A guest post by Ben Berwick. Ben lives and writes in Essex, England. You can read more of his writing at Meerkat Musings.
When Bruce Gerencser invited people to write a guest post for his blog, I thought to myself ‘let’s give it a shot’. Then I thought to myself ‘I actually need to think of something worthwhile to say’. Cue further introspective musings.
In the end, I wanted to speak of a journey – voyage – that I’ve been undergoing for, well, pretty much my entire life. It’s a trip towards… not atheism exactly, but certainly towards being agnostic, especially as I get older. It sounds daft for someone who is not yet forty to be considering mortality, yet my thoughts often drift in that direction. I’d love to believe I haven’t even quite completed half my lifespan, and therefore my anxious thoughts about death are ridiculous to have, but the thoughts persist, much like a bad penny.
I’m aware of the pull – one might say power – of religion. We look for meaning, peace and certainty throughout our lives. The absolute belief in an eternal afterlife where we can be with our loved ones and fulfil all our greatest desires is a powerful lure. Who doesn’t want an eternity of bliss? I don’t want oblivion, even though the scientific, logical part of my brain tells me there’s nothing beyond death’s veil. Yet I cannot bring myself to accept the positions of the religious, that we are told offer certainty of life everlasting.
The problem is not merely that I cannot reconcile the science/logic aspects of my thinking with supernatural notions. There’s more to it. As a kid, my teachers and preachers introduced a version of the Bible that was quite sanitised; as an adult, I found with great clarity that there are many horrendous acts within its pages, and many positions that I cannot abide by (such as the views on women and LGBT rights). Not every Christian takes these views to heart (the members of the Church where I got married are among the nicest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met), but many do, and I’ve had my share of heated arguments with them.
We’re told about forgiveness and love a lot by people who don’t want to practise these ideas. Is that in spite of or because of their religious upbringing? And I must include a caveat that there are many religious people who are good people, absorbing the best practices of their faith. As I said earlier, I’ve met some of them.
Unfortunately, the encounters with the evangelicals (and others) have left me wondering how organised religion creates tribalism and how it poisons people. The Word of God has been historically used to wage terrible wars (in some parts of the world it still is), and to justify all sorts of commands that to me, seem cruel and heartless. The stance of the religious right on abortion and life is hypocritical and it regards women as cattle. I’ve seen this attitude from both evangelicals and also a former Muslim sparring partner, and so it’s not strictly a Christian issue, but more a general religious one.
With that in mind, whatever my viewpoints on Christianity as a wide global, organised faith, I have more or less the same viewpoints on other religions. They claim to hold the high ground on morality, they claim to see life as precious, yet history is filled with conflicts between different religions and even within the same religion. There has been a lot of blood spilt and a lot of persecution because of religion.
It wouldn’t matter so much if religion were a personal thing. In the past, when I was at my most ‘religious’ (not that I can ever really say I’ve been pious), I saw it as a deeply personal, private thing. The trouble is, it’s rarely the personal, private relationship that it should be. My apathy for organised religion is in part formed by the idea that it can forced upon others, in various ways. The religious right believes nations should pass laws that endorse the views of the faithful, regardless of the impact of those laws on others.
If you’re not religious, you should not be bound by religious rules, yet to the fanatics everyone should be held to them. I can’t follow such beliefs.
The other side of my move towards being agnostic is based on science. There are facts about the age of the universe and the earth, there’s the state of the world we live in, there is tremendous suffering and pain, and then there is God, who is absent. We have a being described as omnipotent and omnipresent who could remake the world in an instant, if they are as powerful as their followers claim. Yet they do not intervene. We are told we are being tested, we are told God works in mysterious ways, we are told to attribute anything positive to God. We do not see any of God’s workings yet we are meant to devote ourselves to worshipping this being and the codes and rules of their holy texts (despite the numerous contradictions between them all), even though many of those rules are arbitrary and in many cases cruel.
I can’t reconcile these facts with faith. Yet I want to believe that there is something after death, because I want to be in my daughter’s life forever. I want that hope. I want to watch for eternity as humanity (hopefully) grows beyond what it is now. I want to watch us soar to the stars.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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