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Tag: Secular Humanism

Knowing What You Know, Now What?

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Guest Post by Merle Hertzler

Where do you go from here? Perhaps you have been learning new and different viewpoints on the Internet. Perhaps the religion you inherited does not have the attraction it once had. You have found too many problems with it. Now what?

Many people find challenges to their faith interesting. They enjoy the debate. And for the first time they read that the case for their faith is not as clear cut as they had heard. There are strong and interesting arguments for other views.

Perhaps you also have found these challenges interesting, but you do not wish to continue. For many, the thought of reconsidering religion will be unacceptable. These people find comfort in their traditional beliefs, and they will not want to leave the comfort of those beliefs. A brief excursion into skepticism on the Internet (here, for instance) might be interesting to them, but they will return to safety when the challenges become troubling. It is too painful for them to think of changing their minds about religion. These people leave the debate if their side is not clearly winning. When it had appeared their side was winning, they had no problem continuing. But if the facts appear to lead away from the religion they always knew, the thought of considering that they might be wrong about religion is too painful to continue.

If this describes you, I can feel your pain. I have been there. I had once been able to go just so far in examining my faith, while always retreating back to safety when the going got rough. I understand the desire to stick with one’s current faith, regardless of what one learns. But is this the best way to live life?

If you cherish traditional beliefs, but your life is not closely sheltered from all outside sources, you will continually find challenges to your beliefs in areas such as biology, history, physics, ethics, and psychology. And you will find many sincere people who believe quite differently from you. It will be hard for you to force yourself to believe that all these people differ because they are evil, and that everything skeptics say is wrong.

If you retreat from the facts, you will face a constant struggle to avoid those facts. New observations will always come, and many new thoughts will cause dissonance with the thoughts that are already in your mind. Such cognitive dissonance can be quite uncomfortable. It is like living in an environment where folks are constantly shouting and arguing, except in this case the arguing occurs strictly within your own mind. One set of thoughts shouts at the other set of thoughts. Is that what you want to happen in your mind? If you refuse admittance to doubts and other competing thoughts, you will find yourself constantly needing to internally outshout those competing thoughts. You must decide if that is best for you.

By contrast, you could choose to freely explore beyond the box in which you now find yourself.

Some people will want to stop here, because their entire social structure is based on their existing religion. It is unbearable to think about the loss of social support that would occur if you were to change your mind about religion. It is one thing to tell a friend that you now like baseball better than basketball. It is quite another thing to say that your views are now more atheist than Baptist. Many friends will change their entire view of you if you say that.

Once more, I understand. I too was once bound by the need to conform in my beliefs–or at least in my actions–to the approved doctrines of the church. Once more I would ask, is this the way you want to live? Do you want to shut your mind to new knowledge in order to maintain friendships with people who oppose new knowledge?

And besides, if your friends are true friends, will they not love you even if you change your beliefs? If their love for you depends upon your theological persuasion, perhaps they are not the best of friends to begin with.

You will only go through life once. If you choose to live your life as though you believe a creed that you no longer believe, what kind of life is that? What value is a life if you can never share what is going on inside? What good is a life if you must pretend to be something you are not? You decide. Do you think that, years down the road, you will be glad that you lived in fear of what others might say and thus closed your mind to new ideas? If you decide to close your mind to skeptical ideas–or at least make it appear that your mind is closed–will you be able to hold your head high and walk forward with dignity?

Just in Case?

Some of my readers might see the value of moving on in their beliefs, but the fear of hell will stop them in their tracks. They might now see that their faith is implausible, but what if it is true? Will they be tormented in hell forever if they confess unbelief? Fearing hell, many will choose what they consider to be the safe path. They will stick with the faith as best they can even though they sincerely doubt it. They will try to believe just in case belief is necessary to escape hell.

If you are going to follow your existing faith just in case, should you not also follow other faiths just in case? Should you now become a Catholic, Mormon, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist, just in case they might be right? That would be impossible, for the faiths contradict each other. So which will you choose? The one you inherited? Suppose you had grown up in another faith. Would you now be choosing that faith just in case it might be right? If your choice is based only on the ideas you inherited, how can that choice be valid?

If you follow a faith without truly believing it, are you not being dishonest? If you confess to believe things you really don’t believe, will God honor that? If God honors such dishonesty, what kind of a being is he? How could you trust a God who honors dishonesty? If God honors dishonesty, he might be lying to you. If God honors dishonesty, would he not also be capable of turning his back on you and damning you, even if he had promised otherwise? So I don’t find much hope in dishonestly following a belief you don’t really think is true. Why dishonestly “believe” in case a God who honors dishonesty might approve?

If you honor God “just in case”–dishonestly claiming to believe–which God will you choose? Will you honor the God who favors dishonest support of Protestantism? Or will you honor the God who favors dishonest support of Catholicism, Islam, or some other way? So many Gods! Which will you choose?

May I suggest one more God? Suppose a God exists who honors honesty and integrity. If such a God exists, then he will be glad that you honestly admitted your unbelief. He would want intellectual honesty. And if such a God loved honestly, he could be depended on to keep his word. So if I must pick a God to serve (just in case one exists) then I would pick this God. And I would honestly admit my unbelief of certain religious dogmas. If a God who loved honesty existed, he would love my honesty. That seems like the best approach to me.

And so, if you find that neither the fear of a new viewpoint, nor the fear of the loss of friends, nor the fear of God’s condemnation for disbelief should stop your intellectual journey, why not lay aside those fears? Why not boldly go where you have never gone before, enjoying the path of discovery? Why not follow the facts wherever they lead, regardless of whether they lead away from or back to your original faith? Why not pursue truth?

As for me, I have found hope in secular humanism. Your explorations may lead you elsewhere. The important thing is not where the facts lead, but whether you are willing to accept and follow reality. Can you commit to the facts, regardless of where they lead?

The Mind Set Free

There is no experience quite like setting the mind free. Robert Green Ingersoll describes that experience:

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination’s wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself — free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past — free from popes and priests — free from all the “called” and “set apart” — free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies — free from the fear of eternal pain — free from the winged monsters of the night — free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings — no chains for my limbs — no lashes for my back — no fires for my flesh — no master’s frown or threat — no following another’s steps — no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. Source: Why I Am Agnostic – Robert Green Ingersoll

Doesn’t that sound refreshing? I think you can experience what Ingersoll experienced. But only you can decide if this is the path for you.

Bruce Gerencser writes of moving beyond the box of his original faith:

I do remember coming to a place where I felt completely free. I felt “born again.” I thought, I am a “born again” atheist. I no longer felt any pull to return to the box…People in the atheist box, the box I now call home told me that things would be better with time. They encouraged me to read and study. They told me “go where the data, the evidence leads you.” …That’s the greatest wonder of all . . . I now have the ability to freely choose the box(es) I want to be in. Source: What I Found when I Left the Box by Bruce Gerencser

Rob Berry described the result of his deconversion so well:

I felt a bit like a child, as though I was rediscovering the world. In particular, I remember a monthlong period in which I became flat-out fascinated with trees– there was something beautiful about the way they branched out, cutting a tangled silhouette against the sky. I also became enthralled with sunsets, and to this day I still love watching sunsets. Everything seemed fresh and new. It was as if in my enthusiasm for the supernatural, I had overlooked all the beauty the natural world has to offer. Now I was playing catch-up, discovering all the neat stuff I’d missed. I also read dozens of science books during this time– I decided it was time to find out how the universe really works, as I didn’t want to ever be fooled again. Source: Cited at Into the Clear Air, I can no longer find the original source.

Do you want to stand up and face the world without fear? Do you want to move beyond the box you find yourself in? Do you want this joy of discovery? It is your life. You must decide.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Bruce Gerencser