Both during my days of questioning my religion and during my time as an atheist, I needed to find The Truth. I wanted to know, with absolute certainty, whether God existed and in what way He influenced things.
Last week, I wrote about the similarities between religious faith and scientific faith (theist vs. atheist). I realized they were the same and that my issue had more to do with approval from others -AKA social anxiety.
In discussing and clarifying with friends since, I understand that I need to outline another realization I had:
Faith does not need to mean the absence of logic.
Although Mirriam-Webster defines faith as:
It also allows for:
And, even, fidelity of one’s promises and sincerity of intentions.
In my youth and pre-atheist days, I often felt I had optimism of God’s existence and acted by fear. Like the hasty driver who is late to work, I worried more about whether a policeman would pull me over than about whether my reckless driving might endanger another driver.
Furthermore, what I knew of faith disturbed me. I assumed my accepting God would, by necessity, fit M-W’s “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” How could believing in God be correct? There is no proof; only over-zealous people’s claims and fantastical scriptural stories. Right?
Wrong. As I said, I came to understand another option: faith AND logic.
I have come to understand God not as a magician with mythical powers but as an advanced being following the same universal laws we humans discover, prove mathematically, and name after ourselves. This perspective is not original nor is it unique; it does seem to surprise those I’ve discussed it with. Why choose a bipolar perspective when everything in life exists on a spectrum of options? Why not consider the possibilities?
And again, why not take these musings and ask God if they be true? Such was my thinking, and such was what I did.
Both during my days of questioning my religion and during my time as an atheist, a great point of anxiety for me was finding The Truth. I wanted to know, with absolute certainty, whether God existed and in what way He influenced things.
Whilst on the faithful side (aka, amongst believers), I squirmed at odd expressions that often seemed optimistically ignorant. The experience reminded me of when I sought a good school for my oldest child to attend. I toured several charter schools and a handful of private ones; without fail, the phrase, “the best school” dropped from the lips of those attending. No, the one I ultimately chose was not #1. Yet, parents and staff loved claiming superiority.
Insisting that God exists or proposing that I live as if He does isn’t real. That isn’t faith and belief. It’s fake it till you make it behavior.
I thought, therefore, that my admitting there is no God was a refreshing reset to my thinking and my life; a blank slate upon which to write my own opinions and testimony. From there, I could learn answers without bias or influence.
Instead, the opinions I heard and scornful pride I felt from atheists were similar to theists’ claims of accepting Christ and being saved. The experience reminded me of a section in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Man discovers the highly-improbable Babel Fish, a naturally-occurring creature that can translate languages for the user and live off the user’s thought waves in symbiotic repayment for that service:
The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’ ‘But,’ says Man, ‘the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’ ‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. ‘Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
I am aware that Adams did not believe in God. It’s clearly a poke at pursuing logic as religiously as zealots pursue faith.
I was not finding truth, because I was finding the same dandelions on the supposedly-greener side of the fence! So, what was I doing precisely? While I did (and do) receive answers to my probing questions about life, the most important realization in my journey of faith was that I was not seeking truth in an unbiased fashion. I was, in fact, seeking the approval of others. What made me uncomfortable and anxious was the embarrassment of being wrong.
This realization brings to mind a scripture story found in the Book of Mormon, referred to as Lehi’s Dream. Lehi, a prophet around the time of the biblical prophets Huldah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (Footnote 3), has a vision in which he finds some amazing fruit and wants his wife and children to eat it with him.
So, Lehi looks around and sees his family. They look a bit lost, even though Lehi’s standing at a fantastic, glowing beacon of nature. This makes Lehi notice other things, like that there are mists obscuring the way. There’s water and a strait path. There’s a rod of iron that leads up the path, through the dark, and straight to the amazing fruit. There are more people who wander in, and some make it to the tree and eat the fruit.
Then, there is a “great and spacious building:”
And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
I wasn’t ready to accept God as my savior and be eternally saved, nor was I ready to trust Him enough to blindly walk across any chasms. I was, however, ready to stop worrying so much about everyone else and instead worry about what God, Himself, told me was true.
Or, to accept His non-existence if no one answered me.
As such, and as I mentioned before; several matters of anxiety, guilt, and disjoint were better for me. -Religiously speaking. I didn’t believe in God anymore. I wasn’t deluded, guilt-ridden, tied-down, or beholden to any sort of religious nonsense anymore.
Still, I continued to attend Sunday meetings at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had children to raise. (And, if the query comes to anyone’s mind, I believe children need a foundation of religious structure in their youth. They are welcome to deviate from that upon reaching adulthood if that be their choice.)
So, I went. I lived among Believers and listened to their strange observations and conclusions. -Like, a woman’s reassuring me that my unborn child would be a missionary in heaven if he died before birth.
Strange, yes; but I wasn’t full-certain the club of atheism was The Answer to life, the universe, and everything, either.
Atheists were an easier group for me to relate to. I loved the smug surety of intelligence, the self-confidence, the witty ridicule, and the assumption of deep thoughts and deep discussions.
While Christians drawled that, “Jesus saves,” Atheists succinctly posited, “If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes” (Bertrand Russell).
But atheists lacked the ability to answer my specific questions like Why do I exist as a sentient being but my ultimate purpose is to return to dust? and What about those times I know God stepped into my life, or in others’ lives whom I trusted? I experienced a similar phenomenon of general doubts or uncertainties I’d had with theism. Like mosquitoes, the concerns persisted and would not be exterminated. All wasn’t sunshine and roses, even with my accepting that sun and rose existed without fairies amongst them.
I sought answers and discovered inadequacies.
What was I to do?
Time passed, without resolve.
Then, without God in my life, He stepped in.
I received personal revelation. I distinctly felt that I needed to sign up for an educational-pursuit program the LDS Church operates. At the time, I knew very little about it. I don’t recall my seeking inspiration on the matter nor my asking for direction of this kind. If pressed, I believe someone mentioned its existence and I just knew I was to sign up.
The program is designed to prepare adults for advanced education; it’s a weekly class on life skills, writing and mathematics, and -most unbeknownst to me- religious topics.
As an atheist and a seeker of logical truth, I was pursuing non-religious literature for a presumed ‘balance;’ from that, I went to studying and taking notes on scriptural texts and lectures by LDS leaders.
My attending Pathway was the first step in a long, long hike back up the figurative Mt. Sinai; one I was not keen to take even with my burning desire to know things for certain.
I’d love to leave everyone hanging with the overused, “The rest, as they say, is history.”
How trite and incomplete; particularly if you, like me, seek real answers and actual truth.
Faith’s a funny thing -religiously speaking. For those raised with the idea of an Almighty God; faith is imperative and unquestionable. For those raised without much deific influence, faith is a nice idea.
The first group is the one I relate to, since I’m unable to erase my upbringing in order to try the second. Faith was a necessity -a requirement of my developing years- but I felt I lacked. I felt misplaced for the lack, and felt misplaced for growing questions of a religious nature. Inevitable questions of purpose or fairness are discouraged in organized religion. Yet, said questions bother every mind. They blip around like mosquitoes.
We’re taught to ignore them. We learn to ignore them. We learn to block out the noise with more religious fervor; more admissions of FAITH.
I muted my concerns, or numbed myself to them. I couldn’t find answers; moreover, I couldn’t find other people willing to talk to me about them in a helpful way. I certainly heard responses like, “Have faith and patience. You’ll know someday.” My favorite unhelpful advice was to “trust God.” That idea didn’t work well when trust was the Number One issue I had with my Maker.
I’m not good at numbing indefinitely. Sooner or later, my dormant volcano of repressed tendencies bursts its confines and demands addressing NOW.
I tried a few things to address the faith crisis; like, not attending my church meetings.
I tried praying.
I tried asking others if they’d felt the same.
I even read Wikipedia.
Nothing worked. Nothing assuaged my frantic desire to KNOW, for certain, if God was real and why a perfect being operated in an imperfect way. My crisis dragged on.
Then, a close friend gave me a copy of The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins not only raises similar concerns and provides logical answers to them, his writing is engaging and entertaining. Here, I found, was someone who knew! Here was something to do! I read the book, thought it over, discussed the issues with said friend… Then, taking Dawkins’ advice, I walked away from God.
Like a person steps out from under an umbrella.
I felt so much relief. I felt such mental, anxious freedom.
My ‘faithful’ prayers had been been rife with guilt for The Sin of Omission and pleas for God to spare those I love. No longer believing, I stopped praying.
I’d been unnaturally stressed by others’ questions, tales of faith, or exhortations to do more. Without God, I felt above others’ religious compulsions and removed from their trifling issues.
After continually feeling apart because of my questions, I felt justified. I felt included in a private, exclusive, intelligent group who were free like I was. -The club of atheism.
My decisions were my own. No one orchestrated my life. I was the one in control, to the extent I could be.
The mosquitoes of discontent persisted -as a different species. I still entertained the possibility that God could be real. Others, again, did not seem to notice the static. They swatted it away with more atheist fervor; more claims of ‘logic’ and ‘science.’
If God doesn’t exist, why am I what I am? Why do miracles happen -no, really; REAL miracles that I have personally witnessed?
Some might cry, “Foul!” Some might suggest I re-name this post to Why I Became an Agnostic, but I didn’t become agnostic. I really and truly stepped away from the ever-present cloud of God’s existence. I erased Him as much as could be and walked without Him for a change.
I stopped believing, if that ever was what I’d done before.
And I scratched my head at all the other unenlightened people laboring under the delusion of faith.