Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why I Once Believed

I think a lot about religion. People have asked me why I care so much that people have faith or believe in the bible. And I give them all the standard answers to that: I care because I’ve discovered reality and I wish others would discover the same thing; I care because people of faith have a nasty habit of moralizing for everyone else; I care because some people of faith put themselves in positions of power and try to influence others using their own, narrow, brand of morality as a benchmark; I care because I know that throughout history, religion has been the biggest obstacle to progress.

I’ve asked myself over and over how people who are otherwise quite reasonable, can accept an ancient myth as true and believe in it to the point of wanting to convert others to their way of thinking. But then I remember I used to be that way myself. So what made ME that way?

First of all, I was never a fundamentalist. I accepted the bible as a good spiritual guide and not as ancient history. I knew that the stories in the Old Testament were allegories and that they never really happened, or were at least heavily embellished. I did believe most of the New Testament stories, but I took with a grain of salt the stories concerning miracles. After all, those were superstitious people back then and what they were reporting was based as much on their emotional state as it was on real circumstances. But I still believed in Jesus and in God and in the Resurrection. I was, after all, a Christian. I was raised that way.

I remember debating a teacher friend of mine back in the ‘80s. He was an atheist. I placed the old Pascal’s Wager in his lap, even though at the time I did not know of the arguments against it. I asked him, “What if you’re wrong?” He said that if there is a god, he would like to believe that he is a forgiving god and one that will forgive him for not believing. I thought in my head, “He obviously doesn’t know his bible because it doesn’t work that way.”

But how did I know it didn’t work that way? How did I know that I was right and he was wrong?

The fact is, I didn’t. I only assumed I did because I believed the bible. I knew there were other religions in the world and I knew they had their own holy books. But I also knew, or believed, that these were the “heathen religions” the bible speaks of. I knew that Christian missionaries were busy trying to convert them to the true religion.

But why did I assume Christianity was the true religion, other than the fact that it was what I was taught as a kid? I was an intelligent science teacher with a master’s degree for goodness sake. Could I not see the fallacy of my beliefs?

Though down deep I was riddled with doubt, I justified my faith in Christianity and my dismissal of other religions because Christianity seemed to have an answer for all objections. You can find a bible verse that seems to dismiss almost any objection you want to throw at a Christian. What about other religions? They are mentioned and dismissed in the bible as being “heathen.” What about all our vast knowledge? The Old Testament warns against thought processes that would tend to lead you away from God. The New Testament seems to understand that there are rational arguments against believing, so it hammers the faith angle. Faith is all that matters; knowledge may be bogus.

I always assumed that a collection of literature like the bible that had an answer for any objection must hold a great deal of validity. If it did not answer these objections, Christianity would not have lasted so long.

But the only evidence I was using to justify my belief was that the bible seemed to know my objections and handled them all. It didn’t register until much later in my life that these answers were bogus and one-dimensional. When people brought up the fact that other religions and their holy books also had answers to the same objections and when I started to realize that the only thing really special about Christianity was that it had more members than other religions, only then did I start looking at religion, all religion, from a truly skeptical position.

It was then that I realized that all religions are bubbles. People see the other bubbles, but only from a perspective within their own bubble. I was beginning to pop out of my bubble. Only then did I realize that, from a vantage point outside of all bubbles, all bubbles are equal. So all religions are equal and, therefore, all religions are equally wrong.


Beth said...

I've thought about this a lot, too, Jerry. The only reason I can find for my once believing is "because that's how I was raised." I never found anything compelling or comforting in the Bible, and never any reason to believe beyond "just because."

That's not good enough. Not for anyone who takes the time to think it through and to really question.

Byroniac said...

This was a great story. I found your blog from the link over at Debunking Christianity. Unlike you, I was a fundamentalist and married to my religion it seems like now in hindsight. So now, not only am I an ex-Christian, but I feel like I have an ex, lol. Your last paragraph is the best!

Chriss Pagani said...

I can identify with this! I was a pretty rabid religionist early in my life and I didn't just talk the talk, I lived it all.

I was so into my faith that I went to Bible college and became a preacher. And here is where the story turns: I just wanted to make sure I was teaching and preaching TRUTH and not error. There are a thousand denominations of Christianity, after all, so it seemed like an important concept to get it right. After all, nobody wants to teach others a lie.

That innocent and pure act of verifying the truth of specific teachings, however, taught me that it was ALL a lie. I wasn't expecting that and it took years of gradual awakening.

I have to say that religion is very much a drug; I now believe it changes ones brain so that you get addicted to the high that faith gives. Still, years later, I have withdrawal symptoms. But that's another story.

Thank you for sharing yours.

Unknown said...

I think this story repeats itself within many of us.
Believers generally get angry with me because I was "one of them".. How could I betray them ?
Non-believers just ask me "Why bother?"
I think I bother because of the same reason you stated.

Eduardo said...

One could see all this thoughts from a statistical point of view. Most religious people and most atheists keep trying to proof their views by verbosity. Why bother? This is such a annoying waste of time. The good thing is you're probably not doing crimes with your free time.

Chill out, folks. Why don't you realize that each “side” does no harm to the other? If you want to do good to somebody, you'd better try to convert smokers into non-smokers, and improve public health in the process. Statistics say that up to half of the world's “more than 1 billion smokers” will die prematurely of a tobacco-related disease. No one dies of religion or atheism.

Jerry Wilson said...

@Eduardo: You see folks, this is a prime example of someone posting contention before actually thinking it through and, hopefully, getting embarrassed when someone points out the glaring flaws.

"No one dies of religion...." Really? Tell that to the thousands who died during the Inquisition or to all those women who were burned during the witch hunts. Tell that to the 3,000 people who were killed by Muslim fanatics on 9/11. Tell that to all those poor, innocent children who die in modern America because their parents are deluded into thinking that God will heal their sick children and that they don't need no stinking doctors.

And you don't have to be killed to be injured. The holier-than-thou, self-righteous religious fanatics are the ones who want to infiltrate our public schools and start teaching kids bible verses instead of science. We're already way behind the rest of the civilized world in science education. I pity the kids of our future if religion continues to run amok.

Jerry Wilson said...

Before I started my campaign against religion I was on a campaign against smoking.

Eduardo said...

Sorry Jerry, I thought that what I wrote was evident enough, but I was wrong. Let me try to clarify.

I meant, if you pay a visit to the morgue, you will not find - "Cause of death: religion… or atheism… or stupidity." But you will find - “Cause of death: lungs cancer.”

It is obvious that religious fanatism led large amounts of stupid people to kill in Inquisition and 9/11. But that's what it is, plain stupidity. The same damn stupidity is leading smokers to kill themselves. One could say stupidity is the #1 cause of death ever (but not in the morgue).