The other day I read a passage in the book I’m reading currently that mentioned the fact that, according to the bible, all men must face judgement after death. And that simple statement kicked off a big-time flashback to childhood for me.
I can remember being terrified of this when I was just a very young child (between 6 and 9 years old). I remember vividly picturing the scenario in my head. It went something like this…
I was dead (obviously ;)), and standing before the throne of God for my judgement (after waiting in a LONG line of other recently deceased souls! Can you imagine the wait that must be? Having to stand there while each and every human soul is judged on everything they’ve ever done in life? Not to mention if you were to be taken up in the rapture…the huge influx of souls all at once would certainly cause a bottleneck the likes of which the universe has never seen before!). What I was seeing was basically a HUGE movie screen. And on that screen was projected everything bad that you had ever done in your life. I remember thinking how amazingly embarrassing some of the things that would be shown would be. Kind of like the ultimate ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake’ scenario. I also remember thinking how unfair it all seemed that all those waiting in line were able to sit in and enjoy the ‘show’.
Now that I realize that this was all a product of the indoctrination that I had as a child, as an atheist adult I am able to see how silly that all was. It also shows how easy it is for religion to control people through fear.
I’ve kept this post to rather light-hearted in tone, but the reality is that while I was living those years, there was real and tangible fear in me about this. I remember having a LOT of fear as a child. I’m glad that I’ve been able to create what I hope is an environment without all of these irrational fears for my daughter. I hope when she looks back at her childhood when she’s an adult, that she only has images of joy, hope, love, and fun. I know I can’t shelter her from all of the REAL sorrows that are a part of life, but at least I know I can avoid having her suffer needlessly concerning things of this nature.
I grew up in an evangelical Christian home. Attended church at least 3 times a week (two times on Sunday and Wednesday nights), often times even more than that. I can’t remember when I was first saved, but I must have been in elementary school at the time. Then, of course, there were several re-dedications throughout the years to follow.
I feel I wasn’t given the opportunity to think for myself back then. I remember asking questions to my Mom as a kid, and I do remember thinking that the answers never really made a whole lot of sense. For example: I specifically remember asking how old the world was. And I remember my mom saying “according to the bible, it’s 6,000 years old”. Which led to a follow-up question from me “So, when did the dinosaurs live on Earth”. It was at that point that the ‘demonization’ of science started for me. I believe the response was along the lines of ‘Scientists believe that they lived here 65 million years ago, but the bible tells us that’s not the case”. I was, needless to say, confused.
There were, also, the inevitable questions about the Noah’s ark story. I think even small children can see the obvious flaws in the story. However, when you start with them young enough, i think they eventually store away the questions and just accept it. I mean, when an adult (let alone hundreds of them) is telling you something is true, when you’re young I think you generally start to accept that. The problem is, I think some adults never find the critical thinking skills to question it fully and they continue to believe these clearly flawed stories.
I guess I still have a lot of ‘demons to exercise’ about the various parts of my indoctrination as a child. I’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s still a lot of things like the above that I haven’t been able to fully resolve. It’s hard to look back and realize that a lot of the struggles that I’ve had in life are because I don’t feel that I was given the opportunity to fully find my potential. I want, desperately to be able to be at peace with my place in life, but I’ve not found the path there completely yet.
I hate the way this all sounds. I hate having this bitter tone. But I guess the reality is that it’s there. It’s not overwhelming or all-encompassing, but it’s there. I hate that this sounds like I’m blaming things on others. I’ve always tried to own up to things for myself and take responsibility, but I think when you’re so sheltered and restricted as a child you’re helpless at that point to really do anything about it. My hope is that by addressing these issues, maybe I can make steps towards being at peace finally.
I never want my atheism to define me. It’s only a small portion of the person that I am. It seems, though, that the religious majority forces my atheism to be an issue on a nearly day-to-day basis. I’m constantly subjected to having to answer questions and be forced to defend my position all the time by the theists that I’m around. It’s tiring. It hasn’t been as bad over the last few months (because I’ve been more quiet in voicing my opinions on various topics), but still there nonetheless.
At our Father’s Day gathering at our house yesterday, my Mom tried on several occasions to get me to acknowledge the fact that she felt that she had been ‘divinely healed’ of an ailment that’s been bothering her for years. I refused to even give it a follow up comment (she got plenty of support from her theist friends on her Facebook post about it though). I think that’s probably the best ‘modus operandi’ for me to take going forward. I’m just not going to give fuel to the fire anymore unless I’m directly addressed with a question or if I hear someone preaching outright falsehoods to people who aren’t questioning them.
A few weeks ago, she asked me if I wanted to send my daughter to ‘Teen Quest’, a religious summer camp for kids and teens. That question just left my jaw hanging open. I just couldn’t believe that she’d even ask that. It just reeks of a complete lack of respect for my belief system, and for the way that I choose to raise my daughter. Again, I just blew it off. Basically because I know I can not win the argument should I choose to engage. So, it’s in the best interest of my stress levels, that I just leave those arguments go.
There’s so much more to life than our positions on whether or not we believe in a god. Sadly, though, the vast majority of people in the world believe that that is THE most important thing. I, rather, chose to be defined by what I DO believe in, rather than what I do not. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in any gods ONLY, but there’s whole list of things that I DO believe in and I think those things define me much more completely than merely the fact that I’m an atheist. See my post from last week about my revised new 10 commandments list for just some of those things.
It’s a question that I’ve learned over the last few years that is not one that can really add any value to life at the moment or moving toward the future. That said, sometimes it’s really hard not to ask that question.
It just hit me that, when I was younger, I remember sometimes thinking to myself things like this: “Man, I hope that when we die, all these mysteries of the universe will be answered for us, and we’ll know how & why we are all here.” It was the child-like hope that we would be lifted up into heaven to be ‘educated’ by God of his master plan for everything. That all the ‘unknowns’ that we have in life will suddenly be revealed and all of a sudden everything would make sense.
In pondering this today, it struck me that maybe this is why I didn’t try so hard to learn when I was younger. I basically skated through school, doing just the minimum to pass. I didn’t really care about learning (even though, I really did enjoy thinking about the universe and the ‘big questions’). I basically blew off college…twice. (until I was married and realized that convenience store work wasn’t going to cut it, and then I went to Tech School). I just never really had the desire to know things deeply (and took a lot of things as truth based on authority).
Now, I realize that whatever there is to be learned by our brains, needs to be done within our lifetimes. I feel a bit like I missed out on so much potential because I was under the assumption that all would be revealed after death. Man, that is so disappointing to know how wrong that was now.
I’m going to have to accept this and move along in the right direction going forward, but I have a feeling that this is going to always be eating at me. I hate to focus on ‘what if?’ questions, but that is a BIG ‘what if?’ in this case. Regret is too harsh of a word. I don’t regret my life now. I love my life now. I just feel like I could have done so much more had I had a different worldview 20 years ago when I could do something with it. Now, I find myself basically trapped in a career that’s just OK. I’m a network engineer. And while, I know I’m providing a service to the world, I find myself feeling that I’m not making enough of a difference. It’s a thankless job. And usually, it’s quite the opposite…someone complaining that something isn’t working or that something was done wrong.
At this point in my life, I don’t see any way of moving toward something different. I always joke (well, semi-joke) with my wife that I want to be a Park Ranger. Being outside all the time would be incredible. But I do try to step back and see how even that, after a while, could become monotonous and boring. So, who knows? Maybe this is all a ‘rite of passage’ for people in my current age group. Maybe this is just what we all start doing at this point in our lives. We look back and analyze the right and wrong decisions. Try to imagine how life could or would have been different. And then hopefully can find a way to accept our current situation, be happy, and move on in a positive direction.
With any luck, soon I will find a way to avoid that question.
So, over the last few years, Carl Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot” has become one of my favorite pieces of writing. All of Sagan’s writing is beautiful, but this particular section just hits me somewhere special. I find that it gives me some much-needed perspective when I’m feeling like life has started to get to me. It makes me back up and say to myself, “Look Self…there is SOOO much out there. Why do you think the universe is lined up to just make YOU miserable? That’s ridiculous and arrogant. Now get over it, and go make something of your life”. Or something to that effect!
Sagan had a way of wording things that not only explains complex topics, but beautifully describes them with deep descriptive text. I just love his style. It’s such a pity that we lost him so soon.
The transcript (mildly altered in the video, and this video isn’t done by me for the record. just one of my favorite versions) :
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe:, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
In an effort to regain some much needed perspective in my outlook today, I went through and started jotting down some things that mean a lot to me. As it turned out, it started to look like a good new 10 commandments. A while back I posted Richard Dawkins’ list of new 10 commandments, and while that list is great, I wanted to come up with something a little more personal to me. So, without without further adieu, here’s what I came up with today:
My NEW 10 commandments:
1) Hate not, lest you be hated in return. (Sounds rather biblical don’t you think?) – Through personal experience, I’ve noticed that people, who are bigoted and hateful, really seem to be very miserable in their own lives. I realize that’s a broad-brushed generalization, but it’s truly based on my own personal first-hand observations. I believe if those folks would lose their hatred, their own lives and perspectives would take a turn for the positive.
2) Have unending compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness towards your fellow man – don’t go through life holding grudges. Life is too short to not be able to forgive and forget. Be tolerant of the differences between people of different walks of life. I don’t want them trying to change me, so why should I go out of my way to try to change them. Have tolerance and understand towards ALL people. People of differing race, religion, sexual orientation, etc are all human beings and deserving of the same basic human rights as everyone else. PERIOD!
3) Give! – Be charitable as much as humanly possible. We, in the west (and a lot of the industrialized world) have SO much. There’s always time, money, services, etc that we could spare to help our fellow human beings in need.
4) Value Education and pursue it daily – never stop learning. If not only for yourself, but for the betterment of human society as a whole. Our species will move forward and solve the world’s problems only if our collective understanding and knowledge increases. Learning is a value to everyone, not just the individual.
5) Live in the moment – One of the things that I’ve learned to appreciate about Eastern Philosophy (Buddhism) is their teaching of living in the present moment. Let the past be the past. Don’t worry too much about the future. Just live every moment and be fully aware in that moment. It’s a huge challenge, but I’ve found a lot of relief and beginnings of some inner peace by trying to apply some of this to my life.
6) Never intentionally cause harm to another living creature. – This is a hard one. I’ve found over the last few years incredible value in all living creatures. For example…I am NOT a fan of spiders, and in years gone by I wouldn’t think twice about smashing them to oblivion when one crossed my path. Now, I will actually go out of my way to capture and release them somewhere else instead of killing them. That’s just one small example. I do, though, have some hypocritical thinking when it comes to matters of diet. I do believe that we (humans) are omnivores. We have evolved on a diet of meat and plant life. I sometimes do, though, feel guilty about eating meat now, but I haven’t been able to work out a way around that without becoming a vegetarian, which isn’t exactly appealing to me. Obviously, a work in progress here.
7) Question Everything – this one was on the Dawkins list, but I think it’s definitely one that doesn’t need to be changed, omitted, or otherwise. Always find your own answers. Never take anything for the truth based on authority. In the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson: Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. (Wait! Did I just take that based on authority?!??!)
8 ) Love those closest to you unconditionally – Family and close friends are the most important thing there is to me. They are the people that know me best, and yet still accept me and love me with all of my shortcomings. At the end of the day, all of the meaningless squabbles are just that…meaningless. Those closest to us are all that matter.
9) Waste Not! – On our tiny, spinning ‘Pale Blue Dot’, resources are not limitless. With a population of over 6 billion, we all need to do our part to cut back and conserve where possible.
10) Live life as if there is no tomorrow! – And there might just BE no tomorrow. We are incredibly fortunate to be alive. Consider the countless billions of stars and planets in the universe, and to the best of our knowledge at this point, WE are the only self-conscious, intelligent life. What an amazing thing. It’s also the ONLY life we get. In my opinion we should live life to the fullest EVERY day. Live, Laugh, Love as my wife’s tattoo says. A better mantra I can’t imagine!
I’m not sure what’s going on with me lately. I haven’t felt like ‘myself’ in a long while. To be honest, I’m not even sure what ‘myself’ means anymore. It seems that my mind is always going in a thousand different directions and a lot of times my point of view seems to change with the wind.
For example, and just a silly little example at that, I overheard small portion of two co-worker’s conversation earlier today, and the one said to the other “You’re not a big Global Warming guy are you?”. That’s all I heard, but the inner monologue I had going on after that was: “Of course he’s not, he wouldn’t want to actually LOOK at any of the evidence would he?”. And then I had to give pause. Because if I would have actually SAID that to them, I’m sure one of them would have said something along the lines of “And what is the evidence?”. I would have been stuck. I know for certain that I’ve read and heard the arguments from scientific studies on global warming. And all I have to go on is those experts. Obviously, I am not a scientist and don’t have first hand access to the data. And it’s not the kind of thing that I seem capable of keeping in my brain to be able to bring up at a moments notice and defend the position that I have. So, I question myself. Do I really believe what I believe in this case? Or am I just trying to convince myself of something? I end up feeling hypocritical when it’s all said and done.
That is just one example. I don’t know. I just feel like I’ve kind of lost who I am over the last decade or so. I used to enjoy so many things that I no longer find any use for. I feel lost. I wish I knew why this was so I could fix it. Occasionally, I’ll have a day where I can look back at the end and think, wow…I wish everyday could be like that. And then my question is why can’t everyday be like that? I mean…so few are. Maybe I wouldn’t value those days so much if they were more frequent.
I understand that this whole post is vague. And I guess that’s because I don’t really know what the issue is. I’m hoping that by starting to write this stuff down, I can work through what’s going on in my head and get to the crux of the issue.
Why is being happy and content such a struggle?