Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Was Never that Crazy Christian

Lately, whenever I spend extended time online reading atheist material and watching videos, I start to get a little bummed. I'm drinking more these days. And when I'm not drinking, I'm trolling for cupcakes.

I just feel kind of sad.

I'm adjusting to this whole new way of thinking, and I'm feeling a profound loss. A loss of a belief system, sure, but more than that, a loss of a culture. A way of thinking. A way of life. A way of organizing my thoughts.

Because here's the truth: When I was a Christian, I was never like all those crazies we see in the videos and on the blogs. I was never a "Christian nightmare" or a fundie. I've never been a literalist. I've never been into brainwashing. Never been into speaking in tongues. Never had anything against gays, or even sex outside of marriage.

I wasn't that person. That crazy Christian. I was always thoughtful. I always tried to use my intelligence. I asked a lot of questions. (Eventually my questioning led me right out of Christianity.)

But obviously I found value in the Christianity I was embracing and trying to live. It helped me. It gave me a focus. And now that I no longer see the value in it (sadly, I'm mostly only able to see the craziness) I really feel a loss.

Somebody get me a martini. Or a cupcake...

Has there been any depression or sadness in your journey as your own thinking has evolved?

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Loneliness of the "A" Word

("Atheist" that is.)

Just a few months ago, I was still in the phase where my journal says things like:

All my questioning isn't to leave behind Christianity... that's not what I want to do. I want to go deeper, to ask every question, look under every rock.

The choice is clear: I accept the Bible as the basis for my spirituality and remain "in dialog" with and around it, remaining "a Christian." Or I reject the Bible's authority and sacred status, meaning I can't call myself a Christian. I definitely want the former. I hope I'm able to do it. I can't imagine leaving Christianity.

I'm starting to accept that there are many paths to God, not just the "Christian" path. I don't have to put down others' beliefs in order to fully embrace my own. I don't have to be judgmental. I can just celebrate life and God.

I know there is a powerful purpose in prayer.

Can you see how hard I was struggling to remain a Christian? I thought I'd just widen my beliefs. I thought I would become more "progressive" and refuse to be judgmental. I already had liberal beliefs about things like heaven, hell, the resurrection, gays, sex outside marriage, etc. But I was still determined to stay a Christian.

During that time, I tried to talk to three of my girlfriends about this spiritual revolution I was going through. I said over and over, "I'm still a Christian, don't worry!" But it was impossible to share my thoughts without them becoming sincerely worried about me.

Now that my journey has progressed to embracing the "A" word, I don't feel like I can talk to them about it at all. It feels lonely.

You're probably thinking, "You should just tell them. If they're your friends, they'll accept you. If they can't accept you, then you're better off without them - they're not true friends."

But life's more complicated than that, right? These are my BFFs. The ones I envision rocking on the front porch with, 40 years from now, when we break down and buy those Cracker Barrel rockers (and all our husbands are gone, of course). These are the friends I have margaritas with as often as possible. Or coffee when happy hour's not possible. I've worked years to cultivate and build these relationships, and they mean everything to me. I don't easily consider jeopardizing them.

Would they still accept me? Absolutely. But they'd be scared for me, and worried about me. They'd pray for me. They'd waste all kinds of time and emotional energy fretting about my soul. In all of this, they'd be sincere and full of loving concern.

Can you see how I wouldn't want to allow that?

They also might feel kind of unsafe around me. Maybe some of them would feel they couldn't be friends with me because they're afraid of my influence rubbing off on them. They'd be truly frightened. And sad. They'd be so sad!

I don't want to make my friends sad.

Since this is all so new to me, I'm fine remaining in the closet for now. Maybe I'll figure out how to do this. Or get some new friends or something. I just can't cause these friends this kind of pain right now. I'm overwhelmed dealing with my own stuff! Maybe in the future I can talk about it.

But not now.

How did you deal with your friends? Have you lost any over your atheism?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Heaven: How Christians Avoid Dealing with the Problem of Suffering

One of my biggest realizations recently is this: Christianity downplays actual suffering in this world... which is everywhere. It pretends there is always some "higher" reason for suffering, or that it doesn't matter because eventually we will all be living in some transcendent world where there is no suffering. Large scale suffering (genocide, human trafficking, famine...) as well as individual suffering (horrible illness, loss of loved ones...) are downplayed.

God had a reason.
His ways our higher than our ways.
His ways are mysterious.
He works all things together for good.

And I finally realized what absolute bullshit this is.

We downplay suffering with the explanation that there is a world "after death" where there is no suffering... so that we don't have to work hard here on earth to try and minimize people's suffering!

We downplay suffering because we have absolutely no explanation for it. If there really is a loving God like we're taught, then the level of suffering everywhere makes no sense.

But we don't want people to disbelieve in "God" so we come up with ever more elaborate explanations for the suffering.

It seems hilarious (but not) that the final, unarguable explanation is that eventually we'll die and go to "heaven" and not have to suffer. It's like people were sitting around trying to figure out how to keep the masses in line, how to keep everyone from all this inconvenient questioning that was going on.

I know! Let's make up an imaginary world, call it "heaven," and tell everyone they're going there when they die! So when they ask "Why do bad things happen to good people?" we won't have to admit we have no idea. We can just tell them, don't worry about it, everything will be fine after you die.

It's so ridiculous I could just laugh, if I hadn't spent my entire life trying to believe this shit.

Spiritual Experience for Atheists

"It's often imagined that atheists are in principle closed to spiritual experience. But the truth is that there is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing self-trancending love. Or ecstasy. Or rapture. Or awe. In fact there's nothing that prevents an atheist from going into a cave for a year, or a decade, and practicing meditation like a proper mystic.

What atheists don't tend to do is make unjustified and unjustifiable claims about the cosmos on the basis of those experiences."

~Sam Harris

From this video:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Au Revoir Imaginary Friend

Remember the character of Wilson in the movie Castaway? It seems to me that's exactly why the idea of "God" continues in this enlightened age. Ancient people may have initially invented gods to explain the universe and to have someone to blame for all the natural phenomena around them. But we don't need that anymore, since we have a pretty good understanding of science and nature. Perhaps God continues because we fear the existential feeling of "aloneness."

The Tom Hanks character in the movie endured a lot of pain and hardship and heartbreak. But the one thing that threatened to be the end of him was the loss of Wilson - and finally being totally alone.

Is that part and parcel of the human condition, then? Is extreme loneliness tantamount to death? Did we invent God as a kind of imaginary friend to help us through the life so that we never, ever have to feel totally alone?

Psychologically, then, it seems the idea of "God" can have some tangible benefits. If only the idea of God hadn't caused so much crazy hatred, violence and death in the world! If people were able to have their imaginary "gods" without hurting others, and without being compelled to convince others to accept their version of Wilson, then I'd have no problem with it.

Personally, I find myself (figuratively) crying out, "Wil-l-l-l-l...... son-n-n-n-n-n-n" as I sadly watch my beaten and battered volleyball float away and disappear on the ocean swells. It's sad to lose a friend, however imaginary the friend was. Goodbye, God.

Lucky for me though, I'm not lonely in my life. Thank Wilson.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What a Short, Strange Trip It's Been

It's very weird reading my previous posts... my journey from "I'll never let go of the idea of God" to "I think I'm an atheist" has been remarkably brief, but it hasn't felt like it. It feels like I've been heading this direction for ages but simply now allowing myself to think about it... not wanting to leave the comfy fold of religion. Now that I'm here, it feels like it's been a whirlwind.

Yesterday I filled my Google Reader with a couple dozen atheist blogs - it's like an addiction - I LOVE reading them! And along the way, so many bloggers are pointing me to crazy conservative Christian blogs and videos and it FREAKS ME OUT that I was associated with these people!

But there's a real freedom that has come from shedding irrational beliefs. All those "God" questions are no longer vexing - they simply dissolve in the light of truth and reality. It is incredibly peaceful.

But how can God be both all powerful and all good? Simple, he can't because he doesn't exist.

How can we reconcile the fact that some prayers are answered and some aren't? No prayers are answered. There is no God to answer prayers.

Why are there so many contradictions in the Bible? Because the Bible was written by PEOPLE. No divine inspiration necessary.

Why does God seem so cruel sometimes in the Old Testament? Because those were ancient, barbaric times, and ancient, barbaric people. They're the ones who told these stories. Their God matched their culture.

I suppose I could go on all day (this is nothing new to anyone who has been out of Christianity for awhile, or never been in it.) But I actually find this fun! It's like, finally... FINALLY... my questions are answered!

And I'm no longer striving to live up to the demands of an external Being but rather trying to live well and be a good person for the sake of goodness itself. Not because God demands it of me but because I demand it of myself.

And how preposterous it is, to think that morality can only come from God! More on this later.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Think I'm an Atheist Now

Everything is different.

My questioning and pushing the boundaries has led me completely out of religion altogether.

There's no god, no heaven, no hell. I don't even know anymore if there's a spiritual dimension at all. Is there anything transcendent? Is there a "divine" outside of humans? Is there an "energy" force of love and hate, or good and evil? Does it make sense to pray to "the universe"?

My favorite blogs these days are Friendly Atheist and Godless Girl.

I'm reading a very good book, Why I Am a Buddhist by Stephen T. Asma. It's worthwhile to note that Buddhists are atheists.

My biggest struggle at the moment isn't so much internal. While my evolution continues, I'm feeling fairly peaceful about it. But there's this external tension. It's how my current journey clashes with where my kids are. They're all gung-ho for Jesus, more than ever. And it's very tough to navigate.

I have already figured out that it would be a bit too scary and jarring for them if I was truthful about my own path. It will have to come with time, as they mature and are able to handle the dissonance.

Of course, I don't have any friends who've been where I am and could help me - as far as I know!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Losing My Religion

I read this book by William Lobdell, Losing My Religion, and it was a life-changer. I hated it, loved it, was completely ripped up inside while reading it and afterwards.

A few quotes:

p. 159:
...[it] was the first tangible sign that I was losing my faith. But the thought was so scary, so unwanted and so profound that it would be a long time before I actually admitted it, even to myself.

p. 160:
My long honeymoon with Christianity had ended. As soon as I'd beat back one doubt, two more would pop up.

p. 141:
Spiritual suicide infers that people make a conscious decision to abandon their faith. Yet it simply isn't a matter of will. Many want desperately to believe, but just can't. They may feel tortured that their faith has evaporated, but they can't will it back into existence. If an autopsy could be done on their spiritual life, the cause of death wouldn't be murder or suicide. It would be natural causes - the organic death of a belief system that collapsed under the weight of experience and reason.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Last Gasps of My Faith?

I was reading a little more this morning in "Faith on the Edge" ... basically it addresses the "dark night of the soul" and tries to bring a coherent theology to a season of doubting, or loss of faith, in one's life. Like I said before, it's really well done. I've underlined a lot.

But it's sad to me that I'm not totally buying in. As I read, I'm continually aware that my dark night of the soul may indeed be the last gasps of my faith in the God of the Christian Bible (although I doubt I'll ever lose belief in God altogether and don't think I can ever call myself an atheist. Maybe, as Hitchens says, I'll be a "Protestant atheist." Simply not believing in the Protestant God.)

I read a chapter on Mother Teresa today which addressed her own decades-long experience of God's total absence. It was very dark for her, yet she continued her mission, eventually coming to embrace a theology of God's absence that described it as God's way of bringing her into total communion with those she served. She was in pain constantly, longing, longing, longing for God, longing for the joy and consolation that His presence brings, and never getting it. She was unbearably lonely and sad. And this, she eventually believed, mirrored the constant state of the desperately poor in Calcutta... a life of total disappointment, little (if any) real joy, deep darkness, and of course, no relationship to God. (The book explains it better that I have.)

So she came to believe God was allowing this in her life so that she would be completely in sync with those God had called her to serve.

My epiphany was this: Mother Teresa was just depressed. Deeply, severely clinically depressed. She couched her depression in religious terms -- absence of God, dark night of the soul -- but if you take away the religious language you get DEPRESSION which, after all, would be a completely normal and rational human response to the poverty and desperation that marks life in Calcutta and many other places of the world.

If you work amongst the lowest of the low, see constant unrelenting pain and suffering all around you, devote your life to it, and yet never see any evidence of the situation changing, OF COURSE you'd be depressed if you had even the most basic humanity in you.

So where Mother Teresa finds "absence of a tangible experience of God," I find "evidence that the God you believe in never existed."

This is tough stuff.

I will leave the Mother Teresa topic now for another that I discovered in this book. The author talks about how Christians often treat God like the genie in a bottle, here to meet our needs. We pray and petition him because we need stuff. But when you have a dark night (experience total absence of God) you no longer have a genie. God is no longer at our beck and call. The author says this teaches us to put God back in his place—it forces us to remember who is servant and who is master. So the “dark night” can help transform a self-serving faith into a God-serving one.

But what if the dark night clarifies for me that my concept of a genie-God was so wrong because Christians taught me wrongly? And that in fact, the Christian God doesn’t exist and there is no genie anywhere, and I’m better off coming to terms with that fact?

Because of my work and my circle of friends, I hang out in groups of Christians all the time, and it amazes me how much people are constantly begging God for stuff: safe travels, and healing for illness, and wisdom for job decisions, and strength to deal with tough family situations, and financial miracles. The petitions are constant and unending and so many of them go unanswered… how can anyone possibly justify believing in a God who capriciously decides to answer some prayers and not others? How can you possibly believe in an interventionist God and actually think he’s “good” when it’s clear how often he doesn’t intervene?

I am so tired of the whole Christian “thing” of trying to make every argument go away. As Hitchens describes it, it’s a constant effort to fit square pegs in round holes. To make non-sensical things have the illusion of making sense.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Career in Christianity . . . Amidst a Loss of Faith

I am experiencing a deep and profound crisis of faith, and it is far more agonizing than I thought it could be.

However, the easy part is continuing to work in the world of Christianity. I can manage the disconnect between my work and my spiritual life just fine. I'm able to see that this Christian stuff is deeply held and more importantly, deeply needed by so many people I care about, that I have no need to take it away from them. In fact, I'm perfectly comfortable continuing to feed them what they need (which is my work).

But the crisis is so deep and so hard, and I don't get any opportunity to talk about it out loud without putting someone else at risk. My church book club last night was hard for me because the Chan book opens up so many areas I'd really, really like to discuss - with full, brutal honesty. And it would be brutal. But instead I had to figure out how to be "not me" in a major way as I led the discussion into this book. I had to lead them "deep" without revealing any of what my real thoughts were. It was a challenge, but mostly, preparing for it just reminded me how deep this crevasse is that I've fallen into, and I don't know how to find my way out.

Well, I do actually.

But anyway, it's not the disconnect between faith and work that's hard. It's simply the inability to be "real" in most of my conversations, and hence, it is all the more difficult to navigate the spiritual crisis.

I'm reading a little book now, "Faith at the Edge" by Robert Wennberg. It has a cool cover too. He totally validates my current experience as a true "dark night of the soul" and doesn't offer platitudes. He acknowledges again and again that part of what constitutes a true spiritual crisis is that it truly does bother you to the point of being agonizing at times. (That's me.) We cannot be accused of simply "not trying hard enough" or "not spending enough time in prayer or in the word." Spiritual crisis is real, and we did not cause it. But I think he ends up by saying, "Don't worry, you're still a Christian" and I'm worried  will not be a Christian as I find my way out of this.

I listened carefully as the women in our group shared what the bok Heaven is for Real means to them. And it was so powerful to see how they are moved and touched and encouraged by this story. Why would I want to take that away from them? (I was never the kind of mom to remove a security blanket or a much-needed thumb-sucking habit. I figured if they need the comfort, let 'em have it.) So I am encouraged that my work is still meaningful in that it helps people and encourages them. (But I really, truly detest the existence of that book Heaven is For Real.)

There is a huge disconnect. I have nobody to talk to, to share these thoughts with. And it's just not fun.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Crazy Love . . . Really?

I'm reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan because I have to lead a discussion of it in my crappy church-lady book club.


It's torture reading it. I hate it.

I keep asking myself how to take the "good" from these books and simply ignore the parts I don't resonate with. But it's like separating the coffee from the cream once they're mixed. Too hard.

Once I admitted to myself that I couldn't believe in a personified God, and that I truly believe all religions are human-created stories for the purpose of making sense of our experience, I was just "done." Christianity is awesome for giving people comfort and hope but it no longer gives me either one of those. I'm having a hard time figuring out how to land in a place like Borg or even McLaren, disbelieving parts of Christianity but keeping the heart of it.

I can't make it make sense. Sadly, Dawkins and William Lobdell have resonated with me stronger than anything else I've read.

Every argument that ends in "too bad - that means you won't be in heaven" feels so silly to me because I can't believe in heaven. And that's what Francis Chan does...he lays on the guilt really thick, saying basically most church goers are "lukewarm" Christians, meaning they're not Christians at all, and he says "and we won't see you in heaven."

Then he says - "but I'm not trying to make you feel guilty!"

Ugh. What a load of bullshit.

My challenge this Tuesday will be to lead this discussion in a way that is actually helpful for these women.

By the way, it's not that I don't believe in a "more." I've always thought there was a spiritual realm. But I think I'm pretty much a new-ager at heart and always have been.

If I'm wrong, I guess I won't get to see my friends in heaven.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Losing Easter

So tomorrow's Easter, and can I just say how different everything looks and feels now that I've admitted to myself that I don't place much stock in the resurrection.

How heretical of me.

Someday I may find value in all these stories and be able to find wisdom and comfort in their metaphori-cal truths, but I'm telling you, it holds no appeal for me right now.

I am really far gone and it scary, painful, agonizing. But very nice to have Sunday mornings free!

It was such a short time ago that Easter meant so much to me. I remember several years, recently, when i felt it necessary to go to an additional (more liturgical) church service by myself, since our non-denominational evangelical service just wasn't enough for me.

And now I could care less! I really feel deeply the loss of the tethering, the loss of something to give this life ultimate meaning. Most of the time I honestly believe there is no ultimate meaning and while it scares the daylights out of me, it also feels true. It makes it so much more urgent to get this life "right" because this may be all there is!

Being in this place - not having any overall higher meaning to cling to - helps me understand humankind's need, throughout our history, to create religion. To create meaning. To create stories about life and death and beyond. Because it is just too horrifying to think that this is it.

And yet Iive in that horrifying place.

I've learned something good from the neo-atheists, about being okay without a belief in God or heaven. But still, I'm not all the way there. It's hard.
So... happy Easter.

I made Easter baskets for the girls, but other than that, we have no plans! Feels kind of lonely when eve-ryone else in the world (or at least our stinkin' Christian town) will be dressing up for church and Sunday brunch!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Every Relationship Matters

Today I’ve been thinking about the idea that every significant relationship we have is REAL. It lasts. It stays with us forever. Even if it happened when we were young. Even if it was brief.

When you share yourself with someone in an intense way, especially if it includes sexual intimacy, it be-comes part of who you are. There is a connection there that can never be broken. Not by distance, not by absence, not by the passage of time.

The relationship lives on…in hearts, in minds, in the back of a subconscious. In fleeting memories. In songs, in scents. In the touch of a hand. Or an unexpected email in your inbox.

How foolish I’ve been to think the past stays in the past.

It seems like this is a piece of information someone might have wanted to tell me along the way! That everything I do matters. That how I treat people is important. That the pieces of myself I give away are permanently gone—they live with the other person now. That maybe I shouldn’t treat life so casually, maybe I shouldn’t assume that my presence in someone else’s life is inconsequential.

Everything matters. Each minute has the potential to last forever! We never know the precise moments another person holds in their heart We may not know which snapshots live on in their memory. So all the moments we spend with another are precious. They’re sacred.

How could I not have known this?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dark Night of the Soul

I had lunch with my dear friend Lindsey, a devoted Christian. I spilled my guts to her, the first time I've told any of my Christian friends what I've been going through. Afterwards I felt awful. Here's what I emailed her:


Regarding me and my dark night of the soul... in answer to your questions... I'm bummed because I feel like I said too much and spoke as if I knew what I was talking about. I don't. I'm struggling and feeling my way. Yes, talking about it both stirred up my pain and surprised me at the things that came out of me! Somehow by talking about it, my struggle becomes more real. 

However, I'm comforted by great Christians throughout history, including Mother Teresa, who have spent years in the "dark night" and felt keenly the absence of God. I know I'm not alone. 

I'm not ready to say I've "lost my faith" and I'm not in a place where I'd say I'm not a Christian or don't believe in God or Jesus. It's much more nuanced than that. So it's probably best I keep quiet about it, since when I try to put words on it, it comes out sounding all heretical and everything.

I mean, I might indeed be a heretic but I'm not ready to be labeled as one.

Aarrgghh.  Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sometimes I Don't Like This Journey

As I continue slogging through this journey, I find myself desperately wishing I could still believe in a personified God. But I can't.

I've been telling myself "Just drink the Kool Aid." Life would be easier, I'd be in the club. I'd know what to do with doubt and fear and anger and failure... just give it to God!

I still believe there is "more." A force? The "universe" as they say in New Age. But the personified God of the bible is no more real that Zeus or Athena or Ganesha. I am really trying hard to understand it all metaphorically but so far I can't separate myself from Christianity's literalism.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brave Enough to Ask Questions

From Called to Question by Joan Chittister

(Here she is writing about being brave enough to ask all these new spiritual questions.)

As exciting as the situation may be, it is not always a comfortable place to be. But there is no going back. The old answers simply are not adequate to the resolution of the new questions.

This book…is my own attempt to look under every rock inside my own heart to determine what of life is still really gold and what of the answers that remain from the past is now simply fool’s dust.

I offer this book as an invitation to others to trust not only their right but their responsibility to honor their own questions, not as a breach of fidelity but as the faithful pursuit of the ancient and eternally ongoing search for “the good, the true and the beautiful.”

(After a story about a life-changing episode in the church.) That was the day I began the conscious, peri-lous journey from religion to spirituality, from the certainties of dogma to that long, slow personal journey into God.

I began to trust the questions themselves to lead me beyond answers to understanding, beyond practice to faith.

It is possible, of course, to wend our way through life superficially, questioning nothing and calling that faith. Or we can choose to look ourselves in the center of our souls, admit the worst, whatever the pain of that, and pursue the best, even when we are totally unsure where that pursuit will take us.

[This book] is a personal excursion through questions that for years I feared to ask because they had all been answered. Now I am convinced that not to answer them for ourselves means that we will fail in the only thing that, in the end, the spiritual life is all about—the search for meaning and for life.

We can only become spiritual adults when we go beyond the answers, beyond the fear of uncertainty, to that great encompassing mystery of life that is God.