Friday, May 8, 2009

Why I repented from Christianity and other religions

Apparently the only thing worse than being a non-Christian is being an ex-Christian... at least in the eye of many fundamentalist Christians. So... being an easily irritated bum (especially with the approach of the summer heat and sun), I'll just explain myself in this posting so that I won't have to keep repeating myself the next time the same old set of questions pop up about my lack of religion. Here goes:

I'm actually either an atheist or an agnostic... depending entirely on how 'god' is defined. I can perhaps believe in god if it is defined as nature itself or the most basic fundamental laws of physics
that make nature works the way it does. With that sort of definition, I can perhaps be called a theist, but I wouldn't be worshiping nature since I don't see the point to it. I and everything around me are parts of nature. I find myself in awe of the wonders of it all the time, but I'd rather admire it for what it demonstrably is rather than for what I'd like to ideologically project it to be.

As for 'god' as described in the religious texts, I don't believe in such a figure. In fact, to me, if a person god does exist, I'm more inclined to believe that it would be more appreciative of people who seek to understand it on its own terms rather than ones who would willingly accept other humans' version of the story that can't be verified with anything more than 'I said it, my church said it, the book that my church believes in said it, therefore it is the only truth there is and if you question it then you are insulting god' sort of rationale. Frankly, I don't find it very intellectually stimulating to try to have a conversation with people who can't differentiate their own ideas from that of a god.
I repented from the Christian faith back in 1999 when I was studying pre-medicine/chemistry in college and had a great professor who didn't mind admitting to not knowing everything. His very scientific mindset that uncertainty and doubt are nothing to be ashamed of and that they are qualities that enable even an already fantastically learned scientist to have the humility to strive to keep learning more was eye-opening for me.

After a while, I got around to re-examining my then belief in the Christian dogma and came to the conclusion that the only 'evidence' I had of what I believed about Christianity was the bible itself - since the bible was supposed to be directly dictated and/or inspired by an infallible god. Everything I knew of Christianity had its origin in the Bible. So I thought to myself that in the man-made field of science, it only takes 1 inconsistency or factual contradiction with experimental result/observation to derail even the most established of scientific theories. One inaccurate prediction and even the most established of scientific theories must be either discarded or modified to once again match up with reality. So it follows that the standard of a god who created everything in nature would surely not be any less than that of mere humans (to expect anything less would be rather insulting to such a deity, would it not? And should a deity exist who can't even live up to man's lowly standard, why should anyone bother to worship such a thing?). With that frame of mind, I opened the first page of the Bible and started reading the book of Genesis without the 'I believe it must be true regardless' lens to filter its contents.... and lost all faith before I got to the second page.

It was (irrationally, I'm sure) a wrench... but after some mourning (I'm really not sure what I was mourning for, really... the loss of innocence or the realization of my patent stupidity are the leading contenders) I decided that to attribute such a shoddy holey thing as the bible to be the inspiration of god is really a blasphemy I could do without. And if I discounted the bible, then I had to basically discount Christianity as a whole since it is based entirely on the bible and this notion that the bible is the infallible word of god. Anyhow... that kicked started a spree of religious and philosophical reading in the library (I've read the Torah and the Koran.... but couldn't quite finish the whole of the Bhagavad Gita). It was Thomas Paine's 'The Age of Reason' that resonated the most with me, though unlike him and other Deists I don't feel attached enough to the 'god' concept, no matter how hands-off it is, to join that sect.

Since then, I've occasionally looked back on my religious fanatic years with both shame and gratitude. It was one of those life lessons that just had to be learned first hand.... and it was a very educational lesson that makes me a lot less prone to arrogance now than before. All the same, I wish it hadn't taken that many years for me to realize just how ludicrously improbable the religious premise I was so invested in was and how dehumanizing the devotion to the very flawed idea can be. As a wise man once said, it really takes a religion to make good and sane people do really twistedly evil stuff (not that I ever did anything 'evil', but had I felt 'called on' to do something really bad in the name of religion, it was likely that I might comply. And just the thought that I was capable of having that mind set then chills my bones today).

There are many things about the monotheistic religions, especially Christianity, that bother me, some more than the others:

1. The inability to make the distinction between believing in a god as one understands it and believing in what another man (or man-made book and church) says god said. As I had previously wrote, a god capable of creating the universe and everything in it does not need a middle man to communicate with you. Especially when the middle man is just another human being (or books written by one).

2. The requirement for blind/un-questioning faith and the celebration of unearned slice of paradise just for believing. Salvation by grace? What is so graceful about removing accountability from the conscience of man? Haven't we outgrown the free love 60's and graduated to the responsible world of the grown ups who know that the worthy things in life are worth working for yet? If there is a god, it gave us a brain capable of critical reasoning for a reason and the best way of honoring such a gift is to use it to guard against being suckered by another man's tales when they don't jive with evidence and/or reason.

3. The notion that only non-believers cherry pick which verses to quote from the scripture.... and believers don't. That is patently false no matter how you look at it. The people who would quote from Leviticus to condemn homosexuals should also check to see if they are wearing clothings that are made of more than one type of fabric... And then immediately stone themselves. Just to be consistent.

4. The concept of 'original sin' and guilt by association perpetuated regardless of action for all eternity. One just has to be born to be guilty of the sin of Adam and Eve? And just how onerous is this 'original sin' anyhow? If you are to take Genesis seriously, then Adam and Eve did not gain the ability to distinguish right from wrong until they had eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge. That means that they couldn't have known that disobeying god's order was 'bad' or a 'sin'. A god would surely be well aware of all the pertinent conditions, of course. That makes the whole thing a malicious set-up by an all-knowing god to entrap not only Adam and Eve, who lacked the ability to reason, but also their unborn (and utterly innocent) offspring for all generations. Preposterous! If anyone actually has any respect for even a possibility of a deity, then he wouldn't even dream of ascribing such heinous a conduct to that god at all.

5. The concept of 'eternal damnation/punishment' for those who don't share one's faith. It isn't a merciful or a just god who would sanction such a thing but a childishly vengeful one. There is no prospect for rehabilitation when the punishment is to last forever.

6. The thought that god can pardon all sins even when they weren't committed against god. If Jack shot Joe, then only Joe can grant Jack's forgiveness for that sin and not some bystander god who let Jack shoot Joe in the first place. When you sin against someone, you don't get to absolve yourself by conveniently praying to your god. You've got to face the person you sinned against and try to earn his forgiveness. That is a lot more decent than trying to duck your responsibility and use your religion as an excuse for a blank slate.

7. The unearned confidence of one's possession of the only true religion/concept-of-god/faith in spite of own ignorance of many if not majority of other religious dogma/god-concepts/faiths out there. How can you know you have 'the truth' if you don't even know what other competing 'truths' say? Simple. You don't, and are just mistaking the 'first' for the best.' And you really care more about being 'right' than about knowing the truth to begin with, else you would seek out what the other religions/philosophies say.

On another note, I don't regard having eternal life as a de
sirable. It seems to me that the perfect way of devaluing something is to have too much of it. Life is precious to me because I know that one day I will lose it. And the concept of having to live eternally in bliss really strikes me more as a punishment rather than a reward. Not only does one have to take life for granted for all eternity now, one must also take good and blissful things for granted, too. Think about it a bit, when all you get are good things, they are no longer good and blissful to you. They simply become 'normal' things.... You wouldn't appreciate the little good things others do for you because that would be just what you'd expect from them.

"What would you do if evil didn't exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and from living beings. Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because of your fantasy of enjoying naked light?"
- Mikhail A Bulgakov, Master and Margarita (as translated by Burgin & O'Connor)
And so... I am done with religions. Don't get me wrong, I don't care if you are religious... unless you are trying to use it to pooh-pooh or to bully others who don't share your faith. To me, religion and science are really two different approaches man devised to solve the same problem; what is this wonderful universe we live in and how we fit into it. The religious approach seeks more to alleviate the insecurity we all get when we realize just how vulnerable and inconsequential we are in the grand scheme of things. The scientific approach has accepted this vulnerability as fact and seeks instead to learn as much as possible about what the universe really is and how it works.

There need not be conflict between the two... but certain monotheistic religions seem keen on precipitating one. I note that no scientist has ever pushed for any science to be taught during the Sunday bible class or at the Mosque, but certain groups of Christians and Muslims are very keen on trying to make school teachers teach their religion's creation myth in science class. Religious people should keep that in mind before claiming that their religion is under attack from science. You can't claim self-defense when you are the ones playing offense!

More thoughts on religions, Late Night Rant, Critical Thinking, Mormon Encounters,


Georg said...

Great post, Smorgy. You have treated the irrational in a very pzersonal and matter-of-fact manner.

And I like very much those photos you added because they show the greatness of nature even where - at first sight - there is nothing outstanding.

The last one, does it show a mouse or a squirrel??

As we are busy on the same subject, I think we will never convince anybody, only explain ourselves. As the saying goes:

"A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still".


Smorg said...

Hallo Georgy,
It is a squirrel indeed. :o) I was fumbling and bumbling on a lawn in Balboa Park a few weeks ago trying to get a good photo of this gorgeous white butterfly when the little cute thing poked his head up to see what was causing all the commotion, so I took a photo of him instead.

O, you're right about this not changing anyone's mind, I reckon. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had an atheist tried to dissect Christianity before I woke up from it. I hope I'd have listened and thought about it (and perhaps not wasted all that time being attached to it)... but perhaps I'd have gone the defensive route and held on to it even harder. It's scary what an attachment to a dogma can do to people!

Thanks for stopping by and for great comment as always!

Smorgy :o)

yvette said...

Your clear conclusion is so true.
I live and have worked under different skies and share every idea of yours. That is the community of ideas worldwide and this is reassuring. Thank you!

Smorg said...

Hiya Yvette,
Thanks very much for stopping by and kind words! It is reassuring that there are others in various parts of the world who value the same things indeed. :o) I'm very glad to have (virtually) met you!

Hope your weekend is going well!
Smorg :o)