This is really long. Read at your own peril.
I don’t know when I became a Christian. There wasn’t a set date. There was no drastic flash of divine inspiration or some sign.
I was an atheist ever since I hit puberty. The concept of God never made any sense to me. I went through 4 years of Catholic high school and nothing they said ever changed my mind. I never felt anything whenever we had Mass.
In fact, the concept of God still doesn’t make sense to me, but in a different way than before. When I was an atheist, I just had no idea how anyone could believe in God. There was no proof at all, in my estimation. My current conception of God is some type of being that is incomprehensible and one which humans cannot define. Thus, if you can’t define God, you can’t very well prove his existence. You can’t measure God since he’s incomprehensible. I don’t know if God is omnipotent or omniscient or omnibenevolent. More importantly, I think that I can’t know. Got that? Let’s move on…
Since April of last year, I’ve been trying to find some unifying theory of life, that would encompass all facets of life. I was trying to find the meaning of life, I guess. I came across some interesting things.
At one point, I found out what faith meant. I had never ever understood the concept of faith before. It never made any sense. I only found out through repeated introspection. When I pushed further in rejecting all my beliefs, I found no foundation. I found no reason to choose good over evil. Still, I chose good. I struggled and struggled. But why? Why? Why should I chose good? I kept trying to find reasons but there were no reasons, in my mind. And then I came upon the concept of faith. To choose good just to choose good. No reason.
Of course, discovering the concept of faith didn’t turn me into a Christian. It didn’t make me believe in God. However, in retrospect, it put me in a mindset where I could move myself away from the belief that everyone who was religious was, to some extent, nuts. I mean, I respected them, but I just found them irrational.
For my Bible as Lit class, I read Ecclesiastes. Being in Catholic school, I’ve taken religion classes, and I’ve read the Bible. None of it really enthralled me at first. I read the Gospels, but I didn’t really care what they said. I heard about Jesus and thought he was cool and all, but he was always just a man, not the Son of God. I liked some of his message (as explained by various teachers, including a hippie liberal), but I never decided that I would walk his path.
Ecclesiastes was different. From the beginning, I was hooked. Here was a man who had the same problems I did. How fucking crazy that thousands of years ago, this man wrote exactly what I thought… “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” Yes, what do we gain? It’s all pointless, isn’t it? (Sorry that everything isn’t in chronological order. This doesn’t map with my earlier discovery of faith. This happened beforehand, but I’ve always struggled with existential crises.)
You would think at this point I would have some lightbulb go off in my head and that’s when I converted, but nope. The Bible isn’t the book that converted me to Christianity. In fact, I was kinda pissed off when I read the end of Ecclesiastes. I’d read Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and felt like Ecclesiastes had taken a cheap leap of faith at some point. I didn’t see that logic.
If you really want to know the book contributed greatly to my conversion, it was The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I was reading a whole bunch of non-fiction at the time. I have no clue why the hell I read this book.
It convinced me of the imperative to love everything, which I felt was part of Jesus’s message. At the same time, I had come to understand what faith was. I had also come to some of my own conclusions about how to live. I also had been studying existentialism. I began synthesizing these thoughts in my notebook.
I talked with my friend online at one point. He emphasized a philosophy of balance. I vehemently opposed it at the time. I felt an imperative to ground myself in this world. To choose good. (Or whatever, the thoughts become muddy from my recalling them.) Anyway, at some point he asks if I’m Christian now, and I say that I don’t know. Yet, it seemed like I wanted to follow the philosophies of Jesus Christ at that point.
This story isn’t complete, is it? After all, you don’t know how I came to believe in God. Well, I guess I should be perfectly honest. I don’t really know either. What’s more, I’m in a state of perpetual doubt. At this point in my life, I sometimes severely wonder if I believe in God or not. I don’t have an unshaking faith.
What I have are inklings.
At one point, I broke down and asked for a sign. I was like, damn it, I want to know. Please, I am insignificant and weak. You know the way I think. I need some type of evidence.
I never received a sign.
I did receive a few questions.
Of course, if I put these few experiences down that I’ve had, I know that the old atheist me would think I’m nuts. But you have to look at the sum totality of my experience.
My dog survived surgery when I was sure he was going to die. He’s still alive now. I don’t see that as proof at all of any existence of a higher being, but I did sometimes wonder if it was a sign. Strangely enough, I never wondered while this whole thing was going on. I never prayed, asking for my dog to live. I figured he had lived a good long life already. In fact, I thought the surgery would be a massive waste of money. So, he lived, and it wasn’t until a long time afterwards that I wondered if this was the sign I was asking for.
Then, I had this experience meeting a random stranger on BART. I thought that perhaps there was some higher force at work. But I didn’t see this as my sign. I still don’t have my proof.
I don’t think I’ll ever get a “sign” as how I originally thought it. I don’t think I’ll ever have proof. And I don’t think I deserve any kind of proof. I won’t say “that’s not the way God works” because I think it’s incredible hubris to claim that one knows how God does or does not operate. So, since I don’t really know what God is supposed to be, it’s hard to believe in something I can’t understand. I don’t think: “I believe in God.” I think: “I believe in God?”
Before all this happened, I have other important experiences that must be shared. The first experience involves a river. I didn’t convey it all in the entry, but I think this was a time where I felt connected to some type of unity. There’s no other way to explain it. If not that time, I’m sure I’ve felt it other times. Like one time when I looked in the mirror, just glanced at my own eyes while reflecting on life, and then I felt this incredible feeling, a connection of the past, present, and future. Other times it’s been a feeling of being connected to the entire universe. I guess they’re what one may call peak experiences. If you’ve ever read Emerson’s transparent eye poem, it’s exactly like that.
I read a book called… hm, the title escapes me at the moment… but it was a science book. It talked about peak experiences and how they’re felt when people pray or when someone is in deep meditation. There are different levels of unity that people feel at different times. The book did not take the stance that these were all just brain states and thus false. Could we be connecting to something higher? Do our brains enable us to connect to something higher?
You can now see that my question/belief is not grounded only in two small non-signs and a commitment to some of the teachings of Jesus. There’s something deeper that I’ve felt. Was it God? Who knows? I sure don’t know if those different experiences are connected in any fashion, but I’ve just put it out there so you can see where I’m coming from.
This is very long, and I’ve still a lot more to share. There’s one other peak experience that I had that was very different from the others. Whenever you have one of these experiences, you feel like you’ve accessed Truth. It shapes you. This peak experience wasn’t about unity. It was during Halloween Two. I felt as if all of life was insignificant, but it was a marvelous happy feeling. I was reveling in the naturally illogical nature of the universe.
Thus, now you can see some of the basis of my two contradictory truths. I am a Christian who believes that the universe is ultimately meaningless. I believe that nothing matters, but I still have an imperative to love everything in that universe. And now, I’m at the point where I believe that I can fully embrace both beliefs. I don’t have to abandon one or the other. I don’t have to find balance between them.
As you can tell, I’m already not a traditional Christian, but I have another belief that really sets me apart from other Christians. Actually, it’s not a belief. It’s the lack of a belief. I still don’t believe in heaven or hell. I suppose that also means I don’t believe in an afterlife. I suppose that also means I don’t believe in an everlasting soul. Or if there is some type of soul, it disperses, just as your body decomposes when it dies. Your constituent elements return to the universe.
Part of it goes back to the experience where I saw the connection of the past, present, and future. It wasn’t just that. I don’t know how else to put it, but I saw heaven on Earth. I saw what we have as the best we will ever have.
Part of it goes to my beliefs about Jesus. I just don’t understand how the Jesus I know would create a hell. Isn’t there an all-forgiving element? Of course, I know the traditional Christian riposte: You have free will and thus choose not to go to heaven; God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Still, it seems a cop-out.
Also, if there was a heaven and hell, it wouldn’t make sense to believe that there’s no reason to choose good over evil. That’s not a very good reason since it gets things backwards, but you can see why I would have a reluctance to believe in heaven or hell.
At heart, I’m still a skeptic. At least with Christianity in general, I have all those thoughts and experiences aforementioned. With heaven and hell, I have absolutely no evidence or introspective beliefs that would make me change my mind. I’m sorry, but my conception of Christianity doesn’t allow for hell to exist.
It’s untraditional, but I’m sure I’m not alone. Not that there is anyone who matches my exact set of beliefs, but people who agree with certain elements. I haven’t met anyone who was unsure of when they became a Christian, but I’m sure there are people who didn’t have one set conversion experience. I know there are Christian philosophers who agree that “Nothing matters.” I know there are Christians who don’t believe in heaven or hell. Actually, my politics professor said George Washington quietly lacked a belief in the afterlife. I know there are Christians who don’t have unshaking, unwavering faith; they sometimes have doubts. And maybe there are people out there who may agree in totality with my beliefs.
Nevertheless, here I am, putting them out there, unafraid to share my beliefs with the world at large. They may change as they have changed before, but this is a snapshot of what I believe right now. Some may disagree vehemently with my current views of Christianity, but it would be folly to shout at me, “You are not a Christian!” Better that I am in the fold and have a chance to perhaps come to your side, than to push me back into the realm of atheism. Yet, I already explained earlier why I was unafraid. Not all Christians are born-again evangelicals. If you tell me that I am in no way Christian, I know that you are telling many others that they are not Christian either.