Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fury, in Retrospect

Sometimes one feels something so powerfully that they simply cannot even communicate it properly. The extremely fortunate among us will feel love in this way, or perhaps the extremely patient. Regardless of what the state of being is, love, anger, happiness, contentedness and so forth, when one really feels it it takes over their entire being, they become elemental and powerful in it and it's on display for all to see.

The religious propaganda that is often heard associated with this is that one should be a christian like they are a football fan. I've never related to this analogy very well, as I have apathy at best toward football and most sports in general, but I do understand. Someone who is genuinely passionate about something does not need to convince others of it, they radiate it and can't help but talk about it when the opportunity presents itself, because they want to share it.

I'm not completely certain if I was ever this type of christian, but I suspect so. I searched the philosophy, I found the truth in it, those things I still hold dear, though not exclusively christian components, such as the golden rule, generosity, passion, justice, and love. When someone's religion or philosophy or passion becomes so elemental, you can just tell. A friend once told the administration of my college, who weren't sure I was a christian at all due to questioning scripture's absolute inerrancy and primary source of truth, that I was what all christians should aspire to be. I never saw myself that way, but I do believe this means I had a true faith, one that was part of me. I never evangelized anyone, except for one regretful incident on my high school missions trip that I will never feel good about, I just believed, and I was what that belief made me.

I have problems even stating what I want to do with my life now because my career goals were defined solely in christian terms before about a year ago. I am fortunate I didn't go into ministry and establish myself before losing my religion, as the stories I've read of losing the core of one's being and the inspiration for one's career, and having to maintain appearances to support a family are horrifyingly close to home. The organizations I've found that support ex-pastors and ex-ministry leaders are some of the most beautiful organizations I've seen. The apostate need support, more than just monetarily, but not having to worry as much about taking care of their families when they're consumed by such a crisis is beautiful.

I grew up being taught to question the world, being taught apologetics and critical thought regarding all things secular, especially atheism. However, I was a defective student. I began to turn those questions on the beliefs I was told never to question, much to the horror of the teachers. Where had I gone wrong? I was going to lose my faith! I denied this, because my faith was ultimately important to me, and I absolutely believed it to be true. What is the harm in seeking the truth, I asked, if we really do believe the truth? How am I going to be mislead by the very skills I've learned? If christianity is true, it has nothing to worry about. If it is not true, then I will leave, regardless of the personal cost. This is not just an intellectual statement for me, it is a way of living. I was taught that Jesus IS the truth, and so to seek truth is to seek Jesus. All truth is god's truth.

In retrospect, I understand why the conservatives that looked at me with so much skepticism and even condemnation felt how they did. When you go out into "the world," your faith is challenged. When you leave "the bubble," you begin to have to deal with things you were never taught to deal with before. I was prepared for this, or so I thought.

You see, when I detached myself from my faith and truly used my critical thinking skills to look at it, I realized that the evidence is insufficient, and faith is absolutely required. You must assert on bad evidence, because that's the only type of evidence you are going to get. "Hold onto those experiences with god, hold onto this book and how you've been taught to interpret it, or you will lose your faith!" I saw that as propaganda, and I still see it as propaganda that is successfully taught to people. I feel fortunate that a friend threw my beliefs into chaos 10 years ago, as it was that process that really made me test what I'd grown up being taught.

When I lost my faith, when I truly stopped believing, I was consumed with anger. I was dating a very angry individual at the time as well, but she's not the reason I was as angry as I was, and claiming atheism did not make me angry. You see, I was taught growing up that evolution, at best, was to be treated with extreme skepticism. I was taught that science is the most horribly limited tool ever, because our minds are depraved and broken. I was taught not to trust myself, and the typical social drama of my youth reinforced that when I got a huge culture shock in high school and decided hating myself was the best course of action, because pretty much everyone in my social group, with a few exceptions, thought that I was an idiot, and not worth their time. Women asked me out as a joke, so I must have the horrible sexual motives I was taught growing up, and I should punish myself for ever thinking anyone is attractive. I was taught that the Bible is a defensible book if any book is, when that is not how history works. I was barely taught proper history by a group of people so consumed with nationalistic conservative faith that it's a wonder I ever escaped from the view at all. I was taught that, above all, I must seek out god's will for my life, his perfect plan, his perfect mate that would fix me, his perfect calling that would be the work that I would give my life to. I was taught to coast through life, and that god would do everything for me. As long as I was righteous but humble but faithful but joyous but uncompromising but didn't complain but loving but a thousand other things, god could use me, and it was my sole confidence.

Imagine my surprise when I had a hell of a time of it, when I found that I couldn't just be lazy. You may read this and say "but Christianity doesn't teach this Dan, it teaches us to work hard and seek god!" What does that mean? How does one seek god? Read their bible? Pray? Do evangelism or missions work, convert others to the same views? How does that have anything to do with a faith that is real, that flows through you like your own blood? Must one train themselves to truly believe?

You see, I tried both. I tried the ritual, I tried the conservative christianity, the lack of questioning, the uncompromising stance that is unafraid of criticism. Something in me broke doing that, and it made me immeasurably sad. It doesn't make sense that god would kill so much of the race he created on a regular basis, it doesn't make sense that he would allow guilt to be imputed on all of us for wanting knowledge. It does not make sense that god would be a genocidal (but justified by racial purity. clearly.) maniac in 2/3rd of this book I'm supposed to accept on faith, and then I have to use the other 1/3rd to cherry pick it because jesus. Jesus isn't even original anyway, which is the only reason he resonates so much with people. The Christ figure is iconic, a part of our culture, but that does not make him god.

I tried to really feel my faith, I tried to love god with my heart, soul, strength and mind. I tried speaking in tongues and prophesying, I clawed for something to really make it mine, and I succeeded. I was the unique and special snowflake that would be a legendary christian thinker, respected as a defender of true christianity, a system of my own reckoning, because I was full of faith and love and righteousness and people agreed with me, dammit!

I really believed. I had answers for all of these questions, theories about how god was progressing along with humanity, how jesus was the latest iteration of cultural norms so god could reach the most people in the fullness of time, about how the bible was not really a historical record or scientific book, but only relevant in what it teaches us about god, and about how the trinity is like a person's three components, mere aspects that god had more truly because he's so incomprehensibly huge. Anyone that took me seriously back in the day can tell you, I could discuss this stuff for hours, and if they really knew me, they knew I did it because it was so insanely important to me, because it was me, in a very real sense. I was elementally christian.

In the end, it all turned up empty when I put my ideals to the test. The truth won out when I put it up against the sum total of my faith, the church history, the exploration of all of its' branches, the sum total of my experiences, all of my justifications and philosophy and reasoning and reading and learning, the sum total of all of it. I didn't even leave christianity when it put me through years of systemic emotional abuse, because I believed it was true.

There is a phrase I once heard, that I cannot remember the exact phrasing of. It goes something like this:

If Christianity is not true, then we are miserable above all others, but if it is true, we are happy above all others.

One might recognize this as a reframing or inversion of the infamous Pascal's wager, pointing out the consequences of leaving christianity if it is, in fact, true.

It is a miserable thing to devote one's life to something and then, upon investigating and truly searching, find that you have devoted so much time, so much emotional and mental energy, to absolutely nothing. It is infuriating to think of the possibilities your life may have taken on had you not simply been taught to accept something that placed drastic limitations on your potential by teaching you to look down on science and history and scholarship and philosophy. It is infuriating to realize that you really were in the process of losing your faith by embracing those ideals you truly felt in embracing your faith, to realize you were self defeating your own faith for years, and didn't even realize it. It is ultimately frustrating to have to start over just because you will not make an ultimate decision purely based on consequences or what you want to be true or fear.

Every emotion is immediately converted into an icy, ultimate rage. You live in the frigid torrents of emotion hammered into a singular purpose, your lifeblood solidified in your veins, and you make sure everyone feels your rage just to prove you exist. Your former hope turns to poison in your soul, and you spit it all over everything. You throw around facts and figures and anger and satisfying quotes or images, and you are ready to defend any of it.

Well, what do you think happens? People give you a wide berth, because they don't want to be touched by the toxic bile you're spewing everywhere. You feel ignored, and that makes you even more angry!

Or maybe that's just me.

In retrospect, this type of rage, this brutally powerful anger, is only another method of harming oneself, and all too natural for someone who grew up to hate one's most fundamental urges as a human being, such as curiosity, sexuality, and compassion for its' own sake. It is useless to continue being a vessel of such rage, as it will destroy your health and any chance you have for happiness. It's okay to be angry when someone aggravates you by asserting that this puritanical and toxic morality must be propagated to even more people to stunt their growth and create more converts, but let it go before it chokes your soul and distances you from everyone, before you become a paranoid and delusional individual, and you see demons where none are there. You will end up being the image of what you cannot stand, because you're still tied to it by your own angry soul.

Becoming elementally enraged is ultimately an exercise in fighting oneself. When you run out of enemies to fight, you start beating on yourself, or looking for more outlets to keep it going, so you don't have to face the difficult and messy business of dealing with life.

I don't regret my fury, it was a necessary part of my life for a time. After a season of fury, however, must come acceptance, harmony, and progress, for the sake of one's health and happiness. If you feel like I do, know that you do not have to be remain damaged. You can heal, because you're spectacular, and asking for help does not make you weak. Move forward, accept the losses, even if they still feel unacceptable, and you will be able to become singular and powerful in who you are.