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Religion

To understand my philosophic outlook on life, you must understand the six stages of my religious beliefs:

Stage 1: Growing Up An Evangelical Protestant

My mother was a very devout Southern Baptist Christian, and she raised me in her religion just has her parents had raised her and their parents before them. She was very active in the church, and from a very young age, I regularly attended Sunday school and the following church service. As I grew to be an adolescent, I participated in weekly evening Bible Studies and always went to our church's summer camp in the Cascade Mountains where my mother was an excellent cook.

My mother was a fundamentalist evangelical born-again Christian, and so naturally I was one too. It was inconceivable that I could be anything else. Like her, I firmly believed in God, Jesus Christ his son, all of his teachings, and the power of prayer. I read the Bible from cover to cover several times and uncritically believed that every word was inspired by God and therefore literally true. My mother and I listened constantly to traditional Christian music and watched Evangelical preachers on TV like Billy Graham. I had terrible allergies as a child and I clearly remember being told to put my hand on the TV so that God would cure me. It didn't work, but surely that was because I was somehow not worthy. I was also constantly taught that "God works in mysterious ways" and that it was a terrible sin to question God.

My mother raised me to be as much like Christ as I could be. I was taught to be a pacifist and to literally turn the other cheek, which caused no end of problems in middle and high school when it came to dealing with bullies. Although I learned that a true Christian was a natural victim, I also learned to put up with much injustice in this world in the firm belief that I would be rewarded in the next. I prayed daily and my eyes were firmly on more on my next life than my current one.

Everyone I knew was a Protestant Christian, and it was not until my mother remarried into a Catholic family that I remember ever knowing anyone having another faith than mine. I never even met a Jew, and anything more exotic such as a Buddhist or Muslim.

State 2: My Epiphany and Journey of Discovery

Although my mother only had a third grade education, she had always wanted to be a school teacher and made me her one and only student. Thus, I became the first intellectual in my family tree, an avid student and reader, and that included science, science fiction, fantasy, history, and geography. In this way, I learned that there were other religions, although I tended to think of these as modern myths, something like the beliefs of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse: primitive almost laughable beliefs but nothing like Christianity: the one and only true religion. But then one day when I was a junior or senior in high school, like Saul the Roman tax collector on the Road to Damascus, I had an Epiphany. I realized that the real reason that I was a Christian (let alone an evangelical protestant fundamentalist) was nothing more than an accident of birth: of where and when and to whom I had been born. Had I been born under different circumstances, I could have be a Catholic, Jew, Muslim, or a believer in any of dozens of less common or even dead religions had I been born hundreds or thousands of years ago. And I would have been no less devout or believed any less fervently in my god or gods. And this realization shook me to the core.

An accident of birth was NOT a sufficient reason to believe in something so fundamental and consequential as one's religion. What if my mother and I was were wrong? What if all of the people I knew were wrong? All religions are incompatible with each other, some much more than others. Even such sister religions as Christianity and Judaism had major incompatibilities, and the doctrines of different Christian faiths stand in stark contrast with each other If one religion is true, then the others necessarily have to be false. If another religion was true, then all of my work and beliefs and studies could have been wasted and my prayers could have fallen on deaf ears, or worse, no ears at all. Once I realized this, the admonishments to just believe and not to question had lost their power over me. Like Thomas, I had doubts and these doubts had to be dealt with.

With this epiphany came another realization. I was ignorant, a feeling that I found to be very unpleasant. I knew next to nothing about any religion except for the some of the basic ancient myths I had learned in school. I realized that there was only one way to combat ignorance and that was through learning. I had to study the other religions if I was to prove to myself that Christianity was true and that the others were false. I started by making a list of the World's religions, both past and present. That in itself was an eye opener. I had no idea that there were so many religions and that that have or had so many followers. Then for each religion, I identified its holy books, and I began my true religious education, one far more deep and complete than the one I had received in Sunday school and Bible study.

I started off with the ancient religions. I reread Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology with a new eye, as religions once firmly believed rather than as myths little more than childrens' fables. I learned ...

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