Tuesday, October 31, 2017

2: Joey - A Changing Worldview

Honestly, I don't know when my questioning of Christianity (specifically Catholicism) started. I think back to second grade. This was the first time the fact I was going to die one day really sunk in. I had a dog die before, I knew what it was. But I have memories of a several day long sadness, accompanied with bouts of crying and conversations with Mom. It became real then. She of course reassured me of heaven - I was in Sunday school already, and a life time of church. And I had my questions. Why do people get split up (heaven and hell)? What if I don't see my friends? Will my dog be there (I think the verdict at that point was no because only humans have souls, but she put it more nicely than that)? 

These questions stuck with me and grew. I was a firm believer in the "why" game, that annoying one every kid plays to their parents chagrin. Each answer you receive is returned with "Why? How come? How does that work?". To my amazing parents' credit, they entertained my curiosity far more than they had to each and every time. 

As I grew, some of my death questions became harder to answer and I started mostly asking myself to avoid seeming morbid. Why do we come to Earth first? Why do we need to be tested if God created us? Doesn't an eternity of anything, even paradise, get bland? How does that work?

So, you could say I was questioning at this point. But, I wasn't really questioning my faith. Any answer I got, I believed. I wanted to believe. I found contradictions in some of my parents explanations, but I didn't take it as a "you're wrong!" way. I tried to discover, or in some cases create, explanations that fit. I loved science and logic, but I used it to explain things I wanted to believe. My parents and I occasionally got into arguments over specifics, but we were on the same side.

There wasn't one thing that made the big switch in my head. And it didn't happen all at once, it took years. I went back and forth completely a few times. 

The biggest catalyst for it all was when I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in highschool. It made all those things I came to discover logically an emotional choice too. Why would God let this happen to me? This pain I can't get away from. But, much worse than that, it destroyed my mom with worry for me. 

And I think that's what finally did it for me. All of these things only sort of fit in place, so why continue to hold together the mismatched pieces? This thing, Christianity, it was my comfort for so long. It was and still is my mom's comfort. Even while I see her fall apart from guilt. My disease was her fault for not being faithful enough. Or it was a test. Shouldn't knowledge of God give you peace?

"Coming out" to my parents as atheist was tough. They knew I was questioning, I was too transparent to hide that. When I told them I didn't believe anymore, I went with the word "atheist" to be clear (in my experience most people misunderstand agnostic to mean unsure of your beliefs). It was tough, I knew they'd be crushed. And it's not like they care if I believe what they do for beliefs sake. They were worried about my eternal salvation; it's because they care! 

So, I had to make it clear. I told them I was being blunt, not to hurt them, but to save them the hurt of questioning for years. I wanted to rip the band-aid off because I value honesty and openness. I can't tell you if it was the right choice yet. I am so lucky to maintain a good relationship afterwards, but I hurt them.

It wasn't until years later I discovered some of my side effects of believing for so long. Everything bad that happened was my fault, and everything good was God. I felt guilty for even existing because life is a gift and I wasn't grateful enough and I was a sinner since before I was born. I felt alienated because I had a spirit and everything material was less real somehow. Something I was subjected to, as opposed to a part of. I was anxious because I needed the promise of future happiness (eternal heaven), and couldn't enjoy what was in front of me. My perception of meaning was warped because everything wasn't just good or bad, but infinitely good or infinitely bad. And I fell into the trap of nihilism several times before finding a more subtle, human scale of judgement.

All these side effects and more have taken years to overcome (some still haunt me). It isn't clear what causes them, and they become emotional instead of logical. They're these axiomatic things you don't even realize you still believe.

It was worth it to explore. So, so worth it. I have my up and downs still, but I'm so much happier. And I'm free.

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