Monday, August 10, 2009

Non- belief

My journey to non-belief is typical; I spent many weekends with religious folks, and therefore went to many Sunday morning services, and had my "eyes opened" to the horrors that awaited me in Hell. All the grown-ups were telling me it was true; I believed them. I was a credulous kid.

But you can avoid Hell, they said, by believing everything they say in this old book, right, and doing exactly what the preacher tells you. I was scared shitless, because they kept saying that being good wasn't enough-- that you had to believe Jesus died for you, I mean REALLY believe it, and nagging little doubts kept creeping into my head. Especially when they'd say crazy things like the earth was made in seven days or God made the sun stand still (I think in Joshua?) but then I'd watch Cosmos or something and this Sagan guy is telling me something completely different...
So, fairly typical so far, yeah?
When I was twelve, my stepdad (a very cold and remote man) confessed to me that he didn't believe in God. I was mortified. I mean, I didn't even know that was an option! But he never took any sort of active role in shaping my beliefs. Later, as an adult, I would realize that he was quite a remarkable (if not seriously flawed) individual, but at the time he was pretty hands-off. That's a different story, though...
Discovered punk rock at sixteen, and suddenly none of that claptrap seemed to matter. I went from being a scared, quiet kid to being an obnoxious something-or-other, and stopped thinking about religion.
Until my twenties. I'd pretty much given up on Christianity, but I kept thinking for some reason that it had to be REPLACED with something, you know what I mean? I tried LSD and was convinced for awhile that I'd stumbled across something significant, some doorway to a higher realm of consciousness. I dabbled in Buddhism until the smell of incense started bugging me. I read Robert Anton Wilson and began embracing the half-serious "religion" of Discordianism (which is still rather appealing, if you strip away all the guru-isms). I made a brief return to the world of Christianity and actually read the Bible; reading it was all it took for me to realize that my suspicions had been right all along. Only a complete lunatic could take that book for the truth; only a complete lunatic would WANT to.
It all came to a head a few years ago, after my divorce. I was monstrously depressed, and was on a serious downward spiral. I pulled out all the cards in my pack, and none of them did the trick. There was no Jesus to help me out of a jam; there was no loving God or cosmic vibrations or universal energies. There was only me. Getting my shit back together required letting go of all the ugly superstition that had clung to me like heavy clothes on a drowning man...
So I did. I let it all go.
I'd like to say it was clear sailing from there, but I was angry about being duped for so many years. And I STILL didn't have a replacement for faith. Until quite by accident I came across Sam Harris's book Letter to a Christian Nation.
Well, that was the sea-change. That book turned me on my ear. I followed it with The End of Faith, Dawkins book The God Delusion, Hitchins god is Not Great, Ruth Brown's Skeptic's Guide to the Bible, Russell's Why I am Not a Christian... etc etc. All the standards.
And nothing's been the same since. The study of atheism gradually led to me to explore other realms of philosophy as well, and helped me get over my "angry stage" and well onto the secular appreciation of the beauty and mystery and weirdness of the universe... all things I think we can only truly appreciate once we've removed the shackles of faith.

And the truth hasn't set me free yet because I haven't FOUND the truth. But the thing is, it doesn't really matter; it's the SEARCH for the truth that I find so engaging, dig? I've managed to find some small peace of mind in philosophy.
Regarding atheism, well... that's not really the goal so much as it is a stop along the path. Once you've let go of dread and fear and superstition, it sort of... I dunno... lights a lantern that helps you see the path ahead of you more clearly. Belief without evidence has held our species back for millienia, and we can't get anywhere unless we re-claim our ability to think critically. So many people WANT to believe; they want it so desperately that they are willing to do it no matter what our shared reality tells them. They separate "truth" from "facts", and to me that's a horrible cop-out and counter-productive. If we're gonna survive, now more than ever, we need to reconcile our beliefs with reality.
And it's not as if that takes something away from us; on the contrary, it opens up whole new worlds of thought and new ways of looking at things.
Any philosophy that isn't positive in some way is probably illegitimate, because it is useless. I keep reading philosophy because it keeps a part of my mind constantly occupied with bigger, more important questions... and the day-to-day frustrations and disappointments seem to have much less consequence...

1 comment:

  1. Believe in yourself, if you need to believe in something. Believing in yourself just might get you where you want to go.