September 27, 2016

You Just Gotta Believe

The Belief Wall
The Belief Wall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I was about 14 and struggling to come to terms with what I was just beginning to recognize as a lack of god belief, I sought help from several Christians. You see, I had no desire to stop believing in gods. I found the prospect terrifying. Everyone I knew believed. What sort of future could I have if I could not do so? I desperately wanted to keep believing, and so I asked Christians I trusted for help. Again and again, I was told, "You just gotta believe!"

Most of the Christians I spoke with were perfectly willing to acknowledge that there was no conclusive proof of gods or any other supernatural entities. They pointed to the need for faith in such matters; faith meant that they believed without requiring the sort of evidence they would usually require to support their beliefs. The lack of evidence was not a problem for them. They just believed, and they told me that I needed to do the same.

The problem was that I could not just believe. It was not for lack of trying, mind you. I attempted to follow the advice I was given to the best of my ability. I read the parts of the Christian bible that were recommended to me again. I prayed more often, asking the god in which I had been raised to believe for guidance when I did so. I listened intently to everything that was said at church, and I asked questions whenever I had the opportunity to do so. I wanted to believe.

Despite my efforts, my doubts did not go away. They became stronger over time. I remember feeling as though I was approaching a point of no return. Once I crossed it, there would be no going back to the beliefs with which I had been raised. With the benefit of hindsight, I think I'd already crossed this point and was merely trying to find my way back. Over the next couple of years, it would eventually sink in that I could no longer believe. It was no longer an option.

Nearly a decade later, I would encounter one of the metaphors that would stick with me as a way of communicating my inability to return to god belief. Going back to god belief now seems as likely as forgetting how to read. It is not a perfect metaphor by any means, but it does go to the crux of the problem. To return to god belief now would require me to unlearn almost everything I have learned since I was a religious believer. It would require me to shut down much of my mind somehow so that the doubting parts would be silenced. And yes, this seems about as likely as forgetting how to read, forgetting my native tongue, or whatever similar comparison you prefer.

I know people who were raised Christians, lost their god belief and spent at least a few years as atheists, and then returned to being believing Christians. I would never deny that such people exist. Some atheists do go back to god belief; others who were never believers at all may eventually find their way to god belief.

As for me, this seems unlikely. It has been a long time since I believed in gods, and it is hard to imagine returning to embrace something I regard as both irrational and harmful. "You just gotta believe" was not merely unhelpful; it led me to believe that there must be something wrong with me because I couldn't do it.
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