“Why do you have to make things so complicated?”
“I don’t make them complicated. They just usually are.”
I’m sure my current search history would be cause for concern to quite a few mental health experts. My last searches were…….
· Depressed over atheism/Depressed over religion
· What makes Christianity different than a cult?
· Benjamin Sledge Doubt
· Stop Obsessive Thoughts about Faith
· “I don’t know what to believe” + “faith” + “suicidal”
· Existential Obsessive Thoughts
As humans, we have two unspoken expectations of the way we choose to understand the world. The explanations accepted by us must be:
1. Intellectually Accommodating: Must stand up under academic scrutiny and hold up to reason. Essentially, does it make sense with the laws of the universe?
2. Existentially Rich: Must stand up under suffering and hold up with the highs and lows of life (not just ours but others as well.) Essentially, does it make sense to daily existence, in the dirt and hurt of life?
As Existentialist Philosopher Camus described, there is a certain weariness tinged with amazement that prompts every human to stop their daily habits and the humdrum of their lives and ask “why do I go on living?”
These unspoken expectations come out different ways. One of mine (and a common one) is Faith is not reasonable (1) but a crutch that offers false hope (2).
I vividly remember my mother warning me, “Don’t think yourself out of faith.” Every atheistic/agnostic friend I have wants to smirk and nod. See, they say, you start studying and asking questions, and the whole house of cards comes crumbling down.
Right now, I’ve got family/friends that listen to my questions (without offering quick platitudes for answers), my angry blowups (and validate my anger), my unwillingness to be under someone’s thumb again, my fear at a loss of independence, my vehement disdain for being tricked, and it’s…….. been……… weird. Don’t get me wrong. Good……..but……weird.
Honest Confession: I’m fascinated by manipulation in general, specifically cults. How does a person get someone to willingly give up their time, energy, money, family, friends, critical thinking skills, suppress their internal alarms, and even their life? It’s relatively easy to force or intimidate someone into giving over themselves and their things. Everybody’s got a breaking point, and it’s just a matter of finding it.
But to get them to willingly subsume their identity and then thank you after? I feel like that has to take some finesse.
I was a Christian as a child. Legitimately loved Jesus and was convinced He loved me too. I remember the first atheist I met. An English professor at the community college I attended in high-school. Intelligent, articulate, kind, and putting cracks in how I saw the world. Destroyed my arguments for the existence of God by pointing out basic logical inconsistencies based on my assumptions.
Throughout history, different iterations of the church have tried to stop believers from learning from atheists like my professor. In 1948, the Catholic Church banned reading atheist existentialists (like Sartre) fearing that it would lead people to doubt their faith and church authority — which it did.
One of the first things I did when dipping my toes out of faith was actually looking up banned atheistic books and reading as many as I could get my hands on. Did it lead to doubts as my family/friends feared? No, it was actually comforting, in a way. As I told my best friend, the doubts are always there. They’re in me already. The more a person tries to stifle an idea/question, the more it rages within until satisfied. Remember that curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.
I doubt God almost every single day. It takes a lot of empirical evidence and absolute tangible proof to convince me of anything. This has forced me into a clumsy kind of limbo where I’m always questioning and wandering through faith. It’s still hard. But I’m trying to get more used to the idea that questions are good, and we need to ask them, and they help us to land on better ground when we’ve stripped away what doesn’t work.
It’s inexplicably encouraging (and not that surprising) to me that many of the better-known, well read Christians who can logically defend the veracity of the tenets of their faith were atheists/agnostics before coming to faith. We are the ones who point out and reconcile the logical inconsistencies of the tenets of faith with an inquisitiveness that just couldn’t be tamed.
I sometimes binge-read atheism blogs. I’m friends with many atheists I admire whose cynicism around faith make more sense than faith at times, and I still hear the familiar contours of “freedom from religion.” It’s like calling an old ex-girlfriend. And contrary to the church’s opinion, not all atheists are baby-eating heathens.
There are many wonderful, lovely, beautiful atheists. I read their blogs because they have so much profound wisdom — and also because I need to go in those places, that I might understand myself and to truly challenge what I believe. So many Christians I know have gotten exasperated with me mentioning argument after argument against God. They don’t need or want to challenge their faith.
It’s also necessary.
As atheists tell me “Just stop believing” and christians tell me “Just believe”, I’m more interested in the truth, wherever the truth may take me. (I say atheist/Christian, not because they’re the only options, but they’re the most pushy. I’ve yet to have a pagan or Buddhist friend demand that I believe in their version of a mystical universe.)
Every argument has a counter-argument, and we’ve all backed into our respective corners. No-one’s saying anything new, and to be honest, I’m not seeing either view of the world work down here in the dirt. I’m just tired. Being analytical and empathetic is exhausting.
When I meet someone asking for food/money on the street, I don’t want to offer a prayer and go on my way feeling #righteous. No combination of words I could pray is going to have the same impact as a hot meal and cold beer. Nor do I want to simply offer a hot meal and cold beer and walk away feeling like a #activist. No combination of food/money is going to have the same impact as fixing what got/kept them on the street.
My friend, I hate uncertainty. I know the dizzying disorientation of wondering, “Is this all a lie?” I’m an impossibly naive person with continual depression that makes me not trust my own judgment. I’m almost always floating just above rock bottom, and I’ve seen way too many people and ideas take advantage of people who are at rock bottom with hollow promises to dead-end roads. I can’t stress how much I don’t want to, as I expressed to one pastor, “live my life for a bunch of phooey.”
I mentioned to a friend yesterday that I refuse to wrap a bow-tie on my thoughts of the unknown. Truth be told, I haven’t accepted a way of looking at the world that is both intellectually accommodating and existentially rich.
I cling to the hope that truth can be found if sought.
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