idea of being tortured forever. There's even the outside possibility of biomedical breakthroughs in the next 50-60 years that prolong and extend life significantly.
Then the issue becomes living on this planet sustainably, avoiding war and global environmental collapse, averting the chaotic demise of modern civilization.
That'll be a huge challenge but between genetic engineering of a new generation of smarter, healthier people, augmenting those people with advanced education and advanced electronics and access to the internet's ever-growing mass of information, plus artificial intelligence assisting with details of technical challenges, while robots take over the service sector and menial tasks... yeah, I know there are a thousand things that could go wrong and a thousand systemic problems to solve, but I'm betting we still have a shot, even if it's a long shot, at fixing this planet and transitioning to a better, more sustainable form of civilization.
I hope that you shall know the truth, and that the truth shall set you free... from blind faith and from self-delusion generally.
Not saying it'll be easy, or that there won't be instability in the next 40 years. There'll be more economic crashes and military conflicts and refugee crises and natural disasters.
Things will go wrong, a lot, but I'm thinking if enough of us persevere and remain calm, using our minds and effort together to systematically tackle the problems, more will go right than otherwise would be the case.
But we can't 'let go and let God'. Trusting God is a mistake and a cop-out that keeps us from actively doing the challenging things that we need to do.
It's a massive error in judgment that clouds our perception of what the problems in the world actually are and makes it difficult to actually address real-world issues. I am agnostic insofar as I think there could be a God of some sort, and that this is generally something that cannot be proven or disproven. That said, if there is a God, I hope he's one more consistent and worthy of my respect than the one I percieved in reading Scripture. The Bible offers a lot of good passages too and good moral ideas, and I would be fine holding onto those but there are also a lot of meandering pointless sections and morally unnerving moments that I simply have not been able to reconcile with what the text claims is a good and loving God. The best I can do is accept the accounts as flawed human writings, some parts of which might - might - authentically have been inspired by real unexplained experiences.
I know there's a good case to be made for the historicity of Jesus, compared to most religious figures, so I suppose it's likely he did exist, and maybe he did and said much of what was attributed to him, although there are probably some parts of the story altered after the fact to partially shoehorn his life, teachings, and death into a formulaic mythic structure that preceded him, the same loose narrative template used for Horus, Dionysus, Mithras, and about a dozen other old gods nobody believes in anymore.
Reality is, it's impossible to know now with certainty whether he was real, or if real whether he performed any inexplicable miracles, because too much time has passed since to verify any of it conclusively.
And quite bluntly, when these extraordinary claims are made, I now need proof or at least something very near proof, before I will take them seriously again.
I have learned to live with this uncertainty and ambiguity.
But just because I acknowledge the possibility of a God does not mean I think the Bible or any other religious text necessarily presents the full reality of said deity. It seems to me just as probable that these religious traditions are all attempts to identify some other being or deeper truth. I've abandoned religion but remain open to the possibility that a God exists who is, simply put, not tied to or described by, any major religion. A god who is not flawed and who is not hateful or cruel but forgives everyone, and saves everyone and accepts us, loves everyone, without condition, even those who disagree with him or her. What would generally be referred to as a 'Universalist' concept of God. Such a God is arguably not the one described in Scripture, as the God in Scripture, at least in most common interpretations of the Bible, does send some people to damnation forever for failure to believe and failure to obey. I sense on some deep core level that any God who would do such a thing to anyone, is ethically reprehensible and I cannot in good conscience worship such a God. Such a God is an authoritarian dictator.
I encourage all of you to renounce hate. You don't need to be secular. If that is a step too far, I can understand that. But I do ask that you make peace with others who differ from you (in beliefs) and I implore you not to use your faith as a justification for hurting others, hating others, treating others as less.
If your God asks you to inflict suffering, ask yourself whether that God is worthy of your obedience.
Does he deserve to be followed when he allows great suffering, when he accepts or endorses hate and cruelty?
Is it possible to be an obedient believer who is kind to others, and accepts others, and helps others - possible to follow your faith without harming or ostracizing other people who do not share it?
We've seen too much harm done by both the religious and nonreligious, by many people with fanatical, unquestioning ideology (religious or secular, conservative or liberal) who allow their worldview to control them completely, and refuse to back down from its claims of absolute truth, even if it means inflicting great harm on others.
Absolute, uncompromising faith in the free market or in the government.
Faith in a God, or multiple Gods, or in the absence of a God.
I don't want people to die for no reason, and I don't want them to suffer for no reason. Often unwavering, unquestioning and dead-certain absolutism results in hostility and conflict that is highly destructive.
One of the things I love about America is that it's a place where Christians, atheists, Muslims, Jews, various cultures and ethnicities live peacefully together. That does not happen in most places. I would love for it to happen everywhere, but that is not possible as long as we fail to accept each others' innate value as feeling, self-aware human beings.
It's up to us. It's up to me and it's up to you. We live in a pivotal phase of human history. There's never been so much potential for revolutionary breakthroughs, and never so much risk that we could catastrophically screw it up. Time is running out. Let's save the world together. Let's cooperate with each other and show kindness and generosity to each other, instead of splitting viciously along ideological lines. We shouldn't divide ourselves by race or culture or socioeconomic class or sexual orientation, gender, political party, what country we were born in, or any of that nonsense. We are all human. We are alive, on this planet right now. Let's start there and figure out ways we and the other living things on this planet can stay alive together as long, as peacefully, and as happily as possible.