I am an agnostic.
I wanted to make that abundantly clear before I say anything else. A lot of people equate that with being an atheist, and I guess from the outside, ignorance can account for that, but we’re not the same.
As an agnostic, I think atheism is only slightly less arrogant and misguided than Christianity and other evangelical faiths. Why? Because atheists have no hard evidence that God does not exist, in the same way Christians have no indisputable proof that God does exist.
Subsequently, to sit smug on either side of the fence seems to me to be an inability to accept that we don’t know everything; that we’re still learning about the world we live in; and that there is always a possibility of what if..
Me? I prefer to sit on the fence and enjoy the view.
A Semi-Catholic Upbringing
I went to Catholic school twice in my lifetime for a total of seven years. My first two years of school was at a Catholic kindergarten, and in high school, I attended Mount Alvernia Catholic High School for Girls for five years.
In fact, I spent the first two or three years of my life growing up in a Catholic convent. My father’s college had bought it and handed it over to my family for a while, for us to live in and take care of.
Unfortunately, that was 24 years ago and I have no pictures of the place. Instead, here are other pictures from a monastery I visited one weekend in the fall of 2015: The Monastery of the Holy Spirit.
Entering Holy Ground
When I received the invitation, my very first thought was, “This is going to make an awesome blog post!”
However, I didn’t think it would be one that in any way explored my thoughts on religion. I initially just wanted to share my visit. However, my experiences there really made me examine my religious beliefs – or lack thereof.
Let me include in this examination that despite seven years of Catholic-inspired education, I did not grow up in a Catholic family.
My [Actual] Seventh-Day Upbringing
My family was devoutly Seventh Day Adventist, which if you don’t know, is a denomination that survived what is called “The Great Disappointment” in the Millerite Movement.
Don’t know what that is, either? Do you remember in March 2011, when a cult led by Harold Camping predicted “the Rapture”?
They believed that Jesus would come for them and the world would go up in fire and brimstone, while they would be saved. People sold their properties, and gave up their life possessions in expectation of Jesus’ arrival.
Denomination? – Or Cult.
Well, the Millerites did the very same thing in 1844, and after Jesus failed to show up in all his glorious splendour, the Seventh Day Adventist Church became one of the surviving offshoots of the belief.
As most cults (and offshoots of cults) tend to be, there were a world of rules that didn’t quite make sense. I couldn’t eat shrimp, because it said so in Leviticus; right next to where it also advises farmers not to mix breed their cows or plant more than one crop in the same field.
Today, we know that monoculture actually kills farmland, and the practice is discouraged. In case you’re wondering, the law against homosexuality is smack dab right there, too.
I couldn’t wear jewelry because it was unholy, but King Solomon was allowed to. And Sabbath was a whole day affair. Every Friday at sunset, I was plunged into depression and religious prison.
However, I never believed any of it. Even at three years old, I remember asking hard-hitting questions about religion and getting literal hard-hitting answers, because it was considered “blaspheming”.
A Losing Battle
I pleaded with God every night to reveal himself to me in some way, so that I would know I wasn’t just talking to myself or something that didn’t exist. I read the Bible – and still know it better than most Christians and pastors that I’ve come across.
I pondered and I analysed and I begged some more, and then finally, the burden didn’t seem worth bearing anymore, and I gave it up.
Most Christians will find this to be a hard line to swallow, but: I never felt more at peace than I did the day I decided I was done pleading with Jesus to prove he was more than a myth.
That burden I had been carrying around, I left it at the foot of the cross, and wore the pendant around as a Gothic fashion statement, instead.
Free at Last
Life became a whole new place for me after that. I delved into Existentialism, and loved the philosophical teachings of Kierkegaard, Marx, and Voltaire. They understood life. They understood reasoning.
They asked the same questions I had asked at three and five and ten and fifteen, and had come to the same conclusions I had, with added insights.
I finally met (dead) men who understood what I had been battling with all along. It was freeing. I was sixteen years old, in my first year of college, and on the road to becoming a better person.
After that, I lived a life much like the rest of my atheist and agnostic friends, which basically rivals the “purity” and “goodness” of my Christian friends. My Christian friends were always up to no good and then needing prayer on the weekend to feel better about all the wrongs they had done all week.
It was a luxury asset that they had: do bad things now, and pass the guilt on to Jesus on Saturday or Sunday. By Monday, they were as good as new!
My non-religious friends and I didn’t have that luxury. Our guilt was ours to bear when we did wrong, so though none of us would claim to be perfect, we did our best to live good lives. And in the end, we did a much better job than my Christian friends, at that.
Damned to Hell?
A few years later, I pointed that out to one of my friends who considered himself a believer, and he had an interesting take on the whole matter. He admitted that he had noticed the same thing; that his atheist and agnostic friends lived much better lives than his Christian ones.
And he knew why. In his mind, the Devil has no need to tempt us, because we’re already damned and going to hell. We’re a lost cause. Christians are still holding on to God, and need to be tempted away into sin.
Who knows? Maybe he’s right. Or maybe people who gravitate to gods and deities are people who refuse to accept and take control of their own lives, and need someone else to blame for all the bad in the world.
I don’t know.
That’s the beauty of being an agnostic. I can theorise and postulate, but I can also frankly admit that I don’t know — and I am perfectly okay with that.
A Paranormal Past
In fact, while sharing with Michael, the many paranormal experiences I had growing up, I admitted that one would believe that that would make me a believer.
He nodded and admitted that that was true. It’s amazing that it didn’t. I said to him, “You know why it didn’t? It doesn’t because I refuse to be an Arawak.”
He had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained:
Arawaks were the Native Indians in Jamaica at the time that Columbus came. From the hilltops and the shores, they saw these mighty ships approaching, and soon, they saw White men pouring out of them.
They had never seen such fine naval craftsmanship before and had never seen White men. They believed then, that they must be gods.
In the end, Columbus and his men wiped out the entire population of Arawaks on the island. Not one of them survived. It is one of the most complete cases of genocide in the Americas.
I have seen and experienced a lot of things that I do not understand and will never understand, but that does not make it God. What was God to man centuries ago, turned out to be Spaniards led by one Italian, in ships.
Learning Lessons from the Natives
Thus, I refuse to be an Arawak. I refuse to attribute my ignorance to God. I am able to admit that I simply do not know, and that one day, there may be a perfectly rational explanation — or not.
Still, I respect the people who have managed to believe. In fact, for a long time I envied them. I wanted to believe, too. I wanted to be a blind sheep, stumbling back to the Shepherd for guidance, but ultimately that life was not for me. I am unfit.
God, if he exists, gave me a brain to think and challenge what we think we know, and I have used it for exactly that. If questioning existence and nature and knowledge and life and lies and the status quo is ungodly, then that’s not a God I want to worship, anyway.
To Each their Own
In the end, I truly believe in living my life by to each their own. We all have to find our own paths and our own truths in life. It’s important to respect that. I may not believe in Christianity and the Christian God, but I respect that there are people who do.
So when I visited the monastery, I respected it as Holy grounds, though I felt not a stirring of exceptional Presence. And when Michael wrote a petty comment in the prayer book, I was quick to scold him for his childishness.
I expect my non-religious path to be respected, and in return, I respect the path of the religious — whether it’s Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or god knows what else, as long as they’re not hurting anyone. Subsequently, there’s no need to post nasty signs like this:
Christianity is no more or less believable than Islam, and let’s be honest, Muslims and Jews are better at being Muslim and Jewish than Christians are at being Christian.
Yes, Islam breeds radical thoughts, but so did Christianity back in the day. Where do you think the Crusades came from; when it was god’s will to murder Muslims? In any case, that’s a debate for another day. I’ve said enough already.
As for me, I appreciate and thank and revere what I know for a fact exists: Mother Nature. Some people might say, well who made nature? What created the “big bang”? Well I ask you, “Who made God? What created Him?”
The answer is simple and yet so difficult for people to accept, despite acknowledging our shortcomings as humans. The truth is:
We. Don’t. Know.
What I do know is that these plants and this air and the sky is real. I can see it and touch it and smell it and feel it and science can measure it. Those, I do know exist, and that’s all the mystical wonder I will ever need in my life.
I hope my post has inspired some thought, and that I’ll see some of that in the comments as the week rolls by. Have a good week, and always remember the Arawaks!
Original published November 26, 2015 on Alexis Chateau.