The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012


April 20, 2006


Personal Faith

I don’t blog on this sort of thing very often, but I wanted to explain a little bit about how I came to be an atheist, and what it would take for me to change that. I got onto the subject as a part of this post by Kay of Left Brain Female. Her post is regarding the power of prayer, and how a recent scientific study has “debunked” the idea that prayer works. Part of what Kay said:

Having people from a number of different religious backgrounds praying for people whom they don’t know cannot be expected to show much – except that God is not the author of confusion, and we have more than enough of that going around.

My own personal belief – and it is through first hand experience – is that while we who are believers should pray for others, and our country, the world, etc. the area where we’re going to see the most effectiveness is in our prayers for ourselves. Does that sound egotistical? It’s not – it’s what we’re commanded to do – to pray to the Lord, to have a real connection with Him, and to humble ourselves enough to say that we need Him. And, when He has answered our prayers, we need to acknowledge to Him that we understand that all things good have happened because He ordained them.

In all honesty, I can’t say whether prayers are answered, and I can’t say whether there is a God. In my own mind, I have a lot of questions about the possibility of God’s existence and his nature (if he exists). There are too many questions.

I enjoy learning about it, though. One of the issues that’s always troubled me is when I see good people suffering. I ask how a just God can allow it to happen. When I get the standard answer, that “God has a plan”, I just want to retch. I’m sorry, but if someone in my family succumbs to terminal cancer, I don’t want to hear that some asshole of a supreme being is trying to work out his “plan”. That’s a recipe for anger, not for reverence.

But I got a different viewpoint recently. My wife and I have been attending one of these big-box, nondenominational churches, where we have Creed-like rock music. It’s the kind of place where they welcome non-Christians, and really seem to try to open their arms and welcome people. A few weeks ago, they gave me a whole different perspective. The entire sermon was about the theme of the Bible, and that it was a miracle that one book, written by 40 authors over the span of 1500 years could fit together so well. In the story of the Bible, from the start of creation, to original sin, to numerous times in which God explains that he will forgive us and accept us back, culminating in the final act, in which he creates a world without pain and sin.

Original sin is the key point there. The pastor explained that God gave us free will, and offered us a perfect world if only we wouldn’t eat from one tree. We defied his authority, and in doing so, broke the world. Why do bad things happen to good people, and vice versa? Not because God has a plan, but because we are living in a broken world. That, at least, I can accept. I know I’m a flawed person. There are parts of my own behavior and my own head that I don’t like. I can understand the idea that the world is broken, even if it’s postulated that it is humans that broke it. I’m not ready to follow the rest of the narrative down the rabbit hole, but at least that’s not someone trying to tell me that God’s causing wonderful people to exit our world in pain as part of his “plan”.

Over the years of debating the existence of God, though, I’ve learned something. There is no compelling proof either way. There are no conclusive arguments either way. When I studied philosophy at Purdue, I took a class on Philosophy of Religion. We spent the first half of the semester going over the arguments for the existence of God, and the last half was spent going over the arguments against. Every one of those arguments had a flaw or a hole somewhere. And some, such as Descartes’, were filled with so much circular logic and faulty premises to make your head spin.

But at the same time, I look at some of the believers I know, some of those who may have been atheists in the past, or who are critical thinkers who question the world to the extent that I can at least trust their judgement. What makes them believe?

I can only think it is faith. There is a point at which you make the jump from what you can prove to what you know in your heart is true. How did they get this faith? What path got them there? Why did it find them and not me?

These are more questions I cannot answer. All I know is that inside of me, I don’t have that reassuring feeling that God exists. I can’t make that leap of faith. There are days where I wish I could, but I’ve already talked about the line of BS that is Pascal’s Wager. Any manufactured faith is a lie to myself, and I do my best not to lie to myself.

What I know of myself, though, is that I have looked places for that faith. I’ve never found it in organized religion, or in a church of any form. I really think that most religion causes more problems that it solves. The times that I feel closest to having that faith, though, is when I start to experience profound wonder at the world. Back in California, I used to regularly take trips up into the mountains on my motorcycle. Up there was a level of majesty that was just awe-inspiring. Something about being up there just seems special. When I experience the growth of spring, or when I met my new little nephew last weekend, I am filled with happiness. But then I come back to the pettiness, the stupidity that I see in much of humanity, and it spoils that awe.

Again, as I said when I started, I don’t blog about this sort of stuff very often. Because I usually try to act like I’ve got all the answers, and this post is full of questions. But I guess Kay’s post got my mind going on the subject, and that was coupled with the experience of attending a funeral yesterday, to support a coworker whose father just succumbed to cancer. There a lot of unanswered questions rolling around in my head, and sometimes things like this just need to be written down.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 6:28 pm || Permalink || Comments (5) || Trackback URL || Categories: Personal Life, Ponderings, Religion

5 Comments

  1. Brad,

    I wish that we could use the Vulcan Mind Meld, let you see inside my thoughts, my faith for long enough to latch on, even if momentarily, to what I have. Live long and prosper.

    Comment by T F Stern — April 20, 2006 @ 9:12 pm
  2. Ditto, TF. I think the Pastor you described above has it right – the world is broken and that is why bad things happen – to both good, decent people and bad.

    All I can tell you, Brad, is faith comes by asking and searching. As I said, I was blessed to have grown up in faith – but my faith was not nearly at 20 what it is now at almost 45. I have gotten into the habit of turning just about every decision of any import over to the Lord and asking for His guidance. And with each successive time that I’ve seen a concrete answer, my faith has grown.

    Sometimes those answers come in the form of an issue just simply being removed from the table – sometimes the way just opens up that previously seemed closed.

    It seems to me at this moment that you’re in a state of just “not knowing” rather than active disbelief – and believe me, there is a world of difference. And God allows us to question – if we’re searching for Him, He will help our unbelief.

    I know you’re generally pretty self-assured from your writing – so am I. But, next time you have a moment when you’re not sure of your direction, think on God. Prayers don’t have to be long-winded and beautifully worded. He hears the heart. That’s where prayers are really supposed to come from. And no one in the world can stop those!

    That’s it – theology lesson done ;-) – I know your writings, though, and I’ve come to love you through them like a brother!

    Comment by Kay — April 21, 2006 @ 7:40 am
  3. Brad,

    I actually came out of a strong faith into atheism. Faith, when you boil it all down, is accepting a belief without being able to prove it. From my experience, that’s all it is and nothing more. I think you can make specific determinations about God by defining God and then looking for evidence to support that definition. If you can’t support it, then you can’t support the existence of that God, as defined. You never get to proving that there is no god whatsoever, but you do learn a number of things about what God is not.

    Anyhow, for my personal testimony, as it were:

    Losing my religion, Part I
    Losing my religion, Part II

    Comment by Neal — May 2, 2006 @ 4:17 pm
  4. Brad, reading your post was like reading into my past. I searched long and hard for proof. I was so sure that proof was unattainable of any divine justice. I went steps farther than you in my unbelief as well. I was a religion basher. I mean, I was a ham-handed axe wielder against unprovable ideas. I described myself as atheist for a short while though I wasn’t that far down that particular path.
    I searched for truth and was left wanting for a long time. I wanted faith but, like you, refused to accept something that I could not reconcile like a spiritual checkbook.
    I searched hard and hurt many people on the way, I’m sure. My possibility of faith was straightjacketed by my own demand to have proof for faith. Of course, those two words are contradictory. Faith is belief with the abscence of hard proof.
    You mentioned that a family member just died of cancer. For the unbeliever, it is easy to wonder why God is cruel. He isn’t, but I’m not trying to lecture. God isn’t concerned about saving lives. He wants to save souls.
    I’ll leave you with this. My search for faith grew in minute increments until late 1999. My first child and only son died. He never did get to see the light of day, and in my hand he barely weighed a pound. But my son’s death was such a blessing in so many ways I can scarcely describe them. I learned more about the world in the next ensuing days than I did my whole life before that. And had he not died when he did, our first daughter never would have been born. And she most certainly is a blessing.
    Later that same month, we were visited with outrageous fortune that has changed our lives even today in 2006. God works in many ways that I will never understand. But I finally see what all of those belivers I bashed saw. God is in all things and through faith in Him I am able to see it.

    Comment by Jason — May 3, 2006 @ 6:19 am
  5. I wonder why anyone would accept the “world is broken” idea. Read enough of the big sweeps of history–the history of disease, of development of agriculture, of evolution and it is obvious that the world just IS. Humans evolved a big brain and it is not perfect. Neither is our body–so what. We do seem to have an idea of what is good, and we just have to work at getting in that direction. We probably won’t make it–probably will kill ourselves off before we do–but so what. Most species die in a million years or so. Nothing is broken, it is just as it is. We must make the best of it for our own sakes.
    I also have always wondered (but have pretty well found out) why humans have to have this petty personal deity. If there is a god it is so big and so impersonal that it is a matter of indifference to our everyday lives. We seem to have invented a parent that never dies or leaves us. This is logical what with our long childhood and parent dependence and our ability to make connections and think. However, what ever created the big bang does not have its eye on the sparrow no matter how comforting that is to most people.

    Comment by Betsy H. — May 4, 2006 @ 9:01 pm

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