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The Trap of Agnosticism

Joined: 11/3/2010
Posts: 206
I was eleven the first time I questioned the existence of God, an oddly premature age for someone who’d been inundated with scripture since she was in utero. My father literally used to whisper Bible verses to me through Mom’s bellybutton. I could recite the Ten Commandments, Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and first half of Luther’s Small Catechism by the time I was seven. My Sunday School teachers used to turn to me for the correct pronunciation of convoluted biblical names. You’d think I’d be the poster child for religious indoctrination. Instead, I’m probably the only one in my group of homeschooled friends who’s seriously considered atheism.

I don’t remember any definitive point when I thought to myself, “Hey, here’s a bright idea: What if there isn’t a God?” Rather, my doubt in the Christian faith seemed to sneak in the backdoor of my consciousness . . . and then proceed to propagate throughout my brain like a cancer. Instead of a snap-decision, my disbelief has been annoyingly protracted, interspersed here and there with periods of sudden, fleeting faith triggered by some glorious mountaintop experience or youth camp. Gosh, I would think as I looked out across a Colorado sunset, God must have made this. Yet every time I begin to move back into the remission of Christianity, I swiftly relapse into my usual cynical, anti-Christian mindset.

I can’t seem to reject God once and for all despite the fact that he – either his real self or the figment millions of people worship – annoys the crap out of me. I’d like to believe in God. Life would be much simpler if there was a God out there watching over me, waiting to carry me home when I die, a nice old guy sagely nodding along with all his children every Sunday morning at church. Yet I can’t seem to reconcile myself with the idea of an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God who for some absurd reason loves mankind, alternately catering to our petty desires and blasting us with fire and brimstone. My childhood image of God was of a man constantly waiting beside the telephone and sometimes throwing violent temper tantrums when the people on the other line didn’t call often enough. To some extent, that image hasn’t changed.

I won’t go into gory detail regarding all my specific complaints about God’s existence (or lack thereof). There’ve already been countless books published on those subjects, many of which I’ve read: John Ortberg’s Faith & Doubt, Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God, R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God, J.B. Phillips’s Your God Is Too Small, Robert J. Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God, etc. My dad is a pastor with a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and a Master of Divinity. I’ve discussed theology with him for hours at time. I even took a Calvinist-based doctrine and theology course in tenth grade simply to understand their view of predestination (I’d already gotten the Lutheran side). I probably have all the answers I’m ever going to get, but for some reason they don’t satisfy.

I’ve sporadically kept a journal since second grade, and my entries pretty clearly track my religious evolution, specifically my idiosyncratic relationship with God. I constantly vacillate, as if I’m picking petals off a daisy: “There is a God, there isn’t a god, there is a God, there isn’t a god . . .” However, this daisy has an infinite number of petals, and I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point in my faith life where I can say with 100% confidence, “There IS a God!” or “There ISN’T a god!”

I’ve come to realize that eventually, everyone must take a leap of faith, both theists and atheists. There is no irrefutable proof for either atheism or theism. For all its modern verification, the Big Bang Theory remains just that – a theory. Yet it is one that scientists around the world embrace simply because it remains the only logical atheistic explanation for our existence. Similarly, millions around the globe claim that they are Christians despite the fact that most – if not all – have never truly experienced divine intervention or some comparable burning bush experience (or perhaps they attribute divine intervention to what an atheist would consider mere coincidence).

In any case, the leap of faith is inevitable. My parents both made their leaps in their early twenties when they accepted Christ into their lives. I’m still teetering on the brink of a narrow precipice, deciding which way I should fall. I’m trapped in the reasoning of Pascal’s Wager. I have nothing to lose in believing in God (aside from a few hours on Sunday mornings) but if I don’t believe in God and it turns out that he does exist . . . An eternity in hell is a very scary thing.

To be honest, eternity in general scares me. My brother once came into my parent’s room late at night, crying because he couldn’t grasp the concept of infinity. Sometimes that’s how I feel too. I can hardly comprehend forever. Everything around me is finite – aside from, say, pi and human stupidity – but those aren’t exactly tangible entities that allow you to grasp eternity.

In short, I feel trapped by my childhood indoctrination. I once complained to my dad that I can’t get God “out of my head,” and he chuckled and said he hoped it stayed that way for the rest of my life. For all I may try, I don’t think I or anyone else will ever truly know the state of the afterlife until it’s too late. We all have to take a Leap of Faith eventually.

Last December I was unduly intrigued by the death of Christopher Hitchens, (in)famous author of God is Not Great and champion of neo-atheism. I couldn’t help but think, Now the guy who called religion “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” knows what all us poor living mortals still don’t: Whether or not he was right.
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Comment by michness

Joined: 1/25/2011
Posts: 210
First off, let me say that I love this post. I love your writing style and your tone. You make difficult (and sensitive) subjects relatable and interesting. Please pursue writing as a career. Please.

Second, I completely understand where you're coming from. For the last year or so I've blossomed into atheism (if you can blossom into it, anyway). Now I'm probably 90% atheist and 10% agnostic.

That being said, I think religion is absolutely fascinating and I love studying it. I've learned about western religions, eastern religions, and new religions (which are probably some of my favorite... you know them better as "cults"). In high school, my world religions teacher said religion acted as nothing more than a way for believers to "cover their feet." What he meant by this is that the world and death are scary. Science has barely begun to grasp understanding of the universe and its working. So to make themselves feel better, man invented religion to stay warm, i.e. cover his feet.

I was born Catholic and attended a Methodist sunday school for a few years. My problem with religion was that, especially as a child, I never quite understood WHY I was going to sunday school, or who God or Jesus was, or why I needed to care. Although my parents drove me to and from church every Sunday, we never spoke about religion. I remember I was very young, six maybe. I was terrified of thunderstorms, and one happened to be booming outside my window. I ran to wake my mom, who told me to relax, it was only God bowling. When that answer didn't suffice, I found my Grandma, who told me to pray to Jesus. Her answer was so absurd to me! What's Jesus got to do with this thunderstorm?!

I've always teetered the line between atheism, agnosticism, and believing. In my late high school/early college years I "found" God and was a devout Christian. But logic nagged at me; I couldn't stand the contradiction and oppression in religion, specifically Christianity (since that is what I practiced). The last time I attended church was in my freshman year of college. The pastor was lecturing about how evil and awful homosexuality was, and I got up and left. Homosexuals are people too, and I can't believe it is 2012 and America won't let gays get married because of ~religion~. Or that abortion rights are consistently being threatened across America. You know what happens if abortion is outlawed? UNSAFE ABORTIONS, and invariably, more women dying! Or the direct oppression of women in our so-called land of the free. You need only look to the media to see that Americans think a woman's role is to be a man's sex object. Headline news is what a woman's wearing or dating or changing on her body! Or how disgustingly hateful and contradictory religious people are to their texts. So the bible preaches against homosexuality, but it also preaches against wearing mixed fabrics, shaving, and tattoos. But I guess we'll just pick and choose what we believe (a tactic a professor in college called "cafeteria Christianity").

Thanks for reading my pedestal. Of course my doubts with atheism come and go, too. The thought of dying and there being NOTHING for an afterlife terrifies me just as much (if not more) than the idea of eternity.

Mostly I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone in these doubts and questions. No one can make you believe anything; if you decide that Lutheranism is for you, go for it. But you don't have to feel trapped by your parent's religion; I hope you don't. Find what makes you feel the most secure and latch onto it.
Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012 1:57:26 AM
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Comment by dreamingforpeace

Joined: 11/24/2011
Posts: 6
I seriously feel like I've posted on a story or two of yours before, so let me start out by saying that I am, in no way, a stalker. I really admire you and your writing, and I hope you keep on doing it.

This post really stuck out as genuinely profound to me. I grew up in a very similar way. My dad has always been militant about my education being completely Catholic all the way through, and one would think that having been exposed to so much religion would make me the perfect little Bible-thumper. The first time I ever considered the possibility that there might not be a god (does it need to be capitalized if you don't believe in it?) was when I was eleven, when my fifth-grade teacher told me that it was sinful to be gay. I myself am not gay, but the comment really made me question what I believed in. Why should God give a damn about who you love? Shouldn't he/she/it be happy that you have found someone who really, truly cares for you?

Once I began to question this, religion in general seriously began to lose its appeal to me. I want to believe-- I really do-- but there is so much about organized religion that turns me off that I just can't take it. I'm scared, though, that there might actually be a god (God?) out there, and that he/she/it is hating me for all the doubt I have. I really am scared.
Posted: Friday, April 13, 2012 6:47:03 AM
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Comment by sullysolipsism

Joined: 11/3/2010
Posts: 206
Hi, michness and dreamingforpeace,

First of all, I want to thank both of you for the time you put into your comments. I appreciate knowing that there are others “like me,” per se, in terms of atheism/agnosticism/"God-doubting." All my friends and family are Christians, so I’ve felt like something of a black sheep for the past five or six years. I don’t want to melodramatize my situation, but it IS nice knowing I’m not alone (I can't think of another less cheesy way of saying it!). X)

And like both of you, the issue of homosexuality was a major stumbling block for me. I’ve read some very damning passages in the Bible that I can’t seem to juxtapose with such a “loving” God. I was actually thinking of writing my next post on gay marriage.

And, dreamingforpeace, yeah, that’s the one thing that’s got me tentatively holding on to Christianity: the possibility of hell simultaneously terrifies and infuriates me. I’m terrified because I don’t want to go to hell, and I’m occasionally infuriated that I even persist in believing in such a place as hell. :p

Anyway, thanks for the encouraging comments!
Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2012 8:59:45 PM
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Comment by thewouldbelibrarian

Joined: 3/3/2012
Posts: 9

I found your post really interesting. I've been raised in a Calvinist Christian family.
I completely understand all your questions and everything. It's definitely hard to grasp and understand how God, heaven and hell all work.

As for a loving God- well, when you're a kid and you say, lied. Well, what's the right thing for your parent to do? Discipline you. But that doesn't mean that your parent doesn't love you because they spanked or punished you in some way. I don't think it would be loving for a parent to let you alone, because then you might grow up thinking that you can get away with theft, Maybe I'm using an extreme, but do you get my point? Bad things happen to people to help us. Satan trying to tempt us to do wrong. He wants us in hell. And it ain't because he loves us! He hates God.
And because there's a hell, there's also heaven. And a way to heaven. A loving God who wanted us to be able to be with Him in heaven sent his Son to die on the cross, as the ultimate Sacrifice, to pay for all the wrong we've done. Now if we believe that our sin has been washed away by the blood of Jesus, heaven is there for us.
Now, I know you already know this. You've been raised in a Christian family. But if there's other people who have the same doubts as you out there, there's also people who may have had those same doubts and are now saved by the blood of Jesus.
And the homosexuality thing? God created man, and He created woman. He created them for each other. It was not His design to have men marrying men. Or women marrying women. He made their personalities, characters, and bodies so that when you put the right man and the right woman together, there is perfect harmony.
In the book of Deuteronomy, He says "And if a man lies with another man, it is an abomination, and they shall be cut off from Israel." That pretty much condemns homosexuality to me.
Maybe I'm rambling, and maybe I make no sense, but what I'm saying is- There is a loving God who cares about every one of us. When bad things happen, it's for our greater good in the end. It strengthens us, and gives us an unshakable faith.
Thanks for reading this terribly long "comment". =D
I think you're a great writer, and I appreciate the view you take on things, instead of condemning everyone who doesn't believe the way you do.
Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 6:50:12 PM
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Comment by Treehugger21

Joined: 4/17/2012
Posts: 2
This boy does not totally, not believe in god and he does not believe in him either. He does not believe in god despite the fact that there are billions of people around the world that worship some type of higher power. Basically what I got from this is that he is in a neautral position kind of like he just believes in science but doesn't totally believe the scientific, big bang and bible theories.
Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:04:48 PM
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Comment by sullysolipsism

Joined: 11/3/2010
Posts: 206
Hi, "thewouldbelibrarian,"

First of all, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I understand all your arguments for God; they're things I've discussed with my parents many times. Unfortunately, I probably don't have the space here to delineate all the things that cause me to doubt God's existence, but maybe sometime I'll write a post on those specific aspects. Thanks again for sharing your POV.

@Treehugger21, I'm not entirely sure what you're saying, but basically, yes, I'm agnostic, meaning I'm not entirely sure where I stand in terms of faith and doubt. By "this boy," I assume you mean me, and I'm actually a girl, so whoops! Perhaps I should consider changing my profile pic to something more feminine.
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012 6:31:40 PM
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