Given that you have not been attaching names and emails to the conversations on your site, I have no problem with that.
My parents decided to not raise me into a religion. My mother holds a general spiritualist position, with strong affinities for the Taoist and Buddhist schools of thought present in China. My father is a lapsed Orthodox Ukrainian Catholic. Because religion was not forced onto me, I remained incurious about it and oblivious until the age of 8 or 9. My first exposure to Christianity came by way of my best friend’s grandmother, a Jehovah’s Witness. She was tutoring her grandson using a lesson book with a reading comprehension format, and I eagerly read and answered questions. It was only when I talked with my parents about what I had read that a conversation about religion began.
I do not know what was said between my parents and my friend’s parents and grandparents, but the lessons stopped.
Both of my parents are unconvinced that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God exists. For my father, such a God is inconsistent with the way his mother died– a slow, lingering death by spinal cancer. This violated (at least) one of the three ‘omnis’ associated with the God he was taught to believe in. With his concept of God destroyed, my father’s faith evaporated. My mother’s exit point from christian faith was the troubling concept of hell. Would a good God commit people to hellfire and eternal damnation? Her answer is no– eternal punishment for finite sin is inconsistent with a good and understanding God. Just from my parents’ understanding as a starting point, you can see why the traditional christian idea of God has little traction with me.
One of my early problems with religion was all this talk of souls. If I were to ask me to show me your soul, what could you do? I find no definition of soul that is separate from a body very meaningful. (On a similar vein, the mind/body split seems to me a false proposition, as there is no mind isolated from a body to study… but I digress.) The body decays after death, but the soul is supposed to be eternal. What is this soul? The question seems inextricably tied to what happens after we die. I eventually decided to table the motion, reasoning “One life at a time.”
In keeping with this logic, I reasoned that I should live a good life. There is no evidence of an afterlife, so the satisfaction of a life well-lived may be all there is. Even if this is not the case, one would definitely want to go before any judgement having lived a good life, therefore being moral is justified regardless of one’s position on the God question. Yet I have experienced a feeling of thankfulness for being. It is difficult to express in words my gratefulness for living and the desire I have to leave the world a better place. It may be smoke and mirrors, but I have framed this concept in terms of a Creator and begun thinking of the world as Creation. So far I have rejected all dogma as unenlightening, though some of the original source texts of various religions (when viewed in their proper cultural context) have been most helpful, especially Zen’s koans and the 40 hadith.
The problem is that living religion is very different than a text; I have deep reservations about the traditions and the restrictions on thinking associated with many religions, especially Islam. However, I don’t think that a strictly mechanistic world view can satisfy my desire for purpose, even when modified by chaos theory, a non-deterministic outlook, and an understanding of psychology. I find myself feeling I need more, so my desire for self-improvement and morality has me taking a long, hard look at religion.
My apologies for taking nearly 8 months to get back to you, but I’ve re-written this accursed email about two times a month and never been happy with it. Many thanks for maintaining a site where skeptics can share their viewpoints.
What an excellent e-mail! I’m certain that many atheists share these thoughts. I agree that there is no inherent purpose to be found in a mechanistic universe, and I find that the most satisfied atheists are those who have dug deep and found a purpose within themselves.