September 02, 2014

Dear Christians: This started as a crisis of faith, but it ended quite happily.

Dear Christians is a recurring column that deals with my intersection between belief and nonbelief. It looks at my personal views of belief and deals with the myths of nonbelief that I was taught growing up. All opinions are, of course, my own. To see more Dear Christians columns, click here.

Dear Christians:

Recently, in a group of nonbelievers I belong to, the subject of being encouraged to return to church came up--I believe the exact quote in question was, "Now get your butts back in a church!" to a couple that was openly nonbelieving.

It truly got me thinking, and talking to friends, about the concept of a "crisis of faith". The central question was: How many of your close friends and relatives think you are simply having a crisis of faith?

And the answer wasn't surprising to me. Among nonbelievers that are out and come from Christian backgrounds, many of them face the assertion that they are simply conflicted, having a crisis, backslidden and thus will return to faith someday.

To which I must say: Don't be ridiculous, please.

Imagine this. If my kid was to grow up and decide to be a Christian, and I said he was just having a "crisis" of nonbelief, that he would return to rationality someday, what would you think of me?

You'd think I was a close-minded bigot, that's what you'd think.

You'd probably snicker to yourself at the idea of the close-minded atheist terrified of being related to a believer.

Thankfully, that would never be my reaction--I'm raising my children to be freethinkers, and freethinkers are free to make their own choices. They only way that their decision could let me down is if they allowed themselves to be swayed without good reason. And I have much faith in my children--if anyone could find good reasons to believe, it's them.

But the point stands: This is a life experience faced by many nonbelievers, every single day. How do you think it feels?

For me, my nonbelief grew from a crisis of faith. I've shared before that prayer was what started me on this path, at a scant ten year of age.

From that point, I struggled with the concept of pain and suffering. I did not find the explanations for these phenomena to be sufficient. This naturally led me to struggle with the concepts of the characteristics of a benevolent deity in the face of this reality that we live in.

The process of losing my faith was painful. It happened in stages, the first being a helpless, "I can't do anything about this" stage that led to much acting out on my part. I couldn't live up to this moral code--and on many levels, I didn't understand why I should have to--and yet, I knew I should be able to. When I broke the code, I fell back on, "Dammit, I'm human, I can't help it."

It moved into, "God accepts me the way that I am." This happened after my first child was born, and led me back to church for a long while.

Then came the inkling of, "I don't really agree with what this church stands for." That feeling grew and grew, and I fought it. I tried Christian spirituality. I tried just going with the flow. I tried #NotAllChristians.

But the more that I found myself explaining that "not all Christians were like THAT", the more I realized that I didn't align with my Christian beliefs anymore. Every time the words left my mouth (or fingers), I found myself challenging my notions of belief.

And it hurt.

The thought of not existing after death hurt. The thought of going to hell if it were real hurt. The thought of cursing my children to hell hurt. The thought that there was no one out there, listening and caring about me--that hurt.

But you know what?

I came to understand why doubt is so frowned upon in monotheistic traditions. Once the tiniest doubt made its way in, the rest came thundering, knocking down the door.

Well, why should I care about nonexisting? I didn't exist before birth, either, and yet, I'm not concerned about that. Hell no longer scares me because it doesn't make sense--why would God leave enough room for doubt if he truly cared about me? There's no one out there to listen and care? Of course there are--all the people that love and care about me, right here and right now. And I am here to do the same for them!

Where did we come from? I'm figuring it out. Why am I here? To live the best life possible and make the world a little better--a purpose I've created for myself. Why should I be good? Because I am good, and because it is right.

What began as a crisis of faith evolved. It rose to a crescendo, deafening, and then gradually receded. I heard the music for the first time, and it was beautiful.

Today, I'm more than content with my life. The more that I study, the more that I think, the more that I seek answers, the happier I am. There is no vestige of the crisis of faith left.

Instead, I find myself saying with Bertrand Russell:

I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is none the less true happiness because it comes to an end.

Happiness, my friends, is what we make of it.

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