Seeing the Light

sent in by Wayne McCoy

I was brought up in a Southern Baptist family, in the '40s and 50s. My mother's side, with whom we had the most contact, were pretty on being Christian. My grandfather was instrumental in getting the pastor for our church, my mother played the organ and my father sang in the choir. I didn't learn until many years later that my father was not all that strong in his belief. But I think the strongest influence was my grandmother, a daughter of the Old South. In any case, by the time I reached high school, I was teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, going to church about four times a week, praying regularly. I graduated from HS and went off into the Army. For some reason, some of my fellow soldiers saw fit to pick on me, perhaps because I was small. But I had my faith to sustain me. Looking back on it now, I can see that the faith did little to sustain me. I got more help from the black soldiers in my unit, who endured not a little prejudice on our bases in the Deep South.

I finished up my active duty and went off to college. Although I had friends, I was always lonely and unhappy. I called on my faith for support, still going to church, still believing. A class in humanities got me thinking about the basis of religion -- fear. But an experience I had sometime afterward caused me to question all forms of belief that have any mysticism to them.

One night I lay in bed in my dorm room, contemplating the "meaning of life, universe and everything," and the answer was not coming up 42 (this was many years before Hitchhikers). Suddenly, the room seemed to be bathed in a brilliant white light and a calm quiet voice said to me, "That is not the way it is." I took this to mean that religions do not explain anything, that I should find my own answers. And I have been a non-believer ever since. I know this sounds like a revelation in reverse, but it's really the way it happened.

I grant that some people need religious faith. I don't. And I challenge anyone to give me a reason for believing that does not already assume that belief at some level. People believe because they want to believe.

Do I think that science has "all the answers"? What an absurd notion! It would not be science if it had all the answers. Science is about the search for explanations and the trial of those explanations against observation. Are there things which science is inadequate to explore? Of course. Science depends on repeatability of phenomena and control of conditions in order to conduct meaningful experiments. Does this mean that I believe in supernatural phenomena? No, just that science is not well-equipped by definition to investigate such claims (science investigates repeatable natural phenomena). Does this mean I believe that non-repeatable phenomena occur? What says they cannot occur? They happen all the time -- they're called one-in-a-zillion events, and they do occur only once.

And what about absolute truths? How would you know one if you saw it? How did the universe get here? Theoretical physicists say through the collision of D-branes, resulting in the Big Bang. But until someone can verify it, it's in the same league as "In the beginning God created Heaven and the Earth...was for the ancient Hebrews.

What about sin and forgiveness? I ask, why do you feel guilty? Sin and forgiveness, outside of what you've actually done to another human, is one of those things that is the product of believing in the first place (see my challenge above).

Do I think religious belief has any positive value for humanity? To the extent it can get some people to behave in ways they can't otherwise do for themselves. To me, religious belief this day and time is either intellectual laziness or weakness of some sort in the personality, or both. Or I go back to my hypothesis in college -- fear.

Do I fear dying? No. Am I afraid the terrorists are going to hurt me or my family? No, it's much more likely we'll be hurt in tornadoes or hurricanes than by terrorists. What about life after death?

What about it?

Does prayer work? Only if you believe it does.

Miracles? They are supposed to be rare (even the Catholic Church says they are) but today it seems that they have become everyday phenomena. Why is it that some people get miracles while others don't? Miracles today aren't. Were they ever? No. Miracles occur only when we don't have a more cogent reason for something that happens, usually from a lack of information, knowledge, understanding or reasoning. That doesn't imply that a supernatural explanation is the truth.

What about atheist religions like Buddhism? You can access the things that Buddhism offers by yourself without all the ritual.

There can be no omnipotent omniscient being, because if one exists I can doubt that it exists, but it can't doubt that I exist, and it can't doubt that it exists. Consequently, it is neither omnipotent nor omniscient.

How about an infinite being? What does that mean -- infinite? In what regard is it infinite? Wisdom -- I don't think so. There are some pretty dumb things going on in nature. Love? How would you gauge it to be infinite -- we can't even tell for sure when someone human loves us (or doesn't)! OK, beyond any contemplation, then. So it must be felt rather than contemplated? Now we're getting to the faith issue, and the reason for my challenge. You have to have faith to have faith. Think in circles.

Why is there something rather than nothing? The solipsist would say that "something" is an illusion, but what is it that is creating that illusion? How do we know what a state of nothingness is? Perhaps we have imposed a binary nature on the question because of our need to have extremes, opposites, to fit comfortable patterns. Perhaps it is not possible for a state of nothingness to obtain (easy to get caught in the semantics of the double negative here). Quantum theory is beginning to suggest that nothingness is unlikely.

Why are we here? We evolved this way and we have no say in it. We're here to ask questions like these.

Sex: Male
City: Poolesville
State: MD
Country: USA
Became a Christian: Baptized at 12
Ceased being a Christian: 19
Labels before: Southern Baptist
Labels now: non-believer
Why I joined: family, peers
Why I left: belief was not offering me any comfort
Email Address: operarus at erols dot com

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