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.
February 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm
I absolutely adore you Gayle Jordan! I admire your strength and your courage and your intention. I love your fervent nature and your intellect. You must know what an influence you are. I consider you one of the greatest women I know and consider it a priveledge to be your friend.
March 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm
Amy – I am the lucky one to have you in my life! You are such a kindred spirit and I love every time we get together! You make me laugh and you understand me, and I am so grateful for your friendship. You are so strong and I am so proud of you and everything you’ve accomplished. You know we’re riding our bikes to the cabin, right? (Well, maybe we’re riding our bikes AT the lake…) Heart you!
February 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm
Beautiful, heartfelt, and moving… but I would expect no less from someone who is all those things and more. Thanks you Gayle for being you and sharing this.
March 1, 2011 at 7:33 pm
Thank you brother – you inspire me with your bravery too…thanks for all you do for the group. I’m looking forward to many happy debates and meetings and lectures and conventions…
February 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm
Thank you for sharing this with everyone. I think it is amazing that I met you at the beginning of this journey and am reunited with you as we both take on life in its new “true light”. I am energized by your presence, your fervor for life is contagious.
Having come down a similar path, I know the pain, the joy, the suffering, the release, all the emotions and struggles that happen all at one time. The “end”, though really the beginning, is so worth it, huh?
March 1, 2011 at 7:21 pm
So, so, sooooo worth it! Thank you for what you said. I’m loving watching you raise those beautiful boys in the light of ration and reason. You are doing a great job – I’m honored that you let me be a part of it…love you little sister…
February 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm
What can I say? I respect the incredible amount of energy and study you have given this subject. I know that you believe this path more strongly than many Christians who blindly follow their paths. I appreciate that in you.
You know that I love you just as you are, where you are, and I am at peace on my path as you are on yours. It is the differences in each of us that gives our relationship balance, truly.
March 1, 2011 at 7:27 pm
Susie Q…your response was the one I was waiting for. I knew you were at the Siegel game, and I was right….you responded as soon as you got home and read it. Susan, you are one of the very few believers who has responded (Em texted me), and I think that says a lot about you. It was so sincere and so immediate and so like you. I am so fortunate to have you as one of my besties. Your words meant so much to me — I know you know how deeply and thoroughly I’ve worked on this. I love our long talks and dirty references…you’re my girl and I love you!! xoxo
March 3, 2011 at 10:07 am
It didn’t tell me you had responded, so I didn’t know.
You knew where I was. You knew when I would see it and respond.
You knew my heart for you wouldn’t change.
You didn’t address the resurrection. You know, for Christians, the resurrection of Christ is the one thing that really defines us. As the season of Lent is about to begin, the question of the Resurrection is at the front of my mind.
March 4, 2011 at 9:14 am
Let’s coffee it up sometime this week and I’ll tell you about my stand on that. I don’t know how the notification process works – I just see the comments and hit Respond!
I miss you, BTW. How’s your life? xo
March 1, 2011 at 2:34 am
Hot damn I’m glad somebody has enough self confidence to speak about atheism and not feel like they are being vulgar. Thank you for sharing. You know you’re the coolest mom ever and I congratulate you on a very well written out post.
March 1, 2011 at 7:28 pm
love you so hard, boy…
March 1, 2011 at 3:35 pm
How completely interesting that you chose now to publish this. I had had a very deep discussion with Jennifer the other day where I wondered aloud “What was her (your) turning point?” I see now that it was much less of a turning point and much more of a turning process. You gather by some of the stuff I send you that of course I am questioning things. The fact that both my sister and I have come to this point around the same time is not lost on me. While I in no way claim to have your scientific or theological knowledge, it is in fact the very probing questions of my precious, precocious 13 year old that have stopped my in my tracks. I still don’t know where I stand, and in truth…am in no big hurry to find out. What I tell her is what I have been told…this is a journey. And everyone’s journey is different. I look forward to being with my girl cousins (and sister, of course!) next week. We have a lot of talkin’ to do!
March 1, 2011 at 10:24 pm
My precious cousin — thank you for your comment. I loved what you said about the impact the kids’ questions have on us. I don’t wonder if I would have just gone stumbling along if it hadn’t been for the kids. I encourage you to keep reading, keep learning, and you are right about being in no hurry. And encourage your darling girl to find her own answers – that was one of the things I had my kids do – “Tell me what YOU think and why you think that” – I still use that line with them even now, and damned if they don’t answer! Can’t wait for the Smith Girls Throwdown in a couple of weeks! xoxoxo
March 1, 2011 at 7:01 pm
Good job. Sorry you lost the faith and you’re pretty full of yourself.
You are made up of billions of cells. We cannot make cells artificially or by any manufacturing process. But yet there is no God. It is not by chance and chance alone that the trees breath, that we procreate. Unfortunately, believing there is no God or beneficial universal force in the world is a lie. You may not realize it now or in 20 years, but that time will come.
I wish you well and believe as you will – you see I do not judge either!
March 1, 2011 at 7:23 pm
Well, I would be lying if I said this didn’t make me sad, because I am as sure of my beliefs as you are of yours. But I am sure that wasn’t an easy post to write, and I admire you for being so transparent and honest. We all have to figure it out for ourselves and decides what works for us, and you have done that. And I love you for being you!
March 1, 2011 at 7:39 pm
Ruthie – thank you for your words. I hope I was able to convey that this was not a decision I took lightly – it was only after years of searching and learning. You are right about it not being easy. I know it will be painful for people who care about me. But I also hope I’ve conveyed my happiness and contentment with my decision. You inspire me on your journey too – thank you for your comment, and for being you!
March 1, 2011 at 11:54 pm
I cannot say that I agree with you (just because my grandmother was such a Godly woman and still one of the best people ever), but that does not mean that I love you any less. You are still one of the most amazing women I’ve had the pleasure to meet. *hugs*
March 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm
P.S. And thank you for being strong enough to open yourself up like this. It couldn’t have been easy!
March 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm
Beautiful Gaylie, Thank you for such an honest post. I have always loved and admired you and your squeeze-every-drop-of-life way of living. It really inspires and challenges me. I have had a l-o-n-g spiritual journey of my own, with many questions it took me years to even admit to myself, let alone voice. I too have “parted ways” with much of the religion of my youth and at this age and stage of my life have learned to begin to “question my answers” and have released many of the presuppositions I had. I haven’t reached a destination, of course, because I am ever in process, but have great peace and joy and freedom in realizing the God I do believe in now is so very different than the one I thought I knew, night-and-day different!! I used to think I had to debate or convice everyone of my beliefs, but that was really only because deep down they weren’t really my own convictions and it scared me if someone thought or felt differently from me. Your friend Susan’s post is beautiful and really resonates with me. I guess I just wanted you to know that I accept and love you and think you rock! ( :
March 4, 2011 at 9:11 am
Lisa – how sweet of you to respond. You know, every now and then something will remind me of our (yours/mine/Mari’s) years of friendship and I’ll be overcome pining for you! All of our laughs and cries and silliness and subtext and wordplay – you hold a very special place in my heart and memory. Thank you for sharing about your journey – I know you take it seriously, and I’m glad to read that you feel like you have peace and joy and freedom. Part of the joy of having written this post is engaging in conversation with others about this subject. Huuuuge hugs to you and yours…call or text if you are ever home (PTC) – I’ll do the same and maybe we’ll accidently be there at the same time! (615.556.6224). xoxo
March 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm
I would love that, Gayle! Love to you.
March 21, 2011 at 10:00 am
I’m a little late in the game here, but since I just met you last week, I’ll ask for a pass. 🙂 I’m the new Assistant Organizer in Murfreesboro for Nashville Atheists; we met at the Corner Pub meetup in Nashville last week.
Great story, great post; I’m a former Southern Baptist as well. I loved your description of the freedom it is to leave religion. One of my favorite verses, which ironically led me away from faith when the time came, was “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The irony being that the -truth- is that the bible is fiction and god is not real, and that truth really does set one free. Free from guilt, obligation, tyranny, unhappiness, and toil, to name a few. Life is truly amazing and full of happiness and joy, no gods or religions necessary.
I’m glad to have meet you last week and I look forward to getting to know you. I’ll schedule some Murfreesboro meetups before long.
Keep listening to the muse 🙂
March 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm
Josh – thanks for the kind words, and for reading the posts. We’ll have lots to share at our get-togethers!
We have a little group going in Murfreesboro, but it’s mostly just friends, and my kids when they are in town. We occasionally meet at Starbucks on Sunday morning. There is a Murfreesboro group on the Secular Life Meetup page, but it doesn’t seem to be too active. I’m down for whatever meetups you schedule, and I’ll pass in along to my posse.
Thanks again for reading!
May 2, 2011 at 2:06 am
Life keeps me so busy these days that I just noticed your facebook post and caught up with your blog. I would love to be in on your coffee with Susan to hear your views about Easter and the resurrection. Our Ridgecrest “climb every mountain” days of jumping off trains and out of the way of trains, were a long time ago but you still inspire me with you attitude about living every day to th fullest. I just wish we we were closer in proximity to each other. Let’s plan to meet on your next visit to London. Many people in London especially students claim to be atheists and I really enjoy the conversations. My living life to the fullest still involves God as the most important part of that journey. Hearing your views makes me realize how long it has been since we have caught up on life with each other. So glad for fb blogs and the internet. So when are you coming through for an adventure in London?Maybe I need to think of a top 50 challenge to get you here again!
May 2, 2011 at 5:00 am
Susan – so good to hear from you! I had just clicked on your link with Emily’s adorable sign for Harry! How cool you were able to be there. Thanks for reading the blog – it’s become such an important outlet for me. I’d love to talk with you too, with or without Susan, with or without coffee, this continent or that! I’m glad you and your family are enjoying your time overseas. Glenda’s BF is in Bristol, his family in in Leeds, so we’ve made a couple of trips over – I don’t know when I’ll go again. Thanks for the comment, the invitation, and the contact- I still remember those days fondly too!
June 11, 2011 at 7:42 pm
Thanks for posting… I am on a very similar journey. Grew up in church every time the doors were open. Served beyond being tired. etc. I am about to the point you are at but… one question. What if you are wrong? It would be the most catostrophic decision you have ever made. Therein lies my struggle.
June 13, 2011 at 10:09 pm
Dear friend —
Thanks so much for posting and for reading the blog. I hear the sincerity in your words, and the lengths to which you went to make it work. I commend you for thinking and researching up to this point. I don’t blame you for taking seriously this issue. It’s the main reason many people cling to a belief they cannot endorse yet cannot release.
Since you read the blog, you may have visited the link I included to Greta Christina’s blog about Pascal’s Wager. It’s worth a read, and other atheist bloggers have addressed it as well. Anyone of any faith can make that particular pronouncement: What if you are wrong? Of all of the gods ever imagined, how do you even know the one you reluctantly feel compelled to follow is the right one in the first place?
I can tell you from my point of view that I struggled with that issue myself, as most former believers do. I finally reached a point when it was simply immoral for me to pretend to believe something I did not. It wasn’t a matter of “choosing” to believe. I could NOT believe, even on fear of eternal suffering.
Keep thinking, friend – wherever you land, good on you for thinking so clearly to get to this point. May reason guide you.
May 12, 2017 at 1:34 pm
I think I’m in love: an Ingersoll quote. And memorized no less.
Question answered! I had some of those rattling in my own head as I began to question. More on that later though. I too had the creds, though I wasn’t “born”into it. It turned out to be an easy game to play, though a little speck of me was always a rebel. Especially when my now former wife had to come over and ask for my permission to attend a lunch with some of the other women. We made a show of it, though we bristled at it.
As for being moral, I’m more moral now than I ever was as a believer, mainly due to the inner and outer integrity.