There are not many downsides to finding joy in writing. Most of the time (fully 99.9%) writing, for me, is a delight. It is a refuge and a tool and a gift. However, when you do find this pleasure in the written expression of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, you accept with that the 2:30 am visits from your mythical muse. She calls, with a whisper, and like another myth, the siren, she pulls you toward her, irresistibly beckoning you to the screen, the page, the keyboard. You attempt to placate her with mental bargaining, promising her you will respond with the light of day, assuring her of the solidity of your memory. But in the end, her beauty always wins.
This post is long overdue. Personal reasons, none of which include a fear of its writing or reading, have dictated its timing. A series of events over the recent past have convinced me that now is the time to publish this.
If you stick with me through the end of what is sure to be a lengthy, intimate narrative, I thank you in advance. What started out as a simple training blog has turned into a vehicle of self-expression whose importance I could not have begun to realize. So to those who read this through to the end, I extend my appreciation for completing the circle of the dual purpose of the blog.
Many of the blogs I choose to follow have a posting of this topic. The cleverness of the title is my own, but it is only a variation on a theme. This is the story of my journey out of faith and into reason. It is highly personal, at times painful, and ultimately joyful. I commit to be as honest as I can in reconstructing the sequence, and in recapturing the emotion of the moment. Along with the gratitude I’ve already expressed, I ask for your forbearance; by its very nature this post may be offensive.
I was born a Southern Baptist. That’s a bit of a play on words – Baptists do not believe you are born into the faith. That is an event of your own choosing, and in this case, I use the phrase to mean I was born into a family of Southern Baptists by several generations. I was fully integrated into the faith from birth, experienced personal salvation at age 6, and participated in every aspect of Baptist education, from Sunday School (now Bible Study Fellowship) on Sunday mornings, Training Union (now Discipleship Training) on Sunday nights, first Sunbeams (now Mission Friends), then GA’s then Acteens on Wednesdays, and Worship every Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Then came the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Campus Ministries) in college, then on to teaching all of those on my own as a young adult, wife, and mother. I served on every committee my churches have had, even the Committee on Committees, a concept that still makes me chuckle. I have served as Sunday School Director, Mission Education Director, Youth Leader, Vacation Bible School Teacher, and Sunday School Teacher. Lest you think my church experience was all busywork and no personal calling, allow me now to assure you that I took every one of those responsibilities very seriously. I do not believe anyone with whom I served, or anyone I taught would dispute that. My faith was the driving force behind my work at church; my highest street cred of a genuine faith was that I committed to rearing my beloved children in that same faith. That is my Baptist pedigree.
When those same precious children entered their teenage years, they began asking me the questions that relentlessly smart, thinking, driven children ask when they are asserting their independence. Those questions were about the contradiction of the faith with science:
“6 million species, mom? On one boat?”
There were also the questions of the scholarship:
“Where are the original manuscripts?”
“3 sets of Ten Commandments? And they’re not the same?”
“Divinely inspired writers didn’t know the earth moved around the sun?”
Then the questions of morality:
“God did THAT with children who teased Elijah?”
“Lot gave his daughters up for rape?”
“God had them kill the women, children, livestock, and keep the young women as bounty?”
I set about finding answers for my children, and for myself. A point of irony here is that even as a believer I was considered a liberal, a radical, because I was reluctant to accept the Baptist party line for all the above questions. I had had to repress my own critical thinking skills to accept those party line answers my whole life, and I was not about to allow my children to go without information they asked me for.
I sought information from every avenue. This was the early era of the internet, and I capitalized on the new gift of the information age with vigor. I sought answers from old reliable sources – the institution of religion in general, and my church and its convention in particular. My prayers to my god were fervent, focused, and constant, and were breathed with confidence and patience. I also looked outside the faith, to be absolutely certain I had covered every possible angle, and to strengthen what I already knew with conviction: that despite those difficult questions, my faith would emerge right, and victorious, and applicable.
I can’t tell the story without including this personal branch of the journey. Simultaneous to my spiritual journey, I had embarked on a physical journey. Upon the celebration of my 40th birthday, I experienced an epiphany about the state of my health: that the first 40 years of one’s life, one’s body would respond pretty effectively to the demands placed on it – the second 40 required giving a lot back. I was overweight, out of shape, and clueless about how to alter that. I began researching nutrition and anatomy and physiology and our biological heritage, and our political heritage and how they both affected our collective national health. (My website for my professional life recounts this story in greater detail: http://www.epiphanyhealth.name/The-Epiphany-Health-Story.html
I found that both quests took me in a direction heavily weighted toward science. I became a critic of experiment and application and hypothesis, and refused to accept dogma, conventional wisdom, and common practice, without evidence. I was comfortable in this territory – I had trod a similar road in exploring conventionally accepted practices in the 1980’s of living a credit lifestyle, and refused to go along with that too, to my family’s better financial health. I refined my ability to spot an untested theory or unquestioned principle or faulty premise.
I found my church and its larger organization to be of little help in theory or application. I found earnestness and routine explanations, but no answers. I did, however, find tremendous amounts of information outside the walls of the church and greater institution. I found sound science. I found ration and reason. I had moments of utter astonishment, seething anger, and sublime joy. I have this passage written by Robert G. Ingersoll committed to memory:
“When I became convinced that the universe is natural, that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell. The dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts and bars and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world, not even in infinite space. I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live my own ideal, free to live for myself and those I loved, free to use all my faculties, all my senses, free to spread imagination’s wings, free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope, free to judge and determine for myself . . . I was free! I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously faced all worlds.”
My children, whose stories are their own, served as both pupil and teacher in my own process. They leave me speechless with their courage and conviction, they challenge me with their intellect, and they amaze me with their insight and generosity. They are bright and driven and happy and kind and compassionate and moral, and I learn from them almost daily, now, in their young adulthood.
I know this post has been interminably long, and I am aiming toward a conclusion, but I have to make a few more points before my story is complete. In my relationships with believers, as I share my position, there arises without fail a certain sequence of statements that I feel compelled to address preemptively, as it were. I know a number of my readers are of the faith, and it accelerates the process for me to answer them. I will do so as briefly as possible; each topic deserves a post of its own, but for the sake of brevity, I will summarize:
What about an afterlife?
There is no evidence that any part of us survives our death. No amount of wishful thinking or hoping can change that. I will be as I was before I was born; I will not exist. With the loss of the joy of heaven comes the relief of the loss of hell. Because of the reality of this premise, each morning when I open my eyes, I think: “I get to be here for one more day. I get to hear my children’s voices for one more day. I get to see the sky and hear the birds and smell the air and taste the life of one more day.” Only artists can convey the bliss that thought brings to me EVERY DAY.
How can you believe everything just banged into life?
I don’t. I believe that cosmology will give us the answers to the beginning of life, abiogenesis, in time. I accept the theory of natural selection as the simple, easily explained, completely verified, blind, organic process that it is. Evolution is not random chance, it is not apes evolving into people; we can follow the fossil record that undisputedly reveals to us the shared ancestors we have. This information is easily accessed, and quite easily understood by 4th graders across the world.
How can you be moral without the bible?
Easily. Being the master of my own morality is at once a profound responsibility, a humbling privilege, and an exquisite joy. It is messy and complicated and troubling, and in research requires thought and patience, and in application requires time and effort and money and energy. I have no directive to judge others, and I am free to apply my ethics as I am convicted. I can very generally say that my philosophy is this:
Decrease suffering. Increase joy.
Why not just believe? If you have so much to lose, and everything to gain, why not just believe?
This is called Pascal’s wager, and although I have explained it numerous times to well-meaning believers, I choose to add this link to another blogger’s post about it, because she is a great deal more gifted than I, and her view is identical to mine.
My muse is smiling. I can now sleep. I cannot close without this, however.
I am as happy a person as I have ever been. I am comfortable in my skin, I take great pride in my belief system, and I look forward to every moment of every day. I love moments with my family and friends and I am exceedingly grateful for the life I have had. I have faults and failings and frailties, and I make mistakes and act rashly. I forgive and am forgiven, I give and I receive, I learn and I grow. I am imperfect, but I am not evil or sinful. I embrace the journey that this life is, I seek adventure and new experiences with robust passion, and I am endlessly delighted at discovering science’s secrets.
This post, more than any other, thank you for reading.