Sent in by Jake
Sometimes, I miss being six years old and really believing that there were fairies and dragons and wizards out there somewhere, with the dinosaurs that maybe, just maybe lived in places of the world no one had found.
When I was little, I dreamed of being an explorer and finding those places. I ran around as kids are wont to do, pretending to be storybook characters, exploring lost temples and forgotten jungle civilizations with Indiana Jones, slaying dragons with King Arthur, fighting off hordes of space invaders with lasers only I could see and all manner of other imaginative forms of self-amusement.
It was a great dream, and as I was an only child of a poor family, typically the only reliable entertainment available to me. Someday I might just write books about it all. They'll be categorized as fiction, and I'll fondly keep copies of them on my bookshelves, to eventually read to my children/grandchildren, provided I ever have any.
To arrive at my point, there's nothing wrong with a dream. Similarly, there's nothing wrong with fondly remembering a dream, or even with taking lessons spun from circumstances only perceived in the imagination.
There is something wrong with refusing to move on when it is very well time to move on, however, and that which many religions posit as god-figures have, in this author's opinion, long out-worn their welcome.
What manner of silly person would I be if I ran around starting organizations, lying to people and maligning their trust by 'converting' them to believe in a dream I once, as a child, wished and yearned to be true, for example? Why would I do such things?
How pitiful would I be if I truly believed, as I so often permitted myself to do as a child, that I were a knight, a space soldier or a cowboy explorer of pseudo-mystical dungeons?
How sad would it be if I, lost in my childhood dreams, failed to see the wonders and marvels that exist in the world around me as they are, for what they are, to the best of mine and science's ability to perceive and understand them?
These questions are posed somewhat rhetorically. I would be, at best, benignly silly to do such things. At worst, especially if I were a sillyperson trying to spread my peculiar beliefs as a dogmatic religion, I would be a liar, a con-artist and delusionaly misguided, which I have no doubt would be swiftly pointed out by a great many who, themselves, could plainly discern my claimed 'truths' as fabrications.
Thankfully, such is not the case. I traded my imaginary sword and knightly armor long, long ago for the pen. In so doing, I turned in my heroic tales of imagined yore and fable for mysteries I never could've imagined as a child; mysteries of the human mind, mysteries of society, mysteries of the very people that surround me.
It wasn't something I wanted to do. From roughly the ages of nine on into my early teens, I would escape into anything that offered me solace from a reality I neither liked nor felt at all special in. I did well in school, but I never enjoyed it; I had friends, but I was never especially close to any of them.
The illusions I'd enjoyed were what I thought reality should be. They were what I'd yearned and dreamed of. Admitting that they were no more than childhood dreams was, for me, one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do in my young life, and when I finally did it, I felt hollow, wounded and confused.
Indeed, I felt as if I'd excommunicated a vital organ or limb. Without those dreams, I didn't know who I was. Without those dreams, I didn't know what to make of the world around me.
I read a lot, as a child. Dinosaurs were amongst my favorite topics, and by necessity, I became quite the scavenger at my local library, digging through books on paleontology, archeology and geology. With the passage of time, I also became curious as to the people around me, specifically regarding why they did what they did, why they believed what they believed, and it was in pursuit of such curiosities that I came to understand a great many things of lasting importance.
Everyone was as lost as me. I recall observing that over a period of time, and growing ever-increasingly certain of this observation being more than an idle projection of envy. Then, I started talking to people about it, at first confining my questions only to the most trusted of my friends; a process that brought me closer to them than ever I'd prior been; as well as a select few teachers.
The more I inquired, the more answers I found to my questions, but in so doing, I also found that every answer found was a dozen or more new questions in and of itself. I grew fascinated by this, and by the time I reached highschool, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
I wanted to study people. I wanted to study their minds, their societies, their cultures, their natures. I wanted to know what they believed, what they thought, where it all came from...and to do any of that, I'd also have to study a considerable amount of how. Only in so doing, which I knew even then, could I begin to hope to uncover the whys of it all.
Religion was, from the first inquiries I made on to this very present day, a dominating factor in nearly every discussion and research endeavor I've ever engaged in.
To begin with, I honestly believed in the Christian god. Even when I was very young, the existence of the Christian god was simply one of those things that 'was', and went without saying. All the adults in my life spoke of god as if he were real, all the people at the church I frequently attended regarded him as the immortal sovereign of the earth, as well as it's creator. It was just one of those things that I'd never even thought to question, though neither had I ever particularly thought to care much about it either.
God, to me, was never very real at all. God was just another part of the childhood dreams, as far as I was concerned; a notion I'd grown comfortable with abandoning by about the age of fifteen. What baffled me then, of course, was when I identified that same thing in others; that same tendency to have had and subsequently abandoned fanciful childhood dreams, stories and games...but not the parts about God.
It really confused me, to be honest. It only occurred to me that people really took the bible seriously after this revelation dawned on me, as prior I'd simply and thoughtlessly assumed that church was just the dream-game adults played with each other. It wasn't a thought I'd ever consciously formed as such, but in retrospect, I am able to paraphrase how I perceived it.
Imagine my deep, distressed surprise when I started re-examining the whole matter of religion. When I was sixteen, in the summer between tenth and eleventh grade, I engaged myself in serious contemplation and research of what was to me a most peculiar and baffling phenomenon, with the very basis of all my inquiries being the question "Does the Christian god, or any god for that matter, exist?"
It was a summer to be remembered. I do believe that I managed to gravely insult every pastor of every church within fifty miles of my home with my probing, prodding, never-ceasing questions, as this was a most direly important question, and I wasn't about to take the fluff answers they were prepared to give off-the-cuff to such inquiries.
Mine was a more serious inquiry than many of them were prepared for or fond of. That was the summer in which it was demonstrated to me, time and time again, that many of the very people that my elders and supposed betters looked to for guidance and spiritual learning were as clueless on this question as I was.
That was, in fact, the summer that I came to understand myself as being an agnostic. The arguments given, the tones used in their giving, the expressions worn, the body language evinced; in every case, I identified one of two things; baseless certainty that could not be supported with fact or just as much uncertainty as I, myself, felt.
That school-year was a most troubling one. My unyieldingly inquisitive nature did not even remotely begin to sit well with a number of my more Christian teachers and fellow students. It was not a topic most of my teachers would discuss with me for legal reasons, but it was not a topic they could prevent me dispensing with at every opportunity in class discussions, and so it was that I found out first-hand just how rabidly many of my own peers clung adamantly to certain childhood dreams of their own.
Dreams that I and my heretical words, comments and platforms were often very threatening towards.
I did not attend high school for a senior year. Simply put, I quit and got a G.E.D, for no greater reason than that I'd spent my entire junior year finding out, in no uncertain terms, just how very un-Christian most Christians actually are at that age.
This did not, however, even begin to curb or shake my resolve in pursuing the dream I'd fully embraced by that time; the dream to learn, to seek the truth of minds and societies, to carve away the embellishments and lay bare whatever facts I and science could find.
It is a dream I still retain; a dream I find more fulfillment in than ever I dreamed could exist as a child. It is the very sort of fulfillment my many religious colleagues and friends speak so passionately of...but so very seldom reflect in either their eyes or their lives.
It is the sort of paradoxically peaceful exhilaration that I felt as a child, imagining a large stick to be a huge laser with myself as it's wielder, fighting off an invading horde of creepy aliens.
Now, I am an atheist. I've made my examinations, I've both observed and engaged in more debates with myself and others than I can easily recall, and contrary to what I find many detractors saying of atheism, I found neither confusion nor sorrow in acknowledging that, if there is any sort of god-figure, we know nothing at all about it, have only the sorriest, palest glimmers of pseudo-evidence to support it's suspected existence and rather well ought to chalk it up to fiction.
Rather, I found peace. When I truly acknowledged myself as an atheist, all the miscast, religion-sourced doubts about the world around me melted away. All the confounding explanations given by religion's adherents; any religion's; suddenly came into a focus of clarity I was, prior, forever pursuing but never permitting myself.
For the first time, I could see the simple reality that'd forever surrounded me, but had always prior evaded me. There was no god. Bad things happened because things happened, and without fail, they'd be thought bad by someone; perhaps a great many someones; not uncommonly even myself.
Most importantly, and I must stress this as being the most singularly important revelation I have ever made for my own benefit, it was in realizing myself as an atheist that I was able to accept my fellow humans as simply being that; humans. Not fallen, twisted, sin-sorry mongrels deserving only every misery heaped upon them and a thousandfold more, but simply as people, as often as lost and afraid and desperate for anything that seemed to give them surety and definition as ever I had been.
When this revelation first struck me and I truly 'got' it, I wept. For a thousand reasons, I wept. At last, I could see. At last, I could hear.
At last, I knew what it was to be at peace, with both myself and those around me.
It was everything the Christians claim of being 'born again', for me. I felt like a new person, seeing the world for the first time with a clarity unfettered by judgment, unclouded by two thousand pages of the most apocryphal holy text contrived. For the very first time, I looked upon people without fear, I spoke to them without reservation and I walked without a shame-bowed head.
It had all been a dream. A bitter, agonizing dream filled with promises of hellfire, an outrageous desert-god that so weirdly confused hate for love and many strange, Black Wonderland-ish stories about resurrections and entire cities' populations turning into pillars of salt and giants and so very much confusing babble.
I traded one dream for another, when I began pursuing understanding of the world around me; a more real dream; a dream of the reality that surrounds me, that lives and is demonstrated in every man, woman, child, animal, plant and stone around me.
I truly began to understand the nature of my dream when I realized that there were no pits of hell I'd be cast into for being passionately curious; that there was no god who would only love me if I did not obey the ridiculous edicts of a viciously slanted book authored by the fallible for the foolish.
So it is that now I dream of the wonders that the human mind may yet hold for us. I imagine the marvels that I might really, truly find in exploring via science and explorative testing what the consciousness of the individual might contain.
I know precious little of cosmology, astrophysics or quantum mechanics, but I look upon the mysteries explored by those men of 'harder' sciences as well, and I marvel right alongside them, perhaps even less so for my lesser understanding than their own in such matters. There exists all around us a world of absolute wonder; an utter heaven if ever there was one of mystery so profound that it seems as magic sometimes.
The more I come to learn, the more I marvel. I am humbled by the magnificence of the human brain, for example; I stand in awe before the fantastic complexity and development of society across the ages; society, a thing so oft' referenced, so poorly understood, reliant upon such deceptively simple things as basic interpersonal communication...and yet, it is the very connection between all peoples of the world.
I do not need an imaginary sword anymore. I do not want for imaginary dungeons and ancient temples to explore. Once, I yearned for them, because I knew not better. No longer; no more.
I dream even still, of someday knowing more than I did before about what the imagination itself is, and I temper that dream with doings; real doings; that others can readily share in, take part in and know for themselves without me having to say a word.
I dream, ever on, about what and how and why the things around me are as they are. I stand repeatedly amazed by the things that are, as sure as the stone and earth I walk on, as interactive as the very air we breath, as mysterious as sentience itself.
If any god despises me for not subscribing to the views held by those who've clung to their imaginary friends, swords and fiery dungeons...so be it. Their despise, I shall answer with pity for their own sorry, narrow limitations if ever such a divinity makes it's case against me. Their anger, I shall answer with understanding, because I bear them no ill will. What ill will can I justify holding for a dream; a sometimes very good and necessary dream for those who've need of a dream?
I may remonstrate them sorely, if one or any prove to actually exist, but it's quite more probable that, in such instance, I would simply seek to know them better, as I would any other person or even being as that I became aware of.
Remember your childhood dreams, with as much fondness as you may. I remember mine with the fondness of one who looks upon stories written, pictures drawn and poetry scribed by one's own hand in grade school. I see in them the footprints of who I have been, what I once knew, what I once believed, and in so seeing, I see also that they were me, once.
I came from that. Once, I believed in dragons. Once, I believed in fairies. Once, in my mind alone, a carved stick was a magic sword that could cut through anything.
My dreams taught me how to dream. Now, I apply those dreams to exploring that which is. My dreaming mind leads me to imagine possibilities, contrive upon sometimes very silly theories, and then to test them, to question their nature, to challenge their veracity, to refine them and in so doing, explore them and the very world around me, because they are now of the world that is real; the world you and I and everyone share equally by merit of our similar senses and identical platforms of subjective purveyance.
My imagination, my dreams and the reality around me are at peace with each-other. Within me, they are friends and fast allies, no one threatened by any other, all as boon companions upon a path I do not walk alone. Let me tell you, it is a peace that knows no rival. It is as waking up every time I open my eyes and seeing something new every time I look upon the faces, in the eyes and in the very world around me.
Someday, I will look back upon that which I write now, that which I know now, that which I dream now, and I will say to myself "That was me once. That was what I knew then; that was what I thought then. I came from that."
I imagine that future time, and in so doing, I remember to realize that with every day that comes. In so doing, I am ever reminded to take nothing for granted; to take every opportunity to live up to my promises, to never miss a chance to share a moment with another, to never despair when there is so much joyful living to be doing.
Like a storybook knight gazing down a road untraveled into lands uncharted, I grin for the dreamed imagining of what it is that i might just know and thenceforth be tomorrow, and also for knowing that, if I am gone when tomorrow arrives, I will have lived a life fantastic, full of dreams and the curiosity of a child.
A life I would, in any afterlife or none at all, be proud to have lived.
Peace be with you; all of you, no matter what you believe.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)