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RE: Losing Eternity

in #religion7 years ago

I appreciate your sharing something which is clearly important at the core of your being. For me as a third generation atheist my initial reaction to your declaration was a bit of a shrug. But upon further reading I can see what a deep connection religion has had for you in your life, and how monumental this shift has been. Although I can imagine it could be freeing and feel like the lifting of a burden, I think it would probably also feel like quite a loss. It's not just the loss of a worldwide, like-minded community, but of a part of yourself that's been there since childhood. Not to mention losing the hope that we will all be reunited with our loved ones after death. "Loss of Eternity" indeed.

When I've imagined myself joining a religion (a nearly impossible task at my age, having lived without belief from the start) I've felt the most attracted to Buddhism and Deism, though the latter may be due to my admiration for Thomas Jefferson.

While I am sure I will never be converted to any organized religion and I am glad of it, part of me also envies the sense of comfort and relief it would bring if I could believe someone was watching over us and that 'God' would make everything all right in the end. It's also hard not to want to have the built in community that religion provides. And the idea of losing either of my parents forever is still unthinkable to me.

When I was 6 I had a best friend who was very concerned that I didn't believe in God. She got her mother to invite me to go to church with them and we went to Sunday School at her Presbyterian church. I could see her looking over at me, hoping that I would somehow "get the message" and be part of it. I didn't like it. I remember asking the lady how could Abraham be willing to kill his own son, and whatever she answered I remember a strong sense of disapproval and resistance coming from her, as if she wasn't used to being questioned by children. Later at my friend's house my friend told me to go into the closet for 5 minutes and, "Try really hard to believe in God." When I came out I told her I still didn't believe and she got very upset and asked me to try again. I went back in the closet and decided I would tell her I had changed my mind (even though I hadn't.) I was eaten up by guilt that I lied to my best friend, but it seemed to make her happy.

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Thank you for sharing your story and your understanding.

It was a very painful loss and in many ways it's ongoing. Deep and valued friendships are fractured. People I love are hurting, simply because I am no longer the person they once knew, and I no longer see the world as they do. Just this past week, I had a phone conversation with someone who felt I had abandoned them. They were on the verge of tears because the pain was so real and the vulnerability so raw. It hurt to know I caused that pain.

In the beginning, I had many conversations. I shared openly and honestly, I cried together with my wife who still believes. I talked with friends and family. I saw pain, pain I was causing. I started focusing on philosophy and morality. I started building up and explaining my understanding of what is good and right for so many who had only known those things as defined by God. Thankfully, my versions of beauty, goodness, and justice were not so completely foreign to them. Over time, a few have remained in true relationship. They have asked their questions and respected my answers. Others, I'm sad to say, are still defensive and staying clear of the pain.

I don't have answers for them or myself at times as far as how to navigate the relationships. Sometimes I feel it's best to move on, build meaningful relationships elsewhere and spare them from having to make sense of my change. At other times, I want to engage directly and show how dividing ideology and dogma can be. Mostly, I think I walk the line between the two, swinging back and forth. One thing I do know, life is short. Meaningful relationships are all around and community is what we make of it.

Things are much better with time. My wife and I enjoy each other more than ever and we're navigating how to raise our children. I've never been more joyful, happy, or content, though it does pain me to think of some who miss the old me and have yet to understand the new.

Thank you again for your heartfelt and sincere comment.

You're very welcome and I empathize with all of those thing you have described, even if the ways in which being my authentic self have sometimes caused pain are not the same as yours. I am glad that things got better with your wife - that would have been a massive challenge in the beginning, I am sure.

Here's one more story from my family if you don't mind my sharing...

My maternal great grandparents were all devout Mormons and one great-grandfather actually founded the Mormon church in a large city in Arizona and helped to build it. However, by the time my mother was born, her parents no longer believed in the faith. Well, my grandfather stopped believing by age 18, possibly because only he and 2 other siblings out of 11 survived childhood. His childhood was one unremitting tragedy and I think that permanently ruined his faith in a benevolent God. So one of the first things he did after he married my grandmother is work on persuading her not to believe either. He was successful. Unfortunately, my great grandfather had an inordinate influence and control over their lives for as long as he was alive, so they felt they must sent my mother and her siblings to Mormon church every week. But instead of going together as a family, which is truly the entire point and core of the Mormon culture, the family, they would drop my mother and her sister off at the church every week and then pick them up. Through this and many other ways this convey to my mom and her sister that this was something they were doing just to appease their grandfather. So their likelihood of becoming believers was already low. As they got older they would skip out of church and do other things and then come back, so they didn't even hear the sermons or socialize with the other children. No one who knew their family was keeping an eye on them, so they could do as they pleased. The final nail was the fact that when they got home their father would rant about what a bunch of nonsense it all was!

My mother's two younger siblings were born much later and only one of them went to church with any consistency - my aunt. She became the only member of our family who actually believed in the Mormon faith. But even she had terrible doubts. In order to sort of shore up her faith she married a very dominant, very devout Mormon, hoping that would put her back on the right path. Instead, all the other ways that she had been growing as a human being, such as speaking five languages fluently, playing guitar, violin and singing opera at the concert level, and other artistic ventures put her at odds with her husband. He wanted her to devote all of her time to the church and to supporting his rise in the church ranks, and he disapproved of her singing and of her career teaching music to children. They had my two cousins, a girl my age and an older brother. She became more and more withdrawn and depressed. Then she became pregnant again with twins and they were born very premature, weighing only a pound each. The first twin died a month later. Unbeknownst to the family she was suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis. She was driving my little cousin somewhere and suddenly had an overwhelming urge to drive the car into a brick wall - luckily she didn't, but she pulled over and became hysterical. The police came and took them home. Not long afterwards she bought a gun and shot herself and died, leaving my cousin, age 7, without her mother. My uncle remarried within a few months a woman with three kids of her own and they became a deeply religious Mormon family of 8. Years later when my cousin and I were in our late 20s she came out as a lesbian and the response of both the church and fellow Mormons was so negative that she started to have her first doubts about her faith. Her bishop called her in and asked her to renounce her sexuality and told her she might be ex-communicated. I don't know at what point she stopped believing entirely, but she did. She still sees her father and siblings, the surviving twin and her older brother, but when she married her long term partner her father and stepmother did not attend.

Not sure why I am telling you all of this except to share about another family for whom the conflict between belief and non-belief have been highly painful. My cousin is now very happy, has a high powered career that takes her all over the world and has built a wonderful life with her wife.

Wow. This would make for a rather dramatic movie script, but knowing it involves real people and real tragedy pains my heart. This is the side of religion many don't see. What it does to the human psyche.

It's amazing how many people are absolutely convinced their spiritual texts are accurate and their religion is true while at the same time knowing every other one is false. This involves some mental gymnastics which I think impact other areas of life as well leading to irrational behavior.

Thanks for sharing your story.

I like what Ricky Gervais says when people ask why he doesn't believe in God. He says, "Which one? There are 3,000 of them. The only difference between you and me is you don't believe in 2,999 Gods and I don't believe in one more than that."

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