I start university today. I have been down this road a fair few times, dabbling with various courses, in an attempt to find “the one” that will help me define myself. I have finally embraced being me and am now studying something that may not have any relevance in employability, but it has relevance to my curiosity.
I am studying a Bachelor of Arts and I am taking two units – a philosophy unit on World Religions and an anthropology unit on Culture and Communication.
I am not a person of faith. I used to be. I was sent to an Anglican school when I was 12 and when I was 14, we had a week of missionary work where my friends and I all became enraptured with the love of God. But by the time I was 15, God and his autocratic, conflicting ways had lost its allure.
At the same time, my boyfriend at the time had a mom that had once been a stout Catholic and had since converted, largely, to buddhism and new ageism. I liked the idea of Karma and being responsible for our own actions. I liked that what we put out into the world, we reaped in further lifetimes. We were accountable for our own soul journeys and that appealed to me a lot.
I remained in this spiritual new age kind of faith until I became sober 4 and a half years ago. Attending AA I was asked to hand my life over to the will of God as I understood him. I found myself questioning how I actually understood God. How was I meant to hand all the ills of my life over to the care of someone whom I couldn’t define. I had experienced no spiritual epiphany. No-one had spoken to me, no-one had presented themselves to me. In fact, I had no evidence of any god, ever.
I had to have faith, I was told. I had to just believe. But, I suddenly found, I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t believe in something that for me was completely inexplicable, and, when I analysed it, caused so much pain in the world.
Shortly after I became sober, my mother became a born again Christian influenced by my brother who had become one a number of years before. My sister had also converted the year before and so it was, when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and I flew to England, I found myself surrounded by a house full of very enthusiastic born again Christians. In the two months it would take for my mother to die, I felt very much like an outsider in my own family. And it was awful.
I tried. I went to church, much to my mother’s delight. I sat at the back and watched as people raised their hands and sang songs to a God that I simply didn’t believe existed. I was especially turned off by the amount of people who would fall to the floor, flopping around like a dying fish, speaking a language that only they and God, apparently, could understand. The church my parents’ attended was a young church, filled to the brim with 18 year olds rushing to get married because “God wanted it that way”. In truth, I believe they got married because they lusted after each other, and their faith prohibited premarital sex. But that’s just me.
It may seem strange, then, that I am studying World Religions. The truth is, I am miserable without a faith. I am not a true atheist. I am a humanist, and I may be a flaky agnostic. But I do not believe in a deity, at all and I am in the minority. Whilst atheism is increasing, an overwhelming 90% of the world believes in something. And I want to know why. And I want to know why we are driven to believe in something bigger than ourselves. Is it because we are sentient beings that are aware of our own mortality and this scares the crap out of us, so our brains concoct some way for us to live on in the after life which makes dying a little less scary? Or is it that religion and faith creates a community, a sense of belonging that we long for? In my mother’s case, it was certainly the community that drew her in.
My mother believed in God, but she was skeptical of man’s spin on him and the often conflicting doctrines contained within the scriptures. She was especially skeptical of the amount of writhing on the floor that went on. She would point out to me the ones that did it weekly, almost as if they were serial writhers, and she would roll her eyes. I asked her once why she joined the church. “Because they make me feel like I belong,” she had said. I could understand that. I felt very alone surrounded by these people that all seemed to love one another.
Despite her skepticism though, my mother herself had had an “experience”. One of the pastors placed his hand on her during a bible study session and the next thing she knew she was surrounded by people as she lay on the floor. Since she was diagnosed with lung cancer not three weeks later, it is my belief that she fainted due to this illness, but she, my father and the people in the room were unwavering in their belief that God had touched her that day. Everyone would tell me how lucky my mom was that she had been called to the Christian fold just before she was diagnosed with lung cancer. How lucky she was that her seat at the side of God in Heaven would be assured.
I would stare at these delusional people with, I am sure, a look of incredulity on my face. I hated them in that moment, of course. How dare they say that my mother was lucky? On any level, she was not lucky at all. She could not breathe and she had no time to prepare for death. She was afraid of dying yet was not afforded the time to process it because “God was going to heal the demon from her”. As she slipped into the cancer coma, people, strangers essentially, would stand around her bed chanting loudly for God to cast out the demon within her. And when she died not two days later, and I questioned them as to why God had not answered their prayers, they told me that it wasn’t for us mere mortals to question his plan. I should be rest assured that he took the good ones and that it was time for my mother to “go home”.
And so I am studying the World Religions – Hinduism – the oldest one by far, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam (the youngest of the five). Together, they make up the majority of the world’s faith. I want to try to understand how these faithful people find it so easy to believe. So much so that wars are constantly raged across the globe in the name of each religion.
For a while I avidly followed the four popular proponents of atheism – Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. I went to the library and boldly asked for copies of The God Delusion and God Is Not Good and delighted at the look of horror the librarian gave me when making my request. I felt rebellious and non-conformist and I loved it. But there is an air of arrogance and anger amongst the atheist community that does not sit well with me. The forums that I have frequented have not, really, been friendly places to reside. Instead, they are places of people denegrating those of faith. And whilst I understand the dismay of religions in schools and the influence of religion in law making, I think there are kinder, more effective ways to deal with that.
I am living a life without faith. I am not sure how I feel about it. There are days that I wish to goodness I could just throw caution to the wind and believe, have faith that there is a spiritual side to us that lives on after our death. I especially wish I could believe that I will see my mother again. I also wish I could meet God and ask him why he has made such a ridiculous mess of things. But that’s just me.
The truth is I don’t have faith, I can’t have faith. I cannot believe any loving God or Gods would create this mess we live in right now. It’s a negative view I know. It has been a week of hell for those of us on earth – Syria, Gaza, a civilian airplane being shot out of the sky, climate change, and an increasing thirst for money at the expense of the majority of people in the world. Despite all this religion, faith and sense of community, so much destruction continues to be waged.
I wonder if it is too much to ask to live in a world that gives a bit more of a damn for the people that live in it, rather than hurt each other in the name of that one true god. I wonder if it is too much to ask to just stop and think is this really what your god would want.
And so I am studying World Religions. I am trying to understand our need for immortality, our need to survive our death. And our need to destroy each other and our planet in the name of this faith. And I’m trying to understand the mechanics of coming to terms of living a life without faith.
What about you, do you believe? How do you believe, and how do you reconcile all that is going on in this world with a loving god/gods? I would dearly love to know.
Until next time,