May 17, 2014 § 4 Comments
In the book The Question of God – C.S. Lewis And Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, And The Meaning Of Life by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., it is obvious that the author takes the side of Lewis with his mention of a lifelong fascination for the transformative aspects of faith. He presents Freud as a floundering pessimist, while it appears that post-conversion Lewis has all the answers. Nicholi’s title suggests that Lewis and Freud actually did debate, when in reality they may have never met, and Lewis wrote his points against Freud several years after Freud’s death.
The two men share some common themes – both based their atheism on a pessimistic worldview and lived in a time when there was less evidence to support a godless existence. The main difference between the two men is that Freud was a Jew and C.S. Lewis grew up as a Protestant. Protestantism never left the core of Lewis, and his friends (including Tolkien) hounded him through his atheistic years, discussing issues of faith late into the night. His peers played a major role in his conversion.
I’ve always questioned why an Atheist would become a Christian. In reading this book, I realized how limited the range of knowledge was just a hundred years ago. Lewis never actually believed that God did not exist. He only wished it. He had as much faith in that as a Christian has for the existence of God.
According to Freud’s theories, this wish correlates with the strained relationship Lewis had with his father resulting in a desire against authority figures. It’s no surprise that after the death of his father in 1929, Lewis converted to Christianity just two years later in 1931. Perhaps his unresolved issues led to a wish for a sense of authority over his life. Strangely enough, my father also converted just shortly after his father’s death, leading me to believe that this might be a common reaction to the loss of a parent.
“The very idea of an ‘idealized Superman’ in the sky – to use Freud’s phrase – is ‘so patently infantile and so foreign to reality, that … it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never rise above this view of life (Nicholi, 36).”
I haven’t lost either of my parents, so it’s hard for me to understand the need to find an imaginary replacement figure. But I will always remember, as clear as though it’s happening in the present, the months after my mom lost her mother. I was only nine years old, but somehow, from that time forward I began to feel that I was the mother and she was the child. It was a strange flip-flop that confused me and left me feeling overwhelmed.
To pre-conversion Lewis, since God allowed terrible things to happen, it seemed better that God not exist at all. This is an extremely weak argument, having more to do with the character of God rather than whether or not he exists. In the end, Lewis felt that his own knowledge of good and evil proved God’s existence. But does it?
In religious thinking there is the belief that morals are something separate from us. We don’t know how to behave unless God shows us how. Except that we do behave as long as our needs are met. It’s the same with all primates (because, yes we are primates) and all other species of animals.
As long as food, sex, and land isn’t hoarded by alphas, and as long as the population doesn’t get out of hand, there is no need to commit crimes or start wars. A friend just told me a story of an anthropologist who married a Venezuelan woman from a far-flung tribe in the jungle. They had a child together, but six years later, she couldn’t take it here anymore, and she went back to her village. She felt isolated in the States, and she missed the close-knit community and tight network of support in her village. Togetherness was the root of her happiness.
“‘The idea of a universal moral law as proposed by philosophers is in conflict with reason.’ He writes that ‘ethics are not based on a moral world order but on the inescapable exigencies of human cohabitation (Nicholi, 60).'”
Values differ between cultures according to the needs of the community. A culture that subsists on nomadic hunting and gathering would be disturbed by our obsessive need to hoard property and our lack of community within a massive population. However, according to Lewis, there is a universal moral order that does not change much from culture to culture. This imperialist attitude reflects his own shortsightedness and lack of education on the outside world. A master on the literature of Western Civilization, the stories he loved to read didn’t exactly fill in the gaps on world cultures.
Nicholi relays the change in Lewis post-conversion: “It happened when he was thirty-one years old. The change revolutionized his life, infused his mind with purpose and meaning, and dramatically increased his productivity; it also radically altered his values, his image of himself, and his relationships to others. This experience not only turned Lewis around, but turned him outward – from a focus on himself to a focus on others (Nicholi, 77).”
New Christians exhibit the changes of a person who is in love – but since the love object is imaginary and apparently all-powerful, the experience is heightened by fear, unworthiness, and the joy of escaping everyday reality.
When my mom first converted, no one outside the church really wanted to deal with her. She wrote her Catholic father that he would go to hell unless he converted. She answered every phone call with, “Hello, Jesus loves you!” and posted a yellow sign in the back window of her minivan that said, “Smile if Jesus Loves You!” It was all very in your face, and her siblings still struggle to forgive her for her actions. I’m amazed that my parent’s marriage survived through the eight or so years that my dad wasn’t a Christian.
Today, my mom is much more mellow, but still likes to put in her two cents. Nature is not at work – no, it’s always a miracle. And to her, an Atheist could never win a debate against a Christian. She is enmeshed in faith, and is happy with the blinders that block out the rest of the world. I love her, but it’s always bothered me that this faith, or the way that she chooses to live, keeps her locked in a fantasy. Overall, this has been my experience of churchgoers (and I lived among thousands of Christians in numerous denominations through the first half of my life).
Though Freud had many insights into psychology and is known as the father of psychology, he wasn’t the greatest example of a human being. He had a difficult life, faced life-threatening anti-Semitism, and partially because of this his ideas were met with a lack of acceptance. There was war and many deaths of loved ones. He suffered from depression, and found that small doses of cocaine lifted his spirits.
Nicholi uses Freud’s struggles to show that his life was a failure without the comfort of faith. But why should a Jew convert to Christianity in the first place? And why is Christianity the only faith given here as an example?
According to the Christian faith, it’s the only religion that transforms the believer from the inside out. I’ve never seen this to be the case. Instead I’ve seen people trying desperately hard to be good even though their impulses are testing them otherwise – the emphasis on avoiding “evil” makes the “dark side” ever more enticing. I never encounter this sort of obsession with non-believers, and everyone is much more relaxed and well adjusted.
To post-conversion Christians, just as in a relationship, that initial feeling of being in love evolves into a more stable steady love. The lover still behaves, but hidden away from the people who judge the most is a sea of inner desires. To share how you really feel is to run the risk of losing family and the community at large. The more that is hidden, the more it grows, becoming distorted and almost impossible to get a handle on. I don’t know of a Christian who hasn’t gone through some form of inner battle, and the best survivors are those that are control freaks. There is not much there in the way of pure honesty, especially regarding the self. In fact, when I first left the church, I was on a high of honesty for years, not caring how much I shocked people. It was just so freeing to be completely honest.
Throughout my years as a Christian, C.S. Lewis was the ultimate intellectual authority on Christianity. He brought issues concerning faith to the forefront of his stories and discussions. He took his beliefs beyond theology, and made it seem more like philosophy. Unfortunately his arguments don’t hold up since there was no room for facts. He was the perfect candidate for Christianity precisely because he was easily swayed by the emotions he felt through great pieces of literature.
He was always a Protestant – the fifteen or so years that he rejected it were not as much rejection as a wish against and avoidance of what he felt to be true. In his words, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself… (Nicholi, 105).” Once again, our feelings, experiences, and morals are seen as something apart from ourselves and separate from nature.
“… Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend that ‘Christ promises forgiveness of sins. But what is that to those who, since they do not know the law of nature, do not know that they have sinned (Nicholi, 73)?”
What exactly is this law of nature and why wouldn’t natural beings that are of nature be privy to it? Putting nature into submission of a purported law is silly and egotistical. Lewis is not much next to the extreme power of nature. The fact that he was mortal is the first clue in this. Nature had little regard for him, and has little regard for all of us. Nature and religion are two very different things. Religion is a manipulation for order. Nature is a balance between supply and demand. The truth is, there would be fewer problems in nature if there were less of us living on the planet.
I think it’s very difficult for most Christians to understand that Agnostic Atheism is not necessarily a pessimistic worldview. I know that it is for some, but for me personally, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel that it’s the most realistic worldview there is. I have an ultimate respect for the grandness of nature, and the fragility of existence. I have no desire to exist forever as a spirit, or reside in an uneventful place like heaven – I’ve been in many beautiful mansions, and all they are is lonely. I feel empathy for other beings because I see that we are all as one. Since I love myself, I know how to love other people. It’s not that hard to figure out. And as for God, I’ve never seen any evidence of his existence, and it’s certain that I never will. That’s not to say that I don’t think there might be other beings in the universe. Wherever and whoever they are, they are nothing like the controlling egomaniac that humans have fashioned for themselves.
It is obvious that earth is a place meant for growing, and not things that are made out of magic. Ancient people groups had no way of understanding existence without the assistance of myth to soothe the masses. I find it unbelievable that people are still choosing to live that same way today. Faith is presented as a comfort, but compared with what is actually written in the Bible, it should be sending believers into a tailspin of fear and frenzy.
I wouldn’t wish a belief in God on anyone. Far from being “perfect” – he’s presented as jealous, insane, bloodthirsty, ready to ask his followers to commit genocide on the drop of a hat. The concept of God and what he demands is in total rejection of all that we naturally are. To believe in a being that is so contrary to us as a species is to make life much more difficult and full of conflict than it ever has to be. The idea of God can make anyone go crazy – and it has on occasions too numerous to count. All you have to do is mention the date “9/11” and religious extremism presents itself loud and clear. Extremism has been a dominating force for centuries.
I’ve been told that I should question why I write about religion, and whether or not it’s honorable to cause people to question what they believe. I see nothing wrong and everything right with asking people to stop believing and start seeing with their own two eyes. For one thing, rational thinkers make for rational societies. Losing faith and analyzing it for what it really is was a painful and necessary process for me. Without that, I would have never found my own wellbeing. I like to spread that happiness.
Overall, though, I think that most of the readers who enjoy these posts are people who think as I do. I find it difficult and painful to read books that speak from the opposite point of view. For this fact, reading The Question Of God was not easy. Freud certainly had his hang-ups, but I didn’t enjoy how the author constantly pitted him against Lewis, presenting one man as the winner and the other as the loser. And all the while, Freud’s theories rang loud and true for me. Not to mention, they are the groundwork for which the author has based his life career on as a professor of psychiatry.
July 4, 2013 § 4 Comments
A recurring dream I’ve had for the last three years – I am forced, for unfinished reasons, to return to my alma mater, a small Christian University. I am told that I have to think a certain way, act a certain way, go to Chapel and pretend that I believe when I pray. If I don’t do all of these things, I will not be allowed to graduate into adulthood.
I am a 34-year-old agnostic atheist. The dream would not be so terrible if it wasn’t for this fact. It would even seem kind of fun to go back to school. It wasn’t a bad place, and I really enjoyed my time there, especially my studies.
A friend of mine said, that it seems like most people that are raised in the church eventually wizen up and leave faith behind. Quite the contrary. Judging from what I have seen in my Christian high school and college, I would say 5% have left the church. I have no way of knowing if they have grown out of faith altogether, and on that count, it may be more like 1% (I might even be the 1 of that percent). I am intrigued to know if there are any others.
The theology of my education was indoctrinated into me from the time I was born. It began with my mother who was at the height of her “Jesus Freak” phase, when I was “miraculously” conceived after years of trying for a second child. My young life was immersed in Bible stories, songs, memorized verses. Then Sunday school, Vacation Bible school, Praise Night, tent revival meetings, Amy Grant, Sandi Patty, The Gospel Bill Show, Tammy Faye Baker on the PTL club, Christian school from third grade through my senior year of college. I was not allowed to go to a Buddhist friend’s house, I was spanked for asking what the word “witch” meant, and Disney movies were all of the devil. Every influence around me was a Christian influence. There was nothing else.
From my religious perspective, as a child, it did not seem strange, or even wrong, that God supposedly commanded the Israelites to commit genocide at Jericho.
It seemed normal, at least in the Bible, for Lot to offer up his own daughters to be gang-raped, protecting his houseguests from a similar fate.
And when Noah’s son Ham saw his father’s drunken nakedness, and told his brothers about it rather than covering him up right away, it was normal for God to condemn Ham’s descendants to be “The lowest of slaves (Genesis 9:25).”
In The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, he writes, “Shouldn’t a literalist worry about the fact that Matthew traces Joseph’s descent from King David via twenty-eight intermediate generations, while Luke has forty-one generations? Worse, there is almost no overlap in the names on the two lists! In any case, if Jesus really was born of a virgin, Joseph’s ancestry is irrelevant and cannot be used to fulfill, on Jesus’ behalf, the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah should be descended from David (Dawkins, 120).”
In a study of 168 Israeli children, the kids condoned the well-known story of Joshua’s act of genocide. But when all the names and places were changed, they condemned it.
“Religious leaders are well aware of the vulnerability of the child brain, and the importance of getting the indoctrination in early. The Jesuit boast, ‘Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man,’ … In more recent times, James Dobson, founder of today’s infamous ‘Focus on the Family’ movement, is equally acquainted with the principle: ‘Those who control what young people are taught, and what they experience – what they see, hear, think, and believe – will determine the future course for the nation (Dawkins, 206).”
Though religion was ingrained in me, at school I often wanted to ask questions. But there was an unspoken rule that it was inappropriate to ask. If you asked questions of the Bible, your faith was faltering, you were weak, you were a failure, you lacked virtue.
“Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith, or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to ‘respect’ it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings (Dawkins, 346).”
The idea that question equals failure permeated my entire consciousness to the point that I was afraid to ask questions in all of my other subjects as well.
Judgment was a huge fear for me. Everyone was always watching. So rather than falter in front of them, how about, just do nothing at all. Sit in a corner, and pretend you don’t exist. For eighteen years, that’s exactly what I did. I was not an exemplary student, to say the least.
Women barely exist at all in the Bible. I clung to the stories of Ruth and Esther for dear life. They were all I had. Mary, the mother of Jesus, certainly wasn’t worthy of admiration. She is described as being more like a vessel than a person. Jesus treated her poorly. He directed his followers to leave their families behind to join his hippy movement. Reading the Bible, it’s difficult to figure out where “Christian Family Values” came from.
When I was twenty-one, I chose to walk away from the church. I decided that I no longer wanted to battle against my own human nature. I longed to fully accept who I was so that I could find happiness. I didn’t think about my departure much beyond that basic need. For the next ten years, I avoided the concept of faith and religion completely.
Instead, I spent that time doing the basics. I had to rebuild my life and deprogram my brain (not an easy task). I put myself in uncomfortable situations so that I could learn, grow, and figure out my own path. I went through an inter-faith phase, and had a year or so of being enamored with mumbo jumbo, third eyes, magickal practice, and shamanism; but I never explored what I came from.
Three years ago, I was finally ready to face all of my fears surrounding the culture of faith. At first, when I started my research, I was horrified by the realization that all of my life I’d been lied to by people who actually believed the lies they told. I was extremely angry. I couldn’t pick up the Bible without feeling disgusted and repulsed. I expressed my rage in some of my past blog posts which (going viral) attracted the ire of some very hateful Christians. One accused me of wanting to be gang-raped by five guys on a pagan altar. When you come from Bible culture, this is not an “out there” thing to think.
As a woman (according to the Bible) I am a descendant of Eve (no matter that so are all men). Therefore, I am an evil temptress who can’t be trusted, and I need to remain under the protection and the thumb of my husband or father, who will keep me in line. I am not a man’s equal (since I come from his rib, and he was there first after all), so it’s okay to take me down a few notches and skewer me as a sexual deviant to take away the blow from my viable arguments against religion.
You can teach a normal, healthy human being the practices of religion, but the fact that they subscribe to blind faith makes it positively unhealthy. The more extreme the faith and the acts behind it, the more the rewards in heaven multiply. Thus, suicide bombers abound.
I had a good talk with my brother in-law last week. He and my sister are Bible translators in Papua New Guinea, though they are home on furlough. He gets sick of being judged that he is going to act or feel a certain way on the basis of his beliefs. I get sick of being judged by Christians that I am selfish and evil simply because I do not live by faith.
Unlike the Christian faith, I don’t believe that we only subscribe to morals for fear of punishment or hope for rewards. I don’t believe that I am a hopeless, fallen soul with no control over myself. I take full responsibility for all of my actions, for my well being, and the well being of those around me. I don’t believe my dreams will be handed to me on an answered-prayers-platter. I believe in working hard to make my dreams a reality.
A friend was visiting not long ago and said to me, “I forgot that you are an atheist, because you are just so spiritual.”
I’m not sure what this means exactly. I am in awe of the universe. Is that spiritual? Is my spirit separate from my body? There is no evidence that supports that.
Scientists believe we have discovered the origins of the universe. Though the theories make a great deal of sense, I wasn’t there, and I will never know what actually happened. And that’s okay, because I am merely a collection of matter, ever-changing, and living on this marvelous stage of life, lucky to be here, honored with the magnificence of it all, never ceasing to be intrigued and amazed by my journey through art, life, words, loves, dreams, and actualizations.
Could it not be, that we have come into existence by the actualization of atoms, which create the same feats in our own lives? From particles to beings, from beings to mass movements. If you believe something enough, it will come true. That is why I still believe that prayer actually does tend to work. In prayer or meditation, you have set your mind to something, and will (hopefully) lay the groundwork to fulfill that need.
I no longer feel angry when I pick up my Bible. For the first time in my life, I can enjoy it simply as a piece of literature. Well, on second glance, maybe not. That is wishful thinking in my case. It could only remain as a piece of literature to someone who was not affected by its life consuming goals. Such as, the way I was not affected personally by learning about Greek mythology. No one ever told me I had to live by the commands of the great and all-powerful Zeus.
In Philippians, Paul’s words remind me all too well of what I have left behind:
“… I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-3:11).”
According to Ignatius, Paul was eventually decapitated as a martyr under the rule of Nero. He is not the first martyr or the last. He is not the first to give everything up over his lame powers of perception – believing in the great white light, spirits, visions, what have you. As I read the words now, I feel sorry for his loss. I admire that he lived his life with passion. But his blind love cost him his head. It also cost him the chance at finding truth and happiness in the one life he lived.
August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
The question we all have as human beings is “what lies beyond our limit?” We just watched the film Another Earth where humans are faced with the perplexing realization that there is another earth mirroring our own, even another self completely synchronized with us.
In reality, when we come into contact with other people, their inner being transcends us. They might let us into a few thoughts, but other than that, we will never fully know them.
But to find another replicated self – would we recognize ourselves? Would that other self transcend us as well, as though we are looking at a stranger? Would you feel competitive of your other self? Would you find your other self ugly? Would you be annoyed by your other self? Would you love your other self? Would you tell your other self to get over all their hang-ups and get on with life?
Just as we will never meet our other self, we will never meet our idea of God. In Gordon D. Kaufman’s book, God The Problem, he states, “If there were no experiences within the world which brought us in this way up against the Limit of our world – if there were no point at which man sensed his finitude – then there would be no justification whatsoever for the use of God-language (Kaufman, 49).”
To embrace what lies beyond the limit, we talk of God in ways that we can understand from our experience of human relationships.
“…God is spoken of as lord, father, judge, king, and he is said to love and hate, to make covenants with his people, to perform “mighty acts,” to be characterized by mercy, forgiveness, faithfulness, patience, wisdom, and the like – all terms drawn from the linguistic region of interpersonal discourse (Kaufman, 62).”
In the Webster’s Dictionary, the word God is defined as “1 cap : the supreme reality; esp : the Being worshiped as the creator of the universe.”
When I say that I do not believe in the existence of God, I am saying that the belief of a creator and a ruler do not measure up in our current state of reality, or even within the context of the past and ancient history. He was the explanation that existed before we had a scientific explanation, used as a way to interpret people’s experiences. People desire to make sense of things, but the problem is, God does not make sense.
I am in awe of our cosmic universe, so much so, that I find it impossible for our existence to be so limited by this idea of God. To me, we are looking too far out into the distance, when the answers all lie within us, within and beyond our massive and destructive home on earth.
“Indeed, we have learned, that it is precisely by excluding reference to such a transcendent agent that we gain genuine knowledge of the order that obtains in nature, are enabled to predict in certain respects the natural course of events, and thus gain a measure of control over it (Kaufman, 120).”
So there is no direct encounter and never will be – no way to interpret God outside of our own imaginings – in which case, God is actually a mirror of our own humanity – full of insecurities, the need for affirmation and praise, the desire to be close to these humans who are always so distant and cold, the desire to have their obedience, to incite dominance, to be in charge, to have control. Why does God mirror the fickle childishness of a human being? And if God is the creator, then who created him? The answer seems obvious – human beings created him.
“When feeling is given a dominant place in shaping the interpretation of reality or the world, a religious world-view results (Kaufman, 214).”
Lately, every time we see my parents, my mother has to make a comment about God’s existence. God is woven deeply within the fabric of my family. He is given praise for all the good things. The universe is over-simplified through Bible stories taken literally. My mom celebrates the day that she will “go to be with Jesus.” It’s not by my father’s intelligence and diligence in over forty years of hard work that brought them financial security. No, it’s God.
The last time I wrote about religion, I was extremely angry for being raised without a choice. Writing is good therapy, and I’ve come to a new place of peace and acceptance. I feel released through my own realizations and views on life. But I’ve also chosen to keep those views separate from my family life. They have an idea of what I think. The problem is, no matter how much I bring it up, they will forget it, or write it off by tomorrow. My mom especially, has selective memory. She blocks out the things that she can’t handle. Especially since, according to their belief, I am “lost” – whatever that means.
When I am with my family, I do my utmost to respect them. You cannot argue with a mind-set, culture, history, or the entire fabric of someone’s life. They will do anything to shut out conflicting views, to keep the cognitive dissonance at bay.
Family is extremely important to me. So I hold hands with them when they pray, I smile and say nothing over the Jesus comments, I listen to my nieces simplify the world by stating the Bible as fact. In the meantime, I hope that as my nieces grow older, they begin to see that life isn’t so cut and dry.
Coming from children, religion makes sense. But from adults, I expect more. Sigmund Freud said, “The roots of the need for religion are in the parental complex; the almighty and just God, and kindly Nature, appear to us as grand sublimations of father and mother, or rather, as revivals and restorations of the young child’s idea of them… when at a later date he perceives how truly forlorn and weak he is when confronted with the great forces of life, he feels his condition as he did in childhood, and attempts to deny his own despondency by a regressive revival of the forces which protected his infancy.”
A universe that circulates around our own egos – that sounds like a man-made myth if ever I heard one. We are all in the struggle of existence whether we like it or not. We will all one day fall prey to death. We have no real control.
“May it not be the case, moreover, that the very act of believing in God is in itself morally dubious? May this not be largely an attempt to avoid taking full responsibility for ourselves and our lives by creating in fantasy a “heavenly father” into whose care we can place ourselves when the facts of life become too unpleasant (Kaufman, 14)?”
I find this over and over in people who dedicate their lives to God. Life is just too much for them. They would like to whitewash all the realities that are too painful for them to take. It’s a coward’s way out.
The older Christians in my life all believe that I will come back around. They were “wanderers” in their twenties and thirties, and are convinced that by forty or fifty, I will realize that my demise is nearing. There are too many things I cannot control. My body will start failing me, or friends will start dying off. I’ll be faced with the futility of my existence. I don’t think they understand, that I have already experienced all of those things.
It seems to me, when people leave faith behind, they fail to search beyond faith. They avoid the question of spirituality altogether. Then eventually, they inevitably end up going back to what feels comfortable, to what they knew in their youth.
My dad told me, “Never stop searching,” with his hands clasped tightly around my shoulders in a desperate attempt to get through to me.
I replied, “I never will.” I wish I could please him, and be what he wants me to be, but I have to be myself. I will never go back to where I came from. I will move forward and live to the utmost before my body turns to dust. And believe it or not, I’m okay with that.
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January 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
After my sister was born, my mom was told she couldn’t have any more kids. Six years later, I was her miracle. She always told me I wouldn’t be here if God hadn’t intervened. So I guess it’s kind of ironic that I no longer believe in God.
The writer Christopher Hitchens passed away last week. In Vanity Fair he openly shared his struggle with cancer over the last year in his column. His death brought him to life in my mind, and I knew it was time to read his book, God Is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything. I had suspected this all of my life, but never had the words to fully formulate what I felt.
Over Christmas I felt agitated by the fact that my parents are not able to accept that I am not a Christian. They gave us a book entitled Dinner With a Perfect Stranger about a modern day businessman who has dinner with Jesus. On the back flap is a direct quote from the character of Jesus, “… You’re worried about God stealing your fun, but you’ve got it backwards… there’s no adventure like being joined to the Creator of the Universe.”
I think my parents feel that this is why I left the church – because it wasn’t fun enough. My mom kept telling stories about people being transformed when they were ‘saved.’ I just had to say it, “Actually, for me it was the opposite. I was depressed when I was a Christian. I am finally healthy after breaking down all those old mental patterns.” Immediately my dad leapt over from the coffeemaker and held my shoulders in his hands, “Never stop searching Lauren.”
“I never do.” Of course my search does not lead back to where my dad would like it too. I am a creative thinker, and religion does not like either of those things. I was in Christian schools from 3rd grade through college. I was taught to be afraid of everything that had to do with “the world.” But this only made me want to understand exactly why I should be afraid. I began to have a lot of questions. But if you question faith, you are a weak believer. Questions equal failure.
Towards the middle of college I decided to put it all in and really discipline my life to God. But the more time I spent praying and meditating the more delusional I became. I started to have visions of absolute destruction that I would somehow manage to escape. Then there was the night in my dorm room, being taunted by spirits. I looked in the mirror and had the distinct sense that I was no longer in my body.
It felt like I was in a life or death struggle. A poltergeist. If Jesus wasn’t inside of me, the spirits would take me over and I would be obliterated. I really believed this. All the fear I’d been brainwashed with, and all the guilt, and my complete split personality was driving me mentally insane. I’d been severely depressed since the age of nine and had been suicidal for ten years. But it was really just the need to kill the side of myself that wasn’t me at all. It was the side that everyone around me wanted me to be. I felt so much pressure. I can remember my disbelief going back to the age of five – but all that time fear had ruled the roost.
After college I began the long, arduous process of retraining my brain how to think outside of the false concepts of religion. I went to extremes, breaking the old self through pleasure. Eventually, I grew numb to all of my devices for forgetting. It took me ten years to finally be ready to face what I really felt. And then I began to feel a great deal of anger.
I don’t blame my parents. I love them and I support them in the way that they feel. My mom was very extreme when I was young, but I blame all the people that she was susceptible too.
More and more I began to see that pastors and leaders in all faiths are simply people hungry for power. They like to preach that if you love God, you will get rich. But if bad things do happen, never question God, and never question the pastor because his words come from God. Of course, power and libido are made for each other. I witnessed the downfalls of many pastors, usually due to a secret sexual life that leaked.
Then there is the issue that religion and the concept of God are completely man-made. “God did not create man in his own image. Evidently it was the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization (Hitchens, 8).” If you take the Bible literally (which many Christians are taught to do), God comes off as a complete mental case and a reflection of the lunacy of man. And religion is responsible for more lunacy than anything else in the history of humanity.
“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience (Hitchens, 56).”
It seems lazy to never question religion, or explore all the evidence against it. But it has more to do with fear. When you are infiltrated with a belief system from birth, and told that everything else is wrong, and everyone you know is within the faith; if you leave, you have nothing at first. You have to build a new life. You have to change the way you’ve been trained to think and die to the old self to be reborn an individual.
People will always try to explain the universe. And the more unbelievable it is, the more people are apt to believe. “It is not snobbish to notice the way in which people show their gullibility and their herd instinct, and their wish, or perhaps their need, to be credulous and to be fooled. This is an ancient problem. Credulity may be a form of innocence, and even innocuous in itself, but it provides a standing invitation for the wicked and the clever to exploit their brothers and sisters, and is thus one of humanity’s great vulnerabilities (Hitchens, 161).”
For a while I explored other belief systems – Buddhism and concepts of Hinduism, Shamanism and Wicca. Anything mysterious seemed like it might be the thing. But it all turns out to be the same. An insecure chosen one who claims to know all the secrets, while the further in you go the more sinister it becomes.
Religion is only made real by the minds that believe it is real. And religion will exist as long as there is fear – fear of ourselves, fear of death, fear of each other. Religion thrives on fear. And powerful people take advantage of this. They have always done their best to silence anyone who questions. “All religions take care to silence or to execute those who question them (and I choose to regard this recurrent tendency as a weakness rather than their strength) (Hitchens).”
The claim of all religions is that you will be freed from pain and suffering if you believe. But I have not found this to be true. In fact, my experience with Christians was always just the opposite. Repression equals depression. And as Christians look down on other people, it makes them feel just a little bit better. On one hand they function as a servant to God, on the other the ego is served through a God that cares about their minute details. At my college it was a common occurrence for a boy to approach a girl he’d never spoken to before and say, “God told me that I am to marry you.” How wonderfully self-serving!
I believe in a universal connective energy between us. I feel that other dimensions do exist. But none of it has anything to do with simplistic notions of good and evil. I am not a child who needs rules and boundaries and bedtime stories. I am an adult who is open to the full experience of birth, life, death, and what lies beyond.
Life after religion is a gift of happiness. I speak my mind, and question, and gather information and always remain in awe of the fact that the universe is full of inspiration in its own right – overlapping layers of time and existence, a beautiful and heroic place made even more amazing without the existence of a man-made God and dictator. I am at peace with the unknown.