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posted by [personal profile] 1ngi at 12:00am on 12/08/2009 under , , ,
Dawkins annoyed me the most the day when he admitted that he hadn't appreciated that a person could suffer grief through the loss of their faith.  A woman enlightened him one day during a question and answer session and he later blogged about his amazement to learn that this had happened to people (I can't find the ref on his site right now). He previous lack of empathy was more than a little shocking but I suppose that he had the good grace to admit that he needed to be more aware of this.

I've been peeling back the layers my beliefs over many years and I have still yet to settle on a definitive description of what I do and don't believe.

Known to others as Mormons and to themselves as LDS, it wasn't until I was about ten, I think, that it dawned on me that my family and I belonged to what other people considered one of those wacky 'cults' . On my Mum's side I was a third generation Mormon - my Grandfather, even at  90 years old is still very active in his church ministering Home Teaching to his sisters and brothers. (You don't use Mr and Mrs - you say 'Sister Joan' or 'Brother John' when you address each other.).

My parents divorced, my sister and me left Germany and came back to England with our mother where we drifted away from the LDS. I started questioning for my self around the age of 14 and naturally picked up the Book of Mormon as a starting point. Whatever I was looking for, it wasn't in there. My mother's book shelves, which were vast, had books on everything from Erich Von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods, studies of the gnostic gospels to a copy of the Talmud. Over my teens I read the lot. I also studied RE at A level which took in the synoptic gospels and Islam.


I had a powerful conversion experience in my late teens and became very active in our local church and immersed myself by helping lead the youth group, joined the choir, ran the Christian youth at school for time, and generally behaved like an evangelical pain in the arse. I found myself reacting to the staidness of the CoE and kept sneaking off to the charismatic church at Brickhill Baptist to take part in services with healings and the speaking of tongues. What kicked all of this in the pants was watching the considerable pain of my dearest friend, M, being rejected by his church and his parents when he came out. This was all the more uncomfortable set against my own uncertain sexuality. That, and having studied the origins of the bible, realising that the books that found their way in there had more to do with politics than the guiding hand of the Lord.

I've never lost sight of the story of Jesus wandering off as a kid and found questioning the teachers in the Temple. It was probably an example that kept me holding on to my faith my my fingernails because my continual searching and questioning was validated by his example.

By my mid-twenties things had got to the point where I would often find myself telling people that the only Christianity I could hold on to were the actual words of Jesus and that the rest was just, well, in today's parlance, 'guidelines'.  Without wishing to offend anyone on my friends list, I personally feel Christians might better be called Paulians due to the disproportionate amount of his teaching in the New Testament.

The diminishment of my faith at this point felt heartbreaking. And frightening - what if the devil had really done his work well here and that actually I had turned away and would end up in hell? I never believed hell to be the cartoon version - but a place that was eternally without God.  I think it is rather disturbing that my fear was the last thing to die rather than the love. The way the place of women and LGBT issues were dealt with in the church was seeming ever more nonsensical. I think I still believed that there was a God at this time but more in the sense of creation being god and an expression of the divine consciousness.

My darling Siôn considers that one is not approaching maturity in ones beliefs unless you've changed them at least twice. I was challenged by a friend a few years back who dismissed my then current thinking (whatever it was) out of hand "because I was always changing my mind". Meeting someone who respected my personal evolution was refreshing and a wonderful boost to my esteem.

This process of evolving/devolving has continued all the way through my life to a point where I can rationally cope with the concept of atheism. But my heart does not cope with it at all.

I find myself treasuring the thought that higher mammals have evolved emotions and specifically love as one of their key survival mechanisms. That's a true wonder. When I die I want to buried beneath a tree so that atoms that were once inside stars, and became part of me, will become part of the tree. It will bring forth fruit and be eaten by birds and insects. And so on. I hold dear to the knowledge that I say expressions that were said by my forbears and that my nephew copies me. I kneel in front of a fire and notice what almost feels like muscle memory as I go to light it.

And what of music?

"The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank"

Attributed to Dante Gabriel Rossetti

You see there should be a god. Probably.

There are 12 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
kake: The word "kake" written in white fixed-font on a black background. (Default)
posted by [personal profile] kake at 12:48am on 12/08/2009
This is an excellent post, and I identify with so much of it.

I think the point where I started turning away from Christianity (and this is complicated in itself; I don't think I ever believed in any gods at all, and my family was not religious, yet I still made my own efforts to participate in religious culture; I think this is partly because I have an eagerness to try things) was when I told a Sunday school teacher about a triumphant success that my brass band had had in a regional competition, and said that we'd gone to the pub afterwards, and she visibly flinched at the thought of alcohol being involved in our celebrations. Admittedly I was about 13 or 14 at the time, so my drinking wasn't really appropriate, but I still remember this as a point where I was expected to choose between two world views, and I felt that the religious side was too intolerant for me to really identify with.

I am completely with Siôn on the matter of changing one's beliefs. I find myself baffled at the idea that beliefs should never change; similarly at the idea that perfect logical consistency is desirable. I will contradict myself on occasion — of course I will, since specific situations can't be neatly packaged into combinations of factors.

I will argue with this — "The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank" — if I find myself in a situation where everything's gone really well and I couldn't ask for a better resolution, then the last thing I want is to have to attribute this to a higher power. It's either luck and nothing more, or sheer hard work on my part — and luck can happen to anyone at any time, and hard work is under my own control; while divine favour can be withdrawn at a whim.
Edited Date: 2009-08-12 12:50 am (UTC)
 
posted by [identity profile] 1ngi.livejournal.com at 02:13pm on 12/08/2009
It's not those moments of personal hard work that I feel empathy for Rossetti's words. As I say in my response to Simont below, it's about those extraordinary moments that are beyond the people concerned that I feel gratitude for. Some things in life can feel downright miraculous given enough past history and so when something goes so very very right or when the sun shines, and the day is beautiful, I find it hard to know 'where' to put my feelings of joy and thankfulness.

Perhaps it is as Simont says, that if you are brought up without theism, you don't develop that reflex.
kake: The word "kake" written in white fixed-font on a black background. (Default)
posted by [personal profile] kake at 09:12pm on 12/08/2009
Ah, I see what you mean now... no, I don't feel that lack.
 
posted by [identity profile] hilarityallen.livejournal.com at 09:23am on 12/08/2009
Thank you for writing this.
ailbhe: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] ailbhe at 11:01am on 12/08/2009
Very interesting. I was never raised with a faith, except as insurance. That loss is... outside my experience in many ways.
 
posted by [identity profile] sphyg.livejournal.com at 12:22pm on 12/08/2009
I was raised not-very-strict CofE but never really believed in it all. Sometimes I wish I did.
simont: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] simont at 12:53pm on 12/08/2009
Interesting post!

"The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank"

An interesting comment for me to disagree with :-) I'm guessing that this sort of feeling occurs more among atheists who were brought up theist or theistish and later changed their minds, so that their minds had already acquired the reflex to feel generically thankful when good things happen (as opposed to simply happy, or grateful to a specific person involved), and that reflex still persists but no longer has an object. I can't recall ever having felt the same thing, which I conjecture is because I was brought up completely secularly, so I never acquired the reflex in the first place.

(I occasionally manage to feel out of place even among atheists in certain kinds of religion discussion, because I think atheists who have chosen to reject a previously theist upbringing have a whole lot of formative experience in common that I don't share. Of course, among never-theist-in-the-first-place people, I tend to talk about some totally different subject instead anyway :-)

one is not approaching maturity in ones beliefs unless you've changed them at least twice

Oh dear. Perhaps I'd better hastily adopt a religion so I can throw it away again, or I'll never get there! :-)
 
posted by [identity profile] 1ngi.livejournal.com at 02:07pm on 12/08/2009
I think I identify with Rossetti's sense of want most often at those times when experiencing a great flood of well-being. This can be triggered by happy family contact, or realising that you are in a good solid loving relationship, or walking into a beautiful landscape that makes your heart ache. I can also find that deep sense of sheer gratitude when I'm in the middle of a creative endeavor such as drawing or singing with others. Some of it can be attributed to the people you are with and to the dedication that you have contributed, but the feeling is so intense it seems to be beyond the people involved.

Perhaps this makes me sound crazy. As a believer it would certainly be ascribed to the greatness of god - a convenient and vast enough entity to take the credit. Now? Those rare but precious moments of ecstasy seem a little empty without some divine spark to mop up the excess.
emperor: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] emperor at 02:28pm on 12/08/2009
Thank you for sharing this.
 
posted by [identity profile] 1ngi.livejournal.com at 02:41pm on 12/08/2009
Thank you for reading - I hope I've not caused you offence. I feel my most 'tiptoe-ee' with regard to people who have faith. However, although I've only really known you online, you've never struck me as someone who judges'.
emperor: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] emperor at 02:50pm on 12/08/2009
Nothing offensive here at all!
 
posted by [identity profile] atreic.livejournal.com at 08:15pm on 12/08/2009
Hey, the story is a remarkably parallel one to that of his wife, (except we were salvationists, and I assume my friend A is a different person to your friend M). So if he was going to not react well to it I'd be very surprised!

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