Awakenings Part 6
A postscript – October of 2009
I sit writing these words on a warm summer night in my living room as my children sleep, tucked into their beds. My wife is asleep, leaving me with time for a couple of my thoughts which I would like to share with you as a postscript to my experiences.
The realization that I came to that night in December, my surrender to reality and rationality, has led me to places that I cannot even begin to explain or truly understand. There have been consequences to my decision, a few of which that have been truly heartbreaking.
I have had life long relationships simply dry up and blow away, seemingly forgotten and rejected. Even those who have accepted my decision still maintain a distance from me that no amount of reassurance can wholly cure. Many of those who were known have become alien; in many ways, I am alone again as I search for a new group of friends that are less demanding in their theological orthodoxy.
My extended family simply cannot and will not accept my decision. I must just be “going through a phase” or “having a spiritual breakdown”; certainly no one could ever really question their faith and find it wanting! It amazes me that my decision is perceived in some way to be dishonest or the product of a rejection of what I still believe to be right; I must want to commit some great sin. They do not believe that someone can be intellectually honest and reject the faith. No amount of humility or argument can convince them so I do not bother trying any more – in many ways it is painful to even be around them.
Let me explain what it means to be free.
It must be understood that the greatest bondage that a human can face is that of the mind. The body can be coerced and enslaved, the will can be broken, but the mind can only be given. To enslave the mind requires the willing participation of the slave – the chains are actually forged by those who will wear them. The grave that is dug by the condemned is a comfortable place where many people find a sense of well-being and belonging. Unfortunately, this comes with a price – the ability of the believer to truly perceive reality and act on it rationally.
Since I have rejected the false veil of religious faith my life has truly, in the deepest way that can be perceived, become free. I would not trade one ounce of my newfound freedom for a pound of my previous irrational certainty. I am free from superstition, guilt, and original sin – I am free from fear and free to hope.
Faith taught me that I am the product of an original sin and though loved by God, I have not the ability to do anything truly good for my very nature is innately evil; a product of a fall that I held no personal responsibility for but carried within me the burden of its rebellion. Faith taught me that there is no good apart from God – but now I know that to be, quite simply, a lie. I have good within me and I can celebrate the awesome wonder of simply being human. I need not the moral judgment of a God whose own catalog of horrors is unmatched in human history to bestow dignity and value upon my life.
The amazing complexity of the Universe astonishes me now more than ever. As I think of the billions of years of history that leads to my life, I am both humbled and filled with awe that I live. I have found a value in life that I cannot explain. Every sunset, breeze, and blade of grass is a wonder to me for now I understand the amazing fragility of life in a chaotic Universe that cares nothing for any living creature. I have found a deep spirituality in the Cosmos that I never saw before. Not the empty spirituality of sin and redemption or angelic perfection, but the awesome wonder that is the immensity of the Universe and my true place in it, free from rank superstition. In my eyes, a Universe that is the result of sublime physical law is vastly superior to one that somehow requires the interaction of some external force to maintain it. Carl Sagan was right all along . . . much to my wonder and delight.
I find that I place a far greater value on human life than I did before my deconversion. If there is no afterlife and here and now is the totality of each human life, then anything which threatens this gift is the deepest evil. The believer fatalistically accepts war, pestilence, and death as simply part of the ongoing battle between good and evil; as an inevitable part of life in a fallen and unredeemed world. I now know that it is this belief itself that helps to perpetuate the inhumanity of man towards man.
To my amazement I have become a “humanist” – one who is concerned for the well being of the human race. I was taught that humanism was a dirty word; a creed of atheistic fanatics that were bent on destroying all that was good and holy in the world. This is the darkest of all of the lies that I willingly accepted – to believe that the highest and greatest good of man was not man, but God. Rick Warren’s work The Purpose Driven Life stated that the very reason for mans existence is to worship and glorify God, to surrender the human for the divine. This is the vile nonsense that drove the Inquisition, the rack, the heretics flame, and today the young suicide bomber. I can honestly think of no more destructive creed – mans’ greatest concern should be for his fellow man, not some incorporeal being for whom our worship is neither needed nor required.
I am also beginning to rediscover a hope for the future that was ripped from me as a child. As a Christian who was taught a fundamentalist eschatological worldview, I knew that the world was inevitably heading towards chaos and conflict no matter what humanity tried to accomplish. For every step toward peace, three were taken toward anarchy and death. Humanity simply had no hope; we were to wait for the return of Christ to wipe out the evils of this earth and to establish his kingdom. Can you imagine a more depressing worldview for an adolescent to accept? Young folks thrive on optimism and I am finally starting to recapture the hope that I lost as a young man. I can envision peace on Earth and good will towards men, something all religions seems to strangely lack.
Strangely, much of my fear of death has left me. There is no celestial judgment; no throne room where my every action and inaction will be reviewed. There is simply the nothingness of dreamless sleep – as in the immortal words of Epicurus “Where I am, death is not, and where death is, I am not.”
How can we fear nothingness? Lack of existence has no fear; only the theist need fear death.
I am free to look at reality and evaluate it with my senses and my innate morality; I can find truth – untouched by dogma or Bronze Age savagery. Science and philosophy, which use to be a spiritual minefield of challenge to my faith, have become wells of inspiration and knowledge. I can read again and see within the word the great truths that have burst from some of the greatest minds in the history of humanity. Theology and revealed “truths” are a cloudy, stagnant mere fed by the twin streams of presumptive authority and irrational faith. Try instead the refreshing depth of Hume, the laughter of Voltaire, the childlike wonder of Sagan, the icy clarity of Russell, or the certainty of Dawkins and choose for yourself which better uplifts the human soul and quenches the human heart.
Look within yourself and believe that you have the ability to judge right and wrong. Trust your innate morality. If something disturbs you, ask why and do not accept an answer of “just because”.
Reject unproven assumptions and presumptive authority. Seek to know the world with your own senses and mind; know that you are capable of properly perceiving reality without the interpretation of an external authority. Trust yourself.
If you are presently a believer, I beg you to consider my words. If God is real, then He should be powerful enough to draw you even as you question. If you are the product of divine creation, then certainly your intellect was created for use to judge the world in a rational way.
If God exists, then there is no risk for those who honestly question. Anyone or any God who demands that you do not question is simply revealing the implicit weakness of their own irrational belief system.
Question the assumptions that you hold concerning the world, believe in yourself, and look clearly at your beliefs.
Perhaps you will walk away with an even greater faith – or perhaps you will find yourself sharing my experience of a certain warm fall day.