12/23/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Ben Love ~
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
This quote from old Tom is meant to be one that believers can use and feel good about, something that helps them differentiate themselves from us terrible advocates of reason.
Actually, to be honest, I love this quote. It’s quite accurate. I feel as though Tom has nailed the issue right at its heart. No explanation is possible, in my opinion. Why? Because if you have to find a way to explain it, then the chances are pretty good that it’s not self-evident on its own. If you have to manufacture an elucidation, perhaps you’re connecting the wrong dots.
I bring this quote up because it’s an important part of my “conversion story.” (Yes, that’s right; believers do not have the monopoly on conversion stories.)
Let me tell you about mine. Although, to be accurate, I suppose we should really call it my “de-conversion story.”
You see, for many weeks I had been exploring the historicity, validity, and possible implications of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. This event is, after all, at the very heart of the religion (if I may use the term in this instance) to which I (tentatively) belonged. I say "tentatively" because it had been many years since I’d been what you might call a committed Christian. Nevertheless, even though I was not gathered around the hard core, I was still on the fringes (of course, an argument can be made that if you’re not following your God with all your heart on an everyday basis you’re not really following him at all). The point is this: in my mind, I still held to the doctrines one is supposed to hold to in order to even loosely categorize himself as a Christian. And of those doctrines, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the backbone of everything, the heart, the very foundation upon which that particular religion is built.
Since, in all my years as both a committed and then tentative Christian, I had never really investigated the matter for myself, it seemed like a good idea to finally do so. I mean, if you’re a Christian (and I’m not in attack mode here, I’m being as polite and as sincere as I can be), then have you ever asked yourself exactly why you believe what you believe? It is, after all, a valid question. You go to church, say your prayers, and read your Bible, right? Okay, but why? Is it just because that is what your parents taught you? If so, being a Christian must be somewhat like being a Republican (it sort of is), or being Irish, or being a really good swimmer. In other words, you inherited it from your parents. And that is fine; there is nothing wrong with that. But I wanted to know why I believed this story about a man coming back to life after three days. And “just because my parents told me so” wasn’t good enough.
I will spare you the gory details of my meticulous investigation into this matter. Suffice it to say this: I was extremely underwhelmed with the evidence (I have another post regarding the fruits of my investigation; access it if you wish to know what I found). I had a very hard time coming to grips with the possibility that any of this could be based on fact. To believe so would require me to stretch my imagination far beyond what I felt was acceptable and healthy. And, to be honest, I agonized over this.
When I say I agonized over this, I want you to know that I really mean that. You don’t grow up in a Christian home and go for decades believing something and then, when you come to find out it might not be true, let go of that belief easily. Besides, in Christianity there is a built-in protection clause designed to keep people from questioning: Hell.
Yes, I was in agony.
The issue was not whether the resurrection was true or not. The issue was what was required to accept it as true.And then one night I had an epiphany. It was so profound and yet so utterly simple. I thought that I had been researching the heart of the matter, the crux upon which the entire issue depended. In an instant, however, I realized this was wrong. All wrong. The issue was not whether the resurrection was true or not. The issue was what was required to accept it as true. I suddenly realized that the problem I was agonizing over had nothing to do with whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, but rather the methodology by which I was approaching the question in the first place. The methodology I was using was, of course, a faith-based methodology. Even now, in my desire to objectively study the evidence, I was still wearing the faith lens. It had never occurred to me before that the problem was not the material but the method by which I was digesting it.
That was the moment of freedom, when my methodology switched from faith to reason. I remember I was sitting at my computer, reading an unrelated article, when this epiphany hit me. I suddenly stood up and went over to my couch, where I flopped down on my back, the better to study the ceiling. As I thought through this epiphany, I began to realize that I was in shackles, chained to a worldview in which I no longer had any interest. And what were those chains made of? Faith! I was a prisoner of faith. Faith determined everything I did, how I viewed anything and everything, how I filtered new information, and how I processed it. And for the entire scope of my life, nothing had ever made sense! Now I knew why. I realized that I was investigating the wrong issue. (The next day I scrapped my study of the resurrection and turned my attention instead to the debate between faith and reason).
As I lay there on my couch, I suddenly understood that I wasn’t saying “no” to God and Jesus as much as I was saying “no” to faith. A splitting of hairs? Maybe. Saying no to the latter is to say no to the former. But the perspective, which had always seemed quite off before, now seemed right. And that made all the difference. I finally let go of faith and allowed myself to disentangle from it. Instantly, a wave of euphoria unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life washed over me. Why? Because I was free! The shackles were gone! I was now openly permitted (I didn’t need God’s permission; I had my own permission now) to look at the world, at myself, at the evidence, at everything from a fresh perspective—not with a new lens, but with no lens! I could look at everything just as it was, not as how I was taught it was supposed to be! I felt so free that I began to laugh hysterically. And I wept. I wept so deeply and so profoundly that I can’t even describe the fullness of my joy. Why was I happy? Because I was free.
The next day, I became an atheist once and for all, because once I pulled the first layer off the onion, I was free to rip all the other layers off quite quickly. I have never once regretted my atheism, or come to doubt that it is, by far, the right way forward for me.
And there you have it. I’m a new creation; alive, awoken, and very much atheist. Tom was right; no explanation is needed and no explanation is possible. I no longer have to believe anything. I am free to just know what I know and examine that which I do not yet know.