Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Losing My Faith

"Faith" means a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, it meant having a hope for something in the midst of all impossible odds. My religious friends tended to give me the same definition of how they saw faith -- something that they felt and that they held in their hearts that helped them to see the unseen. While the word "faith" never bothered me, in that "have faith, Laurence" was something repeated to me ad nauseum, it did begin to lose its luster as time went on. And, by the time I had begun to question my beliefs, hearing the word "faith" in a religious context felt like nails on a chalkboard while gritting my teeth on aluminum foil. To say I lost my faith would be an understatement; I killed, buried it in an unmarked grave, and spat on the ground where I thought it was.

To me, faith is something that while it sounds harmless in practice, can be very dangerous when exercised in a manner that allows individuals to ignore reality over that of comfortable beliefs. Two easy examples I can think of is Texas incessant push to teach creationism in all of their public schools and the draconian laws in Russia and the ones recently passed in Nigeria that criminalize homosexuality; to pretend that this is not religion is not even intellectual dishonesty but willful ignorance. This is "faith" at work; people clinging to their personal beliefs and imposing them on the rest of us. If you want to tell me that you believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that homosexuals, transgender individuals, or anything not straight, your skin color and your religion is bound for your particular punishment land, don't pontificate and go into long-winded sermons when I ask for evidence. When I say evidence, I mean fucking evidence. I'm not interested in a verse from the bible or Koran, I'm not interested in your person experiences or how you felt God through your shower head, therefore, the Great Flood in Genesis is true. I need evidence

Why did faith become such a bad word to me? Because when I was seriously doubting my beliefs after a health crisis, and looked to faith for answers, I found that my faith was not helping the situation. My having faith in God only brought me the kind of comfort that denying my existence through meditation or heavy breathing would. Eventually, reality would come kicking. Oddly enough, it was my grandmother, the Jehovah's Witness who convinced me to call the hospital and to seek help, but I was in no position to pay for medical care, so I turned to what is apparently the best free healthcare in America: prayer. But all the praying in the world wasn't helping and my condition continued to deteriorate until finally, I picked up the phone and dialed 911. Within the first hour of getting to the hospital, I was diagnosed with having pancreatitis and was put on an IV diet as I could not eat or drink anything in order to settle my inflamed pancreas. When I explained to my grandmother what the diagnosis was and the prognosis, she exclaimed something that set off a chain reaction that changed the course of my life: "Thank you, Jehovah."

Those three words had been uttered to me for so long. As a child, whenever I talked to her when I would call from Germany, or when I deployed. When I moved to Texas, she would call me and we would talk and she would always tell me about her day and that she thanked Jehovah. But that day, hearing her recite that familiar phrase rang so hollow in me, my expression immediately changed (luckily she did not see it). Thank you, Jehovah?, I thought to myself. If I had kept praying, I would have died. What do you mean, "Thank you, Jehovah"? Not wanting to start anything with her, I politely ended the conversation and pondered on my mortality and what had just happened to me.

It wasn't as if my faith had ever really been strong; honestly, to say that I held firm beliefs on a god would be a lie. While there was most definitely a belief in a higher power, it was one that I would only call on when there was uncertainty, and when it would not come through, I would just write it off as others around me would... "Not my time, yet"... "There's something else in store"...blah, blah, blah. There was nothing like experiencing a pain that you had never been through to make you realize that your own definition of how important your life was didn't matter. One day, I was going to die, and there wasn't any amount of faith that was going to change that. That experience, coupled with a former friend's less than pleasant view on homosexuality, forced me to look at my beliefs and what is was that I held on to. After a diligent look at religion, reading the bible that I still had from my teen years, it was like a light came on. And after a Google search of "experiences with atheism" led me to a public-access show based in Austin,Texas called The Atheist Experience, it was all over. It only took a two minute YouTube clip of the show to put a lifetime of belief in doubt, and after watching clip after clip of the show and listening to the hosts challenge theists to demonstrate their assertions of a god and its power, only to have them assert the tired defense of "faith", there was no denying it: I was a nonbeliever. 

It wasn't even a gradual change in me; it was as if a ton of bricks had hit me, and then a load immediately was lifted. I can't even describe how frighteningly scary and joyously freeing that moment was. The uncertainty that was apparent before, began to subside. It wasn't just the Watchtower Organization that started to fall apart when looking at its history; it was Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and pretty much any other belief system where the origin could be easily traced. I was beginning to understand why nonbelievers said that the Internet was where religions came to die. Even with the uncertainty of the origins of some beliefs and religions, and the glaring similarities between that of the major monotheistic religions and neighboring customs, stories, and beliefs that predated them, it was enough to doubt its validity. And as anyone can tell you, once you doubt something, it's hard to un-doubt it... unless there is evidence presented that compels you to believe it.

One thing is certain: Faith is not some discerning tool for believing in something. Faith answers nothing... it cannot answer anything when all it does is allow you to continue believing something for which you have no evidence to believe. I certainly try not to denigrate those with faith, but if you're going to try to legislate your morality, I think it is only fair that you present something a lot more solid than "faith" to justify your unconstitutional attempts to change our way of life.

Okay, I'm done. 

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