Disbelief and Decisions

Taken from a forum I now frequent. Content is mine except the comment I respond to:

Do you really believe that everyone lost their faith due to a personal decision? I never saw you answer Positivists rejection of this assertion by you. I will take it up with you if you stopped because of her limited time.

As far as my personal opinion, yes. But I admit that I could be wrong about that. Only the people who have been through this situation can answer this question honestly for themselves.

I “feel” ( this one’s for you Realist) that religion and faith are separate. This is the difference. if someone decides for them self that GOD does not exist and choose to live without faith in Him. That is a decision. Of course, this may be based upon their own observations and their conclusion of “lack of evidence.” But faith is not religion and religion is not faith.

I am fairly certain you are wrong about that, at least for a subset of ex-Christians. I never made the decision that God does not exist, anymore than I made the decision that the sky is blue. I wanted to believe in God. I was desperate to believe in God. I spent probably five of the last six years of my life first trying to keep my faith in God and then to subsequently regain it. I have spared very little in the way of time and mental effort towards this goal, including subjecting myself to constant emotionally painful stimuli. I have wept for God, begged for God, bargained for God, pleaded for God, strugggled for God, and shouted for God. I have been angry, grief stricken, and longing for God. At no point in all of this has the response deviated from a profound, and what I have now come to conclude to be a very telling silence.

Do you believe in Thor? Or Zeus? What about Shiva or the God that spoke to Mohammad? My result was the same as if I had been talking to one of these non-existent gods. Now, I blamed myself for a very long time, but you start to wonder, why am I getting these results? Why isn’t God demonstrating his goodness and helping me in my desperation to know him and be with him? And the doubts begin to peek in. You try to squash them as soon as they appear, but they are persistent, and as long as the cracks in the walls of your belief are their, they can get in and begin to multiply, whether you wish to entertain them or not. Soon enough, you can’t stamp them all out, they’re more numerous and stronger. It is all you can do to beat them back and keep them at bay. But the perimeter of your faith keeps shrinking and the doubts continue to encroach more and more. You start to grow weary of the constant battle, wondering how much longer you can keep it up without reinforcement, without help from this Good God from whom your only demand is that he let his presence be known. And even this, your demand isn’t selfish, it isn’t to enrich yourself, but merely to help you be faithful, to continue believing in this God, it is out of your love for this God. But it doesn’t come, and day by day you beat a slow and weary retreat until there is no more space behind you. The end isn’t grand. It isn’t noble. It is a sad, quiet death, fitting for the futile struggle you have been waging this whole time, waging and waging in the hopes that if you can just hold out long enough, God will come in and rescue you, restore you, and all will be set right. But he never comes, and perhaps the last thought you have in your Christian life is the realization that he will never come, and your heart breaks as your faith slips out of your tired grasp and the life you had dies with it.

Do you know how destructive it is, having who you are, your very identity, ripped away from you, torn out of your unwilling hands and crushed before your eyes? Perhaps you do, and if you do, then there should be no reason for you to entertain the notion that people would willingly do this to themselves. The path leading out from Christianity is not always like this, but it is true for many. I wasn’t angry at God. I wasn’t angry at Christians, or Christianity, or my church. I was happy with all of them. I wanted to keep my life of faith in Jesus Christ. I wasn’t bitter or rebellious. I didn’t have any secret sins I wanted to maintain but which Christianity wouldn’t allow. My whole family, friends, and associates were Christian. My whole life to that point had been Christian. What choice was I given? Where was God to keep things in balance so I could even make a choice? I was an unwilling participant in my own deconversion, and if there is anyone who did have a choice, it was God. So I guess you are right, I did have a choice. I could believe that God is an evil fuck who doesn’t give a shit about his pawns on Earth and only uses them for his own amusement (I’d have precedence considering the book of Job), or I could stop believing in God. I chose to stop believing. Do you think I made the right decision?

Belief and Verification

I wrote this in response to a Muslim’s statement to me, but I believe it is applicable to just about any religion, including Christianity, and so I post it here as both a statement of my views on religious faith and as a record of my current state of mind:

Everyone has faith, and everyone has placed their faith in something.

I suppose that is correct. When I flip on the light switch, I do so because I believe the wiring is good and will function in the way I anticipate. I do not know that it is good, and in fact, it could be that the light bulb is burnt out and won’t turn on. So, I guess I am having faith in my experience of all the times I flipped on the switch and the light turned on, knowing that it is only very occasionally that this experience is not borne out. And of course once I do flip the switch, and the light does not turn on, then my faith in the wiring is destroyed, and can only be renewed after I have once again successfully flipped on the switch and the light turn on (typically after I have replaced the light bulb). But note that this renewed faith is not automatic. I test the wiring and see if it will support my faith. If the light turns on, I have faith again, because I know that there is no other way for it to turn on than by the light bulb being good. The test is conclusive if positive, but ambiguous if negative (after all, there could be a different problem than just the light bulb, I could simply not have power to that light socket or some other problem). Thus, it doesn’t seem outside of reasonable experience to test something before placing one’s faith in it. And typically those tests are designed to match the nature of the thing (or person) being tested. If I was hiring a world class sprinter, it would not matter how well they did on a test of calculus, since that isn’t the qualifications I am looking for. If this is the case, then it seems to me that if one were to test and see if God existed and was as Islam describes, one would have to have test that matched the qualities being attributed to God in Islam’s description.

As for arguments that I do not believe because God is incomprehensible, I would simply answer that if the light turned on when I flipped the switch, it would not matter if I could comprehend the light bulb, I would still believe that it could turn on. It really has nothing to do with comprehension or me trying to comprehend an infinite God. I was a Christian before, and believed that God was ultimately incomprehensible to the finite human mind. That never caused me to doubt or lack faith. And if God is above our existence, without limits, creator of the mechanics of the universe, logic, and reason, then it would not seem like such a great task to convince someone attempting to use logic and reason or to find proof of him in the creation (since he created and organized it). As I said in the beginning, I do not think a test that matches the nature of that being tested is unreasonable. It does not seem unreasonable when applied to a light bulb. It does not seem unreasonable when hiring someone for a task. It does not seem unreasonable for a whole host of things we do on a daily basis, and even many things we do on only rare exceptions. The only time it seems unreasonable is when I have only one opportunity to use or experience something, such as with a parachute before jumping out of a plane. I cannot very well test that particular parachute without it being used, but if I do that, it is no longer available for me to use (since it will successfully be guiding something gently to the ground below me). But I can at least know that the materials and procedures being used have a success rate that is sufficient to counter-balance the perceived risks of jumping out of an airplane. Also, the risks of a failed parachute could appear less than the risks of continuing to be on the air plane (such as if it were going to crash). But in that case, it really isn’t faith in the parachute, but rather simply a calculation that it would be safer at least trying to use it. If it fails, I will die, but if I don’t try it, I will die anyway, and so an uncertain death is better than a certain death (unless of course the uncertain death is qualified with extraordinary amounts of suffering). Of course, if I had no reason for thinking that the plane was going to crash, then it would seem far risker to jump with the parachute than to simply trust in the mechanical safety of the air plane.

The problem is that there is a fundamental disconnect between the example of the parachute and religion, and that is that I cannot know the success rate of religion. The people who have jumped with it (i.e., who have died while believing) are unavailable to either observe or interview to discover the success rate of their beliefs. Add to this competing religions, some of which are mutually exclusive, and the difficulty of knowing what to do only grows exponentially. And so, this is why I think the most appropriate analogy is not the parachute, since I do not have access to past examples of success, but rather the light bulb. This is especially true since most religions claim that there is in fact verification available in this life. So, since the parachute analogy is unavailable to me due to a lack of information, the light bulb analogy is really the only method I have for gaining faith. Additionally, since the analogy between dying in a airplane crash isn’t death (that happens to everyone, even those who jump with the parachute of religious faith), but rather something like hell, it seems almost impossible to think it safer to trust in religion without first being convinced of it since there is no reason to believe in hell without believing there is a God who would send you there for unbelief (or allow you to go there, if “send” seems inappropriate). Thus, it seems even more important to get proof of God as He is described in Islam, not only so that I may believe in Him, but also that I might be more fully aware of the magnitude of the consequences of both belief and unbelief.

Except the Son Chooses

Matthew 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him

Choose me, O Lord. And if you do not find me worthy of such grace, then please consider my wife and my children and have mercy on them. At least let me believe on their behalf. And if you do not find the tears of my wife and her long suffering sufficient to move you on this matter, then take thought for your own name’s sake, and consider your own glory, and renew my faith, that praise might be directed to your graciousness and lovingkindness. I am in your hands, O God, for I am not able to revive my faith on my own. Only you can bring these dry bones back to life.

Ask, and it shall be given

Matthew 7:7,8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened

Lord, I know that the naysayers will say of me that I ask, but not with my heart; that I seek, but without effort; and that my knocking is feigned. But you know my heart, O Lord, refute those who speak ill of me, who think in their hearts to mock and deride my pleas. Here is your promise, my God, here is your word. I ask, help my unbelief, O Lord. Let yourself be known to me so that when I seek you may be found and I may believe. And care for my soul which grows faint with knocking and revive my hope in you. Your word cannot be broken, for you are Truth. Grant me to know you and to dwell in your presence forevermore.

When they saw the signs

Acts 8:6 And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did.

What signs do we witness today, that we too may give heed to the words spoken by your witnesses now. Are we to be content with being told that only the wicked desire a sign, or that those who believe without seeing are blessed? Perhaps they are blessed, but what of the others, who struggle and are in danger of losing you because their faith has been weakened? Would it not yet be a blessing to at least give them a sign. Even if it would not be the highest blessing, yet still it would be a blessing, at least a better blessing than to have lost their faith altogether. I will join my voice with the prodigal son, then, and confess to you, O Lord, that I am not worthy to be called your son, only let me have this lesser blessing and be counted within the number of your household. Have mercy, O Lord and heed my call, and turn not your face from me.

Signs and Wonders

Acts 5:12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.

Where are the signs and wonders today? Yes, it is said that an evil and adulterous generation will seek after signs, but are we to expect no signs? What of the mighty miracles of Jesus and the Apostles? These could not be confused and many were astonished and believed on account of them. Lord, will you once again show yourself to humanity through such as these and kindle faith in our hearts as you did in yesteryear?

Return, O Lord

Psalm 6:4 Return, O Jehovah, deliver my soul: Save me for thy lovingkindness’ sake.

What should I expect, O Lord, of your return? I do not hear your footsteps, nor can I see your shadow drawing closer to me. Will you show yourself to me? Will you speak my name that I might know your voice and heed your call? I do not know why, but I have lost my way, and like one of your lambs, I await your return and your deliverance. Save me for your lovingkindness’ sake and restore my faith in you, O God.