How weird…: just after I published the last post I stumbled over a post I had written a while ago but not published. It had the heading “authentic, passionate or schizophrenic?”. It said the following:
Is it possible to live with the following two attitudes at the same time?
- I am honest about not believing the bible to deliver a true description of God’s existence and nature. I admire the authenticity of atheists and agnostics.
- When looking at images from space and thinking about us little earthlings…..when comparing Blaise Pascal on his deathbed to Richard Dawkins on his deathbed………when thinking about how many of my religious friends are in line with what I intuitively sense life to be all about while many many non-religious friend seem to miss something deep, adventurous, true…….when thinking about the fact that I have only one life to live and not much to loose…… I aim at living with God as my counterpart.
The question is: Can I live it? And is it upright to live it?
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First: Sorry for not showing up on my own blog! I messed it up.
I realized how difficult it is to write and respond regularly on the blog; and so I decided this week (against my initial goals) that instead of constantly having a bad conscience about not writing regularly, I’ll just change my goal: I’ll write when I feel like it and I won’t write when I don’t feel like it (the latter is more likely once I don’t work as much overtime as I do at the moment…)
Recently, somebody opened my eyes regarding my troubles with faith. He observed that the things I say about my faith are anything but unified.
On the one hand, I am extremely critical of Christianity and I feel unable to believe the story. On the other hand, I feel so much drawn to it and I like going to church and when there’s christianity-bashing going on on TV I am outraged and I can talk about theological ideas not only from a detached perspective but as a spiritual insider and when I am in church I feel like I’m in the right place, in “my father’s house” so to speak, and I place much importance on attending church regularly.
Realizing that I’m kind of schizophrenic was almost an epiphany to me.
I always wondered why I have so much trouble giving up faith even though I obviously don’t buy into many of faith’s doctrines. I always thought that I have so much trouble giving it up because walking away from faith would cost me too much (less emotional comfort, broken relationships, …). But now, I realized that my hesitance to give up faith is not only weakness, it’s not just that I stick to something cozy even though I know it’s wrong. No. It’s rather that different aspects of my personality are in conflict as to whether sticking to Christianity is the right thing for me.
The friend who opened my eyes suggested that I aim at unification: If the different voices in me are in tension, I ought to aim at integrating them, bringing them in line, becoming a “whole” person.
Even though I am very fond of this advice, I am only convinced of it to 90%. There’s a 10% doubt in me that asks: Isn’t it a sign of strength and honesty that I am able to endure these multiple voices in me? So many people simply hammer and squeeze the confusing variety of their experience into a neat picture rather than accepting the difficult fact that being open for reality leads us to a perplexing cacophony of impressions and a dazzling variety of evidence pointing into all kinds of directions.
But, all in all, I am very fond of the advice. In particular, bringing the different pulls within me in touch with each other will help me decide where I want to go.
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It must have been about two weeks ago. I felt really tired of carrying the responsibility of bringing myself back to faith.
“God”, I suggested, “how about a division of labor. You take the responsibility of bringing me back to faith. I take the responsibility of being honest and to stop trying to believe it if I can’t believe.”
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A wise person recently told me (with respect to my faith problems) that some things die when you dissect them. Obviously true. Animals, for example, die when you dissect them. And I am very open to the idea that faith might die, too, when you intellectually dissect it.
Or in another metaphor: In quantum physics (if I remember correctly) there is very roughly the problem that the properties of some things are unobservable because observation changes these properties. Observing God might be in a similar way impossible, because our way of approaching him as spectators might make him invisible.
The difficult thing is: What am I to make of these wise insights even if I were to agree with them?
I compulsively try to observe God, I obsessively dissect the arguments for and against him. How should I not? I worry about being able to believe day and night – how should I not direct my intellectual attention to that issue continuously and dissect it intellectually? In what different way (i.e. different from intellectually dissecting) could I aim at returning to belief? And how could I possibly refrain from focussing compulsively on the God issue?
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Just read an autobiographical piece by A N Wilson on why he de-de-converted. I liked the tone of his narrative. Not all his reasons for coming back to faith convinced me. But one thing that I found very noteworthy is this extract:
When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love. It is not that (as they believe) they have rumbled the tremendous fraud of religion – prophets do that in every generation. Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on something that is not difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is too obvious to understand; obvious, as lovers feel it was obvious that they should have come together, or obvious as the final resolution of a fugue.
What I learned from this quote is the following. The way to see the problems with atheism does possibly not lie in showing where atheist arguments go wrong. If atheism can be refuted at all, it might rather have to do with showing how the atheist is missing something obvious. He misses the obvious because he doesn’t take up a certain perspective — a perspective from which the reality of God would suddenly seem very plausible. Missing out on this perspective: this might be the problem of atheism. Like someone who doesn’t believe in music because he never opened his ears.
BTW, won’t be able to engage in discussions in the next two weeks. I’m on vacation — offline vacation to be precise.
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Here’s some more incoherent emotions of mine:
- Sometimes I interpret my faith of the last years as being based on an infinite longing. I interpret my faith of the last years in the following way: I didn’t have much reason to believe that God exists – but neither did I have much reason to believe anything else. And since I knew I had this incredible longing for “the light”, for wholeness, for “salvation” and happiness, I took an adventurous, crazy step and threw myself into Christianity. Not because I was so certain of its truth but because I found it so infinitely meaningful and attractive that even if there was only some little chance of it being true, it was worth it to make the bet (a very Pascalian line of reasoning).
Now….. when some of the Christians I know enjoy their easy certainties, I do not feel understood. They just lean back because they have their belief that Christianity IS true to relax upon. They can lean back because they’ve sorted it out and can base their faith on a comforting and certain knowledge of the truth about God. If they are of that kind, they do not understand just what kind of big struggle it is for me to believe. They do not understand just how adventurous, heroic or crazy it is of me, to venture faith. They have never felt the despair upon which my faith rests.
- Actually, many of the feelings I’ve listed so far apply symmetrically to being a non-christian. I consider many secular people so ridiculous in how convinced they are of their position. I look down upon so many secular folks – they take it for granted that they’re right and they don’t see all the problems there are with their worldview. I am even angry at them because of their despising attitudes towards my faith. If I more explicitly left the faith than I do now, they could think “Finally, this poor indoctrinated soul has come to his senses, too, and has accepted the obvious. He managed to deceive himself for so long in order to have a clear identity and live in a fundamentalist fantasy world. Must have been difficult for him to leave that.” They don’t realize that even now, I actually still think there are so many things that are intellectually much more better captured by a religious worldview than by a non-religious worldview.
- I might be terribly embarrassed: For so long, I’ve defended Christianity infront of others. And now, I myself must acknowledge that there are so many difficult sides to it. Indeed, I think embarassment in many ways is an important topic about my current “faith crisis”.
- I might be angry: For so long people have handed this faith over to me and have passed it off as something trustworthy. Shouldn’t they have been more careful in what they’re giving me? Didn’t they know within that it might just be a beautiful myth? (It’s actually interesting to see how many people in their deconversion stories talk about the disappointment they experienced as children when they realize that their parents have known that Santa is unreal all along)
- I am so angry at this universe. Why must it be shrouded as a riddle? Why is this urge in us to go beyond eating and sleeping to find some deeper meaning — but at the same time there is no answer to our questions in which we can find peace?
- I am embarassed (again, this seems to be a forceful emotion) of not being more courageous. Often, I just feel like I stick with faith because I’m too timid to break off. I am not courageous enough to disapoint people and live a life without comfort. This lack of courageousness is embarassing.
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Miscellaneous emotions that come up when thinking about reconciling myself with faith:
- At the moment, I sometimes feel like just spitting out all the anger I have at the complacency many Christians have about basing their faith on implausible arguments. At the moment, I sometimes feel like looking down at the naïvité of some Christians. (How ugly of me!!!)
But still, I don’t do these like spitting out anger or ridiculing others. Why? Because I feel that if I should ever manage to find back to faith, it would then be very embarassing and humbling for me to admit that I — who once looked down at faith — now has to sumbit to it myself.
- It would also need humbleness to come back to faith if I had to deal with people who feel that they’ve been right all along. People who are so convinced of themselves and their possession of the truth. Those people could feel superior and think within themselves “Now, he finally realizes what we’ve known all along”.
If I would join faith again not because I consider it coherent but because (in this mysterious universe) I consider everything else even less coherent, then it would take a lot of humbleness to identify myself with with folks from the flock who take their certainties for granted while I, in contrast, would come as a desperate, confused, intellectually empty-handed man.
- It would also need humbleness to return to faith because I would have to mould into the stream, to join the flock, to do what my friends do when there is so much in me that rebels against the thought of not having found something by myself, of not doing my own special thing, of identifying with people whom I cannot identify with. I particularly don’t like the idea of following in the footsteps of my parents. (Crazy that I should still have this feeling about dissociating from my parents after 30… I wonder what it is… interestingly, I don’t have this pull to do something else than my parents in other areas than religion… strange…).
- I’m afraid that if I’d be lucky enough to find back to faith people would say “I thought all the time that you’ll come back in the end” or “I never lost my trust in God bringing you back”.
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