The Atheist and the Ye (Me) of Evolving (and/or Wavering) Faith: Two New Approaches to Religion

posted Jun 9, 2013, 10:05 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Jun 9, 2013, 10:08 PM ]

Jimmi Campkin, posted a piece on Howwwl called “Why I Am An Atheist…Actually Why AM I An Atheist?” that I found very well-written and well-balanced. It reminded me of a piece I wrote about my own evolving belief in God.

With his permission, I am posting it here:

Why I Am An Atheist…Actually, Why AM I An Atheist?

I don't actually know why I am an Atheist. Well, I know why obviously, but I can't remember what specific event caused me to fall into my views. Some people can pinpoint the moment they broke (or joined) with religion, but for me I suppose it was more a gradual erosion.

I talk as though I was once religious and lost the faith. Actually, although I would've called myself a Christian, I wasn't a very good one. Unlike my Christian friends, I didn't love God... I was absolutely terrified of him. From the age of nine to the age of twelve, I spent most of my time thinking about Hell and every little transgression - nothing particularly untoward in a pre-teen child (because I was a good boy) - caused me no end of anguish. The first time I masturbated, I remember thinking afterward, "Well that's it... you've definitely blown it now… one way ticket to Hell and damnation."

As I got older, the fear faded. My religious beliefs became more amorphous and secular, like a religious pick-and-mix. For a while, I believed that if you did good in the world and died you went to a 'heaven', but if you committed evil you were reincarnated like a video game continue where you had another go at life to see if you could get it right this time.

I still had a fascination with Jesus, and I deliberately kept a postcard of him on my wall and would 'ask' him for advice. I even went to the trouble of making sure none of my new rock 'n' roll posters were higher than he was. But eventually he came down as well, tossed into a shoebox. I suppose it is at that point, aged around sixteen or seventeen, that my Atheism begins.

I've never really found the label particularly helpful and I am not keen to embrace it. For one thing, I think most Atheists would agree that it's misleading to group people together into a part of society who Do Not Believe In God as though they've made a conscious choice. A much larger pool of society Do Not Believe That They Can Fly, but that's not a belief, that's just knowledge - all the evidence points to a fact. If one ascends to a multi-story car park and then jumps whilst flapping their arms, the outcome is going to be disastrous.

It is Atheists’ precise lack of belief and their penchant for hard, nailed fact that makes them want to stand out. They want to say, “We are the normal ones... you've got the funny ideas.” The burden of proof, they argue, should lie with those stating the 'fact' whilst flying in the face of geological, astrological and evolutionary evidence.

This is part of another reason why I shy away from the Atheist tag. To be Atheist is apparently to be lacking in creativity and narrow-minded, according to many that I have spoken to in the past. In fact, one person whom I went to University with was surprised to hear that I was a writer. Ignoring the misuse of 'narrow-minded' (which is someone who deliberately ignores fact to pursue their own opinion), there is something of the Charles Babbage about Atheism sometimes - correcting a piece of poetry because the metaphor wasn't scientifically precise.

It's important to mention Science here because it is the popular argument that Science Doesn't Know Everything. It doesn't. It knows its limitations and it is willing to change when the evidence throws up something new. If Science was a religion, it would've allowed women to be bishops, gays to be wed and condoms to be distributed to the parts of HIV-affected Africa years ago.

Unlike some militant Atheists, and that's another tag they despise, I have time for faith in the world. I don't want to obliterate all religions. A world without religious belief would be a far less colourful and vibrant place. Religion is often hoisted high into the branches of a tree and beaten with sticks, and there are certain things that perhaps it is answerable to, but too often the real evil lies behind a person, or people, or an aspect of a particular culture or society which somehow gets absorbed as a 'religious' matter when there is no mention of it anywhere in the holy texts.

Religion too often has been and continues to be used to control -- from the subjugation of women to racial discrimination. I completely respect anyone who is religious. I think it is a fantastic thing to be able to channel this sort of faith. But I cannot help being pro-choice on a variety of matters and I shy away from anyone who decides that their faith should dictate how someone else lives or how they should use their body. I am pro-choice when it comes to contraception, abortion, marriage. If you want to do it ok, if you don't fine, but do not impose yourself on anyone else's liberties.

I get an inkling of what it is to feel that 'faith' and 'love', but it is by proxy rather than directly through me. I adore churches and cathedrals as buildings and I think they are monuments to sheer faith. When I go into a cathedral and I look up, I don't see God; I see impossibly high columns and carvings, made with the most rudimentary of tools and placed in situ by brave people with basic technology and no safety harnesses to catch them if they fall. To climb so high to place a piece of limestone at the top of an arch without all the modern fail-safes we have today must've taken more than courage. It took faith, a belief that what they were doing was good and that, when finished, this building would be a pilgrimage site for their fellow believers.

I do believe in an afterlife, but it is perhaps a bit more macabre than ascending up to heaven or being presented before God's love. Life after death for me isn't celestial, it's biological - worms, bacteria and the very things that caused life to exist in the first place.

We are all products of the very things that we wipe away with our bottles of Mr. Muscle. I still find that a positive thing. Life goes on, even in the most extraordinary circumstances. Just as a fallen tree becomes a haven for a million different things, so the body in the ground does the same.

Actually, I am cheating a bit. When I die, I wish to be cremated, although I suppose the ash at least will make the ground fertile. I want no religious texts at all during my service, just songs that reflected my personality (if anyone wants to write a song called 'What A W****r', you'd be doing me a really big favour). Then I want to be scattered in a particular place that I have always loved so that I'll always be there.

Obviously, I won't be 'there' at all, but it makes no difference to me. I suppose that is a faith in a way, a faith in connection with a piece of geography, a landscape carved from glaciers in the dim and distant past -- a connection with something that isn't really there, except in my own mind.

In answer to the original question...I don't know why I'm an Atheist. I just…am.

And with my own permission, I am posting my similarly-themed piece (also for Howwwl): 

Do You Believe in God? A Loaded Answer to a Loaded Question

The short answer is yes, I believe in God. The long answer is that my belief in him has changed over the last several months.

Growing up, God was a far more foreboding entity. He was all-knowing, all-powerful, vengeful and omnipresent. He could bless your life or he could curse it. The blessings came from being a good person. The curses came from being a bad one.

But I quickly discovered that there were a lot of bad people doing well and a lot of good people going through a lot of shit. Of course, "God's plan" and "God's mysterious ways" allowed the faithful to continue being faithful -- probably because there was no other choice. I myself continued to do this throughout college and into my early adulthood in Los Angeles.

It wasn't until I stopped going to church altogether in 2004 that my concept of him began to change. I had long since known that God and church were mutually exclusive. You could believe in God and not go to church. You could also go to church and be as Godless as Satan himself. I realized that I didn't need church to have God.

So I spent what used to be church time on Sunday mornings biking from my apartment in the Westwood section of Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. Lo and behold, even there I managed to find God. I didn't need him in a building. I no longer needed anyone telling me how to have a relationship with him. My mindset was changing. As a result, my concept of God changed and my relationship with God changed.

I still prayed to him, but in my own way. I put into practice the notion that my prayers to God could be in the form of conversations. Being an actor at heart, I called them monologues. Sometimes they took place while riding my bicycle. A lot of times they took place in the shower. Or on the toilet.

Those monologues helped me work out a lot of shit in recent years (no pun intended) -- a disastrous move to NY in early 2006, a depressed return to LA in late 2006, the Great Sadness of 2009 while living in Massachusetts which led to a second return to LA that August and then the Collective Failure of 2012.

It's the latter that brings me to the second significant shift in my belief in God.

I've been unemployed since July of 2011. A lot of this can admittedly be explained by my own stubbornness. I felt that writing was my life's calling and I had been doing it on the side for far too long, so the layoff was an opportune time to answer that call. I was hellbent on establishing a writing career and refused to look for a survival job. Instead, I expanded the scope of my blog. I built a website for myself. I wrote about people's projects. I profiled actors' about their career goals. I did Q&A's with authors about books of theirs that I loved. I concluded a two-year-long short fiction story series. And I self-published a book.

I thought that surely my efforts would be richly rewarded and that, despite the naysayers, God would help me turn this into a sustainable living. After all, faith without works is dead. I believed and trusted in God that he would guide my words and direct them to the right people who saw what I saw in what I was doing. Last year, I renewed the lease to my apartment on faith that the money would be there come the first of every month.

For eleven months, it was. Then I had to give up my apartment because I still had no job and had exhausted all my reserves. I was selling DVDs to Amoeba records in Hollywood to survive. I sold, gave away or donated my beloved furniture, CDs, DVDs and books that have traveled with me over the course of several moves. While it was nice to purge, it hurt my soul to have to do it.

None of this was a surprise to me. I knew this was all a possibility. I also knew that God would see me through. I knew this. I exercised more faith in him during this time than I ever had in my life. I exercised more faith in him during this time than most people who go to church weekly and espouse how much they trust in God ever actually do.

But the funny thing about faith is that at a certain point, even the most unwavering begins to waver. And while some people seek ways to renew it, I recently had to draw the line. There are some things that even God himself shouldn't get away with -- devastating earthquakes, destructive hurricanes, tsunamis, senseless murders, rapes, homeless senior citizens, homeless veterans, homeless young people, CEOs collective massive paychecks for driving companies into the ground on account of their incompetence while those who worked so hard for them can barely make ends meet each month.

These are things for which I call God to task. And he should be ashamed of himself for allowing this shit to take place. But no, he's God. He has mysterious ways. He knows all. He sees all. He cares. Or so he says. Or so we're told. I just have a hard time believing such rhetoric these days.

So do I believe in God? Yes. I still do. I just no longer take him for the all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent force that I once did. Because if he is and does nothing to mitigate any of the above, then he's a asshole. If things could be worse had it not been for him, then he's weakening against the forces of the enemy. Therefore, he's just another spiritual entity. But he's no one I want to turn to in times of trouble, uncertainty or pain.

Or, if the book of Job in the Bible is any indication, we're all suffering from one big pissing contest between God and the Devil. And that's really not acceptable for someone who wants to be called God.