05 January 2011

One year and counting... what would I do differently?

Some of DoubtingThomas' questions led me to write this post. I thought it would be interesting to think back over my year of "Questing" and write some pointers/suggestions based on how I think I might do it differently if I could go back and do it over.

First of all, some disclaimers:
  • I probably heard most this list myself and didn't do it... thus it was probably not genuinely learned/internalized
  • Given that advice given to me may not have affected my method/path... I don't expect this post will affect any readers, necessarily, either
  • I don't even know if I can say that I follow these recommendations at present!

Anyhow... what would I do different? These come to mind (attempted to rank in order of significance/importance):
  • This is not going to be easy/fast/simple: I list this first, as upon walking in, I had no idea the question of god's existence would be so taxing, time-consuming, spread out over such a vast area of subject matters, agonizing, murky, complex, and anything but a quick endeavor. Remind yourself of this fantastically often. It probably contributed the most in my early frustrations. I began to doubt and expected that a few google searched articles would clear the air. Then I put my hopes on discussions with the smartest Christians I knew. Then books... and I'm still not cured! If you are doubting your faith, you are in for a long ride. It's okay -- it just seems to go down like that. The earlier you can try and accept this fact, the easier things well be on you psychologically.

  • Comfort your spouse if you have one: I should have been better at this. Instead, I let the fire burn. She was hurt about my non-belief and I didn't think she had any right to be hurt, since I didn't think I'd done anything wrong. If she ever criticized me, I'd launch a counter-apologetic attack on her... not pretty. Just leave this area alone and out of the debate. Reassure your spouse that even if you don't believe in god anymore you won't become a satanist. Just kidding -- but seriously, reaffirm them that you want to be a model example of a spouse. You want to raise moral children. You want to grow close with them through the years and improve one another as members of society. Things like that. I think my wife connected non-belief with a lot of unnecessary things. Granted, she was quite right that we may never again share the spiritual connection we once had (I can recall very emotional times of praying or singing praise and worship together or even "after dark" events that had a very powerful spiritual component), I think she also added a lot of panicky baggage onto the occurrence as well. That's natural for believers. We should do our part to remind our spouses that we still love them an are committed to them as cherished persons even if beliefs differ.

  • Don't debate, especially with friends: I'll rank this fairly high as well. Early on, I was fired up with new facts and arguments against god and was too willing to enter into debates/heated discussions with others on topics. This opened things up for hurt feelings on both sides. Both sides end up upset and confused that their debater isn't convinced by any of their points. Moreso, they take non-belief/subscription personally and get offended. Relationships are strained. My new rule is essentially not to debate outside a very small set of individuals who have been through something similar to this or at least "get it." In all other cases, I rarely even go into things and don't get attached to the discussion (e.g. nodding my head or conceding as plausible things I don't really agree with). Yes... this is perhaps "weak" or even misleading sometimes, but I consider it the lesser of evils (damaging relationships).

  • Prefer books vs. the internet... I write from my computer with my poorly handled book list! Yes, this is one where I'm a hypocrite but at least know what I think I should be doing. Something struck me at Common Sense Atheism once. Luke was writing about William Lane Craig and noted that he doesn't concern himself with the internet. He pays attention to the current published literature (journals/magazines) and books instead, since anything of worth is likely to be there and only replicated online. That has always stuck with me. This is my aim, though I don't stick to it very well. I definitely want to read great works that help me become more of an expert in various areas. However, the internet is fast and available. It's just plain easy and luring. I will end on a vote for the internet, especially in blogging/commenting in that books don't bring anything to the table with respect to the communal aspect of "the quest."

  • Find support! Which brings me to my next point... get supportive people around you! My parents have never been consistent believers in anything. Today I would describe them as fringe new-agers, if anything. This was an immense consolation to me. What divided us during high school/college (religion -- when I was converted and a fervent Christian) suddenly united us! I later found the Minnesota Atheists who have turned out to be about the best group of people I could have hoped to find. They were, and are, and absolute refuge. That group (and the internet) is about the one place where I really and truly speak my mind unfettered. Any other time I restrain my thoughts to a degree out of fear of hurting feelings or starting a debate (see the previous point). I think a lot of us come from extremely Christian backgrounds/communities and suddenly feel completely alone upon doubting. None of us are... and living while thinking we are is just unhealthy. Find some support and some arena for freely expressing all that's rattling around in that head of yours and let it out!

  • Make a plan: I kind of wish I had actually made a list of various subjects and stuck to learning about them one at a time. Something like this, at least. I did join the Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge, which is somewhat like this, but not exactly. I more wish I could create some sort of guidelines about my learning, perhaps, to keep me on some sort of schedule along my path. On the other hand, without what I consider the "biggie arguments" a year down the road, I don't know that I would have been able to make such a list back then. Doing something like the Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge isn't a bad way to let someone with more experience offer some guidance.¡

  • Have a sense of humor: let yourself laugh about this stuff a bit. Perhaps mostly with non-believers. Find some way to be comedic about your non-belief and how hard everything is. How ridiculous you might find it that the creator of the universe is so hard to discover, perhaps? Watch some Non-stamp collector perhaps? I think this is a helpful activity. Maybe just watch it alone where you can be free to laugh a little in sacrilege without offending anyone else.

I think that's about it for now. If I think of some others, I might update this. I think I covered the biggies and this would be my advice if a close friend approached me with doubt and showed all the signs of frazzlement that I once did. DoubtingThomas, hopefully this helps a little? Honestly, I would say that really trying to let the very first point soak in would have spared me 70% of my woes. The second is quite important, too, if it applies... but the general principle of having patience and accepting that you may never know for certain is the biggest. That might have spared me some months of sleepless nights!


DoubtingThomas said...

Thank you so much, Hendy. This actually does help quite a bit. While I don't have a spouse to comfort or to comfort me, I think all of this is great advice. I really think that despite my current confusion, occasional panic attacks(down from frequent-yay for me), and somewhat melancholy mood about all of this my search is really quite healthy. I've never taken the time to examine why I believe what I believe and have taken other people's word for things for far too long. It's about time I did some thinking for myself. Does that mean I'm going to abandon my faith? I won't know the answer to that for quite some time I don't think. I really do need to slow down and realize that my answers aren't going to come quickly. I do need to get organized and I've already been avoiding debate. I'm afraid to even voice my doubts to those closest to me for fear of sundering much valued and treasured relationships. The people I have met "online" have given me so much kindness and I appreciate that so very much.

Hendy said...

@DT: Glad you found this helpful. I'm glad you find this as very helpful. I had extremely similar thoughts when I first doubted -- I recall reading the various sides (non-belief vs. belief) of different issues and wondering why I found it so much easier to defend the arguments of non-belief. A horrid feeling sunk in that I really had no rational justification for my faith.

I decided that I never wanted that to be the case about anything ever again. A lofty and improbably goal, but that was my definite reaction. I want to always know clearly where I stand and exactly why. That's the real "fuel" behind my pursuit and it sounds like you feel similarly. In that respect... I do think it's a very healthy desire and want all people to go through it.

It's the "collateral damage" that I think can be so difficult -- the time and energy such a path requires, the patience/frustration, and the relationships that suffer once others find out you no longer [potentially] share this common ground. That's what has made this the most difficult for me. Good luck!

ciphergoth said...

Prefer books vs. the internet - not sure about this one. There are some good books about this sort of thing, but I think the resources available on the Internet are easily good enough for anyone wanting to further their own thinking on this sort of thing. Let me take the opportunity to recommend my favourite Internet atheist, Greta Christina.

As someone brought up by atheists in the relatively irreligious UK, I can't imagine what you're going through. Best of luck!

Hendy said...

@ciphergoth: good point. I'll have to think more about that one. One thing I can for sure say is that when citing defenses for various reasons to believers... the internet is seen as hogwash. And yes, that's probably quite unjustified considering that quite a lot of internet sources at least cite their information, which can be tracked down in books. I love reading Richard Carrier, for example, on Internet Infidels and he's obviously developing quite the name for himself.

As a last thought on this... perhaps my words are more cautionary toward avoiding the time suck that the internet can be without producing tangible results. I love reading blogs. But assume I start out at time t=0 and hope that by time t=x I am 50% further toward answering my question about whether extra-biblical sources support the existence of Jesus as described by the Bible itself. Personally, I find that I can zoom along on the internet and be no further than a few percent toward my goal. With better discipline, perhaps I could utilize the internet for just that question. But if I find a library book specifically about it... every page I read is guaranteed to advance my toward my goal.

I have read a fair amount of Greta and definitely like her work! I'll have to stop by her blog more often. Thanks for the comment!

DoubtingThomas said...

Okay, I've definitely decided I have to get more organized. I hope you don't mind me borrowing the Truth Seeker Challenge. I do need some guidance in this area and really need structure to stick to one topic at a time. I find myself jumping all over the place and not really getting very far. As for your comments about the blogs, I get really sucked in reading the blogs and all the comments. Very time consuming without getting very far, though I do enjoy the various perspectives.

When you first started down this doubters path did questions plague your mind about particular scriptures? Like the ones that say "in the latter days many will fall from the faith"? I'm just curious if these things bothered you.

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