Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

I just finished reading Frank Schaeffer‘s memoirs Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. I knew of Frank and his father Francis Schaeffer but arrived on the evangelical scene after the rise of the religious right was in full swing. I could not put this book down for a week. It details the childhood and adolescence of Frank in the Schaeffer home of L’Abri in Switzerland where he grew up and the rise of his family in the evangelical community. It is brutally honest, eye-opening, at times laugh out loud funny, and heart breaking.

I enjoyed the book most for being a personal story of someone else on a similar journey as my own, for the same reasons I enjoy It is incredibly helpful and psychologically healthy to know that I am not alone in my questions and struggles with faith, doubt, and reason. While all of us end up on different ends of the theological spectrum between devotion and atheism, we share a common journey, common experiences, and a common voice.

I appreciate most from Frank’s book his acknowledgement that this is his life’s story as he sees it now. He recognizes that all our perspectives are skewed knowingly or unknowingly and always written or told from the vantage point of the moment. He says asking the question “who are you?” is insufficient. The necessary question to follow that is “when?” He realizes that as individuals we are in a state of flux throughout our lives and likely to be very different from even ourselves at various times in our lives.

Near the end of the book Frank discloses that he is plugging away at faith, in part, through his conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church mostly because he says, “the Orthodox idea of a slow journey to God, wherein no one is altogether instantly ‘saved’ or ‘lost’ and nothing is completely resolved in this life (and perhaps not in the next), mirrors the reality of how life works, at least as I’ve experienced it.” That makes a lot of sense to me, and while I vascilate daily between belief and unbelief, mystery and reason, life is, if nothing else, a journey on which I am trying to grow and learn and become all that I can while I can. This book is a welcome stepping stone along the way.

I recently finished reading Why is God Laughing? by Deepak Chopra with a foreward from Mike Myers. The book peaked my interest because I saw an episode of Iconoclast featuring both of them together some time ago. The book is also ficiton.  A comic comes to grips with the death of his father and all of the big questions that haunt us with the help of a spiritual mentor of sorts. Both characters seem like alter egos of both Chopra and Myers interestingly enough. I recommend the book as an easy, entertaining, and enlightening book. At the end of the book there is a section called “The Path to Joy: Ten Principles of Spiritual Optimism,” which I enjoyed as much if not more than the whole book. One section made me think more than usual:

Can a loving God  really supply us with life’s good things one day and pain the next? Most people who feel grateful to God tend to deny that he is also responsible for disease, calamity, and death. yet an all-knowing, all-powerful diety can’t be responsible for only part of what goes on. Either he sustains everything or nothing.

The way to escape from living under a God who brings pleasure one day and pain the next is to realize that God isn’t a person. We only call God “he” because our minds resist thinking of God as a total abstraction. In truth, being total, God has to be abstract. you can’t wrap your mind around the All. Instead, we wrap our minds around the things we notice, and choose to believe in.

I’m not really sure what to do with God anymore, as I’m sure he doesn’t know what to do with me either, assuming either of us are really real. This thought provoking excerpt challenges the assumptions that I grew up with. I have never read or heard Deepak say anything that would disavow the existence or presence of God in our lives, but he regularly challenges our preconceived ideas in order to stretch our imaginations. To think of God as a person like us completely baffles my mind. If he is a person like us, he is either powerless, ignorant, or a bigger prick than anyone can fathom. The problem of human suffering is one of the biggest hurdles to the argument of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God. K + P + L ≠ G in any conceivable way to me. Evangelicals reconcile the problem by blaming us for our own misery, i.e. sin. I don’t have the time nor the stomach to go down the road refuting apologetics at the moment. Suffice it to say that most of the classical theological positions don’t measure up to science, common sense, or even common decency that one would expect from an all-loving God. It seems that many of the problems I have and maybe others is that we think of God as a person and try to force our expectations and assumptions upon that image. 

In both this book and others Deepak talks about God as the All, the unifying force creating and sustaining everything we know as reality (my words not his). That helps me to think about God in a different way, albeit more distanced. I’m still not sure if I believe in a unifying force in the world that we tap into, ignore, or abuse at our peril, anymore than I do the Judeo-Christian view that many of us were raised with. The jury’s still out on the subject for me, but I appreciate being challenged to think about God in a different way before giving up on the idea altogether.

Maybe you were one of those snobby rich kids that had everything they ever wanted growing up, or maybe you were the kid who saved up every dollar and bought your own pair of designer jeans twice a year and took exquisite care of them. I was neither. I had nice things but Levi’s were the extent of my brand loyalties. Aside from the trendy things we all focus on as teenagers, there are a myriad of other mundane everyday things in our adolescent lives that we use because they are available to us. Toothpaste, ketchup, shaving cream, etc.

When you leave home for the first time, whether for college, marriage, or the working world, you are suddenly faced with more choices than you ever thought possible. You take for granted all the common utilitarian things your parents provided for you. Do you remember the first time you went out to buy toothpaste for yourself? What do you get? Do you buy what your mom had always bought for you? Do you stretch your rebellious wings in protest and go for something new? As simple and foolish as it sounds, it is a microcosm of the process we go through into adulthood. How much do we cling to? How far do we run away?

I still remember vividly walking into my first dorm room at La Tech and finding a nicely packaged shoe-sized box on my bed. Inside were Edge shaving cream, Coast soap, Crest toothpaste and several other necessities and loads of marketing flyers and coupons. Thirteen years later I’m still using those same brands. I did not consciously choose to try something different. Had I wandered down to Wal-Mart after running out of whatever I brought from home, I very well may have bought Aquafresh toothpaste because I had used it all my life, but I was given the opportunity to consider an alternative.

My trips down to the food court and cafeteria in the student center were just as life-altering. They had Bullseye BBQ sauce and Log Cabin syrup. I never had that before, and I really liked them. We always used Kraft BBQ sauce and Blackburn syrup at home. I don’t know how many kids ask their parents to try a different BBQ sauce. You just use what you have, what you’re comfortable with. To this day I still buy those brand at the grocery store. It was a conscious minute rebellious stand on my part. “This is different. I am on my own.”

The religions we grow up with are not all that different than the foods and everyday items we are comfortable with from our childhood. We all know (and you may have been) one of teens who ran away from the church of your childhood as fast and hard as you could the moment you were out the door. I wasn’t. I went deeper. I changed schools, switched my major to religion, married my high school sweetheart, and began pastoring churches by my sophomore year in college.

[Can we take an aside for just a moment and address something here? Who the hell lets a 19 year old kid pastor a church? For crying out loud, I don’t care how mature or intelligent you are. It borders on child abuse. I know now that I was no where near mentally and emotionally mature enough to be in that situation. There is a lot to be said for the Methodist system that requires training, accountability, and assignment. This Baptist free-for-all independent streak can be detremental to the emotional well being of all concerned. Okay, just had to get that off my chest.]

It was later after several years of pastoral ministry, graduating college, and lots of life experiences that I began to move away from the comfortable religion of my childhood and seriously question the tenets and methods intensively. Once I stopped going to church every Sunday, it became easier to think clearly. While we may enjoy the fellowship and worship, there is an enormous amount of direct and indirect conditioning taking place. Whenever you remove yourself from that environment and begin to think independently, you may come up with different answers than those you were taught in Sunday School.

I don’t know which label is most appropriate to describe my theological quandry. It’s like trying to hit a moving target because I’m in a constant state of evolution. Maybe I’m a very liberal Christian, but there’s more that I disagree with in the church than I agree with, so it seems disingenuous to consider myself a Christian. I personally feel somewhere in the middle of agnosticism and atheism. My simple understanding of those terms is that one says we can’t know whether or not God is and the other says he is not.

I don’t really know whether God exists or not. If there is a God, he cannot possibly be anything like the Judeo-Christian version we’ve all been brought up to believe in. I’m much more inclined to believe in a unifying field or consciousness than a divine deity. Science and theoretical physics have given me answers to who we are, how we came to be, and what we’re doing here more than any sermon I’ve ever heard. It’s not really important to me which label fits me best, but I’ve felt more and more pressure to have a “coming out.”

I have no desire to diminish the faith of others or make a spectacle of myself. I just don’t believe the same way anymore. There are reasons why I turn down invitations to preach, why I don’t read the Bible the same way as others expect me to, why I don’t care about going to church, etc. I think it’s only a matter of time before family members, friends, or peers force the issue. I’d rather avoid the shock waves and the fallout, because I know that people get angry, they get hurt, they feel the need to put your name on the prayer list. I’m not interested. I may be called an atheist, an agnostic, or a liberal, but I’m happiest just being me. In fact I’m happier being me than I have ever been in my entire life, and for the first time in my entire life I chose to be me.