Deboarding the Jesus Train
This is the conclusion of a multi-part series detailing my path from Christianity to non-belief. Click here to read the previous chapter, The Women-Hater’s Handbook.
My previous post described the repugnance I felt while reading the Bible after more than 20 years since my devout Christian childhood. The accumulation of misogyny, cruelty and ignorance I found in the scriptures defied and contradicted any claim to divinity, morality or wisdom its proponents asserted. Thus, I quickly and quietly deboarded the Jesus train. Thank you very much, but I’ll walk.
I continued to study world religions, and as my knowledge grew, so did my worry and disappointment. The logic required to believe in religious truth claims is both fallacious and disturbing. If you’re a Christian, you have to believe that the Bible is the best book on offer. Once you’re done convincing yourself of that, you have to believe that your particular denomination – and there are many – follows the correct path to salvation. Some Christians believe you must be baptized to go to heaven, while some don’t. Other Christians believe that faith alone brings salvation, while other’s claim that faith and good deeds will save you. There are Christians who believe in hell, and some who don’t.
Then there are the other religions and gods around the world, with ubiquitous assertions of “religious truth.” There are Hindu gods, such as Hanuman, the monkey god, and Ganesha, the elephant god. The Mormons believe that the god’s word was written on golden plates, buried in the ground, and dug up by a 19th Century American in upstate New York. Muslims believe that the prophet Muhammad was whisked around the Middle East on a winged horse.
What tools do we have to referee these competing claims? Poorly written holy books with contradictory assertions, untestable revelations from male authority figures, and vague appeals to faith or an “inner relationship” with the almighty – the very toolbox that built this mighty edifice of delusion in the first place.
I recall thinking about this one day while on a long walk. I shook my head in disappointment. Damn, I thought. Faith and religion are bullshit-in-a-box. “Religious truth” is antiquated high hocum. I can’t take any of it seriously, anymore. I was truly disappointed and puzzled. How on earth can anyone believe this tripe? I just couldn’t do it any more. My credulity had reached it’s zenith. Shit, I said to myself, I’m an atheist.
The first few weeks of non-belief were heady and provocative. While my mind and senses were abuzz with new observations and thoughts, the overriding feeling was relief. I could finally just think about life, about right and wrong, without a cosmic mind-reader floating above me in judgment.
I read voraciously, and discovered that many smart, educated people were atheists. I discovered that a few of my friends were atheists as well – I wasn’t the only one who doubted. I joined (and now coordinate) an atheist group. As my knowledge and confidence grew, so did my activism. This is what prompted me to start this blog that you’re reading now.
What’s the saddest and most tragic part of my conversion? On June 3, 1994, I lost my brother to a brain tumor. He was 23 years old. He died from a rapidly growing, baseball-sized mass in the center of his skull that doctors couldn’t completely remove due its location. While I had the luxury of saying goodbye to him during his long battle with cancer, I now realize that there is no good reason to believe I will ever see him again. We will not be reunited in heaven to renew our relationship. I no longer have that consolation, and I miss my brother very much.
Wisdom, though, that’s another matter. True wisdom resides in the living of the best life possible with full knowledge of the truth. And the truth is that this life is all we get. Furthermore, there are many people who spend the only life they have feeling much pain, misery and intense suffering. And that’s it – that’s all they get. There is no reason to believe that any cosmic justice is meted out to them in the sweet everafter. Reconciling and aligning our actions and desires to this reality is one of the most difficult tasks we face. I think it is possible to do this, and lead a happy and fulfilling life, as well.
If I didn’t think happiness were possible while embracing the truth, then I’d go back to my religious worldview and continue to fool myself. But if I had to do that, then I’d invent a more plausible religion than Christianity, or any current religion on offer. And considering the nature of what’s now available, I don’t think it would be too difficult. But I don’t need to do that.
As the religious locomotive chugs obstinately forward, I can only hope more passengers decide to step off. This would be nice, because it’s a long walk, and I would enjoy the company.