In Search of Gods

storyI’d like to continue the theme of explaining why I don’t believe in gods.  But at this point I’d like to simply relay parts of my own story of my search for gods.  As I’ve said several times anecdotal stories rank low for me when it comes to evidence, but we all share our stories because it is at least a small part of what makes us who we are.  This is my story which means that it’s not yours and so there is no pressure from me whatsoever to suggest that you should change your views based on my story.  You can take it or leave it as you like – perhaps you’ll relate, perhaps you won’t.  Also note that this is not a full story of my experiences with ultimate questions – there are other details sprinkled about my blog.  A full story would be too long.

The Jewish God of My Youth

When I was a young boy I strongly believed that the God of Judaism that my parents had described to me existed.  It’s been too long to remember, but this probably lasted until very early high school.  There was no interaction that I ever had with this being.  It was simply a belief I had because the existence of this God was taught to me and I thought I had good reasons to trust the people who described this to me – after all my parents were honest, loving and caring people and a lot of my rabbis displayed these same qualities.

The Move Toward Doubt

But again no interaction at all with this being, so in my high school years I grew to doubt the existence of God (at that point in my life I didn’t really consider that polytheism was actually a “live” option, so the question was more about God than gods).  I began to realize that the only reason why I had believed God existed was because I had trusted those who told me.  As I met other people with many different beliefs I realized that this was not a good enough reason to say I believed it.  After all, I was unable to sense the existence of this being and the world seemed to go on without any influence from Him (yeah, “Her” or “It” weren’t even possibilities I thought about back then).  This was too long ago for me to remember details, but I do know that if I had been asked if I believed God existed I would have said that I was doubtful of it.

Becoming a Born-again Christian

Late in High School I met a very charismatic born-again Christian who tried to convince me of the evangelical Christian worldview.  We were good friends, but whenever that subject came up I fought tooth and nail with him on it.  I told him to give up because I wasn’t about to become a Christian and even doubted the existence of God anyway.  I got a break from his stubborn evangelistic efforts my freshman year of college, but the summer after that he convinced me to begin reading passages in the Tanakh that he suggested.  I was very surprised to read Isaiah 53, and Daniel 9:24-27 became very convincing to me as a prophecy of Jesus.  Long story short, a week or so before my 2nd year of college I prayed and believed that I had become “born-again”.  I still had my doubts, and felt no interaction with God, but my belief had been pushed past the line where I felt it was honest to say I believed.

I began to study more apologetics (especially prophecy) in that first year I was a Christian, and also heard several testimonies that impressed me greatly.  At some point in this first year I felt I was certain of my belief.  I was afraid of being disowned by my parents, and I decided to write a very long letter to my parents explaining the reasons I believed, and also that I still felt Jewish because I thought Christianity “fulfilled” Judaism.  I know there are some who see this as “tricky” but it was what I believed.  My parents told me that they still accepted and loved me but wanted to discuss these things with me.  At one point when my father asked me “do you think you may ever change your mind again?” I said emphatically “absolutely not, I am sure of what I believe and will never change.”  At this point he expressed his concern that I was brainwashed.

Fervently Seeking God

man in praiseThroughout my time as a Christian I found several different groups to fellowship with and followed advice from many on how to grow closer to God.  I truly believed that some kind of “relationship” was possible with God, even though I knew it was different from relationships with people.  But the problem for me was that no matter what I tried or even didn’t try (as some suggested I was trying too hard) this relationship never materialized in any way.

My doubts began to grow again as time went on.  I prayed “Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief” countless times, but that help never seemed to come, and the questions I had when I had first become a Christian never got answered in a way that made sense to me even though I had thought they would be resolved in time and with study.

A Trip To the Land of Milk and Honey

WesternWallWhen I had become a Christian I had felt I had found something truly wonderful, and the connection with my Jewish roots made me want to share this with other Jewish people, and even wondered if God wanted me to move to Israel to share this message.  In my last year as a Christian I had finally saved enough money to take a trip to Israel to seek “God’s will” in this regard.  After there was not a feeling or sense or any inkling of any kind on this trip I returned home and only lasted a few more months continuing at the church I had gone to.  I had held on a little more than 5 years, and I felt it was only fair to inform my pastor since I had been teaching some Sunday School classes at the time.

The Search Continues

At this point I had felt that I had found the wrong religion, but still felt like there was “somethiing” out there, and so my search continued in full force for about a year or so.  I was now open to any and all possibilities and spent time with Bahai’s, Unitarian Universalists as well as Mormon missionaries (I sought them out so no need for them to get on their bikes 😉 ).  Throughout this time I prayed to “any God or gods or forces or agents which represent true goodness” to reveal themselves to me, and I think it is clear by now what the results of that were.  Since that time I’ve felt it wiser to focus more on objective and rational reasoning to try and make sense of reality.  I’ve also come to grips with the fact that at this time in history a lot of our ultimate questions are simply out of reach and elusive.

I was told many times back then, and some still tell me today that they have either “met” Jesus, or have a relationship with God, and I think that was one of several things that gave me hope and kept me believing the Christian message and seeking Jesus for more than 5 years (without it I likely would have left earlier).  But at some point living vicariously through other people’s experiences just isn’t enough of a reason to take on a worldview.  I am aware of many of the answers that believers give to people who have experienced similar stories to my own and all of them seem only like possibilities.  But if I believed in all possibilities I’d believe in many a strange things.  That gods do not exist is the more likely conclusion for me in the light of these experiences as well as some of the other things I’ve written and will continue to write.

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31 thoughts on “In Search of Gods

  1. Interesting story, thank you for sharing it! I think the trouble with your search for God is that you might not be able to reach a realistic dream-like state that some can in order to be convinced they spoke with God or Jesus. Heck, I have an experience of seeing a light moving quickly in the sky, changing directions often – from how it sits in my memory, it feels as though it was something I experienced, though even I find that difficult to believe. And it wouldn’t be the only time I’ve mixed up a dream with a memory.

    Although I have experienced things that are seemingly God-like signs. Numerology type stuff with the number 99. It’s enough to keep me wondering how things work on a larger level.

  2. Interesting stuff. Many apologists wrongfully accuse atheists of having never searched, which is often the complete opposite of what has in fact occurred. An honest search has been conducted.

  3. Hey Jason. Interesting points you make. I never argue with other people’s experiences. It makes up a part of who we are and they are different for all of us. For myself, I do realize that my own experiences are not all that I should rely on.

    Your point about dreams is a nice outside of the box thought experiment (and I always like thinking outside of the box). I realize you are saying there may be some in between kind of state where it is a mix of awake and dream which may actually be veridical. While I can see the possibility of this I’ve never had this kind of experience myself and to be honest if I did I’m not sure how I would know I could trust it. The reason I say this is because my true dreams are way “crazy-funky” and completely out of touch with what I experience while awake and this seems to be the case for many other people who have talked with me about dreams. While I’ve entertained the thought that perhaps our dreams represent reality more than our awake state as with most people I’d say this seems to be a very impractical way to live life and I’d put it in one of the “self-evident” categories that dreams do not represent reality. My point is that there-in lies the reason why I wouldn’t be so sure if I could trust an experience that was “dream-like”.

  4. Hey John – I appreciate and relate to your comment here. In fact I know for sure there are some very conservative theists who, if they came across this post, would be itching to write that my own search was not honest – and it can be very frustrating. To deal with this I try my best to laugh it off, because it is a bit humorous. I understand that this is just a way that some people try and harmonize the belief systems that they hold with contradictory experiences of other people. Too bad for them.

  5. I think some people have stronger boundaries between dreams/reality than others. Think of a child with an imaginary friend, for example. I think that would be a case where the line between dreams and reality are blurred. I think that case, on more subtle levels, may not necessarily be too far off from those who claim to have spoken with God or Jesus.

    As for dreams, when I do have them, I do occasionally wake up from them thinking the events within actually happened as sometimes they seem deeply rooted in reality.

  6. Howie,

    thanks so much for sharing this.

    Resonance, a great deal of resonance. All the details are different, of course.

    One cannot but credit your honesty. In the end, all I could pray was, God help me see. And here I am. And here you are.

    Either they that ask do receive, or they do not. But you seem to have honestly asked. You seem to have honestly sought. And you seem to have honestly knocked.

    It’s a hell of a mind game, isn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing, and for being so transparent.

  7. You’re very welcome Brisancian! And thank you for the kind comment – it is very nice to know there are people who can relate. And yes “hell of a mind game” is a great way to describe it!

  8. Good post. I especially appreciate your story, because I went through a similar experience–from (near) fundamentalism, to pantheism, to agnosticism, to atheism. I had three “events” that impelled me to leave Christianity behind and begin my journey.

    The first came when I was in high school and Bible class was an elective. I elected to take the course. One night I was opening and closing my Bible, hoping I would receive a message by way of the first verse upon which my eyes fell. I did get a message, but it apparently was not from a god. It was Revelation 13:8, which stated:
    —————–
    And all the inhabitants of the earth shall worship [the beast], every one whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb that was slaughtered.
    —————-
    I had been taught that we choose to do good or evil, and are by that, judged. However, this verse suggested predestination to me. I asked the Bible teacher the next day what it meant. After a pause, she replied, “Well, we aren’t supposed to know everything.”

    That took me aback. It was a curious thing to me that a perfect god would not be perfectly clear in what he had someone write for me to read.

    The second event came in Army Basic Training. I entered a debate between a Christian and an atheist. I dodged and ducked every salvo of my foe’s arguments, and responded with my own volleys of piety and scripture. The end of the battle came with a total rout—mine.

    It had been my first contact with the enemy, and he had come to the field of battle with an awesome weapon entirely new to me—well reasoned, evidence-based arguments. His knowledge of the Bible was greater than my own, his knowledge of other religions was far beyond mine, and his knowledge of evolution caught my ship-of-ignorance broadside.

    The final event came not long after that: I was having a debate with three Mormons. They told me the only way to salvation was to become a Mormon. Marveling at their confidence, I asked them what makes them believe they were right. They said that they knew in their hearts they were right.

    My response was, “Well, so do the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, the Hindu–everyone of every religion believes himself to be right.”

    It was the next morning when I awoke that my response to the Mormons came as an epiphany to me. My own argument applied to me as well. I had no more right to believe I had a lock on The Truth than anyone of any religion.

    It was then that I decided to return to school and acquire a much wider breadth of knowledge so vital for sound reasoning. I vowed to study with an open mind, and follow the arguments to their logical conclusion. I promised myself that I would accept the conclusion no matter how uncomfortable it might make me feel, for if I refused to do so, I would live a life of intellectual dishonesty.

    I am now quite happy with my atheism, and I have even been able to write a novel as a means to propagate my philosophy that we need to leave our walls of religious dogma behind, taking with us only the greatest of all moral values–benevolent reciprocity (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).

    Thank you again for your post.

  9. Thanks Max! It’s always good to know that there are people who can relate.

    You wrote:

    It was a curious thing to me that a perfect god would not be perfectly clear in what he had someone write for me to read.

    This is a good point. And not only is it not perfectly clear, it even seems to go beyond that because it has clearly been the cause of much confusion. I remember doing a study of the book of James with my pastor around the same time that I took my trip to Israel. He recommended 4 books that offered interpretations somewhere between conservative and moderate. I was very bothered by the large number of differences in interpretation not only between the 4 books but also within each one (because each one tried to give different options of interpretation). And those 4 books only represented a small selected slice of the conservative to liberal spectrum of Christian belief!

    Your story of the Mormons “knowing in their hearts” rings very true for me as well. I wrote something very similar here

  10. Hello Howie, it’s my first visit here. I like how you write. This far, I have only read your comments. This is a very good read.

    Max’ story above is so revealing.

    In my search for god, I found myself standing alone and then I came to the one conclusion, if god exists then am he or there are simply no gods. I believed there was a god because I had been told there was one not because I knew there was one.

    Thanks for sharing this

  11. Hey Makagutu, thanks for stopping by and for the compliments. I can relate to what you wrote here. Do you have a post on your blog that tells more of your experience with religion?

  12. Thanks for sharing your story, Howie. You’ve gone through a lot on your journey. Maybe your prayers will be answered one day, it’s a deep hope of mine.

  13. Howie, I really appreciate this post. I could really relate to this:

    “I was told many times back then, and some still tell me today that they have either “met” Jesus, or have a relationship with God, and I think that was one of several things that gave me hope and kept me believing the Christian message and seeking Jesus for more than 5 years (without it I likely would have left earlier). “

    As I write this I’m listening to a tune by U2 that I listened to over and over just before I started my deconversion.

    Great tune — And I DID eventually find what I was looking for. Unlike you, however, I was a slow learner. 😀

  14. I’ve always loved that tune and now it even has more meaning – very cool.

    I’m not so sure I’m such a fast learner – because I’m still looking, but at least I’ve put the search in it’s proper place and have formed an understanding with that thing called uncertainty.

  15. Christians used to tell me “I know that I know that I know”.

    OK. 😀

    I know that I don’t want to know that I know that I know. Curiosity is the spice life. I did find what I was looking for. Peace. Something I never had as a believer.

  16. Very well said Victoria!! There is a peace that comes from realizing that many things in life are uncertain and that it doesn’t help one iota to worry about invisible beings that are very likely not even there. Because even if they are there then they are quite well aware of how uncertain things are to humans. 😉

    There are so many beautiful things in life to enjoy. About an hour ago I just threw my 6 year old son over my shoulder and tickled him until he almost peed in his pants laughing. It just doesn’t get any better than that! 🙂

    Your comment reminds me of the story I didn’t tell that follows my story above. After that year or so of searching many different religions I took a long break of several years where I hardly ever thought about or talked about religion at all. I decided I was going to see how it was to simply live life and not think about ultimate questions. And ya know what? It was wonderful! It wasn’t a dark time at all. It was full of life, love, friends, family… It was during that period that I was lucky enough to meet my very best friend and we’ve been together ever since. It was after that long period that I was able to return to a more balanced and much more enjoyable search of truth. I love learning about all different philosophies and worldviews and what’s so cool now is that so much is on the internet with online courses and videos and such.

  17. “There are so many beautiful things in life to enjoy.”

    Indeed. Loved your story. Without sounding woo woo, there is wonder and awe in the moment. I learned, through years of being a Christian, that it represented the past and the future, but rarely the present. That’s where the living is. That’s not to say we should never think about the past or the future.

    Being a Christian caused me to lose respect for humanity and not appreciate this Earth, because god was going to come back and destroy it. My research helped me come to a much better understanding about ‘evil’.

    While people can still get under my skin with their assumptions about ‘human nature’ being depraved and in need of salvation, I at least understand (for the most part) why antisocial behavior happens, and it doesn’t come close to what I was taught in Christianity and the Bible.

  18. After reading this through again, I was struck that I have thought in the same way.

    thoughts like: “If I only am more focused on God, If I only pray more, if I only sin less, if I only followed His Will more….Then I would experience what it is to be in a closer relationship with God…..”

    Perhaps I didn’t read this post thoroughly the first time, but this resonates with me in places. Except I’m still at the “what am I doing here, and why am I doing this….”

    I know I’m changing. But Its a gradual change. And its more of a change to religion, than to God. well that’s what I tell myself. Where this change will lead I don’t know, or maybe I don’t want to know….

  19. and when I wrote: “And its more of a change to religion, than to God” that may have come off as confusing…

    what I mean to say is that – it’s more of a change regarding religion, than it is a change regarding God.

  20. Yup, that was how I read it after your first comment. I’m curious, how are your thoughts changing regarding religion?

    Also, what are your thoughts on Hell Ryan? I just ask because it’s one of my biggest problems with the Christian worldview.

  21. Ryan, like Howie said, I understood what you meant the first time as well. When I started my deconversion process some 10 years ago, it was about deconverting from religion (Christianity in particular), not god belief. That didn’t come for several years. I’m open-minded about the possibility of there being a creator. But if there is a personal god — he/she/it is an inattentive parent.

  22. Thanks for sharing your spiritual journey. Your experiential letdown after your trip to Jerusalem seems to have been the impetus for rejecting the Christianity you once embraced. Could not that not have simply been a dry season in your life? If you continue to explore the person of Christ, be encouraged that there’s no reason to check objective and rational reasoning at the door. In fact, it might lead you back to His.

  23. Jason, if you have any evidence to support the historicity of the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth, then you can be assured you will have a rapt audience among every atheist or skeptic on this ( and every other) site.
    I would be genuinely interested is reading any verifiable evidence you might be inclined to share.

  24. Jason, the Jerusalem trip was a bit more like the straw that broke the camel’s back kind of thing. There were actually a handful of straws around that time, and as I mentioned in the post I had been fighting with several difficulties in the belief system during the last 4 out of 5 years of my experience. The reasons for my lack of belief is a combination of lack of evidence, evidence that the bible stories don’t match up with reality and read like the myths of other religions, and some self contradictory ideas within the belief system. My Jerusalem experience was just one example of my experience with trying to interact with what I see as an imaginary being – this falls into the lack of evidence category, since the type of evidence that other conscious beings (humans) exist fall in line with having real interactions with those people.

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