I’ve not officially written about this yet, but it’s something I often find myself reaching in my existential reductions.
Those of us who left religion feel as though we’ve escaped a system of othering. Evangelical Christianity is very exclusive. It has rules for who is righteous and who isn’t, who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Sometimes these rules are ambiguous and other times they aren’t. At times the way of navigating which is which seems a bit arbitrary and too heavily influenced by interpretation. No matter which way it’s cut to whichever evangelical denomination, it sets up a system of othering, which is a system that claims a higher position than others.
What’s interesting about the groups I’ve found myself involved with since deconverting is that they’re not so different when it comes to this factor of othering. Sometimes they’re more accepting and compassionate, but more often than not they feel like they have a better system of living than evangelical Christians. Because we see evangelicalism as wrong, we’re inclined to “other” it. We disparage it just as they disparage us. And in this way, we are no “better.” We are just as judgmental, and in some ways, we are just as exclusive.
Being judgmental is what cocoons us in our safety zone. The system of “othering” is what makes us feel more confident in ourselves. We find identity in setting ourselves apart in some way, and because of our natural compass toward progress, we tend to think that we are right in our core convictions, which makes anyone following an opposite conviction wrong to us, even if we’re uncomfortable saying it.
It’s natural for us to judge, and I really am okay with being a judgmental person. It’s how I operate in confidence, but I think the key is being aware of this quality and recognizing that there are more systems led by honest convictions that don’t match my own at all and sometimes defy my values. I have to live under the assumption that my core convictions are right, but I have to know that they may very well be ultimately wrong. That is a weird idea to walk with each day, and I don’t know how to hold it. It’s the main thing that keeps me feeling conflicted, but it’s also the main thing that compels me toward understanding.
Please don’t be concerned that I’m writing this kind of post. I used to write shit like this all the time, but I really am getting past it. There is but this one topic that I want to discuss because it’s entirely too relevant to my monthly discourse to ignore, and I like having these things all typed out for reference.
The first disclaimer I chuck forth when discussing my rationale for nonbelief to a believer is, “But I didn’t stop believing because of how Christians act. I stopped believing because I find no compelling evidence to believe.”
But let’s be real, part of the evidence against a “living and active” God is that there are so many who sincerely claim belief, being washed in the blood of the lamb and sanctified in the Spirit, who act exactly like everyone else (so many=all). Paul promised in Romans that rebirth through the resurrection would cause a transformation of the mind, presumably into a more righteous state. The loophole Christians are prepared to defend themselves with is that they are still human and still sin despite their salvation. Some of these people rape children, bash gays, and speak against numerous constructs of immorality that are nothing more than mere interpretations of scripture. So then what would be even remotely convincing that there is a Holy Spirit doing anything at all?
Frankly, it’s all bullshit. The Holy Spirit is bullshit.
If the specific role of the Holy Spirit is that it is the intervening power inside a believer, it’s either sleeping on the job or it’s nonexistent. Either way, it’s all but compelling. The true holy spirit is called conscience. It is that thing that compels all of us toward good. All of us except for sociopaths, probably. Recently at the Reason Rally, Adam Savage from Mythbusters said something relevant to this concept.
“I have concluded through careful empirical analysis and much thought that somebody is looking out for me, keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought. Giving me strength to shoot for more than I think I’m capable of. I believe they know everything that I do and think, and they still love me, and I’ve concluded, after careful consideration, that this person keeping score is me.”
It’s been just one year since I graduated from college, and I have culminated enough job experiences to fill multiple resumes at this point. The truth is that I got lucky. I still have friends who graduated the same year as me with no clue where to start, and yet I have others who have already finished their first years of medical or law school. We’re all in different places, and I’m inclined to believe no one is better off than another because of our professional standing. We each do our own thing, and it’s all we can do.
I started at my job as a contractor on a trial basis. They hired me without an official interview process, and they never even asked for my resume. I announced that, “I majored in mathematics,” and that was all it took. They desperately needed an “analytics guru” on staff, and I instantly became known by that title, before I even analyzed a single thing, let alone worked my way toward “guru” status, which I believe I’m still years from attaining. And yet, I managed to prove myself on trial, and they hired me full-time after less than a month.
As it turned out, I began working as an analyst at the same time I neurotically bounced my way into atheism and burst out with this admission to the public, subjecting myself to their inevitable scrutiny. There were days I felt so alone and misunderstood in my personal life that I would silently weep at my desk while filling out indifferentiable spreadsheets. I’m so insistent on my own authenticity that it’s almost impossible for me to compartmentalize different pieces of my life. I like for every part of myself to be alive at all times. Suppressing a single piece feels ingenuine, but web analytics has very little to do with the turmoil of deconversion or turmoil of any kind that doesn’t pertain to a client’s ROI.
But I was far more concerned about the return on my investment in deconversion. I did force myself to face the difficult questions instead of suppressing them any longer after having spiraled through multiple bouts of doubting depression, praying the doubts away and continuing like nothing was of issue. I like to think I’ve come out more joyful on the other side. For some reason, I feel inclined to measure the “success” of my deconversion as proof that it was objectively Good. It’s like I want to show my Christian family and friends that this lifestyle is wonderful and worth it, like showing them my genuine smile will convince them of something that I can’t actually hope to impart. They do love me, and they are proud of me. But I’m still wasting my life. I’m still going to hell to suffer for all of eternity. This is their perspective that I’ve had to learn to tolerate, if not respect. I can be happy as a clam, but they know I’ll ultimately scream in agony eventually all because of my lacking belief.
However, belief isn’t something that can be taught. It can be indoctrinated, but it requires a certain priming of the individual, a particular mental state susceptible to the beliefs. This leads me to the question of what made me susceptible to non-belief. What tore me away from faith? What made non-belief so naggingly true that I felt compelled to accept its resonance within me?
Interestingly, my job as a web analyst has been a latent factor in understanding this resonance. When I first started, I relied almost solely on direction from my boss and coworkers. I’d never dreamed I’d be working an office job, and I viewed myself as an intern of sorts just to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility they kept heaping onto me.
Just a few months later, I cut spend from a client’s advertising budget by 90% and managed to simultaneously triple their online sales. I did this single-handedly through some training but mostly through logic and intuition, and I gradually started accepting the power within me not only to do this job well but to master my position beyond the resources available to me. Just a few months into the job, I started seeing my potential to supply everyone else the information to do this job rather than accepting the information that others pass onto me.
Very quickly, I’d grasped the concept of being the web analytics queen bee and not the web analytics drone.
And I realized this is part of why I became an atheist. I’m grasping the concept of breaking into different frontiers, unencumbered by what is supposedly known. I couldn’t merely accept god’s existence anymore because the questions are far more significant to me. I didn’t reject god; I just found the notion unnecessary. It does nothing to incite me toward new discoveries, and the wonder of the unknown is far more valuable to me than following the tradition of something so deeply taken for granted.
Basically, I’m learning, and I’m growing up.
I just tweeted something and was like, “Shit! I need to mull over that thought before it’s gone.” So here I am, mulling.
The tweet: “I’m not sure how it’s possible to truly embrace the probable extent of your own ignorance and still believe in god.”
This thought hits something to my atheist core. I am increasingly comfortable with calling myself an atheist, and I think this statement says it all. So much of believing in god rests on the mystery of god. If god wasn’t mysterious, it would mean that god was evident. We’d be able to test and prove god’s existence. With mystery, we can’t. We just get a bunch of ranting angry atheists looking like they need a nice calming back-rub from Jesus (alternately, a laying on of hands by believers if/when Jesus isn’t present).
I guess what makes this post so important to me is that I want to explain why I call myself an atheist. I call myself an atheist because I work toward an understanding of the fullest extent of my ignorance that I can grasp. The more I admit that I don’t know, the more I encroach on the territory that is “god” and admit that I don’t know those things. I admit that I don’t know some of god’s attributes. I admit that I don’t know god’s will. I admit that I don’t know if there is a heaven or a hell. The more I admit, the less obvious god is. I was finally able to admit that I don’t know if god is even there. Since I don’t know if god is there, I’m not sure how to profess a belief that god is there. Once I admit that I don’t know something, I don’t hold onto a belief in that something. My default for not knowing is not believing. It’s still possible for me to hope that there is a god, and sometimes I do. But I never believe that there is a god. I don’t think it’s possible to believe in god after embracing the extent of your own ignorance. I really don’t.
To those of you who do, please explain.
Now, I do need to clarify that I am also agnostic. Often people hear me explain my atheism and say, “That sounds agnostic to me.” That’s because it is! It is my agnosticism that informs my atheism. Because I don’t know that something is true, I am not compelled to believe that the thing is true. Without the knowledge, I am agnostic. Without the belief, I am atheist.
I think I’m coming off my mountaintop deconversion experience. I guess it’s really no different from any other type of conversion after all, even a Christian salvation experience. It’s all bells and whistles at first, but then the glory fades and life is just kind of life again. The nature of new turning old. I’m okay with this, really.
Anxiety has crept into my life a bit lately in way less obtrusive ways than during the deconversion, but it’s still got me a little on-edge. I’m carrying over my burdens from who I was as a Christian and figuring out how to hold them on my own. I’m defining them without wishful prayers or scriptural aid. They’re just burdens like anyone else’s. They’re nothing I need some sort of ultimate savior to handle.
Christianity casts a bad light on the idea of being able to handle your own burdens. Just the other day my mom texted me to announce that she was praying for my car situation (the situation of not having a functioning car). The sentiment of prayer is sweet, but my joking mental response was, “You go ahead and pray. I’ll start doing some research on cars I can buy. Maybe these forces combined will bring about a favorable solution.” I am sad at how much the Christian disparages the capabilities of the individual. No, we can’t handle everything, but we can typically make it through the day. We’re all products of evolution and do have the ability to survive. That’s a thing we have with or without prayer. We’re not innately dependent on prayer or the Bible.
These are things I wish I could say to my family without them thinking I’m just an arrogant prick. I’ve always been fairly confident in myself, so I think that was part of what primed me for the brutal fight out of faith. I do wonder about it a lot, though–about how it was me who made it out and not any of my family or closest Christian friends. During the first few months of being outside of Christianity, I remember being genuinely concerned about those still inside. I saw them trapped in a system of self-doubt and unfounded dependency. They see me enslaved to the crumbling system of self. We both look at each other in horror, and yet we both feel fine.
Having now experienced both sides, I’m not alarmed. Meaning is a thing that is constructed for you and by you, sometimes to unequal measures. I like that my family finds Christian faith meaningful enough to bring joy into their lives. The difference between my family and me is that I think they can find meaning and joy from a number of perspectives, and I’m supportive of whichever resonates most with them. They’d rather see me assimilate to theirs, but I’m not sure the Dark Lord will loosen his grip enough to let me have that again. ;)
For a while I spent my days spewing atheism all over twitter, terrifying and alienating half of my former followers for certain. The road I’m on is the equivalent of the straight-and-narrow mindset the Bible instilled in me about life’s purposeful journey, but a matter of perspective can make my journey seem like a tightrope over flames. Maybe I’m on an existential acid trip and think the flames are a bed of daisies and lilies. I wonder sometimes if delusion exists on all sides and if it’s okay to chase the only thing we think we might understand.