17 December 2010

One year doubt anniversary and some resolutions

Wow. It's almost been one year since my "quest" began (though I don't actually know the exact date -- sometime right around Christmas, though). That's hard to believe. At one point I wanted this to be my "deadline" for making some sort of proclamation of decided belief/resolution (theism or not). That never really ended up happening. I'd like to take this opportunity to post some thoughts about the year as well as some resolutions I have moving forward in 2011.


For one, my personality certainly struck and I became quite distracted from my Quest. I had hoped to bulldoze through many books and only ended up reading 4.333 (repeating, of course). I became quite burned out from my early efforts; this is typical for me. I dive completely into something and then get bored with it, or at least find something else to occupy my time. For example, I got distracted (well, it was kind of necessary) with a lot of housework this year: building shelves and drywalling some of my garage, repainting several rooms, re-organizing our basement, etc. We bought a minivan. We had a second kiddo. I re-attempted learning some programming. I watched a crap ton of Lie to Me, Office, Glee, and South Park when I should have been reading. I think I was turned off by how complicated I discovered this area to be. I thought it would be simple. It's the most important question one can ask, perhaps... and the being with the answer is all powerful and knowledgeable and loves me so much that me knowing about him is the most important thing in the world... and I've lived my life for this being for 7 years extremely radically... and the answer is quite obscure. What gives?

I'll also pitch in that this has taxed several relationships, though I've definitely become more level-headed (I think) about that fact. Early on, I had a definite perception of being judged. I thought I knew what everyone thought about me (that I was this or that, an idiot, completely wrong, immoral, whatever). I don't really think that anymore. I do think some may have had that initial reaction, but I think that on my end I stopped worrying quite so much (though I still worry) and on their end they came to more acceptance about things. I also think we reached an equilibrium where we just don't get into discussion in this area -- at least this is the case in certain relationships. Or perhaps it'd be more accurate to say that we discuss the "meta-phenomenon" (effect on wife, how I'm doing with the struggle, whether I have support and nurturing relationships, etc.) rather than the specifics (why I don't believe & why they think I should). That's helped a lot.

My relationship with my wife remains both the most strained and the most volatile. We have great stretches and then degrade into horrid interactions when one of us rubs the other the wrong way in this area. Usually it's about her reminding me about some aspect of her life that is now miserable because of me, me getting upset about that fact, and then reacting defensively (and meanly) about her comment. We're also still working on the "kids" issue. I don't particularly like that when we're eating sometimes my daughter says, "Want to pray?" over and over until my wife says grace with her. Or when she randomly starts offering everyone in the room a sign of peace (from Mass). I have often asked why my wife thinks she should be able to teach my daughter religious propositions while I don't get to teach her a-religious material. She just thinks she should because she believes strongly in "the faith" and "it's good" but can't really offer any reasons why those things shouldn't apply to me as well. Still working on that. I've essentially kept my mouth shut but don't participate in prayer. I'm still at a loss in this area but want to read the book Parenting Beyond Belief soon to get some tips (LINK).

Lastly, I'll say that I'm still essentially in a sort of limbo. I heartily disbelieve. I am non-religious. I am in non-belief. I have strong objections to Christian propositions and theology. I feel quite liberated in being able to think on my own about certain issues (say, gay marriage, contraception, abortion, etc. for example) without needing to explicitly have my opinions formed by dogma and then later look for defense of that dogma. I am quite excited to, for the first time, be able to simply ask, "Is there something wrong with gay marriage and/or relationships?" rather than have to forcefully interject that it's "unnatural" or "perverse" or "bad for society" just because I have to as a Catholic. I have a hard time supporting anything I used to without the pillars of dogma that used to support those stances. But... I'm still not certain. God very well could exist. But then again, I don't buy that it's my mere "free will" that's preventing him from revealing his existence. I have a slew of unanswered questions about why he would diminish his level of contact with us through time (read the OT and things like Acts and then see if anything tracks with today's world). I don't understand why he would inspire a bood so ambiguous and unconvincing that others easily believe in a post-resurrection Utah appearance of Jesus, golden tablets and Xenu and thetan inhabitation over it's amazing content. I don't understand unanswered prayer. I don't think there's a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil. I also don't buy the apologetics explaining things like why Paul wouldn't mention a single fact about Jesus' life (aside from his death/resurrection) or why the gospels grow in their embellishment through time or why the synoptics would leave out ministry-defining acts like the Wedding at Cana or Doubting Thomas. I don't believe. But I'm not entirely confident in that position. That's what I'm saying.

But... I think I've had some breakthroughs with that tension.


I have a host of regrets from this past year, hopefully made clear (indirectly, at least) from the above. I'd like to end 2011 with less of that type of sentiment. So... I'd like to propose some early resolutions for the year:
  • Get along with my wife:
    • Not sure how to pull this off, but I'd like to make this happen... a lot. It is absolutely the worst to be in the middle of a hard situation and not have the support of the person you love the most. I'm sure my wife would echo the same. Regardless of the awfulness of the situation, we both need each other. I think wee're past any thoughts of separation. I honestly think I could see her being justified in leaving if she wanted to (I'm the one who changed from what was supposed to be a lifelong characteristic of our life together), but she has insisted that she doesn't want this. So, we're left with each other! Might as well make that the best it can be.
    • On the simple end, this will involve me refraining from insulting gestures like saying gibberish prayers sometimes, challenging her untactfully, and the like. I can try to be supportive of her practices even though I don't support them. My daughter and I (really, me, but my daughter was with me) put out some more Advent decorations while my wife was gone last night so she'd be surprised. Things like this I think will go a long way.
    • Among the harder issues to work on will be how to raise the children and probably getting specific about what we think the other should say/teach. Pretty much drawing a blank here, though. Should I lobby to start teaching comparative religion? Should we pray to something else at meal time just for balance? My daughter is going from 2->3 which I suspect involves a significant increase on sponge-ness. She will really start internalizing things from this time forward. That makes me nervous and I think we should iron this area out more this year. We also plan to start some counseling with a recommended counselor (recommended to my wife from Catholic friends and who is Catholic). I hope that helps. Me spending more quality time with her and reading some books together (like on on relationships suggested by the counselor) should also build our relationship. I hope to develop this area more through the year but for now just need to put it at the top of the list for investment of time and energy.
  • Finish the Truth Seeker Challenge: I'd like to finish the "official" books on my list. At least. I'd like to blog through each of them, as well. I probably won't be as excruciatingly detailed as I was for Loftus or D'Souza. I could see something along the lines of what I did (and am working on) for Dubay -- just a few longerish posts on key points.
  • "Come out:" I think I will use 2011 to "come out" about my non-belief. I hope to finish the Truth Seeker Challenge rather early and use the remainder of the year to write my comprehensive statement. I'd like to write a "mini-book" summarizing my journey to faith, what my life as a Christian was like, and why I don't believe any longer. I'm not sure how I'll get the news out, but I'm planning to go pretty darn far and wide -- family, friends, our Catholic lay community that my wife (and I, a little) is still attending. I also think this will be a therapeutic process for me. It will help me put in one place my summary of objections. I'll get them on paper. I'll be able to look at them from the outside (vs. just in my mind) and see how they sound. Where am I weak? Where am I still extremely ignorant (vs. just mostly ignorant)? I think I'll find a lot of peace through this initial statement and hope it provides some confidence with me moving forward along a particular path.
  • Maintain balance: I'd like to find a better balance of time next year as well. Not sure what this will look like either. Reading two nights per week? Just once? 4hrs on Saturday? Stuff like this. I need to carve out times for my wife and family and then schedule the rest in the gaps. I also want to propose a schedule to my wife and make sure she's okay with it. I also want to find a balance of pace. I'm often either in frenzy mode (reading, blogging, writing, thinking, listening to debates) or doing nothing in this area at all. I hope to keep a slower but more steady pace. Lastly, I want to find some emotional balance. I don't want to pendulum between paranoia about what others think and hatred for things religious and for a hypothetical god for not making this answer more clear. I would like to follow the accompanying peace from thinking about things in light of my breakthrough. I can only be responsible for myself and how I interpret the available evidence. If I'm not convinced... I'm not convinced.

So, there's what I've got thus far. I may update this; for now I just wanted to stick with the immediate and most pressing/important-seeming goals. I hope to translate these into specifics and perhaps start a series early in 2011 about how things are going and even some suggestions for those early on this path as many have echoed similar woes concerning balance, emotional rockiness, and spousal interactions.

I'll end by saying that the year hasn't turned out how I expected. I wish I had more certainty. Then again, I'm glad I have awareness of my uncertainty and am wrestling with this area at all -- those around me seem to be confident prior to thorough investigation. I'd rather be aware of the issues and troubled than walking blindfolded through a mine field while remaining convinced it's paradise. I just want to be a better person in 2011 -- more caring, more educated, less biased/judgmental/arrogant, a better husband, and more disciplined. If confidence in my (a)religious views develops from those goals, that will be wonderful bonus.

P.S. I did have quite an experience about a month ago. My wife and I were at a session for newly married Christian couples. Think of it as a "large group" discussion for those married less than 5 years or so. An older couple presents on a topic and then you ask questions/discuss afterward. There was praise and worship beforehand (there always is). I usually just sing along or maybe even just close my eyes and think about things. Last month, though, I think I had the first real experience of being okay with things if god did exist. That might seem cryptic... I'll expand on that. It was a thought/feeling mostly summarized by, "If god exists, I want to know... and that would be okay." This is opposed to my hope that god doesn't exist. Essentially I found information that challenges my prior beliefs and I became convinced by that information/arguments based on it and no longer belief. There is a certain sense of hope that my current stance, then, is right. There is a palpable resistance to finding out that my first position was right after all and returning to it. That experience last month was a definite good one. Whatever "is" -- I want to know and it will be okay. If it's that god exists, I should happily admit my time in falsehood and return to accurate belief.

Anyway, simple, but memorable for me. It actually took some effort to try and form such an accepting stance but I'm convinced it's the right place to be. I should remain open to whatever "is" and let the "winds of evidence" blow me where they will.


DoOrDoNot said...

You've been through alot of change this year. Who knows where you'll be a year from now. I think you have some valuable and attainable goals for yourself. It sounds like you're closer to finding some equilibrium for yourself. I, too, wish I had more answers. I've been at this for 2 years now! Right now I'm thinking of myself as an agnostic Christian, whatever that actually means. I know what you mean by wanting to be right once you've made a decision. It's a gift to be able to be accepting of future discoveries changing your mind.

Anonymous said...

I'm just getting started on this journey. I've been in Southern Baptist Churches for the last 28 years. I'm dating myself! But I was just a kid. Anyway, what brought me to this was pretty much the same as you in a way. I spent 19.5 years of my life in an abusive marriage, sticking with it and hanging in there because Christians don't divorce - not even for that. And forget about remarriage! When I finally decided that God would have to forgive me for getting a divorce I began to question everything. Why was I morally reprehensible because I couldn't forgive yet again? Why does it make me an adulterer to get remarried just because I didn't have the good fortune of having my husband also cheat on me? The more I searched for answers the less anything made sense to me. And to top it all off I was trying to "witness" to someone and tell them about Jesus when I began to to exactly as you did. I googled outside historical evidences for him. I got nada. Now I'm in a tailspin because I'm wondering what I've built the last 28 years of my life on. None of my friends will understand my doubts. And I live in south Georgia. Whew! Bible belt, baby! Anyway, the more I search for answers the more questions I seem to have. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Like a Child said...

I can relate with so much, particUlarly the comments in the p.s. Section. The one piece of advice for you was given to me by mark at christian doubt when i was at my lowest point back in sept. Take your time, enjoy life. What will be will be, no need to have an answer right away. Family takes priority over religion.. For me, some of my i itial obsessiveness stemmed from my evangelical roots, thinking i had to obtain faith asap. It has been helpful to change my focus and priorities. Now, if you enjoy reading about a/theism, that is a different matter. But i only am moderately interested.

Like a Child said...

Re marriage...i recommend reading rachel held evans. My husband and i dont talk about christianity has helped. He has realized he can't debate me...he doesnt have a theological is for me to work out with my books. He does read my blog.

Even as an agnostic christian, though, there are rough patches. He still has a firm idea of god's will being us to stay where we are at, and i've given up most of that notion, and am thinking practicality...i'd like to be closer to family.

Hendy said...

@DoOrDoNot: thanks for the comments. I don't know that I have the gift of staying open, but I try to admit to myself that it's the best method for understanding reality! I would prefer not to have to "redo" my efforts, though. That would be nice!

@anonymous: I empathize with your situation, though I can't imagine what it must be like for you. I come from a Catholic tradition where I believe a dispensation would be granted for divorce in an abusive relationship. I'm not sure about all traditions. Not being obligated to agree with all teachings has helped me open my eyes (as I hinted in the post) about simply asking, "What is the best decision on this matter?" Rather than know the answer ahead of time and then cook up apologetics to defend why, I've found it very helpful to look at the issue without dogmatic input and simply compare alternatives. I'm quite far from a resolution on many of these, though :) I wish you the best in your situation. Feel free to "drive by" and comment whenever you want.

@LaC: Yes, I'll have to check out Rachel's book. You've suggested that before, I believe. Good advice about taking one's time. I just want to know and move on... Rather than see why I want to be done (so I can be at peace and put my time to more important things) and just spend my time doing that now (as in, why not spend my time on the more important things now!), I tell myself that it will be worth it to go all out to remove the barrier on the front end rather than chip away at it in a balanced fashion. As always, thanks for your input and stopping by.

DoubtingThomas said...

Hi Hendy! I'm anonymous from yesterday. Thanks for your comments. I come from a very fundamentalist background, so it's been particularly hard for me to separate or compartmentalize things. In other words, we take the scriptures very literally so to question any issue is to question the whole thing. It's all or none. If I can pick and choose what I want to believe, how can I really believe any of it? I'm really doubting things now because as I began to question some of the "fundamentals" my research only led to more questions. The more I question the less comfortable I am with the answers. Especially since the only "proof" I'm offered is from the very document I'm having doubts and questions about. Does that make any sense?

Hendy said...

@DoubtingThomas I can see your line of reasoning re. the Bible based on your background (fundamental). I completely relate in that I started out thinking that if I could disprove any fragment of required Catholic dogma... I would rule out the whole religion. I now think differently. Many have managed to hold on to Jesus/some-sort-of-faith despite their disagreement with much of Christian theology.

Can't say I'm in that group, but I recognize that my former viewpoint (and I suspect what you're describing as well) of if-I-rule-out-my-Christian-variant-I've-ruled-out-them-all is probably not true. Just as I think our religious subscriptions stem from our geographic location 90ish % of the time... so do I think that our Christian variant probably stems from our location/family history as well. As that is the case, we should view our religious variant (fundamentalist, Protestant, Catholic, uber-liberal) with the same detachment that we should view the significance of our particular major religion. In other words, I think what the question is reduced to it, "Does god exist and is x him/her?" That's it. Not "if religion x is wrong, all religions are wrong." Does that make sense?

DoubtingThomas said...

Yes that makes perfect sense. I agree completely. Because of the initial doubts I began a seeking journey. When I begin to follow the evidence it further erodes my confidence in the "inerrant" approach to the Bible. So while I'm not entirely ready to abandon the thought that there is a God, I'm not as certain as I once was that there is one or that He is the God of the Bible. I'm just getting started here, but now that I'm looking at things more critically I only have more questions and no answers.

Hendy said...

@DoubtingThomas: "...I only have more questions and no answers."

I completely relate. Now that I realize that isn't as painfully the case anymore, I wish I could remember when this left me. I spent probably the first 4-6mos of my doubt reading online constantly (to the point of making work and family life suffer), listening to debates anytime I was in the car, mentally consumed to my absolute limit with thinking about various issues, and extremely sensitive to any activity involving believers. It was miserable. No branch of knowledge/argument (cosmology, philosophy, biology, history, archeology, biblical criticism, POE, etc.) provided a conclusive answer for me.

I was extremely frustrated that one question could cover so many fields and yet remain so ambiguous to those really looking for answers. I empathize! That's about all I can say as I really don't know how to make the difficulty go away. For me, it's just taken time...

DoubtingThomas said...

I'm so glad to know that in time maybe I won't be so consumed with this. I really started to question things about a month and a half or so ago. The questions were already there, but prompted to look into it further I've been consumed with this. I wish I understood more about science in general, but I'm learning.

Hendy said...

@DoubtingThomas: your comment gave me an idea. I think I'll write a post in commemoration of my approximate year anniversary since doubting, and note how I would do some things differently or at least my thoughts in retrospect. I wrote some of these in this post, but think I could write another one along the lines of suggestions or simply open notes/self-reflection for others in a similar situation. I think I can do that tonight.

Tormod said...

You responded to my question on skeptics.stackexchange. You tell a compelling story. It is true that which you say that I have trouble figuring why anybody would believe in the first place. Just as a christian would probably claim that a deconvert never were a "real" christian. Or, in your specific case, it is more likely that they regard your actions of non-belief as if you are running away again and once again acting out your need to show "the system" the rebellious middle finger. From my perspective as an atheist, the first thing that strikes me is how theists life revolves around their faith. As an atheist, I don't give it any thought. Religion is just not interesting. I appreciate your story, and I can honestly say it would be hard for an atheist to write the vivid parts of "you turning to god". I didn't quite get where in the story you lost your faith.
I do want to ask you, though. Even though you are an atheist now, do you believe that you needed some religion to be around for you to dig yourself out? Both in terms of a network of people as well as a mental scaffolding. Even though you eventually outgrew your faith.

Hendy said...

@Tormod: Thanks for the comment! If by "the story," you're referring to my four part story HERE, you're right! I just realized that I didn't actually finish it! I guess I've written so much about the doubt phase already that I just stopped with some stories from my Christian life. There's a little bit HERE about it.

To summarize, though, my belief left extremely quickly. If you have the time/inclination, see my series starting HERE. I've always been analytical and inquisitive. I research the heck out of things and find it very hard to make a decision, say, to purchase something without knowing that it's the best purchase I can make with my money. While not universally true, I have also found it fairly typical for me to suspend belief until I can support claims with evidence. The series above provides my perspective on how I see what happened to me -- I didn't really change anything about myself; I simply applied my personality (and how it's always been) to a new area that happened to be very sensitive and foundational to how I lived my life.

Belief left rather quickly -- I found myself very early thinking that the best way to establish the truth of Christianity would be to doubt it and try and prove it back to myself. I believe that truth should converge and thus it shouldn't matter whether one examines it from inside or outside of the "bubble." My Christian friends did not agree, insisting that "faith seeking understanding" was the correct approach.

In any case, I do not recall ever having an "I believe, help my unbelief" attitude. I honestly don't think I cared that much what the outcome of my search was -- I was resolved to find the best approximation of "what is" and believe that. I want to believe "what is" rather than wanting to believe what is desirable. Perhaps I lack the hope that my fellows have in terms of being able to sustain belief despite a lack of many explanations and being satisfied with "it's a mystery" for countless issues.

Lastly, I really can't say whether I "needed" religion or not. I think I was an insecure kiddo with some poor skills for dealing with the ups and downs of life. Religion/AA filled a definite void with respect to providing 1) a common mission, 2) unconditionally caring friends, and 3) a set of practices that allowed me to self-improve. I think another ideology or social structure could have done the same if it contained these aspects, but I'm not positive. That hypothesis somewhat came up HERE -- there do appear to be psychological benefits from religion, but I'm not convinced that religion has a monopoly on such benefits. My hunch is that it appeals to some very core human desires, and that those desires can be satisfied in other ways as well.

Does that help answer your question?

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