One of the ironic problems with a religious mindset is that you know everything, and everything you know is fact – and nobody else knows anything (of value).
“Why are we here?” “How did everything come to be?” “What does it mean to be alive?” “What happens when we die?” “What is right and wrong?” “How should we behave?” “What is wisdom?” “What is truth?” “How should we raise our kids?” “Does God exist?” “What is God’s will?”
These are all questions religion claims to know the precise answers to. The answers to these questions are not presented as possibilities or theories but as fundamental facts requiring no scientific evidence and tolerating no opposition.
Life was a lot simpler when I thought this way. When I woke up every morning I understood exactly how the world worked and felt comforted by my immortality, not to mention my ability to move mountains. God was on the throne and I was unstoppable. Anything anyone thought they knew about the universe was fundamentally flawed if that knowledge did not involve Jesus, and I was happy to reveal that wonderful truth to them. “Are you sick? Just trust in Jesus and you’ll be fine.” “Do you need money? Stop sinning (smoking, drinking and missing church services); pay your tithes (that’s 10%, but preferably more), and my God who owns all the cattle on a thousand hills will pour his abundance on you so that you cannot contain it.” Cattle? “Don’t worry about pesky academics and their so called knowledge – their knowledge is foolishness in the face of my faith!” “Why are babies born brain damaged? God has his reasons and we should be happy with that, (or maybe their parents sinned, or maybe it was Satan).” “Millions of people homeless in Haiti? Maybe God is just testing their faith, or the faith of all those he’s calling to help by going there to spread the gospel, (or maybe they all deserved it because of sin, or maybe it was Satan).
At any rate, everything was simple. Prayer, Faith, Sin, God or Satan could account for every phenomena in the universe from mega atrocities to the opulence of head pastors and successful businessmen. There was no need to question anything, and if you did, your questions were directed at the Bible from where you picked a sufficient number of scriptures to back whatever seemed an acceptable viewpoint in the context of your church and its leadership. The theories of science, despite all their practical applications (which I was more than happy to use to do God’s work) sounded arrogant and humanistic (other words for anti-Christian and ‘of the devil’). The only book worth reading was the Bible which I read about ten times (not nearly enough according to many preachers I respected). Anything based on logic or scientific reason was seen as ‘Greek’ rather than ‘Hebrew’ thinking and soon became a derogatory term for people who were more interested in the wisdom of man than God (a type of blasphemy). We had the facts. Other Christians had some of the facts. Non-Christians had none of the facts and needed to be saved!
During my period of de-conversion it became very clear to me that I would have to honestly ask all the questions again, from the beginning, and start reconstructing a view of the truth using a model that was more robust than simply recounting ancient myths or going with gut feel opinions. Only the scientific model is equally interested in disproving facts as it is in proving them, thereby keeping itself honest through rigid experimentation, peer review and welcoming contrary views that claim better empirical evidence. It is the fact that science is always questioning that makes it the most likely candidate for finding real answers.
Life is very different for me now. When I look at a thing I wonder about its nature. I read about everything and want to know exactly why people think one way or another. I realise every day how little I know and life has become the most amazing adventure of discovery. I’m not moved by emphatic statements like “God did it!” or “God said so!” – I want to know how you know what God did or said. I want to consider the other alternatives and find out what we as a species know already about each of those alternatives. The same applies in reverse – I’m not moved by statements from Skeptics about how inaccurate the Bible is or how dumb homeopathic remedies are – I want to know why and how they came to that conclusion.
Instead of saying this or that is truth, I now say this or that is what we currently think we know and I can’t wait for more to be uncovered. The universe, which I used to think was a pretty picture hung in the sky by God for our pleasure, never seemed too important to me considering it would soon be cleared away and replaced when Jesus returned, now seems teaming with possibilities and discoveries waiting to be stumbled upon. The universe is bigger and more spectacular than anything I ever imagined in my Christian world view and I just want to know more and more while I have the chemistry in my brain to know anything at all.
The one thing I wish for every religious person is that they might remove themselves from the influence and safety of their communities and churches for a time and ask, actually ask all the questions again for all the answers they have ‘known’ from childhood. Then in looking for the answers they would read and research the works of people who have come to different conclusions, and honestly evaluate those conclusions with an open mind. If after that you still think that God created the universe, and that you understand his will, and that heaven and hell exists, and that Adam sinned for all mankind in a garden with a talking snake, and that God answers prayers, and that we did not evolve… then God bless you!