Wednesday, November 1, 2017

3: Alex Waite - JENGA! The Pursuit of Happiness

Dear Friends, Family, World, Believers and non alike,

It was April 19, 1996. Until now there had been a small boy, born to a single mother Christine. They were lost and alone in a cruel dark world. Life was hard, debt was high, and the boy cared not the slightest about those adult matters. Instead he played with cousins, played with his toys, and was oblivious to most of his mother’s struggles. His strongest memory of this time as an adult is a dark one, and one of abuse. His mother had a wretched boyfriend, and one night, the police had to be called. He violently picked up one of the chairs at the dinner table and threw it at her. This happened right in the plain view of the boy. He was very scared, until the loving embrace of his mother, who was alright, made him feel better.

The boy is me, and I don’t know why my memories are so limited of the time before I became 5 years old. I don’t know why my memory is so limited before April 19, 1996, but I do have one theory. On this day Christine would marry David, and the Waite family began. Chris was raised catholic, and for all intents and purposes had walked away. Dave, I’m not sure if he was raised with any religion, but he had been 10 years saved when they married. They both loved me, and life seriously changed. I was now accepting Jesus as my lord and savior, because I was told to. I had no idea what it really meant. I would have a few years to figure it out though -- do not worry.

This meant something new to do every Sunday, and sometimes wednesday night too. This meant a new perspective on every single action, thought, and feeling. There were strict rules. Things either follow God, or are of the Devil. God forgave my sins because I accepted him as my lord and savior, but I better not dare keep sinning even though it’s impossible not to, or risk God’s wrath for my actions (wait, what?). What were my sins at that age? I couldn’t remember or tell you, but I certainly can remember the major sins from a few years later. But all sin is equal in the eyes of the Lord, for they all separate us from God (Romans 6), but then again the god of the old testament punished different sins with different punishments (again, what?). So apparently when I took a toy from a friend, or hit another toddler in a childish manner - that separated me from God just like the sexual sin of my later life.

Most of the time this didn’t bother me, except in the still quiet moments. On the typical day I worked really really hard at not being a sinner. I tried my best to respect my parents, and listen to their and the church’s teachings. I believed that if I did this to the best of my ability I would be closer to god, and I remember the early days of trying to become the super Christian. I remember starting to take active roles in god’s kingdom. I would volunteer for an event, or extra duty if I could. I wanted to be accepted so badly. (But wait wasn’t I already accepted when I asked for salvation? So why this unsatisfied need, I don’t get it?) By the time I was 12, I played in the church band, went to youth group on Friday, service on Sunday and Wednesday, occasionally held church worship for the homeless at a shelter owned by a member of the church. I would play guitar and a youth leader would play the djembe. I had experiences like speaking in tongues and being “slain in the spirit”. I went to church summer camps and retreats. I attended an abstinence conference. I was one of god’s own soldiers. But sin kept being a matter of great confusion and attraction.

By now you may be wondering where the hell the title came from. You see I view my christian beliefs once held so dear as a jenga tower (if you have never played I feel bad for you. Go to youtube and watch a video of a game of jenga). One tower of overarching belief, held together on a foundation with many smaller beliefs contained within it. Let me talk about one of the first major jenga pieces to be taken out of the tower in my life, and I’ll warn you - this first one is a doozy and not for kids (that said, I was 11, so there’s that). Part of being a christian I presume, or maybe partly due to a lack of education on my parents’ part, I did not get a good sexual education. I attended Christian schools until the 7th grade, and then I got one hell of a sex ed all at once. The thing I discovered about my newly developing sexual body is that things done with it felt good, and I liked looking at women. My first sexual partner would be an older boy, aged 14 or 15 at the time. It is only in my 20s that I have come to accept that he acted extremely inappropriately in the matter, but none the less I was a somewhat willing participant for some time. He told me pursuing pleasures my parents said were against god weren’t that bad, and I agreed, often with my actions. He introduced me to metal, many violent video games, and the pleasure of sex. It honestly felt like the only time I was having fun in my life at that time.

Now here comes the pain of guilt. Most of the time when him and I would hang out I forgot about my other contradictory beliefs and just let myself have fun. I didn’t feel like that when I got home. I had to lie to talk about my activities, lie about what we did. To this day I don’t know what my mom and dad thought. Maybe they thought we were just playing like normal boys. After a while it seemed like some of my friend's influence bothered them and they started disliking some of the things I was saying and how I acted. They blamed him, rightly so from their point of view. It would strike such a rebellious nerve in me when they tried to stop me from seeing him. I would get so angry I’d break things, throw things around my room, scream at the top of my lungs. I think my main mental motivation for this was “if you are going to make my life a living hell, you are gonna get it back in return”. Of course behavior like that was unacceptable, and was getting worse so I started getting dragged to all kinds of psychologists. What happened when they suggested my mom and dad were part of the problem? We got a new one. But you can rest assured, anyone who had the idea that things were happening because of my turn away from god, then their opinion was accepted without the slightest restraint.

None of this compared to the guilt in the still quiet of the night. What had I done? Was I going to hell? Well no I can’t go to hell because I’m saved … but do saved people do the things I do? This internal conflict came rapid fire and often. I couldn’t reconcile it. I remember my parents telling me that Ted Bundy was saved. If god can forgive him he can forgive any of your sins whatever they are. Well that all seems nice when you have already done horrible things and you are sitting on death row where you are no longer a threat to society - how does this actually morally guide anyone? There is another jenga piece question. I think now it’s time to just rapid-fire list some of the jenga pieces that slowly came out of my tower. I couldn’t accept that there was a trinity if Jesus threw out all the stuff God said before regarding the old testament. I couldn’t accept that Jesus was god, the same god that ordered genocide and condoned rape in the old testament. How is rape and slavery not sin? How is a god that commands these things the moral compass? Another Jenga piece was the science problems like the entire population of men coming from 2 people. The problems with geological history cosmological observations the contractions are countless.

Another Jenga piece was the notion of the whole process of salvation. So all that’s required is belief and only god knows it? So the god of love who gave us some right to choose for ourselves who or what to follow was ok with the lack of a printing press stopping millions from ever hearing the good news? Fine with people born and dying who never heard the information? Nothing loving about allowing people to be tormented for all eternity because they were born in the wrong region of the world. Arguably the most important jenga piece of all - the intellectual dishonesty of faith. Faith requires that I believe in the Bible absolutely without questioning the truth of it, but if that’s the case and that’s a virtue in and of itself, then how would a muslim who values the same virtues, and has a holy book that says the exact same thing and is required to accept it all at 100% truth value know that they are following the right book? Wouldn’t they have to put it against the christian holy book, or the jewish one and use and apply reason? Wouldn’t they have to evaluate it honestly? What would they even compare it with? So then we turn back to the scientific method for acquiring knowledge, and look at evidence. What do you compare the evidence to? You see how these things get messy really quickly.

There are thousands of others but essentially one by one I decided my belief in something else other than what the bible strictly said must have to coexist, and accepted that the Bible must have different interpretations than we think. I knew that it was absolutely true that there was nothing wrong with Pokemon and Magic: the Gathering cards. My parents tried to say these were tools of witchcraft against god. Here is a more extensive list of things I got punished for: leaving lights on (belt to the ass), owning pokemon (my personal property of the game was thrown away)(grounded), being caught for having oral sex with a female (total social isolation), listening to “satanic music”(more destroyed property). In all of these cases I was told god was turning his back on me. But where was my salvation supposed to come in? Giving my dad the middle finger got me a backhand slap to the face. Apparently child abuse is accepted by god, but pokemon is not.

You see here is another jenga piece - people believe their morals actually come from god and their holy book. Why are there so many immoral acts by believers throughout history then I wonder. I was never satisfied by the clergy answer of people “misunderstood” god’s will. The only way to know it is supposed to be right there in the book. If god is so wonderful and wants to be worshiped and gives us the option to fight against sin then why did he make it so complicated to figure out? More Jenga pieces.

When I was almost 17 I stopped attending church. This was a very contentious moment in my life. My new belief system I told people was that I believed in god, but not religion. At the time I still believed in the god teachings of love, compassion, mercy, kindness, moral goodness. I never asked myself to compare those with ordered commandments of genocide by god until later. This is why it’s a game of Jenga. People take out one or two pieces but keep the tower intact and are fine. They then use selective exposure to only allow themselves to be exposed to information that doesn’t require them to ask otherwise reasonable questions about their existing belief. I know in my case I did this vehemently. If I absolutely believe the bible is true then any information or evidence otherwise can only be false.

I got lucky. I pulled enough pieces out to make the tower fall. For a couple years I told people I believed, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t true. Fortunately there weren’t forces on me anymore demanding my explanation for things. None of this came without pain. When I was 20 I got married, my wife was pregnant before our marriage. I know that old beliefs pushed me to do this, before I was logically able to make a good judgement about it. I also know that I couldn’t make a good logical judgement about it, because for so much of my life I was asked to judge things without the use of logic. That’s a skill I didn’t have yet.

A lot of people older than me think I’m mad at god. Mad at his followers. Mad at his commandments that didn’t fit in with what I selfishly wanted to do. Ironically, since coming out publicly as an atheist, I’m the least mad I’ve ever been. It’s such a breath of fresh air. A part of me believes that if you do this and you are still angry that anger is admission of some remaining belief. I’m not mad at “nothing”. There is nothing to be mad at. I’m angry about the fact that I had to go through emotional and psychological pain and suffering to earn the right to think for myself. I’m mad at indoctrination by people and that it has systematically poisoned the world over time. I’m hurt that some people in my life think that because of this, they can’t be happy for my pursuits in life. But more than all that I’m happy and free. I overwhelmingly feel like the work I do has more meaning than it ever has.

Now we come to the final rub between me and the god group of people in my life. If I’m not going to believe in god, what am I to believe in. They have the belief in belief. They think that it’s a requirement for life to have meaning. For life to find joy. They think that without it life is pointless and this is a dark and scary thought. You have to believe SOMETHING. I can resoundingly tell them no I do not. Being a part of the advancement of humanity and being a good person and father, and helping them to work toward that goal is enough for me. The ultimate meaning in my life comes from the lives I touch everyday, and the people who I influence. I believe in the power of humanity, and that it’s wonderful and compassionate, and smart, and innovative, and impressive. I believe in our social power, in our power to self regulate evils, and our ability to do great things together. I believe in you. The evidence unquestionably supports this belief.

I used the term agnostic for roughly the past year and half or two, but just recently in the last couple of months boldly say atheist. I think all theists don’t think we can completely disprove anything that requires absolute faith. We can’t tell them it’s false, but I can say that there isn’t one single shred of evidence to believe in it that holds up, and I refuse to accept anyone who honestly says they don’t need any either. They just take things as evidence based on false assumptions. I know I did, and instead now I’m happy. The truth SHALL set you free.

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