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.