Image via WikipediaI have always known deep down inside of me, down deep where true knowledge resides, that Christianity and all other organized religions are untrue. But the pull of the religion of one's youth is a very powerful draw. Sometimes it's like a black hole sucking me back in and so there have been a few times in my life where I have fallen back into old ways of thinking. I'm not sure if anyone can truly understand this phenomenon unless they too were raised in a religious family.
I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition and have chronicled this in other essays I have written. When your entire family is telling you that you are wrong, and that your eternal soul is in jeopardy, no matter how much you know in your heart it just isn't true, there are times in life that you begin to wonder, especially at those times when your life doesn't seem to be proceeding exactly according to plan. You start to wonder if maybe they are right after all? Maybe if I could just learn to have faith, if I could just learn to accept what they have accepted so easily, maybe if I too could just learn to believe, then maybe I too could find happiness and peace.
So there have been a few times in my life when I have tried this. And sometimes it does seem to work. For about a minute. Sometimes I have been able to lie even to myself, to convince myself, "yea, you can do this, you can believe this craziness if you just try hard enough."
So, in this last go round, my girlfriend and I started going to this local contemporary, seeker-friendly mega-church, and we actually liked it. They didn't preach hellfire and brimstone and the music was great! Contemporary music played by a terrific contemporary band.
Then I started to argue with Atheists, but what I was really doing was trying to convince myself. That's what I always do, I am more having a conversation with myself than I am with anyone else. I am more trying to convince myself than I am anyone else.
But after awhile I had to ask myself, "What the hell, exactly, is it that you are doing? Why are you lying?" And I realized that this is what I was in fact doing. I was lying!! Lying more to myself than to anyone else and a person can only lie to themselves but for so long. A person can lie to others all they want, lying to oneself does not work out so well, if a person wishes to remain sane. And true to oneself!!
To hell with it all!!
I have told myself that from now on, I am going to remain true to myself and to no one else, not to anyone in my family, only me!! I know what I believe in my heart is true for me, and I don't have to convince myself of anyone else's truth.
Shakespeare said, "This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
I am still trying to figure out exactly what it is that I DO believe, in the wake of my absence of faith, but I have an insatiable need, an insatiable desire to know the truth, not the tired ol' dogmas of the past.
I never agreed with people who say that people shouldn't discuss politics or religion. I don't know why people get so hung up about religion and politics. They act as if their beliefs are so cherished that to even discuss it is somehow dangerous. People are scared, I believe, they are afraid to talk about these things because their beliefs ARE so cherished and they are afraid of upsetting the apple cart so to speak, afraid that their cherished beliefs might need some fine tuning after all. I love discussing these things. It's what I do.
I have NEVER said though that I know everything or that I have answers to anything. I don't know anything, actually, even when it comes to religion, that's why I call myself an Agnostic. I'm neither a believer nor an Atheist. I just don't know. I do know though that a lot of things I was taught to believe as a child are, without a doubt, not true. I can't prove it to you though, and I know that many do still believe in a lot of those things. I just know in my heart and soul that God is real, but the God I was raised to believe in is no more real than Santa Clause.
But doesn't it seem that the ones that are so sure they DO know the answers are the very ones who are screwing up this world so badly?
Many of my friends and family don't get me. Not too many people do. It is very lonely knowing that not a single person in one's family understands you. The ONLY person who I think does understand is my girlfriend. Her beliefs and mine are pretty much in sync. She wasn't raised in a religious household though.I almost feel as if I was raised in a cult of sorts, raised in a bubble.
A Christian family member once asked me why I can't be grateful for what I have and why do I dwell on things that do not matter? But if what they say is true that I'm going to hell for my beliefs, then it DOES matter. It matters a great deal. I AM grateful for everything that I have, most especially my kids and for Jackie, because in the way of material possessions I don't have much. But that doesn't preclude me from thinking about spiritual questions. I am a very spiritual person, I just do not believe the way others believe, and believe me, I don't get them either.
I think about existential questions all the time, you ask me why, and my answer is that I have no other choice, that is how I was built, it is who I am. I could no longer stop asking these questions than you could stop believing in Jesus. What if I asked you why can't you just be grateful for what you have, why do you have to go to church and believe in Jesus, someone who lived and died over 2000 years ago? I am a very spiritual person, sometimes I think I'm more spiritual than a lot of Christians I know. Many people believe in God and Jesus, yet I don't think they have given their beliefs more than a cursory glance, have never asked questions.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you believe the way you do? Maybe for some it doesn't matter. For me, the truth matters a great deal. I can't just believe in something because it makes me feel good, I have to know the truth. For some, believing in Jesus makes them feel good and it makes them feel better about where they are going when they die. I don't care about feeling better, I care about the truth. And I have asked myself a LOT of questions over the years.
I just think religion is largely a function of geography, there are lots of other religions in this world besides Christianity and they can't all be right. I think they are ALL wrong, every one of them. If I believed the way some do, I could NEVER live anything other than a Christian life, to live otherwise makes no sense, I would be afraid to go to sleep every nite, for fear I would die and go to hell. But there is no such thing as heaven and hell, it's all make believe.
I am not trying to persuade anyone from their beliefs, at all!! Not one bit. I am just trying to get some understanding as to where I am coming from, why I believe the way I do. Christians are so ego-centric about their religion, that they come off as superior about their beliefs, as if their beliefs are better, or the only right way. No one feels the least bit of gumption about proselytizing their beliefs, I get emails all the time from different family members telling me about Jesus and how much he supposedly loves me, wanting me to hear the good news, so why should I feel ashamed for letting my beliefs be known? I have lived in the dark for far too long. And I am no longer ashamed of who I am and who I am not.
People talk about the Gospel, about the good news of Jesus Christ. To me, I have never understood what the good news is. What is the good news? That I am going to hell because I don't believe any of it? What exactly is the good news? That most of the world is going to hell because they are of a different religion? I don't get it.
Some act as if these matters don't matter. That we shouldn't worry about them. They DO matter. That's exactly what those in power want us to do, not think about these things too much, so they can go on and rape our country and the world as they have been doing. They don't want us to think, don't you see? And the Church doesn't want us to think either. But I think, and to ask me why would be like to ask me why I breathe, because I have to. It's who I am and I can't help it.
But I am not trying to persuade anyone away from your beliefs at all. I have thought about that in regards to my Mother, I asked myself what if my Mom told me tomorrow that she too was no longer a Christian, how would I feel? And for some reason, I think, I would be sad, not because I think she would be going to hell or because she would be wrong, but because being a Christian is who she is, and to lose something that large about yourself is a tragedy. Trust me, I know what it's like to lose your religion, I lost mine a long time ago. It can be terrifying but it's also liberating. I don't have to worry about the destiny of my soul any more, about heaven and hell. I can now just let others worry about that for me.
I don't need anyone to believe the way I do, I just need at least someone to "get me", to understand where I'm coming from. I was born with an analytical brain, I think too much, but I can't help it, it's in my genes, it comes from my father. I just can't see how God could or would send me to hell for using the brain he supposedly gave me. It's interesting to note, that the vast majority of all the greatest minds who ever lived were Atheists, people like Einstein, Mark Twain, I could go on and on.
My father asked me one time what kind of garbage I was reading to make me think these things, and I said, "Oh, just people like Einstein, you know, one of the smartest man who ever lived, and Mark Twain, the most respected man who ever lived, who wrote Huckleberry Finn." I don't read a bunch of New Age 'mumbo jumbo', or Atheist handbooks, I read the greatest minds who have ever lived, the ones we were told to read when we were in high school and college. Why is it that most of 'em were Atheists, yet I'm the crazy one?
I have come to the conclusion that the more educated a person becomes the less religious they necessarily become. I can't believe in a God who rewards and punishes based on something which a person can't help anyway, their belief. I have asked this before and I'll ask it again now, if Jesus died on the cross for my sins, why do I have to believe it? What does my belief or lack thereof have to do with it? I don't get it. It makes no sense to me at all. Is his love not large enough to encompass those of us who just can not find it in them to believe? Belief is not a conscious choice.
I'm a good person, I love my kids and my g/f and my family and I work hard to give them a good life, I don't drink to excess, I don't party, I don't do anything bad at all for which I'm trying to justify my life through a lack of belief. I'm a good person and I can't see how or why God would punish me for simply not believing in him, if he does in fact exist. A cousin said that not being a Christian doesn't mean I'm a bad person, it just means I'm going to hell. Well thanks, is what I thought. They say these things so nonchalantly, I don't even think they realize what it is they are saying. So in their religion, a lot of good people are going to hell. Sorry, I just can not buy that.
What they are basically saying is thus:
"since you don't believe in the Bible, you are going to hell when you die, but hey, don't worry about it, it's all just stuff that doesn't matter anyway, why can't you just be grateful for what you have in life?" Do you not see how insane that statement is?!
Some have asked what it was I was searching for in life. I am searching for the Truth, whatever that is. I can't just believe things because I was raised to believe certain things, because I have been told to believe certain things. It's not how I am made internally. I have to KNOW things for myself. I am a seeker, I love knowledge, I love learning, always have. I love to read and read voraciously. I just love to learn, love to think about things.
There was a time when I was an Atheist, but I'm not any longer. Just because I'm not a Christian doesn't mean I'm an Atheist. It is precisely because I DO believe in God and his infinite love that I can NOT believe that the Bible is his word. I just can not. I just can NOT believe that God would order his people, the Jews to annihilate men, women and children, to kill entire groups of people, simply because the land was supposedly their "promised land." No, I think people do those things and then they try to use religion to justify the terrible things they have done. That is what the Jews did and then tried to ascribe their genocidal behavior to God's imperative. Why more people can not see through these lies is beyond me.
I believe that we are all a part of God and that is the only thing Jesus was really trying to tell everyone. He said he was a Son of God, as we are all Sons of God, he also said, "These things you see me do, these and many more things like them will you also do." He wasn't claiming to be anything that we are not, he wasn't demanding our worship, that was all lies put on Jesus' lips by the Church afterwards.
Jesus preached peace and he preached against the religion of his day, he preached against false piety and he preached living a simple life, for all these reasons, he was killed, just as many people have been killed for their beliefs throughout the ages.
I believe we are all "one" and the sooner more people realize that, the better off we will be. It is not rich vs poor, them vs us, republican vs democrat, it's all just us, and we are killing ourselves on this planet because of the things we believe and don't believe.
I believe that God is infinite love, where there is love, there can be no hate. There are only two basic emotions in all the world, love or hate, God is not hate, God is love. So I can not imagine him punishing me for eternity simply because I do not believe a particular myth or story about him. I once heard a story that all the religions are like people who have all had the chance to gaze upon God but every one was given a different part of God to gaze upon, some the feet, some the head, some his garment. Obviously this is metaphor. But what religions have done is that they all think their particular view of God they have been allowed to see, is the only true nature of God. Those who saw the feet, think the feet is all of God, those who saw his garments think they saw the totality of God as well, and we are all arguing fighting and dying, fighting over whose view of God is correct when we need to realize we ALL have been allowed to gaze upon God
There is a comedian named Julia Sweeney who used to be on Saturday Night Live and I just love what she said, "It's not you God, it's me. It's because I take you so seriously that I can't believe in you." It sounds funny but I think it is a very profound statement. And I totally agree, It is precisely because I believe so much in God's love that I can not believe in the Bible. I think if God exists, he loves me even if I don't believe in him. I think he feels compassion for me, I think that he understands me as no on earth does, and I don't think that if I die in my unbelief that he is going to punish me for all eternity.
In other words, I think God's love is unconditional, he doesn't place conditions on his love for us the way people do. It's not believe in me and then I will love you, no he loves us regardless. As I said, I think THAT was the good news of which Jesus preached. He said that we didn't need the church in order to talk to God, that we each were a part of God, his children and had access to him at any time or place. Obviously, this rankled the religious establishment and they killed him, as they killed many other people just like him. Did you know that Jesus was not even the only one to come along and claim to be the Messiah? In his day there were tons of people making that claim, each with their own set of disciples following them. he was also not the only person in history to be crucified. Crucifixion was the Roman form of execution back in those days, like the electric chair or the gas chamber today. Which is kind of weird when you think that Christians the world over wear a roman form of execution around their necks.
I don't really pray in the traditional sense I guess. I meditate a lot, not in the traditional sense of that word either, though. I don't sit in a trance and go "Om!!!" I just think a lot about things. When I come home from work I look up at the night sky and contemplate the stars and the universe. In this way, I talk to God every day. I don't think one has to kneel beside their bed to pray or pray in any traditional sense. My own inner conversation with myself is how I pray.
Some have suggested that I pray about my doubts. The thing is, I've already done it. Many many times!!! And I've read the Bible backwards and forwards too, been there, got the t-shirt!! ha ha And the answer that keeps coming back to me is that the Bible is NOT God's word!! That the Bible was written by fallible and sometimes even evil and capricious men. God tells me that Jesus was a real man who walked the earth, who preached a spirituality so novel for his day, that he was killed for it. God tells me that he is love, that he loves each and every one of us, with no conditions and no strings attached. He tells me that I am NOT going to hell. Hell was made up by evil and capricious men in order to keep people scared in order to keep them in line for the purposes of empire. Do you realize how rich the Catholic Church became over the centuries? They needed something to keep people scared, and when the concept of hell no longer worked, they resorted to torture and burning people at the stake.
God asks me what his holy purpose would be in sending his own creation to a hell of everlasting torment? When I say, "Well, I've been told it's to satisfy your sense of justice, that you are a just God." He asks me why his justice could not just as easily be served by annihilating me, why would he have to subject me to everlasting torment? He says that Christianity makes a mockery of who he really is. When you really sit down and think about these things, you realize that none of it makes sense, and then you realize, it's all make believe. Yes, God exists, and we are all a part of him. To send any part of God to hell would be to send God himself to hell. It makes no sense.You would never do anything to harm your own child, I could NEVER hurt one of my children, no matter what they did, why do we then think God would or could do so?
And most of all, when I pray, God tells me to just relax, that everything is perfectly fine and as it should be. God tells me that I am NOT the product of my bad decisions over the years, that I am NOT my job, that I am NOT how much money I make or don't make, but that who I am is defined by how much I love. And that's it and that's all. The rest is just all make believe, fairy tales.