Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Year as an Atheist: The Fruit Thereof

Note: I had written most of this in August of this year, but then I became so busy that I had to put off finishing it until now, so I've technically been an atheist now for nearly a year and a half.

Last year, on July 19, I published a post on my old "Growing in Grace and Knowledge" blog where I came out publicly as an apostate from my Christian religion.  I reposted it here on this blog.  It's not written as chronologically well as it could have been, but I wrote it the way it came out.  I may edit it for its inclusion in my book that will detail my journey from childhood to my current state.

When I came out to say that I no longer believed the bible to be the word of god, I initially still believed in a god.  That lasted maybe two weeks before I realized that it didn't make much sense for a god to create all this and not care.  I realized I believed there really wasn't likely a god at all.  I had barely even looked into evolution before my apostasy.  It bore absolutely no weight on why I stopped believing the bible to be true. I soon started studying biological evolution thoroughly, and my beliefs were confirmed substantially more.  Based on what I know now, if there is a god that created everything here, he did a very shoddy job, and he also enjoys bloodbaths and other horrors in having set up the whole predator-prey/parasite-host/disease-host system. Just the way the vas deferens is hooked up in the human male and the way the laryngeal nerve is hooked up in the giraffe, when compared to animals all the way down to a fish, is enough for me to call bullshit on the whole idea of a creator.  I'd never known those things.

I want to lay out in this post how my first year as an atheist has gone.  What fruit has it borne?  Has it been bad fruit or good?  What is my stance a year after leaving religion behind?

Since the good fruit far outweighs any bad, I'll start with the bad and then move on to the good.

Being Shunned (Bad)

Source: Clip Art Panda

There were only two negative effects that came of my apostasy, and both have faded into near oblivion.  The first bad experience was the loss of some friends due to their cultic and unbiblical practice of shunning.  Not all of my friends did this. Some of them followed the biblical approach of no longer partaking in Christian fellowship with me but still conversing with me and carrying on friendships.  This spoke volumes of each of the individuals, depending upon which category into which they fell.

It was very traumatic to be treated in such a way.  I figured one of my best friends would likely react that way at first, due to her volatile personality, but would then get her act together, but so far that has not happened. Maybe some day it will.  My other best friend shocked me and hurt me more than any other.  She's the only one I've cried over multiple times in the past year.  I love her, and I am so disappointed in the way she cut me off; I think about her and her family often.  She said to me that she loved me and my family, but then she saw my post.  It is so hurtful that her love turned out not only to be conditional on my belief in the bible as the word of god, but that my family also lost her love and care.  How can love just be dropped in an instant like that, especially toward children that don't have anything to do with their mother's choice?  I count it as a bad thing.  I really thought we'd be lifelong friends.  Then there was a friend for whom I gradually lost more and more respect over the years, and after my apostasy all respect was lost.  He acted in a most shameful way, totally ignoring biblical teaching and common decency, which drove me to great anger.  I entered battle mode.  You pull that kind of shit, you're asking for it.  He even said he had no choice but to "hand [me] over to Satan."  In those people's minds, Satan is a horrible individual that will cause your life to be living hell.  So, in other words, he was wanting evil to befall me.  But indeed, looking at his history and how he believed in dealing with people he believed to be enemies, he is just a man of revenge, far from how Jesus would have acted.

If it wasn't so depressing, angering, and shameful on their part, it would be humorous that I, as an atheist for a year, am far more Christian (the meaning here being a follower of Jesus' good teachings) than those who shunned me.  Their hypocrisy in failing to act Jesus-like toward me would be amusing if it wasn't so sad.  Not only did they shut off their moral conscience—the wisdom voice inside that makes life easier for those who listen to it—but they clearly flunked out on the passages in the Christian testament that teach how to treat someone who has either strayed and sinned or become an unbeliever.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20, ESV)

This verse set was the one of two that kept reverberating through my mind as I was assaulted by those I once called friends.  Was I the only one among the bunch who had this verse written on my heart?   I was waiting for one of them to act the proper way, but none of them did.  That is how I tallied their love value for me.  I came away feeling very unloved.  I must not have meant very much to any of them.  There was another friend my two good aforementioned friends (and others) and I shared on a forums community of mine who walked away from the bible and all religion a few years ago (she disappeared at some point from the Internet, and she lives in another state), and to my knowledge I'm the only one who continued to talk to her.  I would give updates to the rest of the group.  She and I would share email conversations.  We stayed on friendly terms until she disappeared.  We had some conversation where I tried helping her sort through things, where I tried bringing her back to belief.  But when she said she simply could not (and she shared with me reasons why), I was compassionate about it and told her I understood and that I didn't fear for her salvation.  I believed that if she was truly confused and tried to do good in her life, then our Father God would have mercy on her and show her the truth at her resurrection.  She had told me that she hoped I was right.  I chose to remain on friendly terms with her and did so until I never heard from her again.

I lived it.  I brought all the love within me to that religion.  I saw love in the bible.  I clung to the loving verses therein.  I did it all the right way and couldn't imagine having done it any other way.  I could not have imagined treating that very sweet-spirited person like crap and shunning her.  When you've got true love in your heart, and you believe that you have a father god who is full of love, then you want nothing more than to share that with the other person and for him or her to not miss out on all the blessings.  If I'd have shunned her, what hope would there have been of her coming back and even wanting to come back, unless another loving person would have kept a relationship with her?

Source: Gospel Clip Art

The other main verses that my mind kept hearing were:

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:32-36, ESV, also see Matt. 5:46...).
See, I had all these good sayings "written on my heart" (file-saved into my mind), so my brain kept accessing them like an alarm was going off.  I knew what those persons were doing was evil and hypocritical, and so it was very traumatic to me.  All the time wasted...

Some other verses:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (Gal. 6:1).
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Thess. 3:14-15).  
The one in Thessalonians applied to the instructions in that particular letter, and it simply says take note of the person, cut out their church association, but continue to admonish him as a brother, not an enemy.  There is no admonishing going on when you shun someone. Disfellowshipping a person from church and shunning them to where you don't talk to them at all, anymore, are two very different things. 

1 Corinthians 5 also deals with a man who was engaging in sex with his dad's wife.  It doesn't say he wasn't a believer.  He was doing something most of us would think of as very bad.  He was supposed to be expelled from church association, too.  However, it says nothing of conversing or continuing a friendship with that person, if you had it, outside of the church association.  How else would a person expect there to be hope for the person to return? 

2 John 1:10 deals with an individual Christian household that held church.  Instruction was given not to allow a false teacher into the association to teach, nor to give them the Christian greeting common at that time.  It has nothing to do with not talking at all, outside of church gatherings, with a person who differs in teaching, nor giving a common greeting.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matt. 18:15-17).

We all know that Jesus was compassionate and friendly toward those of other nations and that he engaged in friendly conversations with tax collectors.  He cared about them and hoped to turn them to a good way of life.  He obviously would not have associated with them in the synagogue.  There would have been no Godly fellowship.  But there would be normal conversation about other things in everyday life.

Logic and kindness were totally absent from the way I was treated.  It did add a scar to my life's mental wounds.  And even if I had not gone on to totally disbelieve in a god (which isn't the same as emphatically saying there isn't one, because no one knows, and that's the only honest stance), what possibly would have caused me to want to return to a walk in Christian traditions?  Certainly not those individuals!  Such behavior leaves a bad taste in the mouth, a sick feeling in the stomach. 

Fear of Death (Bad)

It wasn't long after I ceased believing in a god that we woke up in the middle of the night to discover it was badly storming. My husband rushed to see whether our router and modem would work so that he could check the weather.  I remember shooting straight up in the bed and whisper-shouting, "Father!  Please protect us."  It was out of habit.  The memory of there not being a god immediately flooded to me, and I was filled with sheer terror.  It was awful.  I felt so terribly helpless.  I got up to pee, and I was just hoping so badly that we didn't get a tornado or that a tree didn't fall on the house.  I had always been relaxed before, fully believing that my Loving Father above would protect us from any evil (but perhaps not others who would be killed by a tornado, and all the while millions of children were starving or being beaten or dying from a malicious disease).  I'm not sure why I always felt protected before.  In truth I'd also suffered from anxiety and fear for years, ever since I'd lost my second-born son.  I'd begged for him to live, but he did not.  But for some reason, I thought my god wouldn't bring such evil upon me again, so I was faithful that we'd be protected.

My Love gently reminded me, when I expressed my fear, that it had always been that way, in reality.  We had never had a god protecting us.  I knew he was right, but it was hard to get used to at first.  Just the false belief gave a certain sense of trust that we'd be ok during storms and vehicle rides.

In time this fear faded to such a point that I'm overall less fearful of bad things happening now than I was when I believed in a god, because there were often fears that I'd be punished whenever I did something I felt was wrong.  It's really opened my eyes to how much the god I'd served was a tyrant whom I fooled myself into believing was a god of love, grace, and longsuffering.

Gratitude (Good)

I had always been a very grateful person.  I always tried to focus on the positive side of things and spent most of my "prayer" time throughout the day thanking my god for how wonderful my life was and grateful for when good befell others.  I found myself grateful for the smallest things.  But since my leaving religion and ceasing to have a belief in god, my gratitude has increased exponentially.  I'm alive, I've made it this far, I'm doing well, I've got wonderful people in my life.  I'm surrounded by beauty and knowledge.  I'm very aware that this life is likely all there is, and I'm grateful that I've had a really good one so far.  I've suffered immensely painful experiences during my life's journey, but overall it's been really good.

I mourn more for those who don't have it so well than I did back when I believed they'd get another life, but I'm more appreciative for what I have got.  I want to make sure I make the most of this life by finding joy and bringing joy to others.  I've always lived with that goal in mind, but my drive is stronger now.  I'm no longer holding out in faith for false promises of a better life to come.  I'm no longer wasting my time preparing myself and others for what will never come.  I'm making the best of what I do.

I am just as sad as I was before my apostasy at the thought of losing loved ones or other bad things happening, but for the most part, I do deal with this better now than before.  I believe it's because I try all the more to live in the present and enjoy everything to the fullest.  I let time slow down as I'm cherishing moments with my children, with my husband, with friends, in nature, eating food I enjoy, etc.

Finally, I'm grateful for the fact that I figured this out when I did in my early 30s.  Sure, some people get it figured out in their teens or twenties, but I'm grateful that I didn't waste away my 30s, 40s, or yet more decades before discovering that I've been living by myths.  That way, if I live that long, I can better enjoy more time, knowing this is the only life I'm guaranteed.

Better Marriage and Mother-Child Relationships (Good)

My marriage relationship was already the best that I knew, and so many had marveled at how well we got along and loved each other, even during the years when we didn't share the same beliefs.  My husband had always been so respectful of my beliefs after he stopped believing them.  He more or less kept the Sabbath and holidays with us.  He didn't insist we keep holidays I didn't want to keep.  He didn't eat biblically "unclean" foods.  I also respected him, though, in not wanting to engage in bible reading and such.  We stayed up late every night talking, making love, or watching documentaries or comedy, or whatever.  We were always best friends.  But now it's even better, because we are even more on the same page, once again.

I was almost a perfect mother for my first six years of parenting, and then for a variety of reasons, I went downhill in some ways.  The ideas of rewards and punishments that I derived from the bible poisoned my good parenting.  I adopted some of those ways in parenting my children, though it didn't take long for me to see the error.  However, it was hard to get away from.  I'm now doing so much better again.  I know my kids don't have to be perfect.  They don't need to earn my love.  I was being like god to them, as I understood he was to me. I thought I had understood God so well by reading all about his losing his temper at disobedient people and then repenting later, because I had experienced it.  It bothered me, deep inside, though, that I was supposedly in need of salvation because of my failure to be perfect and lose my temper, and yet God could do the same thing and also feel guilty, and yet he wasn't in need of salvation.  That was something that had been bothering me more and more as time went on.

I don't believe I'm going to reunite with my children in another life, so this is all I've got.  I want, all the more, to make the best of it.  As I mentioned before, I really focus on certain moments, just letting myself enjoy them to the fullest, living in the moment.

Friends (Good)

I still have good Christian friends, and I also have atheist friends.  It's great!  One of my Christian friends from before, who believed as I did, is now an atheist.  That's the best part. 

More Learning and Growth (Good)

 I'd always valued learning and growth before, but this aspect is another in my life that has seen an increase.  I question things even more and dig even deeper.  I have researched and read about more varied topics and have really enjoyed what I've learned.

More Empathy Toward Others and Less Judgemental (Good)

 I couldn't understand how all the Christians couldn't obviously see that they were walking in false religion.  Why weren't they real Christians who rejected pagan holidays, the trinity, and an ever-burning hell, among other doctrines?  (Or why would God truly blind them from seeing the truth?)  Now I can better put myself in their shoes.  I was at least partly guilty, too.  I'm sure I was viewed just as duped by atheists as I viewed mainstream Christians, because I did not study deeply enough or think deeply enough.

I feel even more compassion on those in the world suffering, too.  It's the realization that if there was really a god, then it/he/she is deeply wicked for letting millions of children starve or suffer from cancer or child abuse, yet blessing some with the trivial things for which they prayed.  It has gone on for thousands and thousands of years.  If any of us had the power to end all the suffering, we would do so and think it would be evil not to do so, so why is it that any of us would justify God's not doing anything?

Source: Pinterest-Kerry Souza
More Proactive in Helping Others (Good)

My husband and I have always helped others in whatever way we could.  We've always been popular ones for others to come to for advice.  We've given thousands of dollars each year to people who need financial help.  We've given to charities and to individuals and families.  Nathan has stopped to help numerous people on the side of the road.  I've taken time out to help people figure things out or to offer encouragement.  I've recycled what I can for over twelve years and do other things to help our environment. Most of the Christians I knew before didn't even tithe, but most Christians who do tithe, tithe to their churches, anyway, and give considerably less money to those in need.  We tithed nearly all our money directly to those in need.  Not only do we still help people financially and give advice and help people in other ways, I spend much more time now than before in signing petitions and answering people's questions on question and answer sites, to make a real difference in people's lives.  I sign a few petitions every day.  They range anywhere from helping endangered animals, education for children, to punish abuse, to gain human rights, and so much more.

And More...

There is so much good that has come about in my life since leaving religion behind.  There is one more bad aspect that I didn't talk about, and that is the fact that atheists are looked upon as the most untrustworthy and evil individuals, but there is no evidence whatsoever that atheists deserve this stigma.  There are good people and evil people in every religious group and non-religious group.  There is evidence, though, that religion has caused much more harm to the world than atheism, as a whole.  In upcoming posts, this will be illustrated.

Overall, my life and the lives of others have drastically improved since I've become an atheist.