Thursday, January 31, 2008

Waiting for Dog

Although rarely the focus of it, religion had always been part of my life.

Although I hardly remember him, my grandfather was a Church of England vicar - and a very good one from what I've heard. The sort of man who sacrificed a lot for the sake of his 'flock' and was an advisor, friend and mentor to his parishioners as much as their spirtual leader.

At school, I was one of the last generation of kids who said prayers and sang hymns at assembly. In Autumn, we'd go to Harvest Festival at the local church. We sang religious Christmas Carols to our parents at the end of the year.

I attended St David's University College, in Lampeter. It was originally founded by Cambridge as a theological university for aspiring priests. Many of my friends later went on to a career in the Church of England.

Although I'd never been a regular church goer, I fell heavily for an aspiring priest (priestess?) while I was there and used to obediantly follow her to chapel several times a week.

I left university and the years of indoctrination did their trick. Although I didn't regularly attend church, I still considered myself a Christian. As a history major, I tempered my consideration of the Bible with my knowledge of historical fact (something some Christians are unwilling to do) but I still believed in the big, general idea of Christianity.

I talked to God. A lot. And I never asked him for anything except the strength or motivation to achieve my goals or make it through troubling periods of my life.

When I finally met my wife, my religious convictions (however little conviction I had in them) were at least part of the reason why she considered me valid matrimonial material. She is a deeply spiritual Catholic. I don't believe she'd have married somebody who didn't at least believe in God. She often asked me if I prayed (I never liked the term 'pray.' I talked to God, like you would a friend, older brother, father or boss.)

As such, things continued more or less smoothly for the first four years of our marriage - until something that might seem to be utterly insignificant utterly shattered my beliefs.


On July 15th of last year, my wife's little cat Ava got hit by a car. She died in my wife's arms as we zoomed off to the local animal hospital. It was just once - and just for a second - but as Ava passed away my wife let out the most heart wrenching sob. It still brings tears to my eyes when I remember hearing it.

Some people may scoff, since Ava was 'just' a cat - but when Ava passed away I remember being filled to overflowing with hot, bubbling anger. I was utterly, hatefully furious with this 'God' who I had believed in and trusted.

Ava passing away didn't shake my wife's beliefs, but it completely destroyed mine. For a while, I still believed in God. I still believed in the 'facts' of Chrisianity. They just stopped making sense to me. Every single day, I observed more and more things about 'Christianity' that seemed disgustingly hypocritical or desperately absurd.

I listened to Christians try to explain to why a 'good' God (who grants rewards to his faithful subjects) would allow bad things to happen. And the more I heard the excuses, the justifications and the fantasies, the more they made my skin crawl. Try reading this disgusting piece of tripe.

It was only after a conversation with my father, during which we discussed history, the Bible and faith through the ages, that the penny dropped. I realised that the way the real world operated was quite simply incompatible with the fantasy of Christianity.

I didn't need to keep asking myself why, or waste anger on a deaf, dumb and blind God who only existed in the prayers I'd previously made to him. I looked up to the heavens and instead of seeing The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost, I saw twinkling stars - flaming balls of gas burning millions of miles away.

I realised God didn't exist - and it was one of the most liberating spiritual experiences of my life.

I even stopped being angry about Ava. Her being hit by that car wasn't down to the negligence of some careless, patriarchial diety. It was just an accident. It meant I could finally just let it go and be sad for the little cat, instead of holding her inside me like a big ball of angry fire.

And remarkably, as soon as I slipped free from the shackles of faith, the world started to make more sense. The beliefs I'd had in this 'God' were soon replaced by an embrace of rationalism. Facts and science and history offered answers to things that Christianity never had.

I felt empowered. I'd previously thanked 'God' for the good fortune I'd had achieving my dreams, like moving to America. Once I'd stepped free from religion's shadow, I realised that the people I needed to thank were my parents, my mentors, my wife, my friends and even, to a larger extent than I'd ever thought before, myself.

And I had hope. Because if achieving dreams was down to hard work and luck, rather than the whim of the 'Holy Father,' I could play the odds and take my chances. If I won - fantastic! If I lost, I'd know it was down to bad luck or lack of skills or effort - instead of a cruel God punishing me for 'lustfully' checking out a girl on the subway or some other equally ridiculous 'sin.'

Morality was easy. Respect for my fellow man - and respect for the laws of the state of New Jersey - were all the moral guidance I needed. I no longer needed to feel guilty for a litany of meaningless 'sins' invented by a repressive religious regime.

I walked away from God and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Never before have I felt so alive. Never before has the world made so much sense to me. I have experienced 'enlightenment' and embraced my new destiny as a Born Again Athiest.

But the problem?

While I have undergone this spiritual awakening, my wife is still devoutly Catholic. She would be horrified to know that I have utterly lost my 'faith.' I feel bad about it - but it's not like I have any choice in the matter. It just 'clicked' and nothing's ever made so much sense to me before. I can't go back to believing in God any more, just as I'm sure no devout Christian could just 'decide' to become an athiest.

But I keep my beliefs to myself - and I am still entirely respectful of what she chooses to believe.

Jesus is Still my Homeboy

It's important to note that a lack of Christian belief doesn't mean I've stopped believing in the Bible. The Bible - at least parts of it - contain documented historical fact.

Werner Keller's amazing book The Bible as History is an excellent starting point. Although the archeological material is quite dated now (most of it pre-dates the 1930's) the facts are clear. Many of the 'stories' of the Bible are actually based on real events from that period of history.

Noah's Ark and the Great Flood, for example. In 1996, William Ryan and Walter Pitman, geologists from Columbia University, published evidence of an immense flood of the Black Sea in 5600BC (matching the dating in the Bible) which could well have served as the the basis for the myth of The Great Flood. For almost a full year, ten cubic MILES of seawater flooded farmland around the Black Sea nearly every single day.

Considering so much of the Bible contains nods to actual historical events, it's entirely logical to believe that some of the stories have some basis of truth to them. Which means the teachings of a humble carpenter from Nazereth are a philosophy that can't be disregarded as easily as the fantasy of an 'all powerful' cat-murdering God.


I am no longer angry at God - because I might as well be angry at Winnie the Pooh or Captain Ahab. I might as well be angry at a cup of coffee for all the good it does.

But I am angry at a lot of Christians - especially since coming to America. I'm angry for all sorts of reasons. Some of these reasons are entirely selfish.

One of the things I detest most about 'hard core' Christians is them ramming their faith down my throat. Am I any better when I scoff and seeth at their wretched refusal to accept rationality and fact? Pride is a Christian sin, yet it took athiesm to make me humble in my beliefs.

I am still open to other beliefs because rationalism doesn't offer all the answers. For example, the concept of a 'higher power' delivering that inexplicable 'spark' which gave birth to all life on earth is entirely rational. Scientists can't quite explain how 'life' came from 'no life' and until they do, the idea of a mystical deity providing that spark is as difficult/easy to prove as any more 'rational' explanation.

What I can't stand - and what constitutes the 'faith' that I want to ram down the throat of pious Christians - is when they ignore irifutible, documented fact and instead chose to remain ignorant by sticking to dogma that's been proven time and time again to be utterly fantastical.

Like creation. For thousands of Christians, their 'God' can't be limited to rational scientific theory (the 'higher power' and the 'spark of life' theory.)

They declare that the world was created seven thousand years ago, when God made the heavens and the earth and made Adam from clay - creating Eve from his rib. It's exactly as it was laid out in the Bible.

WHICH IS RUBBISH! I mean, how can the world only be seven thousand years old when we have carbon dated human fossils dating back 130,000 years? Carbon dating is a pretty exact science. Christians who dispute carbon dating might as well dispute the existence of the light bulb, or Sweden.

Well, why not? They've never been there. They've only read about it in books. So there's no 'proof' that Sweden exists.

It's so utterly idiotic that it makes me swoon. The thought of a man like Mike Huckabee - who believes in the biblical story of creation - making it to the White House is utterly terryifying. What else does he not believe in?

Another perfect example is the story of Noah's Ark - I've mentioned it above.

You'd have thought the fundementalist Christians would be happy that history has given credibility to the overall story of the Bible. But NO.

They're not happy - because a flood in Europe isn't what the Bible says happened:

"Noah’s Flood was not a local flood in the Black Sea area," utterly retarded website Answers in Genesis declares, "but a world-wide flood that has left its mark on every continent on this planet."

Which it isn't - since you'd think we'd have noticed one of those.

I should try and restrain myself, because human beings have the right to believe whatever they want. No matter how stupid it is.

But whenever I hear a 'born again' Christian dismissively say: 'the world was created in seven days, just like it says in the Bible, and the theory of evolution is just a theory,' I still feel the urge to whack them around the chops and angrily expose them out as the blinkered idiot they clearly are.

But I can't do that. Because that's not very 'Christian' of me. It's ironic that popular use of the term 'Christian' signify acts of charity, generosity and respect - while 'real' Christians can often be incredibly disrespectful.

Take for example this letter, sent to the parents of Heath Ledger - the talented young actor who starred in Brokeback Mountain and passed away last week.

Stupidity and Hate

"I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle," says presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. The Westboro Baptist Church is more concise. "God hates fags!"

Christianity is often used as a shield for people to say offensive things that would never be tolerated in secular society.

Lesbians and gays getting married hurts nobody. Homosexuality isn't a 'lifestyle choice' but a genetic trait that appears in animals as well as humans - yet fundementalist Christians try to change natural human behavior by manipulation, lies and emotional blackmail.

Why can't fundementalist Christians join polite society in embracing tolerance instead of hate? After all, if you read the Bible, that's what Jesus himself would do.

Jesus, whether he was a humble carpenter from Nazereth or the son of God made man, had a simple philosophy. Accept every man as your brother.

Until modern fundementalist Christians can actually follow the scripture of their prophet, it looks like we'll still be living in a country in which the most 'Christian' of people are liberal secularists.


ck said...

I've said it to you before and I'll say it to you again. You'll never understand. If I believe that a God can create a human/space/planet from nothing... it is absolutely no stretch to believe that he created the Earth just 7000 years ago.

30, 40, 100 years ago we had many absolute facts of science that we keep proving wrong.

But really I feel for you and your wife, as your post seems to indicate some deception from you toward her. I feel for you two that you are so disconnected, that she doesn't even know the full extent of your loss of faith. I wonder if this blog is your way of 'getting caught' by your wife. You and I both know its a matter of time until she sees it. Why not have an adult conversation with another adult? I'm sure you'd agree that she deserves that. Maybe I'm way off base, but that is how your post reads.

I'm sorry you've been around Christians that couldn't/wouldn't express their faith to you in a proper way. You see condemnation of sin as condemnation of the person. While they are together, you can love the one while hating the other.

Scarlett Wanna Be said...

This is a long post and I will have to come back and finish it soon. I had to stop reading so that I could say I fully understand the pain and questions you had after losing Ava. My dogs are like my kids and just reading your story brought tears to my eyes. I know how much it would hurt my heart to lose one of my puppies. I wouldn't dare scoff at you for your pain.

It is hard to understand why things happen. I won't even try to explain, I can't, because I don't know why. All I can say is, good or bad, I've made my decision.

As far as God hating fags...sheeze...stuff like that makes me sick. God hates sin all of it! Mine, my gay neighbor's, my straight neighbor's, all of it! It only takes a few to make so many of us look so bad. We are not all freaks who hate anyone who doesn't believe like we do.

Also, I have to say, I majored in history in college, and for some reasons, my studies only enforced my faith. Odd that it had a different effect on you? I think it was studying early civilizations along with the nation of Israel that began to prove things to me.

Oh, and not all Christians believe that the world is 7000 years old. That makes me laugh. I assume those believers are the ones who dance around snakes.

Enemy of the Republic said...

Thanks so much for linking me and I will make sure I do the same. Your blog and your ideas are a welcome breath of intelligence in the cyberspace desert.

I often don't know if I am a Christian or not. If it means that I both love and am moved by Jesus, then yes, I am Christian. But if it means embracing the policies of the evangelical movement or even organized Christianity in any format (I'm most comfortable with Catholicism,not because I dig the Pope or think I am eating Christ's flesh, but I sense God more deeply with ritual--again that could be my inner pagan talking)--back to my point, if it means blathering hate in the name of love which is what a good many evangelicals do, then GOODBYE--it is rubbish. I know Obama paid a price for saying the truth, namely that bitter working class people cling to guns and religion, but it is the American way, and Hillary is proud to have them as her constiuency. Those are the same people who would write that awful letter to the grieving family of Heath Ledger---ignorance is forgivable but insensitivity is another story.

Your writing reminds me of C.S.Lewis's description of his atheism, minus the conversion--he didn't believe in God and if he were to have met God, he would have given him an earful for leaving his creation in such dire straits. I certainly know all the arguments to support the why of evil, just as I know the struggle we all feel as we endure it for seemingly no logical reason at all. I think the worst is when you feel you've been lied to, bamboozelled, hoodwinked, led astray, run amuk by false prophets. This can lead one to do as you did--say there is no God. In my case, I think there is a God, but no one has come close to explaining his/her mystery. I don't know if Jesus is real or an archetype of suffering and love that haunts me. I don't know if there is a monotheistic God. I think much in the Bible is oral history that portrays a monothestic God through different influences depending on the dominant culture--much of the Apocrapha is Hellenistic as are the epistles of Paul. Much of both Job and the 5 books of Moses is from the tradition of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Kings and Samuel may be among the few genuine Hebrew texts along with the Psalms. Again, speculation.

Sorry so long. Good post.