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The Life-Changing First Year as an Agnostic

By Justin B. ~

For nearly a year, I've wandered my life as an agnostic, or something unidentifiable.Labeling my deep disillusionment with a religion founded on a deeply immoral theology detailing the existence of hell for the "unbelieving" seems arbitrary. Some Christian would accost me, and label me an inveterate sinner for honestly admitting that I have deep doubts in Christian dogma . Rooted in Christianity is an overzealous belief that anyone that mentally diverges from the belief of the masses have committed the paradoxical sin that cannot be forgiven. I have tirelessly tried again and again , to no avail, to perhaps carve out belief within this establishment, but it has become nearly impossible. Instead, I have started to see the church as a whole as being something that greatly held me back both ethically, philosophically, and psychologically. Above all, the belief within eternal damnation for those whose beliefs have no foundation in Christianity is unconscionable. This notion of there being a hell, for me, completely trivializes Jesus, and I would go to the extent of declaring it as something "heretical." It certainly became an injurious belief in the lives of many. In other religions, hell has always been the reflection of our hatred which is ruled principally by our fear of the unknown. When my Christian faith was based off this fear of the forensic God, scrupulously analyzing my mind for undesirable traits that made me worthy of being in hell, I thought of Yoda's words in Stars Wars that go something like this:"Fear leads to anger, anger leads to something else that ushers us into the "dark side." We don't all have to literally don a black suit and mask of villainy to sense our "dark side" When I was the Christian who feared eternal wrath for having any shred of doubt, which led me to becoming masochistic, I lived deeply within my "dark side," and was entombed in a state of crippling depression.

I feel like it would be impossible to step within a church, knowing that the mainstay theology that once coerced me to stay was "grave fear," that God was obdurate when it came to his wrath, but flexible with his love. His "love" seemed to be trivialized by the very notion that his believers must fearfully remain steadfast in their doubtless belief within a litany of unproven doctrines that are largely metaphorical. I've tried reading theology only to become emotionally frustrated by the lack of emotional truth found within these doctrines.

Madeleine L'Engle has remained my anchor, even as an agnostic, sometimes as an atheist, or generally just a seeker. She's one of those few writers whom I find to deepen their stories with a sense of "emotional truth." The gravity of love for "God," in any of her stories is not based on dogma, but is indistinctly viewed through our embittered hearts, and our innumerable frustrations with a world that is so astonishingly mysterious that it saddens her that our religious rhetoric untruthfully shapes God, and the universe as being simplistically known without any questions, or grievances. Her characters are loved for their deep mystery, the type of complex mystery that intuitive Shakespeare characters like Hamlet begged Rosencratz and Guildenstern, the newly employed cronies of King Claudius, not to maliciously deprive him of.

I'm always poring over books about parallel universes, quantum physics, history to grant my mind the type of nourishing knowledge that grants me a profound sense of our world. I can still vaguely recall that moment when I was first visiting the Smithsonian museum, and shouting invective words of outrage over the heretical Evolution display. Looking back, I find the situation to be ludicrous, and even shameful when compared to where I am now. It was then where I was beginning to hate my inquisitiveness. All my ideas were on loan from Sunday School who strictly lectured to us about the dangers of Evolutionary science. While I knew Evolution only to the extent to pass a Biology test, I was never mystified by the grandeur of what I now see as a beautiful theory. It took me till I was 20 (I'm 22 now) to be able to comprehend it, and appreciate it. Part of the tragedy of my Christian life lied with purging all bad ideas, and failing to examine them for myself. I've always passively accepted everything, without any real thoughts or considerations of my own.

Fascinatingly, Karen Armstrong had a similar experience during her religious fallout. In Spiral Staircase, a wonderful memoir of hers, she elaborates upon her embarrassing experience when trying to reclaim her mind. It took me a long time to reclaim my own mind. Some Christians might see this as my slow process of idolizing myself, rather than God. That idea is rubbish, since we all have minds, and I've soon witnessed that many religious followers excel in the art of unconsciously projecting their fears and desires upon this God. None of us, including myself, are ever going to completely escape the clutches of our minds unless we literally kill ourselves. Also, if we have no ounce of self-respect for ourselves, How can we ever learn to have compassion for them? To me, I really believe this has become an unneeded stumbling block for some Christians: this insistence to escape "our minds." Its simply neurotic.

For this reason, I still suffer from the paranoia that any stray unholy thought will cause destruction to my family. I fear everyday that there will be a F-5 Tornado that will devastate our homes. Sometimes, I am overtaken with blood-curdling fear that I might die unpredictably, and paradoxically cease to "be." After leaving Christianity, I have not departed from my fear of death, but I do feel like I am able to not behoove that fear as being inspired by Satan. Instead, I see it as the major motivation behind our need for transcendence. Everyday, I find transcendence by reflecting upon the immensity of the universe, the mind-numbing mathematical concept of there being multiple "infinities", stretched confusedly beyond the initial "infinity," that we can't logically count to during the course of our timed lives. This fear of death, above all, makes me feel more humble, and strangely more motivated to seek to love, but not hate others. How did the ideal of compassion in Christianity, and many other religions become ruined by dogma, or an obsessive hatred of homosexuality and feminism?

When the thought of "death" pervades me, I think of the story of Orpheus. Towards the beginning of his life, he felt pure, unadulterated euphoria because he was able to live enjoy music without the terrorizing knowledge of mortality. He meets an awe-inspiring woman named "Eurydice" who is freed from a tree that is profoundly moved by Orpheus' music. Sadly, Eurydice dies one day, and Eurydice ventures to Hades to retrieve his soul. Hades remains emotionally unmoved by Eurydice's heartfelt pleas to salvage Eurydice's soul. Finally, after Hade's queen convinces him to show some mercy, Hades finally permits Orpheus to be able to gain her soul back, as long as he can walk walk out of Hades without looking behind him to see if her soul is following. Eventually, as he makes his arduous journey out of Hades, he succumbs to deep desire to see her again and finds that she's not there. Suddenly, he becomes despondent, and the people of his village are greatly saddened that Orpheus' misery has kept him playing festive music anymore that gave people a transcendent experience. When he regains some parcel of his happiness, he begins playing for the villagers and finds himself sensing Eurydice's spirit within him.

What does this myth grant me, and others? This wonderful myth, like many Greek myths, validates the transient nature of our lives. More importantly, it shows the virtue of "living our lives to the fullest," without becoming consumed with the misery from nihilism. None of us will ever know where the dead venture to. Perhaps, we just die, and decompose along with a crumbling Earth, and a universe that is set to be destroyed by the destructive force of entropy. We don't need a specified view of religion to cull these truths from myths, or stories. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and many superhero comics have the ubiquitous concept of the "chosen one." Why are we so edified by these stories? These heroes often reflect ourselves, and even our journey as human beings. More importantly, they don't have restrictive religious connotations behind them because our lives are always similarly framed by the question of "Who we Are, and what is the purpose behind our lives?" How do we endure in a life that seems so unendurable, and worthless by the menace of "death?"

I'm always asking these questions, and will continue to even when outside the boundaries of a church. It doesn't matter whether I don't have a certain prescribed religion. My life is enriched by my questions, and my yearning for knowledge. I'll never forget the year that I took an Astronomy course, and we watched a video with Stephen Hawkings. While, I'm not an atheist by any means (the potential for a God hasn't left me), the video contained mesmerizing images of our universe. Its staggering for me to consider "Creationism Science," to be preferable to the naturalistic beauty of our universe. We don't need God to "conjure" things into existence. Our very existence being sourced from one subatomic particles, or perhaps of myriad number of them is truly awe-inspiring. Within Madeleine L'Engle's books, she describes the peace, and stimulating vision of watching the stars and wondering about their origins or whether they exist or not anymore (according to Einstein's theory of relativity) There are many scientific theories that are constantly widening our vantage of the world, and ironically, this body of knowledge is also increasing the mystery of the universe. As an agnostic, this is a deep appreciation that I could never have incorporated in my world view as the type of doubtless Christian I formerly was.