Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The End of Faith

I concluded my previous post by saying that the fervor and detailed calculation with which I approached Christianity in my life was the chief factoring in initiating my transition into atheism.

I would say I've always been a logical person, attempting to make sense of the world, and incessantly concerned with how I affect it. As I matured as a teenager my scrupulous mindset in coordination with Christianity caused me to begin to define everything in my life through the lens of religion.

The impetus for my motivation in this pursuit lay primarily in a youth group trip I took to Chicago one summer, around the general beginning of my 'spiritual maturation' process. We spent a week in the city, and more or less took part in what I would characterize now as positive, revitalizing and refreshing tasks. We rode public transit or walked to wherever we would go, ate at local markets, spent a great deal of time in personal reflection and meditation, practiced yoga in the mornings, and participated in various community service and volunteer projects around the city- all the while throughly enjoying the enlivening company of our friends, whom we all became very close to during and after that week. Generally, I would say our lifestyles that week reflect a simply good life: A life characterized by the embrace of the many qualities that makes us human. For instance it is beyond rejuvenating and exciting to eat fresh fruit bought from local vendors and help out other people through volunteering without an expectation of return. In a general sense these are all simply life-giving activities, activities I believe everyone at some level should be involved in.

Now, needless to say, accompanied with our pursuits that week came a vast happiness and enjoyment of life. Unfortunately but understandably I equated this newfound happiness with God, and reasoned that all of our habits that week were somehow linked with the way I was supposed to live if I was a follower of Jesus. And for a good year and half I pursued that, with nearly no luck.

After we returned from Chicago I fruitlessly strove to reacquire the delight I had found in there, and ceaselessly conversed with God about how I was supposed to go about this. So for the next two years, I unquestionably believed that there was a way for me to somehow merge my teenage life, all of my emotions and feelings and my school life and family life seamlessly into a network of good will. I subsequently believed that if I could achieve what I understand now as a purely idealistic lifestyle, I would become happy. Note grave mistake number 1: Expecting happiness as a result of my actions.

So time passed on, and yes I was completely unsuccessful in achieving my quixotic lifestyle. However, the primary method I used to analyze my success happened to be logic. Perhaps all my thoughts were grouped in a 'conversation' with God, but more or less the rules of reason and logic defined that conversation rather than uncertainty and faith. My faith was in the authenticity of the life I was trying to led. The reason and logic led me to attempt to change a situation in my life that was directly affecting me and causing me great harm and despair. Similarly to how many Christians feel the need to proselytize themselves I felt the pull to attempt to conciliate what I perceived as completely unjust situations in my life, with the anticipation that doing so would help to achieve the fanciful life I imagined.

Thus I ventured at remedying this situation to absolutely no avail except my own demise. I was nearly completely unsuccessful. The significance of this failure here is that I fully expected to succeed because I blindly believed God had the intention of setting the world right, and I was certain that the situations I was endeavoring to remedy would fit right in with that plan of his. Thus, when the tangible realities of both collapsed down upon me, their correspondingly symbolic and emotional counterparts also disintegrated. In such a manner, without even knowing it, my faith in God simply disappearing, and gradually I begin to realize I no longer believed in God.

At least in my story, that process is the most important, because it was no analysis of the plausibility of God or anything of that nature that brought about my atheism, but instead the breakdown of the mental realities I had constructed to sustain God. In that context I find my definition of belief: A mental framework established subconsciously of some thought or ideal that does more to self assure oneself of our one's security rather than actually identify any truth in the world.

Anyhow, so when the external implications of my belief in God, as I had defined them, were lost, my internal beliefs were lost with them. And like I said, I slowly realized that I simply didn't, just didn't, believe in God any more. And that was that, there was indeed no turning back. Then till now as been a slow progression towards a deeper interaction with reality, a stronger yearning to experience truth, and a much more poignant perception of my responsibility as a human in this world. Then till now I 'm still learning.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Stories from the Cocoon

I have yet to devote any posting material to the subject of how I actually became an atheist, and I find here and now a good place to start. So I begin with who I was before.

I was raised as a Christian, and have only really attended two different churches in my lifetime. It is important to note that neither of these churches had any association with the purely dogmatic, stereotypical understanding of a church in a modern sense, and I still respect that veracity of some of the things they preached.

The existence of God was always an immutable concept in my mind, a quality of reality that was gradually built into my perception and conscience. I would say that the initial institution of this belief as a child is an awful thing, for what does a child know but what his parents and the world tells him? At that age it is as easy to accept the existence of God as it is to accept the existence of Santa Claus. Fortunately, that metaphor holds true to on the back end as it does on the front end.

I digress. As I developed my own thoughts and opinions, and began to interact within this world, the preestablished notion of an 'all powerful being' worked its way throughout my head and logic. The patterns I utilized to make sense of various happenings as well as more permanent ones were infused with the likelihood that a God was acting and moving within all of it, with some perceivable purpose. Anything that was to occur, my mind- the subtle thought process that would begin to analyze i- would include God into the equation of comprehension. Whether it was why I had missed a goal in a soccer game or how I ended up with such an ignorant mother, it was all the same- God always found some place in it. The gentle voice inside my head that would narrate my life became a conversation with God in many senses, perpetually asking questions in the direction of a supernatural being with the expectation of somehow accruing an epiphany from it. Come to think of it, ultimately I had no belief in God that wasn't inspired by natural events that I had associated with the existence of God. The strange way in which we can easily reassure ourselves of some internalized notion that makes our lives easier is very frightening in the context of belief in God.

Many people hope for certain dreams, little and big, and imagine that were these dreams to come true many of the problems they experience in their lives would disappear. In fact, perhaps the source of false dreams like "as soon as I can get this particular job such and such problem would be gone" lies within a human tendency towards escapism and avoiding the reality of life. It is inconceivably easier to drop all of the real responsibility of our lives into the lap of some omnipotent being with the expectation that all is either in control or will be well. Antithetically, abandoning God does not led towards apathy, but instead towards a heightened sense of accountability, and in my opinion and much more connected perspective with the world and people around us.

So I grew up as a child and eventually a teenager and integrated God deeply within my subconscious. The nefarious dearth of reason that resulted grew to the extent that at one point I firmly believed that a few important decisions I made were acutely intertwined with some halcyon paradise God had in store for me. In retrospect these decisions were foolish to a degree I could not foresee on the front end, and I deeply regret them now.

Essentially, God had become an irrevocable part of me. The best explanation of this relationship is that God was an attribute, and abutment, to my conscience, my internal thinking mechanism. God was controlled by me, influenced by the capricious fate that guided my life, and subject to the vacillating attitudes pressed upon me by the church I attended. Prayer was something that I believed would make me into a better person, prayer at least in the context of meditation, however was always limited to my expectation of visceral nirvana, and never inspired by necessity but rather by belied obligation.

I would say that altogether humans are silly creatures, with immense capabilities but great predilections towards ignorance and stupidity. Religion is the vice that takes hold of the gullible heart at an early age and warps it into something unrecognizable. Indeed, the forces that work against enlightenment are not limited to religion, instead they consist of the full gamut of natural human responses and instincts intended to avoid problems. Instead, the common favor of religion in humans is best described as an innate behavior intended to shield individuals from reality. Within this esoteric mess of ideas, belief, or at least the belief one has a belief, can be most virulent. For belief, I leave another post.

So, albeit my lack of details, I arrive to my earlier teenager years with a strong reliance on and relationship with God . And in a 'To Be Continued' sense I will say that paradoxically the strength with which I believed in God as well as my dependency of the authenticity of what I learned at church, almost directly caused my renunciation of faith.