Believe in me, help me believe in anything

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"Jesus said, "I tell the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."
John 5:24-25

I went to my coworker's funeral today. As part of the service, the pastor (rector? priest? not sure) read an essay my coworker had written on the verse above. Basically, the essay expressed his great joy and slight amazement in being saved, and in believing that because he knew God and believed in His son, Jesus, he did not have to fear death, but would live eternally. This isn't exactly a new concept to me--I may be ignorant of religion, but I'm not that ignorant. I get that believe=live eternally is a basic premise of many Christian denominations. But I'd never heard it put quite so clearly before. It was basically described as an unbelievably good deal.

Which, of course, it is. All you have to do is believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins and you get an eternal reward? Pretty sweet.

Except when you can't.

I tried to believe in God. I've been trying to find Him, to find a faith, for many years now. And I'm not closer than I was when I started--if anything, I'm farther away. I've visited churches of many denominations (most of the major Christian branches as well as Quakers), and I felt nothing. I have never felt God inside me. I think, sometimes, that I do, but upon examination, my feelings always come back to me, not to an outside higher power.

Do I get points for trying? If they're right, and their God does exist, and all you have to do to live eternally is believe, do I get points for wanting to believe? I don't think so. I think I'm damned with the rest of the unbelievers.

After the service today, another co-worker, who described himself as a "fellow Atheist" (which I don't think is quite true of me, but whatever), asked what I'd thought of it. I said that I've been to enough funerals at this point where the major gist was "believe as the deceased did or you'll never see him in heaven" not be bothered by it anymore. It wasn't true, though. In truth, the idea that my lack of belief points not to a lack of anything believable, but to a failure in me, terrifies me. It's not just that I'm afraid I'm going to Hell (or just dying without an afterlife), but I'm afraid that I'm wrong and I'm missing something basic and important in this life because of it.

A while back, I was in line at a store and when I asked the clerk how she was doing she replied, "I've been saved and He is with me! I am always doin' fine." Normally, a statement like that would give me an internal snort, but that day I took pause. She seemed honestly to say that her faith made her happy all the time. Of course nobody is happy all the time, but isn't there some evidence that believers are generally happier?

More and more, I don't judge religious people. I envy them. And listening to the store of my coworker's spiritual journey today, in his own words, did, in a strange way, give me comfort. Even if I don't believe, and I am scared, his belief apparently helped him not to be scared. Even if ultimately the heaven to which he believed he was headed doesn't exist, there is definite value in living your life and facing your death believing there is something like that coming up next. I'm glad he had that. I'm glad his family, who shared his faith, have that. I just wish I did too.

*Post title with apologies to The Counting Crows

10 Comments

I'm not comfortable with the term atheist either, but would put myself into the agnostic category. (Or antagonistic if you ask DH :P )

I've tried too, and I just can't do it. I can understand your relief and comfort from knowing that's what he thought though.

Speedy healing to you, my friend.

Yeah, in many ways religion is just a mass delusional system that you're part of a global winning team (my SO loves to say that). You have to 'have faith' because if it made sense, you would believe it on its own merits. Putting responsibility for your future and happiness over to someone else (God) sure is easier. I'm terrified of death and believing in life after death sure would be easier. But that's not enough for me to put aside my reason. There's enough good and bad in the world to keep me focused on living the best possible life I can. I just can't believe in God. Especially because God comes through the filter of other people and their worldly desires.

Damn, I was so busy waxing philosophical that I forgot to say the most important thing - I'm so sorry to hear about your co-worker. It is totally unfair.

Having been on both sides of the fence (currently on the atheist side), I do understand how religion brings comfort. In times of stress, it's nice to know that someone's looking out for you, someone knows how it's going to turn out and maybe will intercede for you. When I de-converted from Christianity, the hardest thing for me to stop doing was praying to whoever it was who knew these things.

But I don't fear death. I don't view my lack of existence before I was born as anything terrible or scary, and I'm convinced that I'll just return to that state when I die. I've seen animals and people on the verge of death (not due to acute trauma), and none of them looked afraid of what was happening to them. In fact, the people I've seen who had time to process their impending death (due to prolonged illness) always looked peaceful or, at least, accepting of what was happening to them. It seemed like a natural process, not unlike birth or anything else. That's when I stopped fearing death.

Now, I just hope I am fortunate enough to also have a prolonged death, so that I might find the understanding of death and dying that I've seen in other people.

I'm also not fond of the term atheist. Most atheists I know are just as fanatical about their atheism as religious people are about their religion.

This does remind me of something my mom told me when I was little. I think I was asking what agnostic meant and in the course of that discussion, she said that people who didn't believe in god have to make sure they have a strong set of morals to guide them through life.

I've always remembered that and I try to follow that advice. Setting down my own ideas of what it means to live a good life, be a good person. It's a work in progress though, I am far from living a good life and being a good person.

Wow, Grace, you've gotten some excellent feedback already and I really agree with most of it. I don't have much to add to this but I wanted to let you know I was still thinking about you. *Hugs*

Oh, I got something; do what feels natural to you. Don't base your idea of religion or spirituality or afterlife on anyone else's idea. It never feels right when it's not original. I am a spiritual person but my spirituality is unique to me and feels natural. I've tried to force myself but it never works. As for afterlife, it will always remain one of life's mysteries. No matter how much faith someone has, no on can really know what happens. Part of me believes in reincarnation but most of me believes when we die, we return to the earth and that's it. I think that's why it's so important to enjoy each day for what it is, good and bad. I really liked what Sandy said about a prolonged death. I'm not sure I would want that myself but she's so right about the peace that comes. I'm not scared of Death, I'm scared I won't get to do all the things I want to do before it comes. Big, deep stuff, girl. Much love coming to you, sister.

Hi Grace,

I'm so sorry to hear about your co-worker. Thank you for being so open and honest here. I don't know that I have the answers or the right words, but here's someplace to start...
Maybe think about nature and how everything fits together so perfectly - and where there is design, there is a designer. Where there is creation, there is a creator. Consider thankfulness for the order He's made (despite the chaos that man creates!)
I'm thinking of you Grace, and I'll pledge to pray for you. Please let me know if there is anything else you specifically would want prayer for.
If you have any questions, I would be happy to do my best to answer them. If I don't know, then I'll look for the answer for you.
Have A Great Day,
Diane

Grace, sorry to hear you're struggling with all this big stuff, but I'm not sorry that you're giving it serious thought. I think it's healthy and important.

I grew up in a Presbyterian (I don't think I can even spell it anymore, ha) household and went to Church every Sunday until I was about 16. I went to youth groups, bible school, Confirmation classes, the whole nine yards.

Then it just stopped working for me.

It started very small. Tiny things that just didn't make sense to me, even if they were coming out of the mouths of religious leaders who were completely devoted to the study of their religion. These small things created weak links in the chain of my previously unquestioned beleif system.

I started questioning.

I started really THINKING about what I was reading, what I was hearing, and what others were telling me.

I stopped going to church, and really set aside the whole "religion" thing for a while. I considered myself a spiritual person, and rather aligned my spirituality in a similar way to what Rachel describes for herself. It worked for me for a while.

But it just doesn't work for me anymore. I am 100% an atheist. And although I understand some people's discomfort with the term, as it can be associated with very outspoken and sometimes unpleasant people, it is how I define my beleif system (or lack thereof).

I am a scientist, and my atheism is very firmly rooted in my knowledge of science. Please note that I do not say "belief" in science, but "knowledge". Science is founded on fact, evidence, replication, discourse, critique, and never-ending review. That is not to say that science is never wrong; science is wrong all the time...that's why there are millions of scientists doing millions of projects all over the world and why we'll never run out of things to study. Because if one scientist says, "aha! I've made a great discovery!", all the other scientists say, "that's crap. Prove it. Better yet, I'm going to prove you wrong!". And a million more experiments are performed until there are mountains of data, and eventually all the scientists either say, "well, heck. that first scientist was right" or "ha-ha, you were wrong, and here's what's REALLY happening". Either way, the facts are sorted out and then everyone can move on to the next question.

(ok, I'm about to touch on some nitty-gritty science stuff and I understand if some of the concepts are new or difficult...I had to live and breathe it at the university level before I really got a good handle on it...but it's important for me to explain at least one of the key reasons for my atheism. If anyone wants more discussion about this stuff feel free to bug me on my blog).

Through this rigorous process, science has proven several things to be facts. A few of these include: that evolution and natural selection have been and continue to be the driving forces behind the development of new species (including humans). We also know that these changes are based on completely random mutations that just happen to end up being beneficial to that organism in the particular environment in which the organism lives.

It's all random. Completely up to chance. Nature (i.e., the living and non-living elements that make up an organism's environment) is calling all the shots. There is no god directing the show.

Personally, I find this spectacularly amazingly, mind-blowingly fascinating, and this is one of the main reasons that I'm a scientist. The way DNA and the external selective pressures in the environment interact to bring about the incredible diversity that has spanned the planet's 4-billion-odd-years of existence...well, it's freaking cool. And it allows us to understand the appearances and behaviours of the organisms with which we share this planet. Things make complete sense when these facts are applied. There are litterally millions of studies that prove them to be true.

On the other hand, I have yet to be shown one single FACT that proves the existance of God. No one can show me these facts, because God doesn't exist. Saying "look at nature" is just about the weakest possible argument for me, because I understand the biological mechanisms behind it.

The fact of the matter is, if someone, ANYone, was able to provide evidence that proved the existance of god, scientists would be shouting it from the rooftops, doing cartwheels and standing on their heads, because, really, it would squash a whole lot of what is currently understood to be true about the universe and, well, it would give them a gazillion new research projects to focus on.

Seriously, scientists are not fearful of the existence of god, they would welcome it as a new and challenging peice of the puzzle that they strive every single day to solve.

Ok. So. Long story short, I'm perfectly comfortable with knowing that there is no supreme being out there somewhere who has a plan for me and the rest of the universe. It means that only I am responsible for myself and my actions and my choices. I am a totally autonomous entity. Random good things good happen to me ("oh look, I found 20 bucks!" and random bad things could happen to me ("oh crap I got plowed down by a bus"), but those are just things that happen, not things that someone is MAKING happen. We're not just a punch of pawns in a chess game. When I die, I'll die. That's it. I've seen things die. They just stop. I don't know why that has to be scary.

I guess some of this may come across kind of strongly worded, but I'm not intending any disrespect to those with differing opinions. You are certainly entitled to them and I'll defend your right to have them. I'm just not going to agree with you, that's all.

Grace, eventually you'll find your peace with something that fits well with your own value system, whether based on fact or faith, and whatever you come up with will be ok.

I have some weird beliefs. My main idea is that while God (some great wisdom, not necessarily a personage) created the world, this is OUR world to do with as we please, and God doesn't interfere in it. We do what we do down here, period, and we can make this heaven or hell, our choice.

But I do believe in a Holy Spirit, who, being a Spirit, is always with us, but the only thing the Holy Spirit can change is our minds. HS is here to comfort us and guide us, and will do so if we ask.

These beliefs work for me, and come mostly from A Course in Miracles, which turned out to be a good fit for the way my mind works. But if you aren't up for 600+ pages of densely packed religious language, it can also be summed up by the serenity prayer used in recovery groups: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I believe that is one of the greatest spiritual teachings of all time, and if you could truly do that, you would have no more worries.

I'm not sure where you are in this right now. This is not a recent post, but it is the most recent post that is appropriate for this comment.

I've been pretty sick for the last couple of days, so I've had a lot of downtime. My intent in reading your blog was to just catch up with the 100 days of housekeeping thing and that's it - because your introduction to that made it pretty clear that we're kind of on opposite ends of the spectrum in life. But, I felt compelled to surf around your blog and found myself reading all of your posts on faith.

You can read my testimony on my blog if you're interested. I'm pretty wide open about my faith there.

From what little you say here, I think you should step back from "religion" for a bit. The problem with religion is that it is created by humans, and humans are flawed and sinful. While you're seeking and dissecting and trying to work it all out, you're seeing contradictions and hypocrisy and conformity and things that just don't make sense.

I would recommend just reading the Bible. I know that sounds odd. But if you get a good study Bible (I personally prefer the New King James, but the New International Version reads well) and read it, and read the study notes, then God will reveal Himself to you.

I'm in the process of reading it from Genesis to Revelation, am just now getting into 1 Samuel, and find myself growing closer to God with every sentence I read. I find myself encouraged, strengthened, impassioned. I find myself seeking answers that my religion can't give me because they might contradict some human interpretation or fallacy or flaw within my religion. My husband is discovering the same thing while he is going on a similar journey to mine.

I'll tell you up front that the first 5 books are hard to read. I had to force myself through them, but I'm so glad that I didn't just skip them. So much wouldn't make sense if I hadn't read them.

And I'm reading slowly - reading study notes, looking up history, finding commentaries and sermons about what I just read. And I'm forming my own conclusions that way.

Another good book for you would be Lee Stroble's (maybe Strobel?) "A Case for Christ." Stroble was an Atheist. Pretty hard core Atheist. His wife (and maybe they had 3 kids by then) became a Christian and he was a little peeved about it. He was an investigative reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, and decided that he would investigate Jesus Christ and expose Him as a fraud to show his wife that she was following a fraud. This book chronicles his investigation, what he learned, the history, science, anthropological evidence about Christ -- and ended up proving to himself that Jesus Christ existed, was crucified, and raised from the dead. It's a brilliant read, is non-judgmental, non-evangelical. It is just the investigative case and the conclusions found.

He also wrote A Case for Faith, but this one was his first one, so I'd recommend it first.

Hallee

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