Posts tagged ‘skepticism’
I’ve enjoyed reading through the comments on Karen’s recent post “Are de-converts doomed to live in the pit of existentialist despair?” I do appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this topic.
Discovering the meaning of life was my biggest, baddest bugaboo upon de-conversion. Life seemed drained of color without God. It was more than just no longer having a sweeping trans-historical drama in which to play a part. It was, for me, that the universe no longer seemed like a home. It was no longer warm and friendly. Instead, it was harsh, alien, bare, and empty. Working through meaning was my biggest challenge.
Here’s how it went for me. Christianity teaches, in essence, that all the sorrows of life are destined to end. All the “existential givens” such as loneliness and isolation, the responsibility to create one’s own life, the thirst for larger meaning and purpose, even death itself — all these problems are solved, for the Christian. C.S. Lewis quite explicitly teaches that all you have ever desired is destined for ultimate satisfaction in heaven. You will not die. You will not be alone. Your responsibility is only to obey. Your meaning is given to you.
Losing God for me was like that moment in all of our lives when we realize, really realize, that our parents are not really larger than life…
Oftentimes, those of us who have left religion behind are asked to define what keeps us going, what motivates us, what rescues us from the pit of existentialist despair now that we no longer believe in god. Some of us do not seem to have much of a positive belief system, others have adopted skepticism or humanism, others excavate their own philosophies of life.
A new member of an ex-fundy support group I help moderate addressed this topic recently and his answer was so interesting that I asked him if I could re-post it to this group and he graciously consented.
I wanted to share an epiphany I’ve had after many years of wandering a post-fundamentalist wasteland. Maybe it will have meaning for some of you.
My Southern Baptist fundamentalist belief began disintegrating right around the time I went off to college. This was very painful for me (as I’m sure comes as no surprise to most of you). I fought it every step of the way as my faith slowly bled from me — my belief in Christ had formed the core of my self image, and my view of myself collapsed along with the elaborate theological construction that had undergirded it…
I think it is fair to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from his own death, is the key historical event on which Christianity rests. I know many Christians who if in their heart of hearts came to the conclusion that Jesus had never turned water to wine or made blind men see, would still hold on to their faith as long as they were convinced of the resurrection. I also think that there are few people who truly believe the resurrection happened or that Jesus was the son of god yet do not consider themselves Christian. Conversely, people who don’t believe in the deity and resurrection of Jesus don’t really fall into the category or believer with which I am interested.
So what is the process from damnation to Christian salvation?
Discussions with believers tend to follow a consistent path. If I say that having read the gospels, I am unconvinced that they represent proof or even good evidence of the resurrection, they will argue sometimes very intelligently as to why the proof is good and why I am wrong to disbelieve. If I am honest with them and say that I remain unconvinced they say that I need to open my mind and let the spirit in… let Jesus do the work, he’s knocking at the door just let him in. Or something along those lines…
My former pastor had a favorite anecdote to share on why his flock should not look beyond the teachings of his faith camp in their studies. He relayed that the individuals who are responsible for discovering counterfeit money do not study the different counterfeits in order to learn about counterfeits. They ONLY focused on the real thing so when the counterfeit came along, they would immediately know it was not real. If they also studied counterfeits, they would be too confused as to what is real to be effective in their job. This admonishment was aimed at keeping the flock in subjection to his teachings and to discourage them from listening to those who were critical of the message of faith.
In response to the chaplain’s post Christian Education or Indoctrination?, Karen made this comment:
Education teaches people how to think; indoctrination teaches people what to think. All the religious instruction I went through as a child was distinctly of the latter variety. Even as an adult, I was warned not to educate myself about other religious beliefs. As I was questioning Christianity, I looked into Buddhism and Judaism and bought a couple of books on those topics. My husband objected that I was bringing evil spirits into our household and he did not want them physically “tainting” our home! The only way to learn about other religious beliefs “safely” was to take a course on world religions that a missionary group offered at our church. Of course, you can imagine how “objective” that course was – all other religions were presented as deceptions of Satan! There was absolutely no objective presentation of religious beliefs outside of Christianity…
As a Christian, New Years Day was always a very special day for me. It was the day I would turn my back on all the past mistakes of the previous year and pray that God would make me a better individual in the year to come. I forgot those things which were behind me and pressed on towards the prize of the higher calling.
However, now as a de-convert, I cannot simply forget any of my mistakes of the past year. It is my responsibility to make sure I deal with them in order to move ahead. I cannot simple “give them to God” and know that they have been cast into the sea of his forgetfulness where he and I would remember them no more. I cannot accept that that I can simply confess that there is now therefore no condemnation for those actions but if I deserve to be condemn, then I have to pay the necessary price.
Also, I cannot simply expect my invisible diety to help make me a better person, I have to make the choices to change areas of my life which I deem as needing improvement. In other words, the responsibility sits squarely on my shoulders. I have to admit that it was so much easier to give things to God than for me to accept now that they are my responsibility. Throwing away my crutch and standing on my own two feet is sometimes a difficult feat to accomplish…
Anyone who has struggled through leaving Christianity cannot help but be aware that those still in the faith often have trouble categorizing us. Regarding their belief system as overwhelmingly desirable and, moreover, obviously true, they seem compelled to try to explain this anomaly that we represent, apostasy. And we all know the answers: generally, either we weren’t really Christians in the first place or, the minority view, that it is somehow impossible to de-convert (“once saved always saved”), so we’re still Christians despite ourselves.
Or, sometimes we see them declare that we never really understood Christianity – again, obviously, because if we had, we wouldn’t have left! No amount of elegant theological exposition on our part will convince them that we really did, in fact, understand it – and freely, knowingly reject it – because there are an endless number of hairs that can be split to prove we got this or that wrong.
So I, like most former Christians, have had to think a lot about this issue. Who, really, is a Christian? Was I really one? How do I respond to this criticism? After some study, and some thought, I will here suggest an answer…
This couple were the “senior” (head) pastor and his wife at the church where we spent 10 years working. She was one of those “super Christians” (at least in her mind). However, the reality of it all is she typified all the things I have learned to loath about religious people. She always had “all the answers,” and anything that deviated from her set theology was wrong. She could tell you how to live, while her own life was crumbling unnoticed around her. She pursued “ministry” based on her desire to have acceptance and really could not wrap her mind around love at all.
Saying all this, I’ve learned to pity this woman. Circumstances have moved this couple far away from our lives, but today we attended a funeral of a mutual family member/friend. It was good to see her and her family, but sadly, nothing has changed for her.
That’s the problem with religion. Things stagnate, because that’s the only way they can be controlled. Theologies become calcified, and they become fodder for liturgies…