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Private Investigator

By Carl S. ~

For many years now, I and other writers have written letters to the editor of our local weekly newspaper criticizing religious claims. No one responding was a member of the clergy. Not one. They're all from true believers reacting from their guts and fears. Not one of them addresses the inherent contradictions and immorality in their scriptures and their god, even when these are pointed out to them point-blank. This fact has been aggravating me since I first noticed it. So, I told my wife that the people I hang around with have one thing in common: focusing on morality and searching for truth. If there's one lesson I've learned from exChristians it's that they are very concerned about morality; whereas, I don't see true morality is important to believers. And as for truth, believers are curiously not serious about finding the facts behind their beliefs.

In his book “The Kingdom,” Emmanuel Carrère writes about his conversion to Christianity, his passionate commitment to faith, and his switch back again to unbelief. Although the book deals primarily with the earliest days of Christianity, beginning with Paul, Mark, Luke, etc., what stands out is this author's total honesty; honesty that's sorely needed and refreshing in our times. Already on page 12, I found a topic we might all think about. While rummaging through the back corners of a closet, he finds booklets of notes he made, daily, of his thinking back when his mind was saturated in faith:

“I’d always thought I'd re-read them one day, and that I might well even gain something from them. After all, it's not so common to have first-hand access to documents on a period of your life when you were totally different from what you've become, when you were firmly convinced of something you now find absurd.”

Sound familiar? Can the “before” and “after” self be the same person, reacting to extreme stress at different periods of living? Wasn't his and St. Paul's conversion due to nothing more than an overload of the senses? How did Carrère go from point A to point B and back again? He did it by taking his accepted religion really seriously. He investigates by searching its original writings, right down to the bare bones. If its claims are true, they ought to survive investigations; which is how he ultimately arrived back where he began, but now enlightened, free enough to stay free. He committed to being a private investigator, gathering the data, sifting through claims, separating facts from fictions and propaganda, objectively.

In his reportage on the history of St. Paul's physical and emotional journeys, Carrère quotes a passage from one epistle, where Paul says if he should return to the faithful and say something contrary to what he now preaches, they should reject him on the spot. The author interprets this to indicate a possibility in the mind of Paul that he might have another “conversion” like his original one, that would turn him 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Maybe that's why a believer fights against any change of conviction – that there's a chance the emotional dedication pro faith, based on emotions alone, can just as easily be discarded for similar emotions to be invested in a foreign faith or none at all.

Isn't it possible that “What I know in my heart is true” can become, “Now I know in my heart it isn't true?” Maybe behind any convinced believer's psyche is the fear of facing those words, “But how do you know it's true?” We can counter an individual's assertion of faith when it's explained as, “If you have to think about my faith, then you don't understand it.” We can say, “If you can't explain it, how can you possibly understand it?”

At this point somebody must be thinking, “Well, would you go back to believing that stuff?” On the periphery of my inner vision I can see the fundy Christians I know panting in the wings with hope and praying (a.k.a. “hoping”) that I will. If they're typical, they're thinking what they're taught to believe about religious dropouts. Maybe they want to believe all “Nones” are following a fad, and will come to Jesus once the fashion passes. Maybe they think their “Devil” has possessed my mind, or I'm going through a period of being contrary, a sort of teenager's rebellion against authority figures? Why the hell aren't they rebelling against authority figures? Well, they can forget it; I have evidence. No matter what people want to believe, there it is. The world is not going to go back to being flat. Nature's evolution won't create and progress from top (gods and God) to bottom. It'll keep working in the opposite direction, proceeding from the simple to the ever more complex. Will there be a material explanation for everything? So far, it sure looks that way. For every evidence-based reason, I reject religions.

I suggest we have the chutzpah to continually challenge those ever-more silly religious claims. I suggest unbelievers behave like investigating officers and ask the hard questions. Begin with: What do you mean by “God”?