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.
As I write this, my dad is having bypass surgery to open a few narrowing arteries in his heart. He had a mild heart attack the day before Easter and since then, I’ve had my first experience as an atheist listening to excessive amounts of “praying for you” and “God is in control” types of sentiments being tossed about. I’m far enough along in my recovery from deconversion that these things don’t really bother me, but my different perspective now is still so stark.
Two days ago, I observed my 93-year-old great-grandfather feebly lean over toward my father and promise him that the Lord will keep him stable during surgery. For the first time, my great-grandfather sounded like a small child. I hear supernatural assurances and imagine children awed by the wand of a magician.
It was kind of cute, actually. I hope it’s not too condescending to think that faith in God is just a little precious.
I’ve come to practically eat, drink, and breathe nonbelief. Still apathetic to political persuasions, I continue to fixate more and more on the nuances of religious belief. Religion, politics, and other constructs of categorization and preference are all matters of belief. In a way, they’re all the same. The shedding of my Christianity, however, feels like shedding an entire layer of skin. I look the same underneath, but those actual pieces of what I was are gone. I want others to know that, and I want to know that as well. Instead of leaving the shell of myself in the yard, I’d rather dissect it, no matter how thin and useless it may appear now.
A piece of what I’ve carried with me from my Christian faith is seeing that we’re all the same. I don’t see us as the same in our sinfulness and rebellion to the Lord, but I do see us the same in our human form. I see the sameness scientifically and spiritually. None of these things I see have to do with good and evil, right and wrong. It’s not important to me that religion be destroyed, but it is important to let others know that belief is belief. The consequences of belief itself are only seen in sensory manifestations. There is nothing about any particular faith that necessarily demonstrates any of them as true beliefs, and this is an important distinction to make.
I don’t see God changing hearts. I see people learning and growing organically, evolutionarily.
This is why I’m very much the same as an atheist as I was as a Christian. The difference is that I now understand the nature of my willpower in a different light. I still make decisions that benefit both my community and myself. I still make sacrifices when I see them as necessary. I still don’t think I’m the most important person ever, even if I do act that way sometimes. What I want to understand from Christians is why it’s important that I see all of these things in light of a Creator God. I want to understand what could possibly necessarily demonstrate that I need a Savior. Yeah, I’m fallible and go through intensely weak periods of life, but the help I find during those moments happen through community and psychological methods. Prayer and meditation are psychological methods.
I wish there was a way to present my beliefs and my case without it seeming like I’m so against God. I’m not, but a distinction needs to be made. We can be good without believing in God even if God is there. Life makes sense without God, and life can be wonderful without God (and it can be even better than a life with God, as is the case for me).
Maybe some people just need to see that the big picture is bigger than they conceive. Perhaps there is a picture that may include God but is not limited to God. I don’t see this as a hateful statement, but rather a more conceivable one.
What probably keeps my family calm and collected about my loss of salvation is the hope that I can reach true salvation one day, Lord-willing. My one major restraint has been not telling them how strongly I feel like I will never be a Christian again. I’m sure they believe God is far more powerful than my obstinacy, but I feel so close to fully confident in saying never. Absolutely not ever again. Never.
It goes along with how things can’t be unseen, which is a funny comparison considering how faith is certainty in things unseen. So confusing!
The way I lost my faith was a mere matter of backing up. I should start saying that. “Hey, how’d you lose your faith?” “Oh, I just kept backing up and eventually my faith got lost in the big picture.” It’s a perfect illustration. You see, faith is selfish. This is not an accusation where I say, “I’m not selfish–religious people are.” No, I’m selfish, too, but I don’t pretend like there are things I can possibly do that aren’t selfish. Selfishness is not a sin. It is necessary. There are things we do that are more selfish and things that are less selfish, but everything is derived from a selfish intent, even if it’s the satisfaction of doing something good for someone else. That satisfaction is selfish, but it’s not a bad thing.
But anyway, back to how my faith got lost in the big picture. I am a selfish person, yes, and my faith in God was very selfish. I looked for all the ways it could bring me peace and satisfaction. Christians do this under the guise of saying satisfaction in the Holy Spirit is honoring to God, not honoring to man. You can twist it however you want but when it comes down to it, it makes you happy, and you want to be happy. It’s hard to question that sort of faith when it brings such deep satisfaction, which is why it’s marvelous for Christians when doubt finally leads to “humble” repentance. Christians were all for my doubts there for a while, but when the doubts got too doubt-y, they were no longer edifying or acceptable. Once I started observing the world from other perspectives, non-Christian perspectives, I’d gone too deep. And it’s true, there was no going back once I’d stepped back too far. I see faith for what it is and how it works. I’ve drawn the parallels of faith between different religions and different gods. As far as I can tell, it all looks the same. Someone would be hard-pressed to prove to me that one of those gods is real and the others aren’t. They all fill the same role in different lives. Scientifically, without confirmation bias, the whole personal god thing fails. It’s all conjecture built on personal transcendental experiences. Despite the Christian arguments for absolute truth, there is no evidence to substantiate a claim that BibleGod is absolute truth.
Perhaps saying I don’t think I’ll ever believe in God again is a bit of a bold statement, perhaps not totally founded, and maybe I just really don’t want to believe in God again (I do want to believe in God if God is real). The fact of the matter is, I’ve seen too much. I don’t usually blog about these matters with such confidence. I feel a little vulnerable writing all of this, but that’s okay. I might be wrong. Maybe one day I’ll confusedly worship a god again.
When I first deconverted, it was pretty natural that I would really despise the worldview I left behind. Hating and feeling embarrassed by your past isn’t only damaging to the self, but it is potentially damaging to those who are still living that worldview. There was a fine line I walked between dogging on the silly elements of Christian culture that most Christians hate and dogging on the actual doctrine that most Christians believe is true. I still walk this line, and I’ve still not learned how to be as sensitive to it as some probably think I should be.
I received a message from a friend explicitly asking me if my main issue is with Christian culture or with the actual Christian God. I explained that they’re both kind of the same to me. Christian culture is reading the Bible. Well, not all of them are, but I know people swimming in the culture who have very carefully studied the Bible in the “original” Greek and Hebrew for decades. It’s not like they’re missing something. It’s not like they missed the point on who God is and are now raping God’s purposes. No, I think Bible God gets represented by every single Christian who reads the Bible: the Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, Steven Furticks, and Mark Driscolls as well as the Jon Acuffs and even the more liberal, mystical Christians. They’re all reading the same Bible. All of their actions are informed by the text.
This is where atheism makes a lot of sense to me by saying, “The Bible is full of inconsistencies and contradictions.” The illustration of this is all around us. Look at how many people are reading the same Bible and living according to opposite convictions. The Bible can be twisted to fit anything that a person thinks he/she needs. It just can. There are always certain parts that need to be ignored in order for you to live by your biblical convictions. Each Christian traces their own narrative through Scripture and applies it. Some see the never-changing God who hates homosexuality and destroys cities. Yep, he’s in there. Some see the merciful God who extends grace to the most destitute. Yep, he’s in there. This is what scares me about the Bible. I respect my friends who love God and want to love others because they believe God has called them to love others. That is wonderful and needed. But I’m just trying to love others, too, and I don’t pull my reasoning from the same book that informed mass genocides of the past. There’s just something eerie about the text. There is a lot of beauty and mystery in there, but there is also a lot of dark, morbid stuff. I don’t understand calling it a holy book or using it as the primary source for informing my beliefs. Yes, Jesus was nice in some respects. In others, he might have kinda been a dick. He had cool, revolutionary ideas, but I don’t think he was/is God. I can love people without him telling me to at least.
So yeah, I don’t often like Christian culture, and I probably don’t really like the Christian God. The key, though, is that I don’t think that God really exists, and this suspicion is informed by what I see. It’s relieving and terrifying at the same time.
If there is a God, I hope that God is not represented by the Bible. If there is a God, that God should probably be pissed about the Bible.