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1/30/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Exorcising God

By JJ

So now you're not a Christian anymore. Maybe you've not been for years, or maybe it has been a few intense days. You're a free man or woman, and... when you're really scared, you wonder about God. When you hear about the apocalyptic end of the world suggested by climate change, you can't help but think of the Apocalypse of St. John ("Revelations.")

Christianity isn't just a varying set of beliefs around a core drama -- its a fractured and ancient culture. It's a set of symbols, and those symbols are so hard to exorcise precisely because they are powerful, potent, and deeply buried.

When you burn yourself, you jerk your hand back -- often times with far greater force than is necessary. When you "stop" being a Christian, you often find yourself seeking solace for what's missing in rational science, in a naturalist point of view (eg, only things I can experience exist, everything else is theory or hyperbole,) or perhaps you embrace a new religion -- the number of ex-Christian Wiccans is astounding -- and by Christian or ex-Christian, I mean one who's world was shaped by those beliefs to the exclusion of others, whether or not they themselves fully and zealously embraced it.

My breaking point came during my last lunge into the faith -- a variant of the same crisis I assume most of the interested readership has shared; I had never had a particularly strong relationship with my father, though I would be the last to suggest his intellect was anything short of "bright guy." We had never had much to discuss until I was in my late 20s and we were able to engage in extended discussion via email. We discussed theological issues, church history, etc.

Being an autodidact, when I want an answer to something, I start reading. In the case of the church, of course, I went straight to the history books and discovered the council of Nicea. Through that, I discovered the Greek church, its history and... how everything got blurry right around the 4th century. The bible was, at that time, assembled by men 350 years distant from the alleged historical Christ.

My father's position, as a Presbyterian was Reform theology -- that's the basis of most western Christianity that is not specifically catholic, episcopalian or Anglican. The split between the catholic church and the heritage of the protestant churches was the notion of "Sola Scriptura," which means "by the scriptures alone," or, that matters of the faith were not to be arbitrated by councils of men as much as by the bible itself. Yet, when I brought my points to my father, he would cite Augustine, various catholic philosophers and so on to support points that they ultimately and logically would grant credence. When I finally asked about the sacrament of baptism -- infant baptism -- he suggested that this is essentially what had kept me looking to the faith, that being sprinkled with Indianapolis city water by a fat dude as an infant had somehow sealed my bond with God. Initially, this idea provided some comfort -- that all of my frustration and confusion -- the contradiction between my experiences and what I was supposed to believe -- was a trial by fire that would ultimately end in a kind of enlightenment and spiritual accord.

It did indeed, but not the way a Presbyterian deacon would have it. With this tenant of faith revealed, the last thread connecting me to Christianity turned a brilliant white, glowing and... like a filament in the air, burned out and snapped very quickly. The sheer absurdity of the proposition, and the logical tenants that followed simply fell flat in the face of the obvious: You can't know anything until you know yourself. You cannot know yourself if you are depending on someone or something else to make clear to you what you are. And if the source of guidance for your self-knowledge suggests that you deny yourself exploration, the right to question, and the right to be dissatisfied with answers -- then that source -- person or institution -- is fleecing you.

So take a moment, recall the last time you came into church late, or had some reason to be looking into the faces of the congregation from the choir or a balcony. Did you look closely?

For the most part, the congregation of any church or temple represents well-meaning people who are seeking authoritative answers about the nature of the world they live in. An illiterate and an academic will experience equal awe confronted with a southern sky filled with stars when no other distractions are present. The simple person may be satisfied with any explanation about what those stars are -- something that fills the question-slot and allows that person to move on -- others won't be satisfied until they're in a spaceship with a very large tape measure on their way to confirm what they've been told.

In this sense, faith is no different. Some people are comforted by someone simply suggesting that there is a God that hears your prayers -- others want to touch, see and interact with the creator. It is very obvious that the patrician God we knew was built in such a way that an august man could kind of fill in for him at the pulpit.

The need to touch God, the need to see a star up close, the need to know what you cannot know -- whether the person you're partnered to genuinely loves you, or has been putting on a spectacular act for 5 years -- are examples of the painful need for answers that drives many people to seek them at extraordinary risk.

Consider the life of a freethinker in the middle ages -- a life that often ended at a pyre. Despite their indoctrination, their upbringing, the pressure of the community around them, and, of course, the threat of their comfort, livelihood and death itself were not enough to dissuade them from their explorations. Eventually, enough of them over enough time with enough courage were able to shake loose the stranglehold of the western church in legal matters -- but even today, it haunts us through cultural values, and the symbols embedded in our minds through our own indoctrination. Our base notions of right and wrong, how we understand our relationships to other people, are filtered through the aggregate experience of our culture generally, and then through our individual personalities and experiences. A bit of your worldview is inherited from the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Aboriginals, English, German... Chinese... and the Judeo-Christian milieu that dominated the civilizations that would come to dominate the world's thought and means for the last thousand years or so.

So, we come around to the point: Christian, Judaic and Roman ideas, symbols and values inoculate our culture, and our minds as individuals. Every time you catch yourself saying "God," -- "Godd____t," "God only knows," "Jesus that was amazing!" Think of yourself like a wounded soldier who still has bullets in their body -- little pieces of "God" that were never properly removed. What of your ideas still maintain a heavily Christian DNA -- If the world isn't going to end because of Armageddon, then it must end in a climate conflagration? Or is that just the need of the Christian in you for an end of the world scenario that serves as a great excuse for not claiming your power in this world? Do you find yourself looking for another religion to fill the cavities Christianity left? Did you jump to the other side and declare yourself a cynic with a strictly scientific worldview because anything intangible or irrational had to be flushed out along with God (... the baby with the bath-water?)

Don't let Christianity steal the joy of mystery, the profound embrace of the unknown, or your sovereignty as a free individual with a duty to this world and the other people in it in because of the painful stretching of the surgical scars left from your God-ectomy.

17 comments:

god said...

oh god.. i'm so glad i wasn't raised w/ any religions or superstitions. thank god =)

eel_shepherd said...

One of the delicious ironies of what separates theists from freethinkers is that the theists say that their opponents don't believe in anything they can't see and touch. Not so.

Most freethinkers are aware of, and comfortable with the knowledge that most of the wave spectrum is not visible light/colour, and that there may be dark matter out there whose nature we just can't get a handle on yet.

It's the Xtians who consign everything that they can't see to their god. Can't see it? Can't touch it? It's not there; or if it is there, it's god's problem.

Anonymous said...

Since there is no God what does it matter what one believes. A belief in God will certainly not bring him into being so what difference does it make whether one believes or not?

.:webmaster:. said...

Anony-bot,

Suppose someone believes that going to college and getting a good education is a waste of time because Jesus is returning any day now. Suppose someone believes that science is a waste of time and all anyone ever needs is a Bible. Suppose someone ignores modern medicine, believing that prayer will work all the miracles necessary in life. Suppose someone believes that homosexuality is a gross sin against their god and campaigns to limit or eliminate the ability of loving, life-long homosexuals from enjoying the legal privilege of domestic partnership.

Obviously, beliefs in imaginary, invisible entities have consequences.

Anonymous said...

But if there is no God/god then the implication is that we are just a bunch of chemicals and our thought and feeling simply electrical impulses generated by those chemicals. So what if someone dies of a preventable illness because they chose to believe in an imaginary God/god? Or what if someone doesn't get an education because his beleif in God prevents him. What if science did not advance because we were all held back by religion? Why are those things important anyway? We are just a bunch of highly specialized cells and nothing more. If there is no God/god then it doesn't matter either way.

.:webmaster:. said...

Anony-bot,

First of all, why don't you use the "other button" and type in a pseudonym so we can address each other better?

Secondly, if you actually think your life has no value without your imaginary world of gods, demons, heaven and hell, well then please fantasize all you like. However, your assumption that other people don't find value in their lives and have no desire to make things better is asinine. Life is inherently meaningful to me, regardless of whether or not there is some magical ghost flying around above the nonexistent firmament.

Medicine, scientific advancement, better ways of growing food, caring for the environment, etc., etc., etc., are imporantant because these things contribute to a better quality of life for people. DUH!

gotquestions said...

I am not representing any specific point of view and cannot know what life means to you. I'm sure it means a lot. However I think there are questions that inevitably arise when one considers the question of whether or not God or some other supreme being exists. Just as the existence of God poses some unaswerable questions a world without a universal "principle" (for want of a better word) to which most people ascribe seams kind of dangerous to me.

.:webmaster:. said...

What seems dangerous about it?

Right now we have a large portion of the world convinced that their god is THE GOD, and that all of life without HIM is valueless. In fact, these believers are so convinced that serving THEIR GOD is the ultimate purpose in life, they are willing to go to insane lengths to promote HIS veneration. I'm, of course, referring to Islamics.

However, for over 1,000 years, Christianity was spread at the point of a sword. Many people died who dared to resist the promptings of the ONE TRUE GOD.

It seems to me, based on the long history of the world, that belief in a god can be quite dangerous.

Frankly, life on planet Earth is quite dangerous, with or without a god belief. That's just the way it is. And if there is a LIVING PRINCIPLE, or whatever one might call it, somewhere out there, then it doesn't seem overly concerned with the vast amount of suffering going on. In fact, if there is such an entity out there, it's possible that it doesn't even know we exist.

boomSLANG said...

Fundonymous: But if there is no God/god then the implication is that we are just a bunch of chemicals and our thought and feeling simply electrical impulses generated by those chemicals.

And who is making such an implication? You are, that's who. And BTW, by your own standards, all house-hold pets are a bunch of meaningless "chemicals". So....doggie defecates on carpet. Well?......bash it's head in with a baseball bat, right?? After all, it's just a bunch of "chemicals". I mean, doggie certainly isn't going to live forever in doggie heaven, because doggie wasn't "created in God's image". So, no reason to regard doggie's life whatsoever, by your reasoning.

Run, Toto, run!...run from the Supremacist fundies!

Fundonymous aka "Gotquestions", said: Just as the existence of God poses some unaswerable questions a world without a universal "principle" (for want of a better word) to which most people ascribe seams kind of dangerous to me.

News flash: People are slaughtering each other over who has the "One True" universal "principle" as we type.

Luke Skywalker said...

Its funny back in my christian "Hey Day" as a christian teenager I used to look down on those who were into Star Wars and Science Fiction! At the same time I was into my own brand of Science Fiction called Christianity. People always say what a genius George Lucas was! I think if you want to be a great science fiction writer like George then take the biblical story as your foundation and use a little imagination and before you know it you too will have your own Darth Vader, the dark side, and what not and then you too could make millions off of fiction just Christians have done for years. Look at Pat Fraudertson the guy is worth billions by some estimates and yet he is still on TV asking for more! How much does he need? How many private jets does this guy need? Why doesn't he just give his money away like the bible commands us to?

JeffXL said...

Jeremiah:

Wrong again. I was in an car accident that cracked two ribs and totaled my vehicle. Not ONCE did I think of an imaginary being-- not even the three gods of Christianity-- when I landed in the ER.

As is always the case, the Christian employs dishonesty in his discourse.

I don't seek solace in science and reason, they are the only tools we have to understand the universe. I seek solace or other emotional support from people who actually exist. They come to my aid. Braying out a prayer to something that's not there will never, ever help anyone.

gotquestions said...

This is what I mean by dangerous: An obvious question that has never been satisfactorily answered by those who believe is "if there is a God why does he allow evil?" But another obvious question if one considers the alternative is "if there is no God what is evil?" Most human suffering is caused by other humans and the perpetrators always have a justification. In other words one man's good is another man's evil. So who gets to say what is good or not. Which brings me back to my original question. Why does it matter? If one person values all life and goes to lengths to honor it and another values only his own and traets all else with disdain, who is to say one or the other is right or wrong? Does it even matter?

.:webmaster:. said...

Gotquestions, this conversation is stupid.

You want to know if anything matters.

The answer is yes.

You asked, (with disingenuous intention, I'm sure, because if you really had these questions you'd be studying up on it rather than having chit-chat,) "If one person values all life and goes to lengths to honor it and another values only his own and traets all else with disdain, who is to say one or the other is right or wrong?"

I'll tell you what, if I treat you like you're a worthless piece of meat, take your possessions, and then physically abuse you, you'll know the answer to your question.

Likewise if you treat me that way, you'll also get your answer.

The answer is: WE (We, meaning society in general and our evolved desires to live, reproduce and survive) DECIDE WHAT IS RIGHT AND WRONG!

Yes, that's right... human beings create the societal rules. That's why there have been so many different kinds of societies with such a diverse range of what is considered moral and what is considered immoral within the fabric of all those divergent societies. There is no ONE SET STANDARD.

As long as human beings exist, we will be debating the morality of things, because we all see things a bit differently, and all of us justify our perspective and viewpoints in our own ways.

Scary? It can be. Some societies in history both ancient and modern have totally sucked. The authoritarian forced theocratic and and/or atheistic societies have totally sucked.

Our newest experiment in societal cooperation is democratic rule of law. You do realize that this form of society that we take for granted is BRAND NEW in the history of the world, don't you. The idea that common people could live together in any sort of cooperation and harmony without gods and nobles to keep us all from killing each other is a long held view, but fortunately you and don't live in such ignorant times where people require gods and nobles to tell them what to do.

Or do we?

For those watching, notice how the conversation is jumping from "Life doesn't matter without a god" into "How can we tell right from wrong?" This is why I call this poster disingenuous. The poster is not interested in educating him or herself, the poster is interested in practicing pop-amateur apologetics and perhaps win a convert.

boomSLANG said...

Not to mention, Gotquestion's premise crumbles to dust when we clearly see that those who already do believe in God(s), can't agree on what their Deity "says" is "right" and "wrong".

Let's pretend Jebus actually existed, and he appeared in the flesh to every human being alive---just like he supposedly did to the 500 or so people in the bible. Let's say every single eyewitness converted to a God-believing/God-fearing "Christian".

...::*snap*::...

EVERYBODY BELIEVES IN GOD!!! Amen!!!!

Okay....SO????. You've STILL got over 33 THOUSAND denominations/sects of theists who don't fully agree on what is "right", and what is "wrong". You've STILL got conflicting views on: abortion, gay rights, capital punishment, what's taught in the biology class, stem cell research, war, living wills, prayer in school, what to do with our dead...... ADD nauseum.

And yes....the "Christian" cannibals are still going to want to chow down on people "drumsticks"; the "Christian" pygmies are still going to want to mutilate their children's genitalia; the "Christians" in Utah are still going be kissin' cousins.

It's called "cultural relativity".

tigg13 said...

Gotquestions, what purpose is there to life if there is a biblical god?

If we are all just a bunch of rotten, undeserving sinners that should be cast into a lake of fire, then why not molest a few twelve-year-olds, or bilk a few thousand bucks out of some naive out lady? Its not like anybody has a right to be treated with honor or respect (as far as biblegod's concerned, anyway)

Yeah, I know, the bible says love thy neighbor and do unto others, but it also says kill gay people and disobediant children. In fact, the bible tells you to do a lot of things that god really doesn't expect you to do. Because you are a sinner too, remember.

All sins are equal to god. So it doesn't matter whether you are raping preteens or failing to stone your neighbor to death for working on a Sunday, you're just as guilty.

Luckily all you have to do is confess your sins and repent and god will simply wipe away all of your raping and murdering and lying and cheating and stealing.

Unless of coarse god has already predetermined that you will go to hell, in which case you might as well go ahead and start raping and stealing because you're going to wind up getting punished for it anyway.

So what's the point? What good are virtues and ethics if the only meaningful question in the whole universe is "Do you believe?"

gotquestions said...

Webmaster, what's with the psychoanalysis? Does a person have to be a "believer" in a specific point of view to post a question here? I'm sure your answer to a question if it is sincere should not be dependent on who is asking it. Remember I have not represented any specific point of view. Nor have I said I do not have an opinion about anything. Since your post, representing your opinion, is in a public place I assume you expect others to consider that opinion and maybe ask questions. So this is not about what I think but about what you think. When I ask is there a meaning or a point to life that's just what I'm asking. I'm not making a statement. You think there is and that's your opinion I accept it and I ask another question. You think I'm stupid or the questions are stupid. I accept that but is there an answer to the question in your opinion? If yes may I hear it, if no that's also fine.

Of course I could read a book but that would be a one sided conversation and the writer has no way of anticipating my questions and responding to them as and when I ask them. Besides is this not where the rubber meets the road? In the life of someone who is living what they believe and is this not where the daily questions about life get asked and answered?

If you would like for me to stop asking you any more questions that's fine too but I hope not.

.:webmaster:. said...

Gotquestions:

You said: "So this is not about what I think but about what you think."

It is difficult if not impossible to exchange succinct comments with someone who posts probing questions on this blog and who then avoids stating a personal position on the questions. Knowing where someone is coming from facilitates conversation, especially in a forum where short comments are the norm. I would dare say that anyone who has the ability to exchange public discourse on a website already possesses a some position or other on the topics being broached.

"What I think" is clearly stated literally hundreds of times in hundreds (thousands?) of articles and comments on this site. I've not veiled a single thing bouncing around in my head. You, however, are unknown and seem intent on remaining veiled. Typically, people who use that kind of approach on this site eventually reveal themselves as proselytizing Christians. Discussion is fine. Genuine questioning is fine. Attempting to find creative inroads for evangelism is, frankly, not appreciated.

Now, if you want to deny you are a Christian, or better yet, simply positively state your current position on these topics along with your real intent (i.e., what are you really trying to get at) with your line of questioning, perhaps a fruitful conversation can ensue. If for some reason such an open and honest approach is not possible to you, then I bid you adieu.