Losing my religion
Some people are a little more stable than others. Some feel a little more loved. Some people are not searching for anything. But as a teenager I somehow felt alone, even being part of a big family, and this drove me to seek for some higher meaning to my existence. It would have been a worthy endeavor for it’s own sake, but like most things, there’s a little more than the pure seeking of an ideal or truth which normally motivates us. Nevertheless, I really did feel the need to understand this weird world we’re born into.
One stimulus which led me to seek out religion was my fear, which grew into a massive life controlling fear, as I used to lie awake at night, hearing the movement upon the old train master’s house stair case. I can rationalize now that it was cooling air and changing atmospheric pressure that might have caused these running footstep sounds. But young, with a healthy imagination, and a susceptibility to the imprinting of stories and images upon my mind, I feared the ghosts of this old house. Even now, with the deep terror it caused me as a child, I would not sleep alone in that house – but I don’t believe in those ghosts any longer.
A clairvoyant I went to told me that the spirits were waiting for me to be ready to receive them – that I was chosen to be a psychic of some kind. I definitely didn’t want this. Soon after, a Christian evangelist of some kind was somehow allowed to give a talk in one of our school classes. I remember he said, “The only way to free yourself from the effects of dabbling with the occult is to turn to Jesus Christ”. To cut this short, for I do not like rehashing this painful, boring, and stupid time in my life, some family members and I came into contact with a charismatic fellow, who spoke convincingly and lovingly of the true God – a God that communicated with him. I went from reading David Icke new age-ism to following the manipulative words of a loving fuzzy-haired father figure.
This all led to ten years of stupid striving, guilt, forcing of emotion, trying to avoid sexual impulses, trying to be good, polite, moral, and Jesus-like. But I never felt God in any convincing way. I felt good sometimes in the quiet moments on my knees, in the silent musings inspired by a book, listening to the sage wisdom of some of the more enlightened Christian writers like Watchman Nee and Oswald Chambers. At least they seemed to have some heart and wisdom that stretched beyond Christendom – a wisdom informed by a deep humanity at times. One day I read something Chambers said, along the lines of, “never accept from God what you wouldn’t accept from another man or woman”. This was the torch which lit the light to my questioning of the morality of the God of the Bible, and the God of my cult-like leader. I knew that so much wasn’t fair: the damnation of those who never hear the gospel; eternity for seventy years of sin; the wasting of my youthful energies.
Leaving deeply formed habits of thinking is not easy. Questioning the egotistical leaders of split away groups from split away groups of split away groups of born again fanatical believers is a fearful thing when once you’ve put some trust in their words. You must risk damnation for a stronger urge. An urge for justice and truth. This is the big battle of the man, woman, or child who has seriously been entangled in the web of fundamentalist biblical belief. You know that if you are wrong about this you could miss the rapture; you could burn in hell. But the stronger thought finally becomes, “surely God could not have designed such a hell”. And so I turned to study.
I thought I could find a way of marrying the Bible with some kinder God. A God who didn’t mean eternal damnation as such. That the Bible had been misunderstood. That maybe the sinners would just be extinguished. I read a big tome on the subject. I tried to convince myself. But in the end I came to believe that all the different scriptural references to hell – hades, sheol, gehenna and the like – merely reflected the changing attitudes of changing cultures. The Bible was really inconsistent about this topic. The early Hebrews didn’t believe in everlasting torment. Moses only warns them of punishment in this life. How unlucky for those who were never given a fair warning! Or, perhaps, the Bible is not Gods word. It wasn’t too hard to prove that the Bible is NOT the infallible word of God, with all its inconsistencies. It only then takes a little logic, from realizing that the infallibility has been undermined, to realizing that there is no measuring stick of what should and shouldn’t be taken as inspired. The liberal Christians are living on a wish.
This account has been stripped down to its bare basics. But I could see without doubt the egomania of the religious zealots, who cared more about you following what they said than you truly seeking God yourself and perhaps finding a different answer than them. I could see that the God of the Bible would be immoral to send those that had never heard the gospel, or even those who had happened to have heard, yet been overcome by some sinful passions for seventy years, to an eternal torment and terror. And once my own studies had led me to a pretty watertight argument that the Bible was fallible, I had no-one left to turn to but myself and wiser men and women than me of years gone by. I read philosophical texts, scientific writings, and the prose of men and women who were free to think. It was a wonderfully liberating time. Though I must say the full transition took years. I was lucking to have been born with some capacity for logic and reason and fair-mindedness. In this, I thought, God would be on my side. So in the years of my transition I sometimes held onto this thought. If God were true, he’d be with me in this rejection of him, for it is the honest and decent and right thing to do.
Life as an agnostic about many things, but as an atheist as far as any organized religion goes, or any notion of a personal God with human traits – the one made in man’s image – is tough at times. But it is not tougher than being a Christian. Being a Christian was a hell of its own. God knows I tried. I tried to keep the faith. But it was wrong. It was false. And loftier ideas prevailed. I’m grateful for this. Grateful not to anything but circumstance and good fortune. There is much we do not understand about the nature of being, about existence, about the fundamental nature of reality. But in my reality I can never believe in a God of such pettiness as the one of most religions. Let our religion be a seeking after truth and goodness, and if we can equate this truth and goodness with something innate in the universe, some universal quality, which we decide to call God – a semantic proposition – then so be it. God may be all the wonder and splendor of nature. But if so, I need not summit in a cowardly fashion to his dominion. I can live as a free man.