Dear Convert's Corner,
I haven't read The God Delusion, but I admit I cannot say that Richard Dawkin's words haven't had impact on my life in recent years. Hearing his lectures, seemingly electrifies me, and a sense of community surrounds me as I enter into the names of this wall. But, as I'm sure that person's reading this will not just want to hear this, but a sense of confidence from my perspective as a non-theist. For this, I present to you a story, my religious life as I saw it.
I admit I'm not a 'traditionally' religious person. I was raised a First United Christian Church member and throughout my early years I was herded to church by my parents… I had what might be considered faith in the bible in my childhood..
That is what I thought at least… *sideways glance* Until I got to school and I encountered my fellow 'flock' in the environment away from church.. Children who claimed their 'belief' but still could not coexist with each other.
I was bright, I had a critical mind, I could not regard something without starting to think like Aristotle, trying to find a sort of 'effective cause' or similarly a 'reason' why things were the way they were. I didn't realize it then, but this investigation of my world led me towards the 'heresy' I live in today… Whereas my church was closed in and isolated, my teachers were not.. They encouraged me to read whatever I wanted, seek answers in everything even though it seemed every month the 'faithful' would pummel me for trying to seek peace and tranquility in my existence. I didn't want to fight with anyone, not just because I was sure I would probably never be able to win such a fight, but because I saw a world in my mind's eye where people would not conflict with each other, a world where the mutual good could be seen by all, and respected as such… No excess, just harmony in existence…
Heaven and hell, lingered menacingly in the background, grimacing bitterly that the young pup they had been introduced to was seeking heaven on 'earth' rather than in an afterlife.. Tasting his own blood, feeling pain, and being broken and wondering why were taking effect. Though at the time I hadn't really realized what these thoughts were lingering towards.. I just was falling deeper and deeper towards depression.
I was introduced to the old world, the world of ancient civilizations, old cultures which were studied sheerly to understand. Egypt, Greece (Athens and Sparta), Rome, Persia, Babylon.. These things, as I learned them felt… Different than my bible. Whereas I believed in my bible because I thought that my ritual came from somewhere in the past, these things came from people who sought history.. Who translated hieroglyphs.. Who investigated artifacts and used reasoning to try to piece together a world that had almost been scoured from the face of the earth. I could pick up two different books, and although the authors might bicker about the specifics about what years specific people lived in, certain simple subjects were always there. The development of the bath, mummification, ancient construction techniques and a distinct lack of the unknown in these aspects..
I could reasonably say that the Egyptians had worshiped cats, such as their goddess Bast as well as the Sun God Ra, and their God-King the Pharaoh. I could see the Greek Pantheon Zeus straight down to Hades.. Polytheism and early Monotheism started tracing lines down my memory. Spirituality became not just a bunch of motions I went to in my church, it became a book to read, and it seemed to me all I needed to do to see it was keep an open mind, and stand in the ruins of obliterated civilizations to see what might have, and could well have been.
Instead of looking forward to the future, to when God would come back to lead me to Heaven, (or send me to hell, which frankly scared the living daylights out of me for the longest time), I started looking back.. And not just to days before, but centuries and millennia ago. I wanted to know what they felt, looking up at the sky, and at the world around them and asking 'why'.
I felt keening similarity with those who came before, knowing that while the place I stood upon was different, people had always done it. I was the Greek scholar on the streets of Athens staring at the stars, I was the Egyptian cultivating the flood plains of the Nile, I was the Viking warrior standing at the keel of my longboat, thinking of my mortality, and hoping that Thor would favor me for one more day.
Call it empathy, call it a flickering moment of genetic memory to realize that you felt like this and that this had been done so many times before that it passed beyond your existence into lives you didn't live. Asking why wasn't just my problem anymore, it was everyone's. I knew this, people were doing it around me, they had done it in the forgotten past, and they would do so in the far flung future. I wanted some big part, and my imagination expanded throughout this, as the opening of worlds to the mind often causes… I started to write stories in my mind.
The conception of my body and mind came only scant months later. I entered High School feeling depressed and miserable as I slogged through the crowded and not knowing why, except thinking perhaps it was my lot in life to suffer. Afterall, wasn't that what the bible said? We were pathetic, miserable creatures, full of sin, and barely worth being saved. The “Flood” occurred to me, and I wondered how much sin was required for god to want to wipe clean the earth of people full of evil in their hearts.
I doubt I could have known I would run into a bully that day, I could have sworn that being picked on or beaten up didn't happen on a Monday, but rather on a Wednesday when people were feeling that the weight of the week was wearing into them, but the weekend was just so far away that they needed the relief that picking on the black sheep could allow.
My binders fell to the floor, and a voice derided me as I was shoved into the lockers. The crowd whispered, avoiding me, wondering what was going to happen next.. This was routine after all, and somewhat entertaining!
Not today, I felt a sudden snapping sensation in the back of my head and all across my body… Those memories of the past, seemed to blur together, and I stopped thinking as that rational miserable kid who was always picked on. An impulse inside me rose up inside me, it wasn't like me at all, the kid who cried so easily, who was soft as a piece of tissue paper and half as strong.
Animal instinct is the only way I could describe it, and the way anybody else in that hallway could describe it.. That little dorky kid who everybody picked on had suddenly become a screaming, raving, maniac… Self-preservation so long suppressed by 'Turn the other cheek' bubbled up as I struck back against my tormentor. Not thinking where I would go with this, only that I simply wanted the action to stop.. People had to be rational and reasonable right? They had to be, so why was I getting the short end of the stick? Would I have killed him if I hadn't been snapped out of my rage by a pair of teachers prying me off and hauling me and my bully to the office for a disciplinary lecture. Probably.
Frankly I normally would have been nervous and terrified of what would be before me, but the sudden outburst I had experienced and who I was didn't mix, so as my Vice-Principle ranted about what he would do to insolent children who thought the hallways was some kind of wrestling ring, I laughed. I didn't know what I was laughing at, just that I couldn't stop.. I laughed myself to tears, as my bully sweated and the VP went red with frustration that I was being so 'light' about things…
My Christian upbringing and my experience clashed.. Surely I couldn't have had a spiritual moment then, I felt as if somebody had hacked a self-control wire in my head with a knife. That wasn't spirituality, that was flesh, blood, bone and adrenaline alone. It crawled beneath my skin and I guess a Christian would say it ate at my soul like a million angry fire ants.
The spiritual world I had hoped for, stepped back into the fringe of my mind, as I tried to resolve myself.. I was still depressed, and now I felt dreadfully alone, only to culminate when I was asked to read “Night” by a Holocaust survivor by my English teacher. Human suffering and my imagination, caught between the pages of the book, tore at my spirituality, I cried, agony being what it was and my pathetic empathy dragged me in and I stood in horror at one would do when they stood in certainty that they were right… A nightmare I couldn't wake up from. Was I then, another member of god's chosen flock to stand amongst this world gone mad and do nothing while evangelicals told me about God's plan, to pray, when action stood there, unused and forbidden. My reason screamed at me, “Find a way! Find a way! If forgiveness is not enough, you have to think of a way around it. Seek perfection in all that you do, not because you are callous and self-absorbed but that you dream of a better world.”
I wanted to be as a “God”, and stop those who committed these acts, this senseless brutality. To put my everlasting foot down and grind them into the dirt, or cast the fires of hell down upon them from on high… But, I supposedly believed in god, so why the hell couldn't he have done this for himself? A 'just' God didn't allow these things!
Christianity hung in tatters in my mind, the cross was being struck at by an axe, and I was wielding it. As it fell, I fell.
Time passed, and I felt as a shell devoid of life… I didn't think I would ever touch ground, I wanted to end it all and in fact I think my parents could see it in my eyes as they threatened to send me to a mental institution.
People tormenting me soon ceased, a dangerously psychotic victim was no fun after all, the freak would be liable to tear your arm off without a second thought. I felt in the collective consciousness of my school that things were different, a kind of cool tolerance lingered around me, wary of my next feral freak out.
Was this a God granted reprieve? Had I finally been uplifted? No, my memory would not let me forget how God had remained silent during the pains of mine and others suffering. Not that they had born many if any similarities. Prayers went unanswered, mine, and others. In fact all I saw acting in this world were people, ants, a finite time before they were scoured away and practically forgotten.. Eking out some small pathetic existence in the world. Living, but more historically, killing, slaughtering, butchering and hating. Christians, Jews, Muslims, all laid closest to me, but amongst the ones who came before them, and before them, and before them. Was man always going to blame his shortcomings and nature on spirits instead of staring at it face on and addressing it for what it was? What to improve, how to be 'better'?
I don't have a clue what snapped me out of it, but eventually I realized I wasn't falling, I was standing in effectively, three feet of water and I was thrashing about like an overturned turtle. I stood up, firmly supported by my reason, perfectly alright with the concept that maybe my ancestors were apes or monkeys or whatever, because that meant that we sought to move upwards towards greater and greater things.. I hadn't lost, I had just inventoried what I really had and become content with it. A sense of achievement towards the good supplanted the belief in God. I saw things not just as how my bible told me, but I looked also to philosophy, to thinkers, to scientists. People who stare unblinking into that face of eternity, and seek to understand for no other reason than understanding's sake…
Social contract, altruism, and the human condition became the crux of my understanding. The things which make things good for us in the world now, counter-weighted by all the things which have, by the trial and error of history acted as detriment. I don't know if it made me a student of social engineering, but the fact of the matter that I now saw myself as that tiny ant, who could make big ripples against our self-destructive tendencies if I merely applied myself.
I may be “Agnostic” in that I don't claim to know everything, or anything, but I guess you could count me as 'religiously' humanist, or atheist.. Or whatever you'd like call this feeling I have.
Freedom, fairness, justice and happiness for all mankind. For this I will not stand idle, I will not hide inside my shell praying for someone else to do what it necessary. Call me a sinner or a saint, I am naught but a man and I will show what kind of paradise humanity can build because I only have the life that I was given for a finite time, and it may as well be a good one, seeking to make the world exponentially better for those that come after me.
Hoping to finally own a copy of The God Delusion,