Sunday, December 16, 2012

Losing Faith

Losing faith was a long process.  For 20 years I built a structure with many moving parts.  When combined, the structure could defend itself from any attack - the attack of other religions, of liberals, of abortion lovers, of doubt itself.  This faith that I had, that we as a group of Christians had, was impenetrable.  Within those walls dwelled certainty.  Certainty that we were loved by the creator of everything, that our faith granted us the keys to heaven, and the certainty that everyone else was wrong.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten clarity on why this loss of faith has been so painful for me.  From the beginning of my upbringing in the Baptist church, it was never enough to leave faith alone.  Faith always came with justification.  Everything we believed came with a reason why it was true.  Whether it be believing in creation (we can prove this through science!), the flood (science again), the life of Jesus (there are x number of manuscripts from the Bible, which is waaaaay more than any other book), etc.. it wasn’t ever just about believing these things were true.  It was about KNOWING they were true.  People like Josh McDowell and Randy Alcorn wrote books giving kids the “answers” to all the questions they might face from their heathen friends.  I memorized all these answers, forged them with my faith, and proceeded to try to convince the unbelievers that they were wrong.

Faith, by definition, does not involve the known.  It involves the believed, things past the point of evidence and proof.  The parts of my religious experience that I mourn to this day are the parts that truly were faith.  I miss the emotion that comes with believing Jesus was speaking to me directly.  I miss the feeling of purpose that came with an undeniable place in this world.  I miss the connection my relationship with Christ gave me with my mom.  In many ways, I miss Jesus.

By tying rationalization to faith so strongly, the church unknowingly made it quite easy to start tearing down the faith structure.  Once I was smarter than the people leading youth group, and their answers turned to some form of “you just have to have faith,” it wasn’t good enough.  I’d never had to just “have faith” before - there was always a reason to believe.  I didn’t think my faith was built on fairy tales and wishful thinking, I thought it was built on solid evidence, or at least, was more likely to be true than not.  When the evidence I thought was there turned out to be either made-up, driven by bad logic, or intentionally misleading, I took my structure apart, piece by piece, until there was nothing left.

What lingers, what keeps me from being content with the dreary conclusions of atheism are the remnant feelings of true faith that I want to so badly to hang on to.  To feel connected to the creator of everything, to feel like I have a purpose, to feel a guiding hand.  As a father, I feel like I owe it to my daughter to never be content with what I think at any given moment.  Thanks to some indoctrination by her daycare lady, Taylor really wants me to believe in God, and in Jesus.  We’ve been attending a Quaker meeting for a few months, and she enjoys the Sunday school there.  Last week she asked me right after church, “dad, do you believe in Jesus now?”  I told her I don’t, but she can if she wants to.  After all, I know exactly what it feels like.

I discovered an album by one of my favorite musicians, David Bazan.  His path is very similar to mine.  He wrote an album about losing faith, and this song has been with me this week:

In Stitches, by David Bazan

my body bangs and twitches
some brown liquor wets my tongue
my fingers find the stitches
firmly back and forth they run

i need no other memory
of the bits of me i left
when all this lethal drinking
is to hopefully forget
about you

i might as well admit it
like i even have a choice
the crew have killed the captain
but they still can hear his voice

a shadow on the water
a whisper in the wind
on long walks with my daughter
who is lately full of questions
about you

when job asked you question
you responded "who are you
to challenge your creator?"
well if that one part is true

it makes you sound defensive
like you had not thought it through
enough to have an answer
like you might have bit off
more than you could chew

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Guns

On Guns

With another murder/suicide in the news, the usual gun control debate is all over the media.  It’s a story we’ve heard before.  Angry person with possession of a death toy, people wind up dead.  The argument is one we’ve heard before, too.  While not exactly a liberal vs. conservative issue, there seem to be two sides: outlaw guns (or at least the automatic ones) vs. don’t outlaws guns.

The arguments for outlawing guns are certainly compelling.  I’m not too interested in the stats, but we can all agree that most violent and accidental deaths in this country, if they don’t involve a vehicle, involved a gun.  We can probably also agree that this is not what we want to be happening.  But is that where our agreement has to stop?

The pro-gun side will cite the founding fathers, the 2nd amendment, and the natural human need to defend one’s self.  The prohibition side will argue that automatic weapons go far beyond anything needed for simple defense, will probably bring up the nefarious intentions of the NRA, and can provide endless stats showing that far too many accidental deaths occur because children have access to guns, as do angry people in an argument.

In general, I try to base my opinions on laws on pragmatics.  Just like with abortion and the use of  most drugs, just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean someone should go to jail for it.  It’s also pragmatic to recognize that politicians aren’t interested in using their political muscle on issues related to guns.  The outrage towards guns flares after an incident, then dies when people forget it.  A few months later, something else happens, we all throw bumper stickers at each other, and then we move on.  Let’s admit that after Columbine, Batman-gate, and hundreds of accidental child deaths, if guns are still legal, it’s not likely to change.

So what now?  There’s an awful lot of apathy on both sides.  The prohibitionists spend a lot of time arguing for the banning of certain guns (much like pro-life protesters spend a lot of time waving signs in the rain), but very little time trying to end the systemic problems that bring the issue up in the first place (also like said protesters).  The pro-gun people simply make their usual points, and go on their way, apparently with little concern with how many people are dying from death toys.

If we really care about people like we say we do, we need to do better than rehashing our arguments every time someone kills with a gun.  We can’t control many of the systemic causes of our problem.  We can’t force the TV networks to tone down the rhetoric and name-calling anytime someone disagrees.  We can’t take away the speech rights of musicians, rappers, and artists that glorify violence.  And we probably can’t end the nation’s absurd bloodlust, which results in the worship of soldiers and war.

But we can control what we say as individuals.  One at a time, we can make our best effort to calm down, listen before speaking, and treat other people with decency and respect.  We don’t have to follow the example being given by our favorite political pundit.  We don’t have to call people idiots on Facebook.  If there’s one systemic problem we can fix all by ourselves, it’s the elevated tone of our routine conversations.  And I’d suggest that if we can all calm down, we’ll all be less likely to believe that our problems have to be resolved instantly and violently.

P.S.  Slave-owning Brits founding a country doesn’t make them experts on 21st century domestic policy.  Just sayin’.