11/01/2010 | Share this article:By (name withheld) ~
On Friday evening, August 8, 2003, my oldest and then teenage daughter and I were wrapping up a 10 day adventure boat tour of the Galapagos Islands. We had spent the previous five days in the distant reaches of the island chain, visiting the island of Darwin, named of course for Charles Darwin. This remote and uninhabited island is a 30 hour boat ride from home base for the boat and the airport that will return us to mainland Ecuador. We had one final evening to spend in a small town. A chance to see the tortoises and buy souvenirs for my family at home. They called it a transition back to civilization.
Image by Mike_tn via FlickrThen the pain started.
A sharp shooting pain in my abdomen that forced me to sit down. While my daughter browsed for a post card and a souvenir, I suddenly was unable to remain standing up. I was in trouble and afraid, although incredibly thankful that I was in a village rather than on a remote island where I had been just 30 hours earlier.
Twelve hours later, I found myself arriving at a hospital in Quito Ecuador. After an emergency evacuation which included a four hour flight on a medivac plane and an ambulance trip through the streets of Quito, I was lowered onto a waiting stretcher. An elderly woman looked down at me and grabbed my hand and assured me that I would be OK. She explained that she was a lifelong nursing friend of my mother-in-law’s and she would ensure that I got the care that I needed. She had been a missionary nurse here in Quito for many years and had come back here for a vacation. A few minutes later, I was informed that I would require immediate surgery for a strangulated hernia. My angel went to the ER with me.
Seven years after successful treatment for an incredibly dangerous situation, I watched the rescue of 33 Chilean miners. All of them gave their thanks to god for their miraculous rescue. Now a total skeptic, I observed the obvious—to give god credit for rescue, requires that you hold god responsible for letting the situation happen in the first place. Why give credit to a being which always arrives after the crises happens, not before.
I now live a life of a non-believer in a world full of Christians. Almost daily, I hear individuals talk about how their faith gets them through difficult times. I have no doubt of their sincerity or the validation that they see through the filter of faith that they wear. But seven years ago, my belief in god was very much in flux. The miraculous appearance of the angelic nurse would be the ultimate test for the war of reason versus supernatural. For my family and relatives, the story was a miraculous validation of the intrusion of a deity in our lives. For my analytical mind, it teased me with evidence for the divine while I increasingly rejected supernatural explanations for what happened to me.
Ultimately, I decided to reject the supernatural altogether. My rescue in 2003 was a combination of great misfortune, poor timing, high quality medical care, and loving family who helped me through. I will forever be thankful for the “angel” who appeared at a time of great need and helped me through my ordeal. But she was not a chess piece on a supernatural game board. She would have been on vacation in Quito whether I had needed her or not. Everyone of our lives are full of ordinary events and a few that are extremely unlikely.
Our interpretation of these type of events are at the heart of what separates those who believe in god from those of us who do no. Faith creates the energy to perpetuate itself. For someone who believes in God, there is no ratinal explanation for my encounter and rescue in Quito. For reasons that I can no longer understand, people of faith always see a god that gets involved at the point of greatest need. Crises are random and without cause. Rescues require divine involvement.
Having now lost my faith, I look at each of these situations as more evidence that a random and chaotic world happens without any strategic planning. Natural disasters happen and innocent people die while other people live. This past summer, I saw an interview with a pastor who had survived a tornado that had killed the rest of his family. He thanked God for telling him to move to a place of safety. The rest of his flock marveled at his survival. For him, his faith helped him make sense of a terrible tragedy. His life was a testimony to a loving god. For me, this situation could have only two explanations. Either tragedies happen randomly or they are planned by a angry and capricious God. Only faith allows you to see a loving god that descends to save a lucky one or two. But to me, I see that faith precludes a rational acceptance of what really happens.
I now live a life of a non-believer in a world full of Christians. Almost daily, I hear individuals talk about how their faith gets them through difficult times. I have no doubt of their sincerity or the validation that they see through the filter of faith that they wear. Whether they face unemployment, financial loss, relationship problems, or medical challenges, they always claim that faith gets them through. But while they make that claim, they suffer just the same. To me, faith makes very little difference in how much we hurt during times of loss.
I once agreed to read several of the Lee Stroebel books on the case for Christianity that would hopefully cure my disbelief. Each chapter purported to address a major reason for disbelief. What I found is that without exception, that every chapter had something akin to “While we might doubt the evidence for __________, we know that God does so many other things that we are compelled to believe.” That sums up the enormous gulf between those of belief and disbelief. Once one has crossed the chasm, the faith filter is gone. The overwhelming evidence for god disappears like morning fog on a sunny day. Technology and heroic men rescued the Chilean miners, not an invisible spirit.
So what causes us to change our “filters” and move from one side that sees god in the rescue to a rationalist view that sees that god cannot possibly involve himself with both sides? I have spent hours trying to understand the shift that takes place. I sometimes liken it to walking into a missing elevator and falling, falling, falling. It is a gut wrenching experience that has been described by many. When it is done, we are forever changed.
It is hard for me to comprehend the beliefs that I once held. While I miss many of them, I have no doubt about my new found unbelief. I have chosen to deny my belief in a god that always arrives late. Life is simpler for me now. Without faith, I have lost the ability to use the filter that allowed me to see god in the chaos of life. But living in truth provides great comfort. Even Pascal’s Wager, which entreats us to believe just in case we need to, fails without the the faith filter which I now lack.
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