It’s a little over a week until Christmas. I haven’t been feeling any wonderful tingly feelings about it. It probably has a little to do with my religion-less life coupled with my failed engagement last Christmas. Being alone during the holidays really sucks.
I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself by calling it a “failed engagement” because, as she tried to convince me anyway, it was destined for failure. I think she only did it in the first place to please her mother. She claimed afterwards that she just doesn’t want to get married ever—to anyone; or date me anymore; or talk to me ever again for that matter! C’est la vie—I guess. It still feels like a dirty trick.
But despite my lack of belief and probably because of my failure to make any new meaningful relationships lately, I went to church today. Not the boring Mormon church that those who know me might expect. This was a local non-denominational church where the singing packed a heavy emotional punch and the sermon was given by an experienced pastor. I enjoyed singing the familiar Christmas tunes (to a guitar accompaniment I might add), but just the same, I don’t think religion and I are ever going to reconcile in any meaningful manner or on any kind of permanent basis. It was, however, nice to get out.
I have been asked by a couple of friends if I now consider myself not just an agnostic but a full blown atheist. To which I must honestly answer yes.
As far as explaining why I am going the whole hog and not just stopping at agnosticism (in an attempt to hedge my bets) I will point you to something Douglas Adams had to say on the subject. This is from an interview he did with American Atheist for their 1998/1999 Winter publication. He had grown up in a religious background and as a teenager was a committed Christian. One day while walking down the street he heard a street evangelist and, dutifully, stopped to listen:
“What astonished me, however, was the realization that the arguments in favour of religious ideas were so feeble and silly next to the robust arguments of something as interpretative and opinionated as history. In fact they were embarrassingly childish. They were never subject to the kind of outright challenge which was the normal stock in trade of any other area of intellectual endeavour whatsoever. Why not? Because they wouldn’t stand up to it. So I became an Agnostic. And I thought and thought and thought. But I just did not have enough to go on, so I didn’t really come to any resolution. I was extremely doubtful about the idea of god, but I just didn’t know enough about anything to have a good working model of any other explanation for, well, life, the universe and everything to put in its place.”
Being brought up in a home that emphasized the importance of intelligence and education in combination with religion and integrity I spent a considerable amount of time trying to sort through the pain of intellectual dissonance. How could I reconcile the inconsistencies and outright mistakes of religion with what I felt was obviously right, just, and logical. I decided religion and I were breaking up and at the age of 21 I finally quit cold turkey. I’m glad it didn’t take me any longer.
I’ve since been fascinated with evolutionary biology and one of my many regrets about high school was that I never took any biology classes. I was fortunate, though, to date someone who had a first year university biology text-book and in reading it I discovered that there is a fascinating and perfectly reasonable alternative to belief in supernatural creation ex nihilo. It’s called evolution and it’s not just a hypothetical best guess. It’s an actual provable attribute of nature. Sure there may be a few gaps in the exact history of every single evolutionary adaptation, but advancements are coming in all the time and there are already enough documented and repeatable scientific experiments to convince anyone who cares enough to learn the cold hard facts.
Douglas Adams reports a similar experience as he continues:
But I kept at it, and I kept reading and I kept thinking. Sometime around my early thirties I stumbled upon evolutionary biology, particularly in the form of Richard Dawkins’s books The Selfish Gene and then The Blind Watchmaker and suddenly (on, I think the second reading of The Selfish Gene) it all fell into place. It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.
I can hear the more intelligent group of my religious friends and relatives thinking, “but isn’t it possible to believe in God while still understanding that evolution exists?”
Certainly it may be possible to believe in God but why should I? What reason (and I do mean this in the most logical sense of the word) is there to go back to believing? And even if I did choose to return to my blissfully ignorant state, why specifically should I choose to follow the tenants of Mormonism or even Christianity over some other group’s indoctrinating beliefs? Better service projects? (Actually that’s one of the best reasons I’ve come up with.)
But I digress. I’m still very much fascinated by the idea of religion and at times I even take part in religious discussions within the bloggernacle (wikipedia link). I find myself occasionally playing the devil’s advocate for belief in Mormon doctrine but on the whole I’m a non-believing fakester. (For those of you that I might have happened to teach and baptise during my year long stint as a missionary in Salt Lake City, you’re probably expecting some kind of explanation. In my defense, I can only say, I really believed it at the time and I’m sorry to have tricked you. I hope you have found happiness in a way that I never really could and I also hope that overall it has been a positive experience for you.)
Have I found any positive experiences in religion? It has made me who I am and I’m grateful for that but I certainly wouldn’t do it again. It has also depressed me tragically. I have, for the most part, been happier since I quit going to Church than anytime I can recall throughout my life, albeit I occasionally miss the social aspects.
What has surprised me about living this so-called godless life has been the fact that nothing really changed. All of the good things in my life that I used to attribute to god blessing me have continued. I am still a very fortunate person. I now look at good and bad fortune as being merely chance—I don’t credit any outside force acting upon my life. It has inspired me to realize I can’t sit around and wait for a miracle, if I want to be successful I don’t need to pray for help, I can do it on my own.
I remember when I started swimming for the University, at times I thought about praying for help to keep going (perhaps my coach will say I should have prayed) but I learned that I could do it if I just persevered.