The Faith of an Atheist

damnLast week I talked about my religious beliefs and how eventually I lost my faith and became an atheist. (Not that there’s any ceremony or anything in ‘becoming’ an atheist.) There was one thing I neglected to point out and it has consistently been the thing people seem to find most confounding about me because despite my atheist tendencies, I do have absolute faith in something for which I have no objective proof.

I have faith that it’s all going to work out. This is a malleable faith but it is also steadfast. Despite whatever adversity may occur in my life, I have an overriding sense that it’s going to be alright eventually. I have had life-threatening ailments. I’ve been in horrendous car accidents. I’ve had friends die. In one six-week period a couple of years back, I was hospitalized, my (now ex-)wife kicked me out of my house, my son almost died in an accident, my grandmother died, and my friend killed himself. I’ve had the shit hit the fan in many ways and sometimes all at once. And still I had faith it would work out.

Don’t get me wrong. This faith has wavered on more than one occasion, but it’s always come back. Sure, I’ve had two marriages that didn’t work out. Yes, I’ve had unimaginably painful losses, but I’ve also had incredible luck. Just because something didn’t work out the way I thought it would doesn’t mean it didn’t work out.

If I wanted to, I could list off all of the things in my life that don’t seem to be going my way and make the adversity seem insurmountable and overwhelming. And there are times that I do just that. Then I reevaluate it and realize that certain things are true:

– I am alive

– I am not in danger of starving or losing my home

– I have a support network of friends and family who are willing to help in time of need

– I have a job and means to get another one if necessary

– I’m not done yet

All of these things remind me that not only could things be worse but I have the capability of making things better. There are things you’re unable to change, but the one thing you can change is your reaction to the situation. Making positive changes isn’t easy. It requires work and it requires faith that it’s all going to work out.

There are those who might say that it does not always work out. One could even argue that things haven’t always worked out for me (though I would disagree). However, I contend that believing things are going to work out and working towards that goal is important even when it turns out you’re wrong. As with anything else, if you don’t think you can win, then whatever chance you had of winning is gone.

Right now I have a few significant challenges. I have faith that each of them will work out. When I worry that they won’t, I ask myself a simple question: What is the worst case scenario in that situation? More often than not, it’s not nearly as terrible as I’ve initially imagined. Yes, there will be times that your world falls apart, but that’s often because there’s a new world ready to be built.

I’m sure this all sounds fairly naïve or hopelessly optimistic. And maybe it is. But if I’m right then it’s worth it. And if I’m wrong then at least the disappointment is only at the end. I suppose someone could make a similar case for believing in the Almighty. And they’re welcome to do so. I just believe it’s all going to work out and you don’t need to believe in God to believe that.

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Losing My Religion

I’ve never been very big on religion for a variety of reasons. The main one is what I like to call ‘The Santa Claus Effect’. When I was little I was told that when I lost a tooth, the Tooth Fairy came into my house, took the tooth, and replaced it with cash. I was told that every Christmas Eve Santa Claus also came into my house and dropped off presents. On Easter, a large bunny also would drop off a basket of goodies. As a child it was clear to me that it must be remarkably easy to get into my house. (And it was; the basement window was always unlocked.) 

Eventually I learned that none of these things were true. Being a kid that liked paranoid Cold War movies like Red Dawn, it occurred to me that if indeed Santa had some sort of flying reindeer, the United States Military would take them and use them against the Russians. I had visions of US Soldiers with M-16s riding Donner and Blitzen into Red Square. It occurred to me that since this never happened, the Fantastic probably did not exist.  

So after learning about Santa and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, I was told of a guy named Jesus, who was the Son of God. I was told that after I die, if I’m good I go to Heaven and if I’m bad I go to Hell. I was told that I could read all about it in the Bible. And while I was also told many times from many people about God speaking to them, I never really heard God’s Voice. In fact, when pressed about it, few people would say that they actually heard a voice. It seemed to me that perhaps this God thing is just Santa for adults. 

This is why it bugs me when Presidential Candidates talk about praying to God. I’m honestly not sure that when it all falls down, I want the man in the Oval Office praying to some invisible deity that may or may not actually be there. I want someone who knows what they’re going to do.  

Today I went over to my dad’s house. He’s a born again Christian. Brought up Methodist, but now a Lutheran because that’s what his wife is. I talked to her a bit about religion today. This is almost always a bad idea. She and I have nothing in common except that we both love my dad. One of her son’s was one of my best friends in high school. He hasn’t spoken to anyone in the family in years.  

Anyway, I got her talking about religion which I knew meant she would tell me how The Lord has blessed her on her journey and how if I’d let The Lord guide me…..etc, etc. And I told her how I’d recently heard a biblical scholar on NPR who I was very interested in and how I was reading a book he’d written about all the books that didn’t make it into the New Testament. 

So we’re talking about religion and philosophy and history and suddenly she says one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard anyone say in my entire life. She says, “I found that knowledge was getting in the way of my faith. So I shut off the knowledge and just began with faith. And eventually by starting with faith, I let some of the knowledge back in.” 

What she was telling me was that the facts that she knows to be true do not match up with what she wants to believe so she ignores the facts and just goes with what she wants to believe instead and then allows whatever facts match what she wants to believe in. In other words, she was willing herself to be stupid. It was at this point that I had the choice of letting her natter on or just outright attack her. Given that she was my dad’s wife and my wife and kids were there along with my dad, I felt it was probably best that I just let it go, so I did.  

I’m still a bit amazed by it. I’ve never actually heard someone say that they willingly ignored what they knew to be true. It was like hearing someone say, “I know I am wrong, but I am right.” And it’s something that seriously bugs me because I know she can’t be the only one who thinks that way and the idea of there being more people thinking that way really bothers me. 

Believing something without any evidence is faith. Believing something despite contrary evidence is delusion. And the idea of someone like that talking to other people about how great God is regardless of whether or not God even exists is the sort of thing that’s kept me out of church for the past fifteen years.  

I do have religious beliefs. I do believe there is a God, but I’m not someone who just walks around sharing my religious beliefs because I think personal beliefs are just that. I think that the world would be a much better place if everyone just kept their beliefs to themselves. If they did that, I wouldn’t know the way my dad’s wife thought and it wouldn’t be bothering me right now.

-Jack