In The Inbetween

What does life look like once your entire worldview has been flipped on its head?

I’d gone from an enthusiastic Christian to an unwilling atheist in a span of about two long years. This transition was literally the most difficult thing I’d ever gone through in my entire life. Some days I feared I might be losing my mind in a very real way. How could life have any meaning or purpose or happiness without God giving it those very things?

Looking inward into the blackest void of your darkest, deepest doubts and seeing they might very well be true is extremely frightening and intimidating.

I am so grateful for my beautiful and loving wife. I dreaded confessing to her that I might be an atheist. How would she react? We had built our life around our relationship with God and our church family. I had shared little bits and pieces of where I was spiritually, but had never dropped the atheist bomb.

We were at dinner on a date night, and I finally confessed my unbelief. I let it all out. Honestly, it felt so good finally sharing where I was and how I got there and what it might all mean.

After I was done speaking, Cindy was quiet for more than a few minutes. She has a fabulous poker face, so I couldn’t read her at all. Finally she said, “Well, if that is what you think you believe, and that this world is all there is, then you better go to the gym tomorrow and start working out and make the most of your time you have with me and your children.”

There was no hate or animosity or judgement. We had been married almost 20 years at this point and Cindy knows me and my personality very well. She didn’t know it at the time, but Cindy gave the ultimate gift that would eventually bring me around. She gave me the freedom to explore this new daunting world of unbelief, because she still believed in me.

I also have to mention all the wonderful people who encouraged me when I was at my lowest. My brother Jason was an amazing sounding board for me and it was with him that I first uttered aloud my unbelief. Jake never pulled me one way or the other but encouraged me to keep searching for truth, no matter where it might be.

My great friends Nic Ferguson and Matt Jennings and Matt Davis and Mike Truong and everyone else I felt safe enough to talk to: every single one brought no judgement. They loved me and like my brother, encouraged me forward to seek truth. Each one checked in with me periodically to make sure I was ok. They didn’t try to fix me or re-convert me or win me back to team Jesus. For this I am forever grateful.

What does the world look like through the eyes of an agnostic atheist? Quite surprisingly, not too different at all.

I still loved my wife and children and would do anything for them. I deeply appreciated my friends and family. I still loved music and science and philosophy. I was still very much me. Mostly.

Atheism isn’t as scary as you might think. I didn’t slide down unbelief into immorality and sin. The sun still rose every day and set every evening. As I came to terms with my unbelief, life just kept marching on. The daily routine was still there.

Evolutionary psychology offers some fascinating ideas for human behavior. And if you give it a chance, most of it makes complete sense.

I could replace the higher order of human nature from a supernatural cause to a purely natural one. Life was much less mysterious and superstitious that way.

My love for my wife and children was ultimately based on millions of years of genetic propagation, but it was no less real than when I was a Christian.

My morality could be based on social norms and structures, even though you might say those morals were purely utilitarian in nature. I could not believe in god and still claim to be a moral person.

Atheism does not have to worry about the problem of evil, as all that happens is just nature at work. Nature, red in tooth and claw. There is no division of humankind into saved and unsaved, chosen and not-chosen. We are the human family, all running the human race together.

Non-belief offered better answers for my nagging questions then did belief in god. Science corresponded to reality and reality corresponded to truth.

One thing I did not anticipate was the OTHER set of nagging questions that my newfound worldview presented me with.

If the evil in the world is just nature in motion, doesn’t that negate any meaning we might find in that suffering?

Last year we had some people at our church that visited us and talked about the human trafficking epidemic that is spreading across the globe. As one of the girls who had escaped shared her story, I couldn’t help but think back on this problem of evil. As an atheist, I could call what was done to this young woman a wrong that should never have been committed. She was a free individual with rights that should never be violated in this way. But when you put a face and a person in front of you, the nice neat theories you might have tend to evaporate. Unspeakable atrocities were committed against this young woman. If atheism were true, then all that suffering was for naught. It was horrible to be sure, but that was it. She suffered, and, well, that was it. Nothing more can be said. At least with God in the picture, I could say that she was not alone in that suffering and that God suffered right there along with her. There could be a higher purpose that would result from her tribulations.

A year and a half earlier, I was sitting on the beach in Hawaii looking at the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. I was moved, but moved more inwardly into cynicism. The beauty and colors of the world were slightly degraded with a shade of “why”? How can they not be when their mystery is suspended? I sat there with my wife and looked at the sky that was on fire with a brilliant orangeish red hue and with clouds that strolled by slowly. Instead of wonder and awe, I felt sadness. Sadness that those colors were only effects of the atmosphere and were only tricks of light.

Science told me the when and where and how of life.  But it could not give me insight into the WHY.  I found this more distressing than the problems I had with Christianity.   Through the entire span of human civilization, humanity has strived to understand our place in this world.  This desire spans all ages and cultures and can be universally applied.  The power of Beauty, the mystery of Music, the desire of Purpose. These questions could not even be considered of a purely mechanistic universe.

One night, I got an email from Nic with a link to a blog entitled “For The Doubters” by someone called Gungor.  What I read next took my breath away.

“basically I lost my metaphysic.  I lost the ability to “believe” anything.
I’m not talking about the “Why didn’t God do this for me?” kind of doubt here.
I’m talking about a complete lack of ability to hold any sort of metaphysic. Is this universe “real” or an illusion or some kind…a software simulation, perhaps?  I don’t know….
This kind of doubt is not some postmodern, hipster trendy sort of “doubt.”  It is a very real and painful loss of the ground beneath your feet.  This can be a very depressing and horrifying experience for people.  Some of you know what I’m talking about, and it’s you that I’m writing this blog to…

This was EXACTLY what I had just gone through.  Extreme Existential Angst (and that is the name of my new deathcore band!)  Gungor went on to describe a conversation he had with a friend.

“OK, my little system is AT LEAST, EVEN IF. I provide definitions for religious concepts in the form of axioms in a manner that is compatible with naturalism (falsifiable and provable). Even in the sciences, we must admit we don’t have a complete understanding of most concepts, so AT LEAST could be applied to natural concepts too (the Universe, gravity, etc.)
Basically, this is a ground floor which doubt can dip no further. It allows us to always feel intellectually honest about pursuing God, religious ritual, fellowship and even Jesus himself.
God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial construct rooted in evolved neurologic features in humans. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace and empathy for others and is warranted.
Prayer is AT LEAST a form of mediation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.
The Bible is AT LEAST a set of writings where a people group describes their experience with and understanding of God over thousands of years. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of God, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.
Jesus is AT LEAST the idea of a man so connected to God that he was called the Son of God and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around his teachings; he was very likely a real person. EVEN IF this is all Jesus is, following his teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.
(this conversation was with Mike McHargue)”

Now to those of you who have never doubted, and are still “Bible Believing Christians” what was just said sounds like heresy.  For those of us who have lost our metaphysic but are striving to find it, this was a crucial life saver.  The ideas are fluid enough to let us keep our grasp on science and skepticism, while at the same time acknowledging that atheism is rife with its own problems.

I was speechless.  The logic of these IF/THEN statements was inescapable.  For the first time in  two and a half years, I felt a tiny, tiny, little flame of faith come alive inside my heart.

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