Wednesday, November 21, 2012

There Comes a Day.

"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways." - 1 Corinthians 13:11

I always liked this statement.

I write today to commemorate and appreciate what I've learned growing up how I have. I've spoken a lot lately about how I've been traumatized by religion when growing up and how I've moved away from faith, but another part of my journey lately has been recognizing the good that came from this subculture, for it is just as true.

Without Christianity, I would not have made the friends I have. Without Christianity, I would not have ended up the person I am today. Without Christianity, I would not have the unique and powerful perspective I've ended up with, nor would I be able to do what I will do in the future. For this, I am grateful, among a thousand other things. I can still debate theology with the best theologian out there and stalemate them at best, and that is something I take pride in. Not because I find theology to be true, but because I find it to have been a useful tool for abstract thought and for the development of a very unique sort of logic.

God, as a concept, is wondrously fascinating to me. Growing up, I went through phases of what I believed about god. I believed in his sovereignty and his absolute deterministic control in high school, and it's intriguing to note that I was also more rejected and alone than I ever have been in my life during that time. I needed control, I needed someone who could give me a measure of control, who could assure me that everything would be okay, and if that meant I affirmed that infant deaths resulted in more souls in hell, then so be it. Horrifying, but where my soul was is still apparent.

I then became intrigued with god as a lover. When things got better in my life, I began to be intrigued by these notions of god as a pursuer, god as a gentleman, god as not necessarily a father or even male, but genderless and transcendent, sublime and complete and still wanted me regardless. I was no longer looking for security, I was looking for love. Yet, in my pursuit I found these people broken by something, refusing to be great out of "humility" or some such concept. Time after time, my soul would not resonate with the people I met, and I often felt that they did not believe in the same god I did.

"We shape our god, and our god shapes us." Rob Bell could not be more right about this. Truly, every experience I have had of god, every spiritual experience has been a resonation with humanity or a realization of some greater reality that I was not conscious of previously.

I am sure conservative Christians would read what I write as "he never believed in god to begin with, we should save him by bringing him to our one true expression of Christianity." I've never been a person to conform to a group, and the more right a group thinks they are, the more questions I ask. The more authoritative a leadership figure is, the less I care about what they are saying. Truly, I have a "rebellious spirit."

This is a good thing. People aren't created to be lead, they exist to be what they are, no matter how scary that is to people that are afraid or lonely. Nothing can stand in the way of the truth.

At some point, one must call a concept what it is. There is no doubt in my mind that two things are true.

1. There is more to humanity than biology, more to life than the surface of what people deal with every day, and there is something that transcends what we as humans know through current science. We must push forward with every aspect of philosophy, every science and every art, to understand more and come up with more questions.

2. In the context of church and political history, scientific discovery, and the nature of the "supernatural" (anything beyond our current understanding), if there is a god, he is nothing like the one in any major religion. This is because we shape our god, and when a lot of people choose to shape god the same way, we end up with a religious movement that, if it lasts, will become an established religion. This is nothing more than a psychological phenomenon combined with our adolescence as a race, and none of it proves a god.

I am, without a doubt, an atheist. I would term myself agnostic as well, because I do not think our race has come to a point of making definitive statements about whether an ultimate deity exists, or even whether there are higher developed life forms which can be considered deities exist.

I also know that I will spend a good portion of my life studying the concept of god and learning more about it, studying humanity and learning more about our race's psychological makeup, and making a combination of the two. Like I said, Christianity has put me on this path, and for that I am grateful.

Christianity has also lead me to the example of Christ, at once a beneficial and a harmful role model. When I was a child, this shaped me a great deal, and I still respect Jesus as an intriguing and beneficial figure, though not necessarily a historical one by any means. However, my idolization of the hero archetype must now become an intrigued study, for I am no longer a child.

I am a man, and my former ways are cast off. How terrifying, and what a great adventure.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I've been on a wonderful and terrible and entirely necessary journey lately, grappling with my transition away from faith. I've wanted to skip to the end of it for a while, to be at the point where I can say I'm well again, but I have to journey through some very painful and very rewarding territory to get there. I haven't written here for a while because of this, and because life has been insane and awesome and beautiful and exciting lately, and admittedly a little terrifying.

I was raised to fear. One of my most fundamental emotions is that of being afraid, and it's one I have struggled against for my entire life. I've dealt with crippling social anxiety over being afraid of rejection from people, and I've been afraid of failing or, perhaps more commonly, of succeeding. I've been afraid that I will be crushed by those I trust. None of these fears are unwarranted, as the way I grew up contained a lot of very intense experiences involving all of those things. I've even been taught (somehow) that every good thing is a trap that is designed to make you hope, after which it will crush you, and that cynicism is the way to live, with no faith in people, even if they give you every reason to believe in them.

All of this is terrible, and I'm still processing most of it. However, there was one fear I was taught specifically growing up that I have been grappling with for the past few months.

I fear what will happen to me after my death. Ever since I've transitioned to faithlessness, I've had haunting memories resurface of vivid descriptions of hell. There is fire everywhere, unquenchable fire that burns you eternally, and it never stops. There is smoke and sulfur, to the extent that the very air you're breathing is poison, but you are not allowed to die, and you are not allowed to go into shock or lose consciousness to escape your torment. You are separated from God, the ultimate authority/parental/guardian figure and the meaning of life, the only source of security for you, and he does not want you. You did not accept him in your 100 (or so) years of life, so he will leave you in agony for eternity.

The entire notion, I've come to feel for many years, is absurd. The logic I grew up with, "That's what the Bible says," even before losing my faith seemed entirely hollow and meaningless. How could something so implausible be true?

Yet, when you are told something when you are 6-7 years old, these thoughts don't enter your head. All you can think about is how terrible it is, how much you want to be good and you want God to love you, and how you want to live forever in heaven with him and with angels and all good things and where there is no pain. You make decisions based on the fact that you are terrified over something you have just begun to understand, yet it takes over your brain. It inundates you, and you grow up with it. You learn to hate or love or be angry or vengeful or kind and compassionate based on the things you come to believe.

I learned fear, and I learned that most of the human race will be tormented for eternity because of their lack of belief in Christ. How could I trust these people? How could I believe anyone when they don't have a moral center, when they don't have a god to please? Isn't morality simply a toss up if someone doesn't believe in God?

I had emotions, open-mindedness, charity, sexuality, philosophy, science, other cultures, and humanity demonized for me, and I was told that all of my answers lie in a book I tried to read every day and fell asleep doing so. I did not want to go to hell, so I became a fighter against anything that could threaten my and other peoples' faith. I did confrontational evangelism on the streets of Costa Rica as recent as 9 years ago because I thought it was my duty, my way of keeping people from endless torture for eternity.

Eventually, it came to be framed a different way. In recent years, I stopped believing in a literal hell after I studied the Bible and church history and could only find a solid source for this theology in Dante's Divine Comedy and in a very specific and literal reading of what is admitted to be some of the most metaphorical parts of the Bible by all but the strongest literalists.

It stopped being about not burning for eternity, and it started being about being in God's Kingdom. I reframed the horrifying vision I'd been taught growing up with one of eternal glory in God's presence, and began speaking of how God courts humanity and is a gentleman, so he will not force man to choose him. Hell became less about eternal pain and torment and more about man choosing himself over God, and living with the consequences of that choice. For this portrayal, see CS Lewis' "The Great Divorce," a beautifully written myth regarding the heaven/hell reality. Heaven became the only place where anything is real and about people being larger and more, and hell became about people shrinking into themselves and becoming small and petty and never going anywhere.

Like all theology, it's about people.

Sadly, however, this is only a more palatable version of hell. For instead of flames, there is only cold loneliness. Instead of endless conscious suffering, there is eternal emptiness. Instead of God throwing you there, you choose it yourself, whether you realize it or not. In some ways, this version of hell is more horrifying, because it's something you can no longer be angry at God about, and just as terrible.

"But Daniel, is the question not whether it's horrifying or not, but whether it's true?"

Hell is simply inseparable from Christian theology. I've run from this notion for years, and in many ways, I can understand why people get so angry over a book like Rob Bell's "Love Wins." When the doctrine of hell is threatened, the mythology of Christianity loses its' teeth, and fear is no longer a weapon in its' arsenal. Or, to put it another way, what is the point of getting saved if you're being saved from nothing? Does this not make Christ's torture and death meaningless? Meaningless indeed.

I was 7 when I first learned to fear in the name of hell, and even though I no longer consider myself a Christian, the entire notion still chills me at the most basic level. Because even though I haven't believed in hell per se for years, I am now one of the people that preachers ranted about when I was young. I am a secular humanist, someone who believes homosexuals and women and all people regardless of how different they are are equals. I don't believe in the Bible and I understand the evidence for Evolution and the origin of life. I think the entire notion of hell and scaring people into line with it is absurd.

Yet still, there is a fear that takes hold of my heart when I even think about it. What if I am wrong? What if I will burn for eternity because I've allowed philosophy and my lack of Christian morality and my own desire to do what I want to delude me from the truth presented in Scripture?

Scripture, which I don't believe in and is historically the product of a religion that cannot be trusted. Morality, which is demonstrably not from an ancient book and obviously not confined to a single creed, especially considering how bloody and politically cut-throat church history is. Philosophy, which is an inescapable part of life, as natural to humanity as breathing. The entire notion that I will somehow burn in hell is absurd, but fear makes me take it seriously, and it's 27 years of it that I have to somehow come to terms with.

Like I said, this journey has been wonderful and painful and rewarding and entirely necessary. Be who you are, be intelligent, think critically, and have compassion. Do not let fear dictate your choices.