Gods, monsters, and faithlessness.

When you go through a hard time, to whom do you turn? Friends? Family? God?

Friends may offer a shoulder, and the occasional loan. From your family, you often find yourself with the same treatment. What does God offer you?

Numerous times have I been approached by the homeless and the downtrodden, and when I offer aid, I am often thanked in the name of God.

“Oh thank you, praise God.”

“God bless!”

“Jesus thanks you.”

Ad infinitum.

Having been raised in a very unusually random religious way, I often think about the various faiths we all subscribe to, be it an absence of faith in God or a total faith in God. Most of my friends, I have noticed, are agnostic. There is a smattering of atheists thrown in for good measure. Others lean toward Buddhism, and more keep their faith in a Christian or Catholic God. Oddly, the few Jewish folks I know tend to avoid their own religion. My background consisted of a bit of everything… my grandmother was the type to wander from church to church in search of the proper words. I was raised a Catholic, sort of, which I quickly abandoned without much hesitation. She took me to Baptist churches where the patronage would flail and scream as if the Holy Ghost was doing a jig in their very souls, and churches where we spoke in tongues and the occasional snake made an appearance. It was a r
ather odd, but broad view of American religion.

As my mother once told my grandmother, “All you are doing is looking for what the preacher says. You are doing nothing more but hearing what they want to tell you, what they want you to hear, and you’re just waiting for someone to say what appeals to you. If you want to pray, why don’t you just go talk to God alone under a tree? You’re just paying for opinions.”

My mother is an atheist, she claims, yet she admits to not knowing. A reluctant agnostic.

Most of the people I know came from some religious background. Few were kept from exposure to at least one particular belief system, and fewer adhered to it.

I began to doubt the absolute veracity of what I had been taught concerning religious subject matters when I started to think more critically and rationally outside the private school and church environment. Reading books about philosophy, physical science, anthropology and mystical beliefs were instrumental to forming of a greater understanding of the subject and its many aspects. Deep conversations with my friends and their experiences and views also helped to widen my world and reveal a more complex reality. I began to study and analyze religion and faith and the possible nature of a deity as fascinating subjects for thought and consideration rather than further engage in religious worship and its rituals. At the same time, I did not forget my original programming even though I had a dawning realization that the school and church were indeed just that– institutions dedicated to cultural /emotional /psychological programming regardless of the teachers’ (noble or ignoble) intentions.”

He obviously didn’t start that way. As he said of his childhood,

“I was a Lutheran Protestant Christian– or at least I was in training to be one. I went to a private school for 9 years and was taught all the dogmatic principles which shaped my young life. I went through the confirmation process and attended church.”

He was rather rabidly religious before rationalization, as he says, kicked in. It seems to be a common process… childhood brings the wonder of God; the maturing mind removes the awe and replaces it with skepticism.

Another says, “I had a brief phase where I decided God was a good idea, after religion lessons in school. I remember coming home and informing my parents about this, and being somewhat surprised that they didn’t believe in god. In asking them why: “Because I’m too scientific.” This puzzled me for a while… I didn’t “get” the connection between being scientific and not being religious. I was probably only about 11 at the time.”

His falling out with the church was partly due to the teacher of said class, as he explains.

“I also remember the religious studies teacher giving us homework: “Today’s a practical. I want you to go home and pray for something, and see what happens.” Next week, we came back, and discussed our experience. Some of the kids had prayed that they would win at football against some other school, and they’d lost. The teacher explained this by suggesting they shouldn’t be praying that they would win, but praying that they would play their best, which seemed a cop-out. Anyway, eventually I gave up on the whole thing because it didn’t seem to work, and I felt that something was wrong with it. I think I asked probing questions and got unsatisfactory answers.”

Science has often blocked people from their religious views, as religion blocked science. One particular person I spoke to, on the other hand, has a keen scientific mind yet retains his spirituality. As he said of the role God plays in his life,

“Mostly he keeps reminding me that I’m not paying attention to Him and that existence is much better when I do pay attention. He’s a guarantee that I’m never alone, I’m always provided for, always loved, and more importantly that I’m always understood. Aside from that, He speaks to me literally and figuratively through words, other people, intuitions, events, and prayer. More broadly, He provides a reason for and meaning to existence both personally and as the only cohesive answer to philosophy, spirituality, particle physics, turdunkens, truth, justice, and beauty.”

He was one of those that was raised with a particular ideal in place, and went through some changes along the way.

“The primary view of being personally responsible for my beliefs and their veracity didn’t change. Because of this, tons of views on more minor details changed. They change in two ways: either I realize that a particular belief was just an assumption then analyze/research it and throw it out or change it depending on whether it’s a reality/truth or whether it’s a social convention that humans just made up; or I find that there’s a broader perspective on a particular belief that lets me understand it in a new, more accurate, or complete context.”

Many people I came into contact with over this had other ideas on the subject, far less inclined towards a one truth perspective.

“Organized religions: generally bollocks, they all say the same thing “This is the one true religion, all others are wrong,” …and fail to provide any justification for that. However, atheists who say “there is no evidence for god therefore there is no god” are just as much idiots.”

Others hold a slightly more rabid view.

“There is one God. Just one. Not Buddha, not some fifty-armed Indian, not some wolf in the sky or a flaming bird on a mountain. Just one. The Christian God. If you don’t know that, you don’t go to Heaven. End of story.”

Tolerance seems to be lacking in every community, be it of a sexual orientation or for anyone that claims to know one God. Few stop to consider the perspectives of others in these instances, and it can lead to internal conflict.

“I have gay friends… plenty of gay friends. Do I believe what they are doing is ok? No. I pray for them daily, but I won’t preach. If they want to sin, that is on them. They are not bad people, but the Bible makes it clear that sodomy and being with the same sex is an affront to God.”

What is probably most telling of that ideal, though, is that this is the only person that requested I do not give a name.

“I don’t want them knowing that, though. They might be offended or stop talking to me.”

According to them, associating with sin is fine as long as no feelings get hurt.

I don’t recall that being said in the Bible.

Many newer groups have cropped up with the intention to gain a larger youth base, becoming “edgy” or trying to have them seen as a cool new thing to do.

God is the new cigarette.

God is someone you love and trust because he’s badass.

It’s marketing. I think if you believe anything at all the Bible said, perhaps you should consider the passage in Matthew that says that God will not tolerate the money lenders in temple, and that’s what all of it is about. It’s about a bunch of people who can’t find any way to increase the ranks but to get on their level. There’s nothing particularly honorable about it. It’s a ploy.”

I was approached by one such group while at work on the college campus, which claimed they would smile upon my “look” (apparently jeans, tattoos and boots are a new look combination…) and that there were plenty of other people such as myself there. They said that God doesn’t have to be a burden, and that you can still basically be a moronic drunken college kid, but God will forgive you! After declining all offers and making them aware that I was not a student, they said I would be prayed for.

I rather hope they didn’t. That doesn’t sound like a very bright god to me.

Everyone is obviously entitled to believe as they see fit. All too often such things have ended in war and bloodshed, but many things do. One person told me of their beliefs:

“I would gladly die for my God. I would kill for my God. If someone questions my faith, I will SHOW them.”

It is one of the few things people can find themselves feeling so very strongly for.

Associations that occur for those that do, do not, and question believing in God can often be far too black and white. It is often felt that Christians are all right-wing ultra conservatives, and atheists are over liberal. Muslims are terrorists; Jewish people any number of stereotypes you want to choose.

Nobody I spoke to seemed to come to any whole consensus, or even partial. The people that claimed to be Christians didn’t have many agreeing systems. Every single answer as to what God is was subject to personal interpretation. Even within a single church everyone will have differing ideas as to what the scripture truly means, and what still applies to this day. Where is the solidarity?

I don’t think there’s a natural dichotomy between religion and atheism. I think perhaps there is a natural dichotomy between religion and faithlessness; I think there is a natural dichotomy between atheism and believing in any god. Religion can just as easily be hollow faith in anything, just like faithlessness is having faith in nothing, without any particular reason. The natural dichotomy between atheism and religion is that you can either believe in no god or you can believe in any god. It’s as simple as wanting to believe in a god and wanting to believe in no god. It’s why you have so many religions with competing belief systems.”

Without any particular agreement found, how can one finally choose and assume the ideals of any one side? Is God so personal to us that he has many forms for the individual depending on the situation? If there is only one true belief system, why can’t enough people agree within it? I remember being a child and hanging around the older ladies my grandmother spent time with after church. While AT church, everyone would bob their heads in agreement or sway about to whatever was said as if it was the only true word. After, of course, they would discuss how they didn’t agree with this or that, and how they can’t believe someone would say X. All is well and good when you’re in the House of the Lord, but afterward you can speak ill.

I will remain skeptical, myself.