It is deeply encouraging, to know that I am not the only one who has made a conscious decision to place a higher value on Truth than on the emotional and social utility of religious belief. Leaving Christianity has been the hardest thing I have ever done, and I am not emotionally out of the woods yet - it is hard.
I don't feel that it is either or - that either Christianity is true, or God does not exist. I have read a great deal by ex-Christian Agnostics and Atheists, and so have the impression that for many who deconvert, that is the case. At this is stage in the process, I am more in the Deist category, with some pretty strong leanings towards the mental and spiritual, though not religious, aspects of Buddhism, or Enlightenment Pantheists such as Spinoza. Though jettisoning Christianity and Catholicism is a pretty straight-forward process based simply on History and Reason, Philosophers have been talking about God for a very, very long time. Just because a religion is false, it is not categorically implicit that the false image of God created to instill fear, hope and control over a given social community (or nation, or Empire) negates the existence of Ultimate Mind, Pure Spirit, what have you.
I think there are good reasons for belief in a Supreme of some kind. The very best reason I have encountered is the Physicist Roger Penrose explaining the odds required for a Universe such as ours to start at a state of low entropy relative to the level of entropy we have now - based on the mathematical probabilities of starting such a state of low entropy in "phase space". The odds are incredible that any possible universe would start in such a state - 10 raised to 10 raised the 143rd power (a triple exponent). That is a really, really big number, equivalent to the total number of subatomic particles in the Universe. I mean, that is a huge number. Penrose didn't bring this up to prove anything, it was simply part of the overview of reality he was presenting to demonstrate the non-computability of human consciousness in his brilliant refutation of Strong AI, The Emperors New Mind. It gave me a lot of food for thought.
Leaving Catholicism was a product of an attempt to strengthen my faith by studying Church History. As many of you know, attempting to reconcile the Church's claims for herself with her actual History is simply untenable; incoherent in fact. I do not believe it is possible to be intellectually honest and remain Catholic once one has a good understanding of Church History; but fact and Truth are no obstacle to people who have chosen to believe, facts be damned. I could write a book about it, and someday, probably will, but it was reading James Carroll's book, Constantine's Sword, that really set me on the path of doubt, ending in sheer abhorrence that I could have ever taken part in History's Greatest Cult. The evil that the Church is directly responsible for boggles the mind.
That still left Jesus, of course - but the reason I became a Catholic was because I could no longer believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture. I chanced upon some Catholic apologetics that pointed out that the Church precedes scripture; that the Bible comes from the Church, not the other way around. True enough, and it was enough for me to latch onto in my desire to remain a Christian; the authority rests in the Church Jesus gave to us!
How do we know the Church is true? Because Jesus gave Her to us. How do we know Jesus gave us the Church? Because the Church says so, and she is infallible. How do we know the Church is infallible? Because Jesus said so! How do we know Jesus said so...The circular reasoning apparent in such a setup at first eluded me, but it became more apparent with time (How do we know the Church is true? Because Jesus gave Her to us. How do we know Jesus gave us the Church? Because the Church says so, and she is infallible. How do we know the Church is infallible? Because Jesus said so! How do we know Jesus said so...you get the picture).
Once belief in the Church was no longer tenable, I took a deeper look at what scholarship has to say about the Bible, Old and New Testament, as well as the texts. Some of the rationalizations from both Catholic and Protestant apologists that the God of the Old Testament authorized Joshua to commit genocide went from being difficult to swallow, to impossible. There is simply no way to rationally reconcile a God of Love with a God of Genocide.
After much reading, I finally came to the conclusion that Dan Barker, Bart Ehrman, Gerd Lüdemann, and many others were correct - the Resurrection didn't happen. The only thing we can say historically is that Jesus's earliest followers had emotional and spiritual experiences of him following his death. The 'Flesh and Blood' legends came later (as did much of the narratives in the Gospels, especially John).
This, coupled with my reasoning concerning certain egregious doctrines such as Hell and Original sin, finally left me with the conclusion that Christianity, as such, cannot possibly be true. I don't have a problem with miracles or the Resurrection in principle; the Physicist convert Frank Tipler has a great definition of miracles that don't even contradict natural law (try the Resurrection and the dematerialization events as being conversion to Neutrinos and back again, heh).
However, the doctrine of the Fall, Original Sin, and Hell are simply incoherent and incompatible with any understanding of God as a being of reason and love. If the God of the Bible exists, he's a monster. It is not morally coherent to posit the existence of a God of Love who decided to create billions of souls knowing they will burn forever (and even the modern 'hell-light' rationalizations of the doctrine fail miserably). Having perfect foreknowledge means the ability to create only those beings who would freely choose you, so all the arguments of Theodicy fail completely; it is either that, or you place limits on God's Omniscience, and he is no longer God.
Is any kind of God compatible with the Universe as it is? I don't know, but I still believe so (not think, believe). I believe in God, still, based on other grounds (despite the trashing Design Theory gets, they do make a lot of good points, but none of which point towards a "Christian" God, merely a Grand Designer; hence my sympathies towards a from of Deism, more of a Panentheism Panpsychism actually). If this, as Ireneus posited, is simply a veil of tears for the growth of souls, with no heinous doctrines such as Original Sin, Hell, and the Fall of Man having any correspondence to actual reality, then it is possible that God exists without the Problem of Evil becoming philosophically insurmountable.
Such a being would be a very different being from that of the blood-thirsty Bronze Age Warrior God of Judeo-Christianity, but I don't think such a Being is necessary, merely probable. Somedays, I am Agnostic, other days, a sort of Deist; on no days, however, do I believe such a being to be so insecure that he would demand blind belief with the penalty of ever-lasting torment being the price to be paid for believing 10 impossible things before breakfast.
There is much, much more, but this is a good start. Thanks for listening.
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