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Unlearning God

By Ben Love ~

I think the biggest mistake I ever made in life was choosing to believe in a personal God. From this one choice, so many other wrong choices followed. Because I took part in the God delusion, I went through roughly the first third of my life believing a lie, a lie that led me to think there was a benevolent force in the Universe who cared about me, knew me personally, and was involved the minutiae of my daily life. When a person believes such things as these, he is liable to make choices based on those beliefs. Since I now know there is no personal God in existence, I must reflect on my life thus far and realize, with some sadness and regret, that I made the wrong choices for the wrong reasons.

There is also the unfortunate fact that my development as a human being was stunted. Rather than learn to depend upon myself and, in so doing, learn to cultivate my own resourcefulness, I turned instead to an imaginary being in times of hardship or sadness. Based on my beliefs at the time (reflected in the oft-quoted cliché so popular among believers: “Let go, and let God”), I felt it would have been wrong and prideful—even sinful—to solve my own problems without taking them instead to God, where apparently they belonged. And so, compelled as I was through the expectations of my religion, I chose not to learn any kind self-reliance and chose instead to learn what might be called “faith-reliance-in-God.” Now, if this God were real and actively involved in my daily affairs, perhaps this would be the right way to go. Since he is not real, however, and thus not involved in my affairs or in anyone’s affairs, what can be said about my approach to the living of life other than that it was the height of absurdity, bordering on the insane?

This willingness to embrace the help of an invisible God rather than learn to help myself also had its roots in the most basic tenets of my religion’s theology. I was, after all, worthless on my own. I was wayward, fallen, undesirable to God the way I was, and so steeped in sinfulness that trusting my own instincts and insights, even for a moment, would have sent me into a dark chasm of destruction and doom. Right? This implication, spoken loudly in some churches and cleverly unspoken in others, is at the heart of all Christian theology. Without this doctrine, the human has no need of the God Christianity wants to sell you. So, before selling him, we must all be convinced of our need for him. This is done as our mental reconditioning drills into us a lie which is accepted as a truth, a lie which says you were born bad, born wrong, born sinful, born displeasing, and born wayward. If you truly believe these things, then it is no wonder that you would hasten to trust an imaginary God rather than yourself. After all, if you truly believe you’re worthless and prone to the most awful decisions possible, why would you ever want to learn to depend on yourself?

And so the believers, the subscribers to the God delusion, prefer to lay their own instincts and insights aside as they come to the pages of their scriptures, wherein they apparently hear from this imaginary God regarding which choices to make, which path to follow, which method of problem solving is best for them, and what they need to do with their lives. However, since none of these believers knows for a certainty that this God is in fact real (if they knew, their faith would be superfluous), they are banking their entire lives and all the decisions they make on a “maybe.” If they are indeed wrong about their God, if they actually are on the wrong side of “maybe,” what does that say about the totality of their life choices?

This is why maintain that believing in God was the worst thing I ever did. It was the mother-choice that spawned all the other choices. When I became an atheist at the age of 36, my life was a mess. Nearly two decades worth of “following Christ” had not given me any semblance of the “abundant life” to which Jesus refers. My life was a collection of fragments strewn together in the most awkward of fashions, being held together by the ever-weakening sinews of my faith. One wrong choice led to so many more wrong choices. By the time of my deconversion, I was able to look back on the first third of my life and see that it was almost a total waste.

But now, as an atheist, as a man whose life is characterized by a total absence of faith where it once was characterized by the prevailing presence of faith, I have a chance to start living correctly, to start living well, to start making good choices, choices that reflect good logic and solid reasoning, choices that reflect who I am rather than who this imaginary God is. Yes. Now, as an atheist, I am unlearning God. But how is that to be done? After all, it is one thing to agree mentally that there is no God; it is quite another thing to truly live your life as though this was so. My atheism is still quite young (not even a year old at the moment I write this), and I thus still have so much unlearning to do. I know certain things with my mind; namely, the reason for which my atheism exists in the first place. But unlearning those habits I adopted as a believer? That takes time. Learning to trust myself, to lean on myself, to shed the need for some sort of “outside helper,” to see myself as worthy and good and perfectly capable of figuring life out for myself—this could take years. And it’s not easy. But the difficulty is not a deterrent. Indeed, it only drives me on more and more toward my goal. What is my goal? To unlearn God as fully as I possibly can and, in the place of God, to discover my own strengths and resources. Christians will call this pride. They will say, “God’s not on the throne of your life; you are.” I say, in response, that there is no throne. It is not self-worship to get as mentally healthy as you can. But it is self-destruction and self-loathing to not get as mentally healthy as you can. For my money, the best way forward is to unlearn God. After all, he’s not even there to begin with.