Thursday, April 19, 2007

rethinking things

I realized last week that I don't believe in god anymore. I was a little surprised, really, but I guess it makes sense. To fully understand this shift, it helps to know my history with religion and spirituality. Here it is in bullets for easy digestion:

1.) I was raised Christian. First we were Baptist, then we were Mormon.

2.) I continued to believe I was Christian until I was about 18, and then I just gave it up. It stopped making sense.

3.) I minored in religion in undergrad and studied all sorts of spiritual practices, looking for one that felt best to me. Most of the traditions I was drawn to (buddhism, taosim) don't have a "god" as such, but even as I stepped on and off those paths, I still maintained some idea that there was a god out there.

4.) I read some pop-science and evolved some ideas that god was everything in the universe, united in a kind of universal consciousness. But still, in times of stress, I would revert back to praying to the benevolent patriarch in the sky in whom I grew up believing.

5.) As recently as last year, I seriously considered converting to Judaism. I started reading the Torah and portions of the Talmud and felt a homey familiarity. After all, the god of the Jews is the same god I grew up with. But instead of the Christian emphasis on faith and belief and all that stuff about Jesus dying on the cross to forgive you for your sins, the Jewish tradition had wisdom and stories and a spirited intellectualism. Those things, from a safe distance at least, were really appealing.

6.) And then, just last week I was taking some kind of online poll (you should all know that I really love answering questions), and I hit a question that changed everything. Or, if it didn't *change* everything, it at least shined a new light on everything. To paraphrase, the question asked me to rank on a scale of one to seven how much I believed a divine presence was actually affecting my life. My answer, w/o hesitation, was "absolutely not at all."

Now, if the question had been "do you believe in god," my answer would've been something like "yes, I believe in some version of god," knowing full well that I still sometimes pray to the god of my childhood. But because the question was asked in the way it was asked, it exposed to me the reality that I don't actually believe what my behavior suggests I believe. I don't believe there's anybody up there watching. I don't believe anybody is waiting to help me in my time of need. I don't believe the "footprints" poster: there is only one set of footprints and they're mine.

I guess, for those of you who don't believe, who never believed, for those of you like my friend Leo who grew up in the south, indoctrinated like me and who burned her bible in the front yard a month before she left for college, I guess my minor revelation isn't such a big deal. And of course, for those who *do* believe, my lack of belief can't be all that moving either, unless it moves you to want to come witness to me, or something like that.

For me, it's most interesting because it reveals that I've had habits of behavior that were built on inertia and superstition rather than actual belief. This has made my mind kind of cluttered and sometimes inefficient. Sometimes, rather than looking clearly at my life or my problems, I have (I admit) wasted a lot of energy hoping something intangible and unknowable on the other side would come along and intervene. Now I realize that's been a little bit ridiculous.

I still believe it's possible, even likely, that there are other worlds out there that we can't know or see directly. Why not? Spirits or other dimensions or just other planets with more life. I don't and can't know the significance of the vibrations of subatomic particles, I don't and can't know what goes on at the other end of the next universe over. Who knows what we would see if we could suddenly see everything? But since we can't, I will try and at least take a look at the things I actually CAN see. They will probably help me order my life better than a million exciting speculations.


Blogger Melinda Barton said...

I always think it's rather odd to have feel negatively or positively about someone's decision that they believe or don't believe. It's all kind of personal to me. It's almost like getting exciting or angry if someone realizes they're gay or straight or bi or omni. What is it, really, to a "bystander" in your life that you've made that decision?

That doesn't sound quite right. Obviously, people who know and care about you want you to be happy and at peace and will accept whatever brings you to that place. Those who hate you will wish that your face get chewed off by rabid bunnies regardless. Those who don't know you really shouldn't care at all except in the vague way we're supposed to care about all human life. Those who want to "save your soul" should probably spend more time saving themselves.

Anyway, let's make sure I have it all covered anyway. Congrats. I'm sorry. Go you! How dare you! Have you accepted Xena as your personal Warrior Princess?

12:10 PM  
Blogger reasonably prudent poet said...

melinda -- i hear you. i definitely didn't post this to solicit feedback or support about *my* decision. however, i think sharing info about some personal experiences can be helpful to others in sorting out their own stuff. i'd be interested to hear about other people's experiences with spirit/religion/god. and i guess i'm interested in sharing things on a deeper level with the world. you can only read about somebody's cat so many times before you start wondering if that person has anything else going on in her life.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Oh no, that's not what I meant. Which is why I did the "That doesn't sound just quite right." thing. It's hard to put it in words.

Blogging is all about getting it off your chest. Maybe it'll help someone who's struggling. Maybe it'll fly off your back and into the ether. Whatever.

Any shared personal info is like that. It's not "Oh. This is personal so I should tell no one and keep it in my little locked Hello Kitty diary under my bed." But instead just that society sometimes expects us to have these very positive or very negative feelings about the decision itself rather than relating it to how we feel about the person or whether the topic touches us personally. Makes no more sense the second time, does it?

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me, not believing in god is simply a matter of intellectual honesty. I don't believe in things for which there are no evidence. People who do believe in god are intellectually dishonest.

1:51 PM  
Blogger stumptown dreamer said...

Jung when he asked if he believed in God said "No" he did not believe in God, he did not believe in God because he "knew" God.
This I think has always been inspirational to me, the difference in words leaves a different relationship, a different opportunity of relationship, a deeper relationship in my experience of whatever 'God' means.
Growing up without any indoctrination of any kind probably helps. More freedom perhaps, to be creative....

nice post....

2:34 PM  
Blogger zuhn said...

I like to say that I'm a non-practicing and non-believing Catholic. It was in my past so it will always be a part of my present and my future so I have to cling to that identity.

I don't believe in god, but I also don't not believe in god. It's not yet time for me to start parsing this out in my head.

I don't think it's ridiculous that you think of the intangible and unknowable, but I also like what you said about concentrating on what you can see. I find one is a nice distraction from the other.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous south carolina girl said...

oh, you poor baby! going through an identity crisis. i would consider this an identity crisis, anyway. those are never fun! i will be praying for you (hehe). good for you, deciding what to believe for yourself! Jesus would be proud...

you know what must be good about not believing in god? is now, you don't have to worry about the ethicality of bone marrow sperm! of course, those of us who choose to be "intellectually dishonest" and believe in god can always say, "well, if the Lord and Lady didn't want us to do this, They wouldn't have given us the technology!" but for real, i'm still sorting through the bone marrow thing to see how i feel about it...hey, if the bone marrow thing is possible, maybe there's not a Lord and Lady after all! maybe there are two Ladies!...oh, wow...i don't think i have the spiritual strength left to consider the nature of god right now!

anyway, good for you, Poet.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Zoe said...

I think it's a pretty major realization and not an easy one to come to terms with. It's counter to everthing that our culture, hell the world, believes. And from my own experience and that of my few atheist friends, it's the antithises of how they were raised. I think the hardest part, for me at least, is trying to figure out what is the point of it all then. Why do we exist. I'm sure that wanting an answer to that question is a carry over from my very catholic upbringing. I mean when you realize that there is no real purpose other than to propigate our species, that we are just one more animal in ecosystem, it's kind of hard to come to grips with. It makes you question your whole being.

I don't know, I could go on and on on this subject, but my point is that your recent discovery is not insignificant.

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your inward journey is much the same as many of us. The difference though is that a huge number of people don't bother to question. Churches are social clubs too. If you like the people and if they can get you through the milestones of your life then why bother to change? Birth, puberty, marriage, death all require a ceremony of sorts. Me, I'm a Buddhist but I don't want to join anything. The last sangha I was in was a huge letdown after the initial high. I was raised in Salt Lake City but my Episcopal church was the refuge. I would suggest a book "Faith" by Sharon Salzburg.
I congratulate you on your honesty and the kind word about my painting.

7:34 AM  

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