Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Coming to acceptance

As my friend, D'ma, posted on her blog, when you lose your faith you go through the stages of grief, like any other loss. I think I started with Denial, then Terror, then Depression, then Bargaining, and now maybe some sort of Acceptance.

Where am I at now? After 9 months of this process?

I'll never be able to look at the Bible the same way again. Having studied critiques of the Bible in depth, I have become convinced of numerous internal contradictions. Heck, start with Genesis 1 and 2, with very different accounts of what happened at creation; go to the various stories of the resurrection and try to reconcile them. Genesis 1-12 seems to be all mythological stories that strain credulity. I could excuse that, but the rest of the Bible builds on those stories as fact. Having studied how the Bible came to be, it is much more plausible now to see how it could all be a human construction. The JEPD theory of the Old Testament seems to explain very well why there are such different themes and doctrines cobbled together into such an incoherent mess. The God of the Old Testament is an ass. There's no other way around it. If he were a current worldly ruler he would be considered a egomaniacal, petty, despot. How do you worship such a person? The dramatic level of killing and bloodshed in the OT is mind-numbing. Some of the miracles, like the sun standing still for a day, may have seemed plausible to an illiterate person, but with our current knowledge about how the solar system works it seem preposterous. The flood story doesn't "hold water" on so many levels. Talking snakes just seems silly and fanciful. Having studied evolutionary theory in depth, I now see it as much more plausible than I had before; it has much better explanatory power of the evidence than a sudden creation of everything at the same time. We don't know who wrote the gospels, and they were probably written several decades after the events. Jesus was thoroughly Jewish, and never suggested his follower should be anything but; yet his followers have been anything but! Paul seemed to know nothing about Jesus other than his death and resurrection; at least he never mentions any details about his life. Jesus, and his followers, expected an imminent return - years maybe, but not decades, centuries, or millenia. Many Biblical stories have parallels in other myths... creation, flood, angels and humans mating, virgin birth, resurrection, etc. I no longer see morality, or good human relations, as being dependent on the existence of a god. I have come to see any religion that requires "faith" (believing in spite of insufficient evidence) to be absurd on its face; you can't argue with it. I have come to see how psychology can explain how and why most people can be lulled into believing all sorts of invisible, unproveable stuff. The universe, and the earth, are billions of years old. Prayer is no more effective than chance and coincidence. People believing they are led by the Holy Spirit come to remarkably different conclusions. The history of Christianity is a never-ending conflict over what the truth is, even on critical doctrines like the nature of salvation, and how to procure it, or what rules we are supposed to live by as NT Christians. The NT preaches an unhealthy level of pacifism. The teachings on divorce and remarriage are untenable. Christianity, for the most part, has participated in the subjugation of slaves, women, and gays, with Biblical justification. Christianity, for the most part, has resisted several significant scientific advancements. Most people's belief in God is based on what country they were born in. God never reveals anything of practical or scientific value in the Old or New Testament, i.e., antibiotics, or quantum mechanics. Nothing is added that wasn't already commonly known. The cosmology of the Bible is exactly as antiquated and wrong as the beliefs of the time... flat earth, waters above the sky, sun revolving around the earth, etc. Prime Mover does not prove there is a god; as difficult as it is to wrap our minds around what "caused" the first things, positing a god only removes the question one step back... who caused God? It doesn't answer anything; you are still left with the same conundrum. The "God of the Gaps" made a lot of sense in ancient times, when so little about the world was understood. Science, however, continues to chip away at those "unexplainables" at a breakneck pace. Because a belief is comforting and gives meaning and purpose to life does not make it true. Our current concepts of the afterlife - heaven and hell - didn't exist until shortly before Jesus' arrival. The more education someone has, the less likely they are to believe in god or the Bible. The idea of someone going to hell for ANY reason seems ludicrous.

So... at this time, for me to believe in a god, or in the stories of the Bible would merely be wishful thinking. It would be akin to believing in Oz, without being willing to peak behind the curtain. That doesn't mean I have all the answers. It doesn't mean I know what the Truth is about life, the universe, and everything. It just means the explanations I once firmly believed in don't seem to make sense to me any more.

I have studied some of the best Christian apologists. A good apologist will come up with explanations and rationales for each thing I mentioned above... just like there are good Mormon apologists, or apologists for the Flat Earth Society. At some point you have to determine whether the apologists are honestly going wherever the facts lead them, or whether they have already committed to a belief and have become ingenious at defending that belief from all contrary evidence. Sometimes you just have to look at the weight of the evidence. At some point you realize you are having to work harder and harder to explain all the contrary or conflicting evidence. Most people cling tightly to their religious beliefs because of the turbulence usually experienced when changing them.

My Christian faith was very important to me. I loved it. I still do. It's a great story! And I love Christians (although I am increasingly seeing them as "having drunk the kool-aid," unwilling or unable to take a critical look at their faith).

My family and my closest friends know the struggle I've been having in this area and generally have not deserted me. I wish I had more friends, however, where we didn't have this unspoken rift in our relationship. I have come out to some of my counseling clients, and no one has left yet. There are others, though, that I dread telling. yuck.

And so I have been spending my free time with other pursuits lately. Watching movies, writing blogs I have on other topics. I can't think of any more religious topic to pursue that would have the hope of shifting my conclusions; I delved into everything that I had nagging questions about. I still love the academic study of religion... what we believe and why.

I wish I had a more satisfying existential "answer" to life, but I am learning to be ok with the unknowns. What other choice do I have?