Friday, April 11, 2014

Musings of a Philosophical Bear: Letting Go of God

I'm hesitant to write about religion mainly because I piss people off. I like being liked, and I don't think anything is gained just by offending people. When I state plainly and without judgement that there is most likely no God, soul, or any supernatural realm we travel to after death it's not my intention to provoke anger or be confrontational, but when someone asks my opinion on theology I give my honest answer. I call myself a naturalist, someone skeptical of all supernatural phenomenon. I don't call myself an atheist nor an agnostic because both miss the mark. I tend to trust credible evidence and explanations grounded in research. This leaves plenty of room for the unknown. I try my best not to make a religion out of skepticism. I can't say for certain that there isn't a consciousness we might call God. So far, such evidence is unconvincing to me, but I'm open to the idea. We're quite unaware of what exactly consciousness is, but my idea of what that might be is light years away from what most people call God. 

I wasn't always a non believer. I used to go to church regularly. I sang in my church choir and attended bible study. I still love my church and the people who attend it, but a few years ago I realized I didn't believe the stories anymore. I tried my best to find rationalizations for them. I tried to make them into metaphors. I tried reading deeper meanings that didn't require them to be literally true.  I tried desperately to hold on to what I believed, but eventually I had to let it go. What was at first scary and unsettling, began to make the world more understandable. All the questions and longing for answers that I struggled with in my faith all seemed to boil down the the fact that these stories I'd been told didn't conform with my view of reality. I could believe these stories were in some post-modern way still true, but I knew it was more important to trust my own observations. It took a little while, but being able to trust and believe my own experience of the world opened up a whole new chapter in my life. I became more outspoken. I started to write again. I changed.

I believed because I wanted to. I still love those stories. Arguably I love those stories even more now that I'm not motivated to find ways that they are in some vague way true. I have had genuine religious experiences. I've felt the power of the Holy Sprit. I have prayed and felt God's presence and guidance when I asked for it. I know what religious faith feels like and it is no less a piece of evidence to support my worldview as it is now. The only difference is that my experiences fit into a new context of honesty with myself and others. I experienced unbelievable things through drugs and sleep deprivation in much the same way I experienced the divine. It doesn't make those religious experiences invalid, but it made me have to take a step back and rethink the supremacy of my perspective. It's not a contradiction to experience God and it not be real. My perspective isn't the only thing that matters. Just because I feel it doesn't make it real.

I was a happy Christian up until I wasn't convinced it was literally true. I didn't consider it a spiritual awakening at the time, more like a crisis of faith, but now I see that it was. I was starting to think critically about reality in a way I had never done before. It led me to many discoveries about myself and the world, and made my character stronger. I no longer did or believed things based on an appeal to authority. I started seeing what the world was like and stopped obsessing about why it is the way it is. Accuracy matters to me. Whenever I have a discussion about spirituality I like to get into specifics, but rarely is that even possible. And when I do get some specifics they are often ridiculous and unsubstantiated. Still, there's no judgement coming from me. I'd rather you be happy than right and and it's just something I believe, not a prescription for any one else's belief system.

Recently I've been asked by a few friends to weigh in on spiritual matters. These friends seem to be having a crisis of faith based in their experiences contradicting their beliefs. At first I was happy for the awakening they seemed to be experiencing, but from my point of view this sort of growth comes loaded with it a certain amount of pain and anxiety that I would not wish on anyone. I always have a book or two to recommend, but not everyone likes reading in the same way that I do, and even if they did there's no guarantee that they will get anything from it.  This sort of journey is one that each of us must take alone. Still, I want to be there for them in whatever way I can. I don't think any of them are leaning toward my belief system, but if they find a way to square their beliefs with their experiences I will be happy for them regardless.

In my experience, the reason so many people struggle with religion is because on some level they aren't buying into their own beliefs. Some of the contradictions religious faith brings up are so apparent that they have long established names. One such conundrum is known as the problem of pain. Why would an all powerful all loving God allow so much pain in the world? The solution is usually prayer, free will, and "God works in mysterious ways" which is basically a non answer. Free will doesn't explain evil the way that some people think it does simply because free will isn't an either or proposition. We can lose control of our will and do things we don't want to do, and some people can be so tightly wound that their choices are almost automatic. It's pretty easy to imagine God creating creatures with free will that aren't evil. The people who don't see these contradictions explicitly probably still feel them intuitively. I expect that people won't see it the same way I do, but I like people who are able to discuss their beliefs openly and rationally. I find it is a rare and beautiful thing for one to be internally consistent in their spiritual beliefs even when they differ from my own.

I have a tendency to want to get too involved in my friend's lives, so I definitely had to question my motives for writing this. But at the end I just want them to be happy. So my friends I will leave you with this advice. It's not about who is right or wrong, it's about what works. Religion clearly works for some people, so if it works for you and it makes you happy know that I will always be happy for you. I want to be available to you if God doesn't work for you and let you know it's not the end of the world. It isn't as scary as it may first appear to live in a world without supernatural guardians. Know that the love you felt from God may have not come from an all powerful supernatural being who designed and reigns over all existence, but it was still real. If you believe now that there is no referee in the sky remember that there never was one and the world keeps spinning. We're still here and everything is the same as it ever was. All that time you believed in God wasn't a waste and knowing the truth is never bad thing. It's all about how you react to it. Stay humble and don't be an asshole to those who are still believers.

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