My religious journey.
Missed Heaven by a Cubit
I was in the fourth grade. I remember that it was a cold morning, just before winter. At the beginning of class, we all stood in front of our desks and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. After that, we recited the Pledge to the Christian Flag. And then, we had to recite the Pledge to the Bible ..."I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God's Holy Word, I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God."
Normally, we would start our mornings with a small devotion. This morning, Mrs. Stump did something different. When she looked around the room at all of us, she seemed sad. "This last weekend, a close friend of mine passed away." She began. "A few years ago, he left the church. When I talked to him about God, he told me that he couldn't see how belief in God was logical. There are people who say that the distance between the head and the heart is about one cubit. When people can’t see past logic to find God, they say he 'missed Heaven by a cubit'. I want you all the think about that today." When she was finished we had a short prayer and began our day. Missed Heaven by a cubit. I did think about that, not just for that day, but for many years since then.
Throughout the time that I was a Christian, I have been told that God created man with reason, and since He is the author of reason, logic and reason should lead you to God. There is a passage in the New Testament that says to always have an answer for the joy that is within you. And, in the Old Testament, there's a Proverb that comes up, from time to time, that that implies that God hides treasures for us to find. The modern take on that proverb is that we are to explore God’s creation to know him better. Many Christians think that science and reason can be compatible with religion. So how is it, that someone can "miss Heaven by a cubit"?
Originally, I was raised in the Catholic Church. Until my first communion, I found it virtually impossible for anyone to explain religion to me. When I asked my mom questions that she didn’t know how to answer, she would dismiss me with, "Quit being so analytical." When I was 10 I was sent to Catholic Communion Dedication, CCD, classes. I was so excited to go to CCD. What I thought was going to happen was that I was going to go to a class to learn all about this religious stuff. I was wrong.
One of the biggest disappointments in my young, Christian life was showing up to class and being told to memorize the Catholic prayers. I remember asking the lady directing the class, "When does class start?" "This is the class. Now memorize the prayers." She replied. Disappointedly, I began reading through the prayers.
Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death.
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
I didn’t get it. I had no idea what the prayers meant, or why I had to memorize them. And, I couldn’t find anyone to explain them to me. Every day for a week I had to show up, and learn rituals. The most important ritual was how to take communion on Sundays, but, why? What was the point? At the end of the week, I was given a certificate showing that I had completed Catholic Communion Dedication. I couldn’t have felt more lost.
Shortly, after my dedication, my mom stopped going to Catholic Church. Instead, we went to a Baptist Church. I had already been going to a Baptist School, which was never explained to me, and now we were to go to a Baptist church, as well. Now, I guess, we’re Baptist.
Looking back, the pastor of my Baptist church reminds me a lot of the warden from Shawshank Redemption. What I do remember from the sermons is that they were, what many refer to as, “Hellfire and Brimstone” preaching. The overall tone of the sermons was about how evil we all are, and we need to get down on our knees and beg God for mercy or we will burn in eternal Hell. It’s pretty scary stuff. It’s especially scary when you don’t know much about Heaven or Hell, and you’re not exactly sure what gets you into either place. Why does God want to burn us for eternity? Even, if we were really, really bad wouldn’t we deserve to get out of Hell at some point? Or, just for some mercy, couldn’t he just annihilate the worst people instead of torturing them for eternity?
I found the story of Adam and Eve confusing as well. The short version of the story is that God told the first man, Adam, that he could eat anything in the Garden of Eden except the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam’s, wife, Eve, was tempted by Satan, God’s adversary, to eat the fruit, which she did. She then convinced Adam to eat the fruit. After eating the fruit Adam and Eve knew good and evil. This was the first sin. Because of this, everyone is born with the desire to sin. In the New Testament, Jesus, a new Adam, had to die as punishment for our sins. How could Adam have known eating the fruit was wrong, if he wouldn’t have knowledge of right and wrong until after he ate the fruit? And, how could Jesus be a new Adam if he had always had the knowledge of right and wrong? They said Adam was condemned because he had a desire to sin, but he didn’t have a desire to sin until after he ate the fruit, and he didn’t know right from wrong until he ate the fruit. Jesus always knew right from wrong and had no desire to sin, and he never ate this fruit. So, how is that the same? Also, Jesus didn’t go to Hell. He went to Heaven when he died. So, the punishment for “our” sins wasn’t really fulfilled. I mean, people get eternal hell. But, he has only to get crucified, and it’s supposed to be the same? Even, though I was being told more in my new Baptist church, I’m not sure I was really learning any more, and I still wasn’t allowed to ask any questions. At best, they would just tell me to pray about it.
When I was about 12, it was discovered that the pastor had been embezzling money from the church for his own personal use. There are good and bad people in every religion and sect of life. And, I don’t think most pastors are like this one. So, I don’t hold it against Christianity in general. But, it turned out that my Baptist church was run by someone who was a crook. That was when several members left that church, as did my family. Our new church was less Hellfire, and a little friendlier. But, it was still Baptist, through and through.
There comes a time when after wanting something for so long, that you give up. That was the point I had come to with truly understanding the deeper aspects of religion. I believed in religion. I had no reason not to. Everyone, I knew believed it, as did my teachers, my family, my friends. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I even met someone that called themselves an atheist. I just figured I’ll understand this stuff when I get older. But, one thing I knew for a fact is that I didn’t want to be the guy burning in Hell for all eternity. So, one day, I took the youth pastor aside, and told him I needed to be born again. What that means, really, is that you admit that you’re a sinner, and that Jesus’ death on the cross is the atonement for that sin. And, that if you accept Him into your heart, you will be forgiven of your sin and spend eternity in Heaven. I believed that fully, and I said the prayer that the youth pastor told me to say.
Now, I was an official Christian. The funny thing about Baptists is that they don’t like Catholics a whole lot, and vice versa. The different sects of Christianity always confused me. If God was spreading his message throughout the world since Jesus’ time, there had to be Christians that were saved since then. So, what was the right version of Christianity? Protestantism didn’t come about until Martin Luther. Was everyone up to that point wrong about Christianity? They couldn’t all be going to Hell. My extended family was still Catholic. Now, I’m a Baptist. What about all the other versions of Christianity? Who had it right? With all these new questions I did the same thing as all the other unanswered questions … I told myself, I’ll figure it all out when I’m older. But, I couldn’t say that I thought everyone who wasn’t a Baptist was going to Hell. So, the way I saw it was, they follow Christ, we follow Christ, we all are pretty much on the same page, even if neither of those groups saw it that way.
For, the rest of my Christian education, I learned all the Bible stories. I went to Church three times a week, twice on Sunday, and once on Wednesday. A lot of the sermons were repetitive … we’re bad people, we need to repent, and at the end of every sermon, an alter call. Most of the time, I kept feeling, “Hey, I’m already in the group. You don’t need to keep up the sales pitch. Let’s get into the heavier stuff.” Week after week, year after year, the sermons didn’t change much. We’re bad people, ask for forgiveness. Who here needs to get saved?
When I graduated High School and left for college, I pretty much stopped going to church. Not really because I didn’t believe it anymore. It was just that I heard it all before. I didn’t feel like I was learning anything new.
I entered the Army at 21. I had been going to church on and off since my high school graduation. I felt I had learned as much as I could at that point. The Army was a unique experience for me. I worked with people with so many beliefs different than my own, Muslims, atheists, and even pagan. Working with people from so many different backgrounds helped me to not judge someone based solely off their religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs, but to see them for who they really were. I was never really that judgmental to begin with, but after my military experience, I was even less so.
The topic of religion did come up from time to time with my group of friends. I’d explain my beliefs, they’d explain theirs. Once in a while, the discussions got a little heated. When someone rejects your arguments, sometimes it’s hard not to take that personally. It feels a bit like a rejection of you. Becoming more mature, meant that I had to separate myself from the arguments I was making. Either the arguments were sound or they weren’t. And, if they weren’t, I had to be able to change my thinking. Otherwise, how do we ever grow or learn?
The thing that pulled me back into seeking questions in my own faith, wasn’t the various discussions I was having with my friends, they always ended with, “Well, you have your opinions and I have mine. And, we’ll leave it at that.” It was a Specialist that worked under my supervision, whose name was Martin. One day, we had a field mission. After we got all our equipment set up, we’d generally sit around and start talking. This day, Martin brought up a story about his grandfather taking a picture of a ghost. I scoffed at the idea. In my mind, ghosts didn’t exist, at least not on earth. Sure, there was an afterlife, but I highly doubted that after you died, you hung around haunting people. I really didn’t know where you went, maybe another dimension, but someone being haunted by a ghost seemed ridiculous to me.
When we got back from the field, Martin produced the picture of his grandfather’s ghost. The image was a black and white photo of a TV set that had a Native American on the screen. The image on the screen looked hazy, almost as if it was caught mid frame, just as the screen was changing images. Martin swore that the TV was off when the photo was taken. I told him that I couldn’t verify that the TV was actually off or not, but even if it was off, how do I know that the image wasn’t caused from double exposure to the film or something like that.
After that, Martin proceeded to bring books to me, all of which I read. I was very open to listening to other beliefs at the time. These books were about various supernatural events. I wasn’t that concerned about trying to convince Martin that the stories in the books were made up. Martin was sold on the idea of ghosts, and I knew no amount of arguing would ever get him to change his mind. The thing was, Martin bringing all this stuff to me, made me want to know what the Bible said about ghosts. Push come to shove, I don’t think I really did knew what the Christian belief on ghosts really was.
When I came to think about it, I wasn’t really sure that I had read through the entire Bible to begin with. So, I started in Genesis and attempted to read the entire Bible from front to back. I picked up a commentary to make sure I knew what the Scripture I was reading was supposed to be saying. I was using a NIV, but even with that, it’s not exactly easy reading.
I was pretty sure in my Christian schooling I had gone through the whole New Testament. But, as for the Old Testament, they really only talked about the famous stories and moved on. In my reading, a few things started popping out to me as a little odd. First off, I had never heard anything about the Nephilim. If you don’t know, the Nephilim, are mentioned in Genesis. According to the story, the Nephilim or “sons of God” had sex with the women and caused the giants and evil creatures to be born. Somehow, I had missed this in my schooling. Granted, I heard about David and Goliath. But, that’s really the only story about a giant I’d ever heard of. Did these creatures exist? Could they be real? The Bible says it, and I believe the Bible, so it must be true, right?
I also tried to figure out how I would have understood the Bible If I was born in the time that it was being written. I knew that the first five books of the Bible were called the Torah. Somewhere in the Torah, I kind of expected a bit of explanation about the war in Heaven, the fallen angels, and the plan of redemption, something similar to what you’re given in Sunday school.
The way it’s explained in Sunday school is that Satan was the leader of a rebel movement in Heaven, him and a third of the angels tried to take over Heaven. God kicked them out and then started on the project of making man. So, then, Satan screws that up by convincing Eve to eat from the forbidden fruit. To fix everything, God now has to send His son to repair the broken state of man and God. I really was thinking there had to be something like that in the Torah. Keep in mind, the Torah, is pretty much the basis for the whole Bible. But, the thing is, I never found anything that resembled the story I was given week after week in Sunday school. These first five books actually just seemed like a collection of myths.
The hardest part to get through in the Torah was Exodus and Leviticus. The majority of those books are taken up with the Jewish laws. Some seemed mundane, and some were a little confusing. And, then there were a few, which I didn’t feel too comfortable with. Women were definitely treated as property. Slavery wasn’t just tolerated, but sort of commanded. This is God’s law, right? Is this just? I didn’t focus too much on them because we all live in the New Testament now and none of that stuff really matters anyway.
After the Torah, I read through the Judges, then the Kings, and finished the Old Testament with the Prophets, which are highly repetitive. By the time I got through the Old Testament, I really didn’t see any of the stuff I was told about in church. I know that if I had never heard of these books and read this, I would have never figured out the Sunday school’s message … man’s fall, eternal hell, and then God’s plan of salvation. But, this was the Holy Scriptures for thousands of years. So, how did the people who lived in Old Testament times understand any of it?
It isn’t until the New Testament that you really hear anything about Hell and salvation and repenting of your sins. I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t have told anyone in the Old Testament. But, at least the New Testament felt more like what I had learned in church. The only thing that kind of caught my eye was the parts of the NIV that would say, “This section cannot be found in the earliest manuscripts” And, the stuff that followed that was some pretty important stuff. It was Jesus talking to the disciples and telling Peter he’s in charge and has the “keys to the kingdom of Heaven”. I never got the “keys to the kingdom” bit. Catholics say it shows that Peter is the first Pope. Baptists don’t believe in Popes. So, if I don’t really believe in Popes, what is Jesus saying here? I read through three different Protestant commentaries on this section and they all said something different. Who is right? How could you differentiate one person’s opinion vs. another’s? The Bible is God’s Word, why is it so unclear to everyone?
I tried to read the Book of Revelation but that was far too confusing for me. Since then I’ve gone through a better commentary on the book, and I think I understand the imagery a little better, but it still is one of the most confusing books of the Bible. How do these commentaries know what Revelation is really saying? It’s all just imagery, none of it is really that clear. The church leaders I asked about this would tell me that God’s Holy Spirit would guide people to understand the Bible. But, everyone seems to disagree about what the Bible is saying. How could I possible know who’s right?
A New Life In Christ
Reading through the whole Bible took somewhere between eight to twelve months, and in that time I had, actually finished my enlistment in the Army and moved back home. Within a year I began dating Laura, whom I married. We both went to the same Christian High School. And, when we started dating we began to go to a new church together. This church called itself a “non-denominational” church. I still had issues with all the different sects of Christianity, and apparently, so did a lot of other people. This was still a Protestant Church, so Catholics weren’t in the group, but they didn’t worry about what version of Protestantism you followed.
I loved going to that church, the preacher seemed really knowledgeable. The sermons felt more in depth. And, on the weekends they had classes to get into the more complex issues in religion. If there ever was going to be an opportunity to understand religion, this was it.
It was going to this church where I discovered Apologetics, which means, those that defend the faith. The apologists were the ones that, supposedly knew all the in’s and out’s of religion and could answer all of the tough questions.
During this time, Laura and I got married. It was great because we both were feeling good with our relationship. I was feeling like I’m getting somewhere with my faith. And, I had started making a career for myself.
I started reading up on the Apologist’s books. One book I read was Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ. Then I found William Lane Craig from my church’s recommended reading list. Around this time, podcasts were just starting to take off. And, since my job gave me an opportunity to listen to my headphones all day, I began to download as many Christian podcasts as I could find. This was my mode of operation for the first few years after I got married. And, it felt great. I found new podcasts, or read some new books, and church felt interesting again.
Laura became pregnant with our son, which meant that I had to find a new job. The old one didn’t pay enough, and I had earned an Associate’s so I felt I had more to offer. The new job was similar to the old one. And, just like my last job, I could listen to my podcasts all day. But, the thing was, I had to go back and try to find the podcasts I had on my computer at my old job.
When I was looking for my old ones, some podcasts that showed up were atheist critics of Christianity. Well, that wasn’t quite what I was looking for, so I ignored those. But, when I thought about it, I was a little curious, what were the critics saying about Christianity? I had to download a few just to see what was being said. I listened to one called, A Christian and An Atheist, which was actually kind of nice. The podcast was just a friendly conversation between a Christian and an Atheist about various topics. They talked about Heaven and Hell, morality, the plan of salvation. It really was a great podcast.
Another one I came across was Skeptics Guide to the Universe. I had never really heard what a skeptic was at that time. But, the show was great. They’d spend about a half hour talking about science news and commenting on it. Then they’d usually interview a scientist. They would end the show with a game they called, Science or Fiction. Both of these podcasts became part of my weekly listening routine. A Christian and an Atheist was really laid back, no one was fighting, or shouting. They really kept things on a friendly level. And, Skeptic’s Guide was great for learning about what’s going on in the Science community.
I will say that A Christian and an Atheist did sort of end with, “Well, that’s your opinion.” They never really resolved any issues. Skeptics Guide was different. There were no Christians on the show, most of the time they’d just talk about science. But, they would also get into a little of what they called “pseudo-science”, which was about addressing claims about ghosts or aliens. I connected with this. This was me and Martin all over again. The critiques were very well thought out, and I started learning a little about what they meant when they talked about skepticism, which seemed to be about using evidence to address claims. Evidence is the differentiator between opinions. You can have your opinion, but is it supported by the facts?
In the back of my head, I was thinking about how I could talk to someone like Martin, who might try to show me evidence for something absurd, like Bigfoot, or the fake moon landing. Without evidence, I just assumed that stuff was absurd, and without evidence, I just assumed the Bible made sense. Now, I think if Martin showed me his evidence, I think I could weigh it against the evidence that disputes those claims, and maybe we both would learn something.
Evidence was the main topic on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. For them, all of their arguments dealt with looking at the evidence presented by these “pseudo science” groups. Then, they would compare that with the scientific evidence to look at the best explanation. I started to hear them mention something they called “logical fallacies”. They would talk about an "argument from ignorance" or "the naturalistic fallacy". They had a lot of these fallacies, and what I realized about all of them was that each one addressed not looking at good scientific evidence. Each time the “pseudo science” groups used something other than scientific evidence for their arguments, someone from the Skeptics Guide would point out a logical fallacy.
This was really helpful for me figuring out how to address all these “pseudo science” claims, but what became a little uncomfortable for me was that they would include Christian arguments in with the same type of claims that don’t have evidence to support them. As far as I was concerned, that was ridiculous.
Look at it this way, the Bible’s been around for thousands of years, it’s endured the test of time. 90% of the world is religious. We all are born with a moral compass. Where did that come from? At the very least, how could anything exist if there wasn’t a God to make it? I mean, could you imagine if there was no God, and nothing was ever made … ever? Or, just the random chance that life could exist if it wasn’t designed? The DNA code alone has got to be proof that a God designed it. And, what about all these PhD’s who call themselves apologists and say everything in the Bible is true, and I should believe it? I was slightly uncomfortable with the comparisons of my beliefs to those from people that made unfounded wild claims. But, the thing was, it happened so little, and the science information was so fascinating, that I was willing to over look that just to enjoy the podcast.
I was totally cool looking at “pseudo science” claims and seeing how the evidence doesn't hold up. Those weren't my beliefs anyway. But, I loved the science process. And, I enjoyed the examination they would do on Skeptics Guide. I've always loved science, and there is something to be said for using the scientific method to address these kinds of questions.
For me, faith wasn't something that could be examined by evidence. You can’t weigh faith. Can you break down the molecular components of the soul? These things are just outside the reach of science. In my mind, I could separate religion and science. And, it made sense to me.
The problem was that I couldn’t stop thinking about these questions. There was always some question in my head that I was trying to figure out. And, something kept bugging me about those logical fallacies. What if I did apply those logical fallacies to my religious arguments? What would happen? Can God stand up to criticism?
I’ll rewrite my previous paragraph from the last section, but this time inserting a logical fallacy in bold after each question:
“The Bible’s been around for thousands of years, it’s endured the test of time. (argument from antiquity) 90% of the world is religious. (appeal to popularity) We all are born with a moral compass. Where did that come from? (the naturalistic fallacy) At the very least, how could anything exist if there wasn't a God to make it? (argument from ignorance) I mean, could you imagine if there was no God, and nothing was ever made … ever? (argument from personal astonishment) Or, just the random chance that life could exist if it wasn't designed? (appeal to probability)The DNA code alone has got to be proof that a God designed it. (appeal to complexity) And, what about all these PhD’s that call themselves apologists, and say everything in the Bible is true, and I should believe it? (appeal to authority)”
It was my investigation of these logical fallacies that forced me to re-examine my faith. Once I began to apply skepticism to my own religion, things began to unravel for me.
Leaving the Matrix
What this new perspective on faith left me with, was an insatiable desire to read as much as I can on the evidence for God. And, with any honest investigation, I had to look at the claims that both sides were making. So, I read through Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Carl Sagan; as well as, Normal Geisler, Ray Comfort, and C.S. Lewis. I amped up my podcast listening with Reasonable Doubts, Reasonable Faith, and the Atheist Experience. I would download debates between atheists and Christians.
For the record, debates are useless. In a debate, all that matters is that someone wins. The debates that I listened to were mostly poor on actual facts. But, the worst part was that the speakers didn’t usually address the questions posed by the other. They read from their own script. My recommendation for anyone that is looking into these questions of faith, skip the debates.
After a year of this, I finally had to admit to myself, that I could not find any reasonable evidence for the existence of God. At best, I could chalk up all of my belief in God to wishful thinking. I don’t mean to treat this part of my discovery nonchalantly. I wanted to believe. I really did. But, deep down, I realized that I was wishing that a God was really there. I, finally, quit wishing for a God when I admitted to myself, that I was no longer convinced there was a God. And, when I openly explored that thought in my own head, I was a bit scared.
Who wouldn’t be? I was told my whole life that those that question God are morally depraved. “A fool says in his heart there is no God”. I knew the Bible. Paul, in the book of Romans, says that man knows there is a God, but chose “darkness” rather than "light". Is that what I was doing? No. I want to believe. I remember Mulder’s poster from X-files, “I want to believe” Bold face type across the top of a poster of an “UFO”. That was me, wanting to believe something when every possibility of evidence was stripped away.
As much as I wanted to believe that there was a God, I just couldn’t force myself to really believe it anymore. Just like losing my faith in Santa or the Easter Bunny, God now seemed fictional. For a time, I was mad. I mean really mad. I was lied to. I was deceived. I was mad that I was told God had a purpose for my life. God wouldn’t give me more than I could handle. I was mad that the whole time I was debating my atheist friends in the Army, I looked like an idiot. I was mad that there was no God guiding my life. I was mad that there was no afterlife … no heaven, nothing. When you die, you just die. That’s crap. I lived my whole life thinking I was going to Heaven. All of these things made me mad, but the worst thing of all was that I knew I couldn’t talk to Laura, my own wife, about this without upsetting her. I was completely destroyed inside, and I had to keep it to myself.
Where that left me, was someone who was frustrated, angry, depressed, and completely alone. I felt that I couldn’t talk to anyone I knew about this until I talked to Laura. If I were to talk to my friends about this, I thought it would have been a bit of a betrayal to Laura, and I wasn’t ready to talk to her about it. So, I couldn’t talk to anybody.
It took me two years to come to a place where I felt like I could openly discuss this with anyone. I tried to find the right time to explain this all to Laura. I sat down and wrote a letter. I tried to explain why I didn’t believe anymore, I went through various issues, one by one, trying to explain what I believe, and why. I really don’t know how successful I was in explaining myself. How do you explain such a 180 to someone? I tried to tell her that I’m still the same person and I love her, and I just wanted her to understand. Then, I typed out the letter in an email. I remember staring at the enter button. This is absolutely true. My heart was racing. I asked myself several times, “Are you going to chicken out again? How many times are you going to do this? How long are you going to put off telling your own wife that you don’t believe in God? What kind of man are you?” I don’t know if it was just me daring myself, or if I just couldn’t hide anymore, but I pressed enter.
I got home after midnight, which is usual for my job. I opened up my email on my laptop. I found a response from her. She was mad. She didn’t care about my explanations. She felt betrayed.
Around that same time, my wife’s sister had discovered that her husband was cheating on her. My wife is very close to her sister, and sometimes she internalizes her sister’s life. By revealing my atheism to my wife at this time, my wife felt like I had cheated on her. I could have easily said I was sleeping around and gotten the same result. I wanted to be open about my issues with faith. I wanted to connect with Laura. I felt like I had to tell her about this. And when I did, her rejection of me, made me feel even more alone then I had before.
Here I was 35. Everything I had believed up until this point in my life has turned out to be a lie. No one around me sees the same problems with religion I do. And, the only woman I have ever loved now hates me. Now, I was clinically depressed.
I agreed to go to marriage counseling, and I continued to go to church. It took almost a whole week before we started talking again. We had a few blow up fights, but we did start talking. I think in the midst of those fights, we might have been more honest than we have ever been before.
It took months, but things did return to normal. Laura began to see that I was still pretty much the same. At least, I think she did. Religion was still difficult to talk about. But, I think we began to be more open with each other. And, things seemed good again. In fact, better, because we started being a couple again.
It’s now almost a year since I wrote that letter. I don’t go to church anymore. Again, I stopped seeing a purpose to it. Laura has really opened up, and I feel close to her. Sometimes, I feel defensive when I talk to others about not believing in God. I try not to be, but it’s still hard. I anticipate accusations that I never really believed or that I can’t be a moral person without God. Part of me still needs to work on that.
On the other hand, I don’t need anyone to agree with me anymore. I feel that as long as I can be open and honest with others about what I believe and what I don’t believe, then that’s good enough for me. And, as long as I have my wife and kids who love me, then nothing else in life really matters. I know that sounds a little cliché, but it’s actually true. My wife doesn’t agree with me. She probably never will. But, she still loves me and that proves what an incredible woman she really is.
I ask myself if it was worth going through everything I did with religion. I hear that a lot of atheists want people to stop believing in religious ideas. They argue that all magical thinking is inherently dangerous. Some Christians argue that even if Christianity turned out to be false, even though they don’t believe it is, that just having faith is a comforting thing and for that reason it’s good. Maybe hope is a good thing, even false hope. I don't know for sure. I do know I can't force myself in believing something, that I truly don’t think is real.
I don't think religions will ever go away. And I don't think that I really care to argue vehemently that they should. Some people find comfort in believing in these things. I know that’s true. But, even if that wasn't the case, there does seem to be a need to believe in something. Christians say that’s a desire for God. Atheists say that’s just human’s pattern seeking mindset. Either way, I don't think we can change it.
I’m now at peace with my past. I don't really mind, anymore, that I was raised to believe a lot of things without really having any good reason to believe them. Finding my way through these religious arguments helped me think critically about the world, and that’s a useful tool.
I have no interest in imposing my beliefs on anyone, although, I am more than willing to talk to anyone about these issues. But, my wife is free to have her own beliefs, and so are my kids. No one can really force another to believe in something. At best, they can present their arguments and let them decide for themselves.
I don't know the kind of person I would have been had I not been raised in a Christian family. So, I can't really say, that I am better person for having gone through belief in God to skepticism. But, I think, in retrospect, that it was a good thing.
For Better or For Worse
When I stopped believing in God my biggest fear was that my wife would leave me and that we would have to raise our kids in a split family. Not only that, I love my wife. I absolutely do, but I didn't know how she would react. I've heard story after story of marriages ending when one person loses their faith. And, I was raised in the faith, so I heard every single week what was preached from the pulpit about those who lose their faith. The only reason why anyone would leave the church was because of sin. The thing I never heard in church was that anyone would leave the faith do to an intellectual difference between what Christians accept as evidence and what is considered evidence in a scientific sense of the word.
Losing my faith made me feel completely trapped. When I got married, I believed in God so thoroughly that it was how I defined myself. Above all else, I was a Christian. I told my wife that I would have never even considered marrying her if she wasn't a Christian. And, of course, she felt the same way. My biggest fear when I lost my faith was that this would destroy my marriage. And, coming to terms with realizing that everything that you've believed in for the majority of your life is completely false, feels a lot like the floor below you just dropped away. I was frustrated and angry, and I felt completely alone. Even talking about this with the one person I love the most, would change our relationship forever. So, I had no choice but to hide my loss of faith.
After losing my faith, it became harder and harder to talk to each other. Our marriage had become distant, and I hated the direction it was going. Talking about the problems only ignited another volley of angry nights. The catch 22 of the whole thing was I didn't want to talk to my wife about my faith because I didn't want to lose my family, and not talking about my faith was causing me to lose my family.
It's a whole different perspective on this side of the fence. What was it that was really the problem? We have a difference of opinion about the existence of a God. We're talking about a difference of opinion. That's it. Not spousal abuse, not adultery. It's not even in the same category. We are talking about different ideas about what we think of the world around us. Is that worth destroying a marriage for? Imagine if it was political and not religious, would you divorce if your spouse changed political parties?
Don't get me wrong, I know what it's like to be a Christian. I know how important faith is. And, I know that in the Christian faith, they are told that everyone who does not believe in God will spend eternity in Hell. Just the idea of Hell alone is enough to not ever question whether or not it's real, isn't it? I mean to question it, could cause you to lose your salvation, and who wants that? I understand what it's like being that Christian who is terrified that all of your family members that you love, and aren't Christians, are going to Hell. And, it really is a huge leap to ask someone to step back from that belief and accept that it's ok for others to not believe in any of it. It's just as hard to realize that people who aren't Christians, aren't evil, they are good people, honest people, and kind people ... just not Christians. I felt the same way. Anyone who isn't in the faith isn't really to be trusted.
I didn't know how my wife was going to react when I sent her that email. Emotionally, I think it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. She went through all the emotions I was afraid of. At first she was angry, she also felt betrayed, I'm sure she was confused, and then she just felt like the trust between us had been broken.
I titled this "For Better or For Worse" because going through this, I thought a lot about what my marriage vows really mean. When I got married, I had certain expectations of my wife. I wanted to marry a Christian. I wanted to raise our kids in a Christian home. What I had never really thought about is that people can change over time, sometimes dramatically. The person that you marry could change so much, that they might not even resemble the person that you married. The other thought that I hadn't considered before was, what if it's you who changes? And, also, when is a change like that enough to consider divorce?
My wife told me last year that she started making plans for a divorce. My worse fear was about to come true. Somewhere in the midst of all that we were going through, our relationship began to change. We began to talk, really talk. I know I opened up like never before, and so did she. Looking back now, I was absolutely right … talking about this did change our relationship forever. My wife would probably describe it like a miracle. She even claims God spoke to her heart. He said, “Love him.” Looking at our marriage now sort of feels like a miracle to me. My wife now accepts that I don't share her faith in God anymore, and she's come to terms with that. She knows that I love her and that I would do anything for her and for our kids. It truly is something special to have someone to love and for someone to love you back. And, if that isn't living happily ever after, I don't know what is.