Saturday, November 27, 2010

Becoming Atheist

After I rejected Mormonism, I wasn't sure what I believed anymore. It wasn't like I had a Plan B for my religious beliefs. For the first few weeks I avoided the subject. I had strong suspicions that no true church existed, but I knew that I'd just gone through a long and complex process of giving up my childhood faith. I didn't want to be reckless and reject all religion out of hand. However, after spending so much time in a religion that claimed to be the One True Church, I had difficulty with the idea that there was a single true church. The whole idea of faith was suspect to me.

I remember one day in particular. It was a Sunday afternoon in early November, about a week after the final remnants of my testimony shattered. My roommates were all taking their Sunday afternoon naps and everything was quiet. I wrapped myself in a blanket and stood on the balcony outside my apartment like I had the night I lost my testimony, only this time the sun was out and it was almost warm. I looked at the grass, the trees, the sky, and I asked myself if all of it could be just chance. If it was possible that there was no God at all. I didn't like that idea. It was nearly incomprehensible to me. I wanted there to be a God. If there wasn't one, what was the meaning of life? What was the point of doing anything, of existing at all? In spite of my these thoughts and feelings, however, I strongly suspected that there was no God. I'd already rejected the Mormon concept of "The Holy Ghost" as a manipulative hijacking of my own feelings. Besides the Holy Ghost, I had absolutely no experience with God. I had absolutely no basis for believing in him.

I stood out there just thinking for a long time. I think I knew, even then, that I had no real reason to believe in God, but I didn't want to admit that to myself. My internal conversation went nowhere. I didn't come to any kind of conscious conclusion that day.

I wasn't comfortable declaring myself an atheist, even to myself. I didn't actually talk to anyone else about my redefinition process. It something I did purely for my own benefit. I told myself that I was agnostic, and that was true, more or less. I wasn't comfortable with taking a position one way or the other yet. For a few weeks I let the issue rest.

Several months later, I started talking with a friend of mine who had left the Mormon church for Christianity. We had several long conversations about Christianity and I explained many of my reservations about it. My friend did clear up some of these for me and gave me some resources to research Christianity some more. I realized that after my testimony shattered, I hadn't really given Christianity a fair shake. I didn't know much about traditional Christianity except what the Mormon church had taught me about it, and that could hardly be fair. So I researched.

For about a month I was very close to becoming a Christian-- albeit a much more liberal Christian than most. I prayed nearly every night. I read the Bible and Christian apologetic literature. But I never felt totally comfortable with Christianity. Sure, it seemed to have a lot more internal consistency than Mormonism, but that still didn't make it true. It still made absurd, unprovable claims. And the more I read and researched, the less I was satisfied with it intellectually.


Emotionally, I liked Christianity very much. I was very depressed at this time, and I was really desperate for something to hold onto. I'd lost Mormonism; what was left? I prayed to God and asked for comfort, but I knew I wasn't being completely honest with myself. I was taking a totally emotional approach. My conscience wouldn't let me accept Christianity without adequate evidence. When I prayed, I would say something like this: "Dear God, you know I'm looking for the truth. You know I'm doing the best I can with what you gave me. If you're really there, if you really exist, then show me somehow. Help me find the evidence of your existence. If you're real and if you are what they say you are, you'll understand that my integrity won't let me accept an unsubstantiated proposition. So if you're really there, I ask that you not play mind games with me. Just show me that you actually exist."

My answer?

Nothing.

It was the same as with Mormonism. I found lots of apologetic stuff that looked pretty convincing on the surface but fell apart on close scrutiny. I found a lot of stuff that I considered complete hogwash-- the doctrine that all non-Christians go to hell, for instance. I found the whole concept of heaven and hell to be utterly ridiculous. What kind of a psychopathic god would create a giant lake of brimstone for everyone who didn't join a particular sect? What kind of god would hide his own existence from the world, demand that everyone accept his existence on "faith", and then throw everyone who didn't believe into said lake of fire and brimstone? I found this and many other Christian doctrines to be untenable.

So I got no emotional or spiritual confirmation of any kind, and the more I looked at the evidence, the less likely Christianity looked. I can't pinpoint a specific moment when I finally concluded that it was false like I can with the loss of my Mormon testimony. It was a more gradual process, and the emotional stakes were much lower. I wasn't holding myself hostage, so to speak, torturing myself for not getting the "right" answer.

After that, I toyed briefly with a few other ideologies, primarily paganism and Buddhism. I wasn't so much looking for the "one true religion" anymore as I was trying to create my own religion. I still felt like I needed some kind of organized religious creed and practice, some set of rituals and beliefs. So I went through a brief "Build Your Own Religion" phase. It didn't last long, however. I was coming out of my depression, and realizing that I didn't need religion to be happy; that I was happier without it, in fact.

At this point I was back to agnosticism again, mostly because I still didn't want to admit to myself that I was an atheist. But I dropped the issue. I was at peace with not having all the answers. In short, I moved on. However, I eventually realized that there probably isn't a god, and that until and unless I see some good evidence for one, I'm not obligated to give equal weight to the proposition that there is one. I had chosen agnosticism because it seemed to me to be the most intellectually honest position. However, I now think that the existence of a god of any kind is highly unlikely, and I don't have to reserve judgment on the subject any more than I have to reserve judgment on the existence of unicorns.

4 comments:

  1. What a journey you are on! Keep asking questions; the God I know welcomes them and I have found him more than able to hold up under the closest scrutiny.

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  2. It was a little over a month ago that my testimony fell apart and I'm going through what this particular blog entry is about. It's so good to hear you put your experience/thoughts into words. Thank you.

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  3. WTF-- I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. If I may be so bold, I've found that the online community at www.postmormon.org is *extremely* supportive, should you be in need of that. I know how lonely it can be to go apostate ;).

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  4. Hey, stumbled upon your blog and just had to say hello (Diamond B on PostMo). I've traveled some of the same road as you and strangely enough I've come to similar conclusions. I didn't want to give up on the belief in a higher being, especially when I thought of what I'd teach my kids, but as I've journeyed further from Mormonism, I've come to realize that I don't need gods or religion to be a good person (and teach my children to be good people) I can do that just fine on my own. I'm happy on this path and I'm hoping you will be too.

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