Wilful abandonment or suffering loss?
I’ve mentioned previously that my loss of faith has caused a tragic rift in my marriage to my still-believing wife. Probably the root issue boiled down to – did I wilfully abandon my faith or did I suffer its loss? My wife was adamant that I had chosen not to believe, or, at least, it was a consequence of choices I had made.
I do deeply sympathise with my wife. We had faced the early stages of identity crises together. But she resolved the crisis in a different way. Now she had to face the turmoil of her own metamorphosis alone, whilst also suffering the repercussions of my more radical change – a change she had had no say in. The irony is that, other than opting for the ostrich strategy of stubbornly sticking my head in the sand, I don’t think I had much say in the matter either.
Another family member sent me a pained email asking, “where does that leave us, are we all living in a ‘fools paradise’ believing in an unreal God?”. I replied . . .
“Rest assured what I believe about truth has no influence at all on what is real! If I believed the moon was made of green cheese it would not change what it’s actually made of one iota. (Maybe a better analogy is if I believed radiation did not exist…) We either believe or we don’t. We can be persuaded, but we cannot will ourselves to believe (or not believe) simply by gritting our teeth.”
If you doubt this you could test it for yourself. Try believing, for example, that the moon really is made of green cheese. Have a go . . . Sure you’re trying hard enough?? Doesn’t work does it?
As best as I can describe my experience, for several months I was vaguely aware I was having serious doubts and tried hard to ignore it before, ultimately, realising I simply no longer believed the Christian gospel. I’d discovered what I wrote above: that I could neither believe nor not believe simply by gritting my teeth.
I’ve had this post lined up for several weeks but, funnily enough, this morning I got a facebook notification to a link one of my friends had posted on a similar theme. The post is called “What do we believe?” and is by the band Güngör, who are Christians.
Apparently they’ve got in quite a lot of trouble with some Evangelical Christians for a post on their blog which states . . .
“I have no more ability to believe, for example, that the first people on earth were a couple named Adam and Eve that lived 6,000 years ago. I have no ability to believe that there was a flood that covered all the highest mountains of the world only 4,000 years ago and that all of the animal species that exist today are here because they were carried on an ark and then somehow walked or flew all around the world from a mountain in the middle east after the water dried up. I have no more ability to believe these things than I do to believe in Santa Clause or to not believe in gravity.”
Obviously the Güngör lads are in a different place to me, But nevertheless, much of what they said resonated with me. Here’s a couple more excerpts . . .
“By the time you can use your conscious mind to “believe” something, your unconscious mind has already sorted through the data and there is no way you can force yourself to un-know what you know.”
“Here’s the reality. We don’t really get to chose our beliefs.”
Believing in Ebola
Another parallel is from the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa. News coverage reported, accurately, that many West African simply don’t believe in Ebola. Actually many West Africans have little choice. Their world view is essentially spiritual rather than materialistic – since they grew up everybody around them believed that all around them were all manner of spiritual forces and beings that are the major determinants of what happened to them in everyday life. They were also faithfully taught what they needed to know to be protected and successful in this environment. Absolutely every new thing they learn – including the Ebola outbreak – is seen against this backdrop. There is no alternative for them. Their assumptions are only reinforced when, for all the outsiders’ methods of quarantines and rubber suits, the disease continues to spread . . .
A generation or two down the road, as microscopy and eclipse charts and close-up photographs of comets etc etc etc become part of a community’s knowledge, rather than being fitted into the pre-existing framework, the possibility of joining the dots in a new way will likely be seen and a new framework will likely emerge. The paradigm shift will have taken place. Once seen, this new generation will have little choice to unsee the Magic Eye picture no matter how much they may grit their teeth.