Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why I Still Can't Bring Myself to Believe Again

Much was brewing in my head, but I had no time to pour it out.

But now the time has come.

A frequent commenter here at this blog, Tandi, recommended reading an article: Why I believe again.

Tandi is a Christian who holds on to her faith. She also hopes that perhaps one day I will consider returning to the faith. Despite our present differences, I have high respect for her and I can understand her desire to win back the apostates of Christianity.

And since I have respect for her, I try to follow up on her reading recommendations.

So, I read the article that she suggested.

I will expound upon my feelings concerning the article in a "round about" and verbose way.

I wanted to keep it short, but I just don't know how. I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if . . .

Ah, never mind.

If it helps, read my post in small chunks or parts.

Or I suppose you'd save more time by not reading my post at all, huh?

Um, let's not go there.

Well if you do stick around, I will start with an event that happened a week ago from this post.

I went to church Easter Sunday. Yeah, me. I went to church. Really.

Don't get too excited, though. I did it for my mom. My brother usually drops her off at church on Sundays but lately he is, er . . . incapacitated. So, I took my mom and my kids. My wife went the previous Sunday with my mom, so she refused to visit church this Sunday-- and forget about it being Easter.

Gee, Easter could have even been part of the reason for why she didn't want to go to church.

All in all, I guess it was finally my turn.

The church visit wasn't what I had expected; why, Church was actually quite pleasant!

I didn't realize that I had missed all the familiar faces. I also had to acknowledge that I missed worship and praise (just a little). The running around, the jumping and the hollering of praise at the top of one's lungs! Spontaneously running laps around the sanctuary-- people trying to keep a lid on their exuberance, yet they can't help themselves.

What a rush! I remembered when I was like that.

And the singing was beautiful. I was reminded of songs that I used to love and cherish.

I even sang along with some of the songs.

At service, we sang a favorite hymn of mine: Because He Lives. In the past, I was so convinced when I sang that song . . .

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, He holds the future.
And life is worth the living just because He lives.

But this time when I sang along, I wasn't so sure.

And I wasn't so sure when the preacher kept repeating himself while trying to retell the Resurrection story. He was trying to give the Gospel accounts more life, but his message to me fell quite flat.

Sitting through the sermon was the worst of it. So, that is to say the church visit wasn't all that bad. I can forgive a bad sermon. I've sat through plenty in my life. One more would not hurt.

When it was all over, I walked away wondering why I had a nice time. Maybe it was time to go back to church again. Maybe turning to atheism was too rash of a decision.

Decision? Can belief (non-belief) be a decision?

Anyways . . .

I thought hard about my Easter Sunday experience for the next few days.

I reflected on how I could have ran around and jumped up and down like everyone else did. I felt that same energy I felt as though I was still a believer. But I didn't participate because I know that in my heart I didn't believe as I once did; I didn't want to be sacrilegious. To express that kind of praise and spirit-filled exuberance while still holding on to an atheistic mindset would be something of a mockery to their worship experience. I didn't want to do that out of respect.

And, I didn't want anyone to think that I had made new commitments to church again.

That realization reaffirmed that I was only a spectator.

I also noticed something else. I only enjoyed church because it was a welcomed distraction from the uncertainties I'm currently dealing with in my life. The running, the shouting, the songs of certainty all causes one to feel better.

I found myself thinking of my church visit in the context of the daunting personal problems which have recently started staring me in the face.

Life springs up fortune and misfortune. Blessings and catastrophe. Opportunity and famine. Life and death.

So then, certainty and uncertainty becomes the backdrop in which I reflect on my church visit. I noticed how in church, Christ is certain to have been raised from the dead, he is certain to return for his church, and his followers are certain to rise again through the same resurrection power of Christ-- unless while living they should look skyward and witness his return upon the clouds.

I am certain of death. I've seen it. I've seen my loved ones go the way of all the earth. I slowly and reluctantly trod the same path of my father and uncles while drawn by the same inexorable pull. I see my mother closer and closer to death, daily. She, following her husband. Me following my mom with my wife by my side. And our kids are not too far behind. We all are shackled together while being pulled to the grave-- like a line of inmates chained together so as to prevent any escape from incarceration.

Yes, I'm certain of death. But, I remain uncertain about what will happen to me after I die. Let alone, what will happen to me (and other loved ones) while I (and they) still live.

And now, I am beginning to think that religion is simply an anesthetic for the guaranteed pain and uncertainty of a life that must end in death.

In and of itself, using religion as an anesthetic is fine. But if that's the case, religion isn't the only worthwhile brand of anesthetic available in life. And I've come to terms with accepting the fact that life is indeed uncertain, fragile, volatile, and defined in the context of certain death.

Somehow though, I personally feel that I am better informed and more self aware after acknowledging that this life might be all that I get. I can stare back at the face of life and respect it-- daunting problems and all.

So when I read the online article in the New Statesman, the author seemed only to say that belief in Christ answers all uncertainty and is therefore the truth. The whole of life is best enjoyed when one believes in a creator and is therefore the truth.

I disagree on both points. Christ does not answer all of my uncertainties. He answers all questions, but I am not convinced of his answers. So, such answers are of no help to me personally.

And I find that I enjoy music, arts, and the nighttime sky perhaps more now than as a past theist. I love my favorite music and enjoy it all the more because I don't feel condemnation for listening to it any longer! (if it wasn't gospel music, it was ungodly in my former belief system. And sometimes certain gospel songs weren't even holy enough!). And for me, not knowing how the universe began and how the stars fell in place makes the nighttime view more magical to me. How fascinating that we may exist only because matter was simply doing it's thing! A billion-to-one chance out of billions upon billions of planets!

I also don't look down on creation as I once did as a believer. This is not to say all believers had this perspective. But, I know that I certainly did once. I looked at the world as the sinful leftovers of a fallen universe because Adam, Eve (Lilith?), and the serpent introduced iniquity into existence.

I see now that this universe may very well be all we have. We had better cherish it and enjoy it. Trusting in a next life, I found myself severely restricting myself in what could probably be the only life I will get to have. That is the mistake that I was personally making. I can only speak for myself and of my own Christian experiences.

Your millage may vary.

Some people do not want to face this uncertainty. And I suspect religion numbs this painful, unpredictable embrace between life and death.

That's fine with me. Nothing is ignoble or backwards about being attracted to religion for this reason. Just don't force your beliefs on others*. Share your beliefs-- but don't force them.

* Among those who have commented on my blog so far, I am not accusing anyone of this. I'm only trying to underscore my overall gripe towards fundamentalism of any sort.

Religion is a better anesthetic than hurting others and hurting oneself. But when it comes to dealing with life's uncertainties, being hurtful isn't the only option to practicing religion.

As for me, I numb the pain with enjoying my life while I can, assigning purpose to my life, loving my family, and doing the best I can to leave something behind for my kids.

I also numb the pain with coffee abuse, blogging, and good reading.

That "laughter stuff" is a good antiseptic, too. A very occasional drink helps me out. A fun movie. Even the routine drudgery of work. No matter how much I complain, I do like my job.

And there are some other things that I won't mention here. You know. I don't wanna be accused of TMI and all that.

So at this point in my life, I still can't bring myself to believe again. Religion doesn't help me with my uncertainties because I'm still uncertain about what the ancient religious texts assert.

In light of all this, I'd rather just face the uncertainties of life head on. Even death.

But I do appreciate reading the article in the New Statesman. While I do not agree with the author, I still respect his point of view.

Belief works for him. Non-belief works for me.

Perhaps my feelings about his article could be summed up as simple as that.
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