Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Lacking Faith

[Originally posted on May 18, 2011]

I believe it was Ray Comfort (though I could be wrong, don't take my word for it) who claimed that every person has a God-shaped hole in his heart. This means that everyone, whether they realize it or not, yearns to feel the presence of their supposed creator and then, only then, will a person feel true peace, love and happiness. Ray is not alone in his belief. It is common place, at least in America, to assume that faith is some sort of necessity that people feel lost or unfulfilled without. My parents once told me that they wanted me to go to church because they wanted to "provide me with all the tools I would need to get through hardships in life". Those of us who lack faith are often told that we're being prayed for by our more pious loved ones. I mean no offense to these well meaning people, but the notion that all people need to have faith in something is simply untrue. It certainly was untrue for me.

Like most young Americans, I was raised protestant and went to church and sunday school regularly for most of my childhood. At that age, I simply accepted it as something that everyone did. When I heard Bible stories, my mental reaction was the three-year-old brain equivalent of "cool story, bro" followed by an intense desire to play with my stuffed animals. As I grew older, I quickly began to realize that there was more to this church stuff than just going somewhere on Sundays and telling stories about floods and arks. My cousins (who, to this day, are fundamentalist Christians) often talked about Jesus in everyday life outside of church! I was shocked! In mid-elementary school, my best friend's father was a minister at a local Dutch Reformed church. I didn't even realize there was any difference between us until my parents (never fans of the Dutch themselves) explained to me that she was "a different religion than me" because we attended a Methodist church.

Little events like these were what put in motion my lifelong search for faith. I constantly asked myself "what do I actually believe?". At this point, having been raised Christian, I didn't even consider other faiths an option for me. I simply studied Christianity and accepted what I wanted from various traditions (e.g. I believed the stuff about loving your neighbor, but didn't take the ark story literally.) Still, I found it difficult to pin down exactly what I was. People around me were constantly conveying to me that I had to believe in SOMETHING, yet I struggled to figure out what that something was.

In middle school, I began studying Freemasonry. While Freemasonry is NOT a religion in and of itself, it is a fraternal organization, the members of which value the unity of all peoples of all faiths. At this point, I held to the idea that all religions had some truth to them. I also thought that I might convert to zen buddhism someday so I could become a samurai. Yes... maybe we should skip over middle school... there are too many weird stories...

In short, as a child I was constantly questioning things and never completely satisfied with the answers I got. Even if I did except that all religions contained some truth, what if I was wrong and ended up in someone's hell? What if God, for some reason, didn't want me to believe in Him? It wasn't that I didn't have answers to my faith questions, it was that there were too many answers all around all of them different and none of them completely inerrant. To make matters even more confusing for me, both of my parents loved to study and read about religion. As a result, I was constantly hearing about the new discoveries made about Christianity and Christian history that contradicted traditional teachings. These findings were scientifically and archeologically sound. They were evidentially supported. The older I got, the more my reasons for believing seemed to disappear.

It wasn't until I accepted this fact that I finally found some peace of mind. When I decided to stop worrying about faith and started focusing on what I knew was objectively real, the less I worried. I began to rely on my own mind and abilities to solve problems instead of praying for things to happen. I took comfort in the fact that whether or not I did well or poorly was entirely my responsibility. I found that I loved my friends and family even more than I had before because I realized that many of the blessings in my life came, not from supernatural forces such as God or karma, but from these wonderful people. Before me was the world as it always had been. Yet I was now able to see this world, not as sinful and fallen, but as beautiful, if only imperfect.

Just to clarify, I did not become a non-believer BECAUSE of these things. These realizations all took place after I relinquished unjustified faith claims. As always, I continue to search for the truth. If it were proven tomorrow that a God did exist, I would happily change my views. But I no longer seek tirelessly to justify conclusions that I had come to without evidence. I have traded in the search for faith for a search for truth.

My heart is more full than it ever has been. That much is undeniable. I was once religious because I was told that a man walked on water. I am now a humanist because I have seen a man walk on the moon. I don't think there's any need to point out which one of those, for me, is more breathtaking.

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