Scraping Away, Pt. 1 of 2

If I had a superpower based on my personality, it would be to become very insecure at a moment’s notice for no apparent reason. I would begin to feel weak and unsure of my competence. I would begin to question everything, even things I have always believed to be true. In this way, insecurity has kept me sharp. It keeps me guessing. It keeps me curious. I have come to appreciate the value of insecurity. 

The past 5 years have been enormously transformative for me. Some would call my transformation a degradation of lifestyle and faith. Others would call it “waking up”. It depends on your perspective. 

My perspective is that I was raised in the southern United States, as a Christian:

Pride is decidedly American. Being an American, raised in America and America’d in America, I was raised to view pride as a symbol of manliness, and maturity. Being told you were wrong was tantamount to throwing a punch. 

I was also raised to stay away from “worldly” people, which I think is another word for sinners. Or, unsaved sinners. I remember learning in school that most Christians that end up leaving the faith, leave in college. Mostly due to education, exposure to non-Christian lifestyles, and other secular pursuits. I suppose this widespread spiritual short-coming can be compared to eating from the Tree of Knowledge. A big no-no. 

Some call religious belief a leap of faith. For some, it truly is. For me- it was not. 

P3010797.jpg

Just as I was raised to believe that vegetables are good for you and stealing is immoral, I was also brought up to believe that God exists and the Bible is truth. I did not question it. Why would I? Truth is truth. My entire community (the North Shore) confirmed it. There are many churches and schools and chic-fil-a’s dedicated to the glorification of God. He is mentioned on every note and coin of our currency, the leader of our country is a Christian and I repeatedly heard that this country exists under God- who apparently also exists. As far as I could tell, this is the United States of Christianity.

As a child, the existence of God was not proposed to me as a question. No one ever said, “If you see Christianity as a reasonable belief system, then it is your choice to embrace it.” It was more like, “God is real, and he granted you free will to either follow Him or not. Just know, the latter will result in eternal torment in the fires of Hell.” I was 8 years old. I chose God.

Studying Oriental ideas not in the spirit of saying to the West ‘you ought to be converted to Eastern culture.’ But in the spirit of saying ‘you don’t understand the basic assumptions of your own culture if your own culture is the only culture you know.’ Everybody operates on certain basic assumptions, but very few people know what they are.
— Alan Watts

You see, the word “faith” is often tossed around in the God-fearing community. 

“Through faith in God, I am saved.” 

“We cannot see or physically feel God, so we must have faith.

Faith, however, does not concern things that we know to be true. We do not need faith to know the sun exists. We see it everyday. We do not need faith to believe we need food to survive. We know we must eat to survive. These are observable truths.

The existence of God, however, is an assumption. We cannot observe God by any means. Semantics would lead us to argue that, as an individual, I have not witnessed solar wind with my naked eye, therefore, why should I believe that it exists? Despite the outcome of that argument, I am not about to base my morality and existence around the doctrine of solar wind.

I may be at odds with the spiritual community, but I believe that simply not being able to disprove something does not then make it true. 

P3010777.jpg

I prefer the “Burden of Proof” argument:

Some people speak as if we were not justified in rejecting a theological doctrine unless we can prove it false. But the burden of proof does not lie upon the rejecter.... If you were told that in a certain planet revolving around Sirius there is a race of donkeys who speak the English language and spend their time in discussing eugenics, you could not disprove the statement, but would it, on that account, have any claim to be believed? Some minds would be prepared to accept it, if it were reiterated often enough, through the potent force of suggestion.
— Bertrand Russell

With the burden of proof clearly irrelevant in my upbringing, I saw no reasonable alternative to believing in the existence, and subsequent ultimate righteousness, of the Christian God. I spent my childhood, and into my teenage years and early twenties, a steadfast Christian. Nothing could shake me. Nothing could challenge my allegiance to God. 

Of course, not many people want to challenge a Christian just for the hell of it. Asshole atheists, maybe. The great bully, Bill Maher. Or Richard Dawkins devotees. But arguing with a Christian about his faith is like trying to convince someone that their father doesn’t love them or even exist. It’s not nice. 

Thankfully, God made me an inquisitive boy. In my early twenties I began to wonder why I believe what I believe. Why does more than half the world disagree with me? Why do I believe so blindly? What is the virtue in that?

These questions lead me to an inevitable existential crisis. Once you start to question, it is a slippery slope that many have gone down. It’s not easy on the mind. I found myself grasping for solid ground. It felt like my foundation had been pulled from under me, my moral compass was spinning, two possibilities of reality were constantly strobing in the front of my mind. A gaping hole in my understanding of existence, truth, and spirituality was now guiding me through life in total darkness. 

I encountered waves of depression. Some days, I struggled to get out of bed. The idea of the “meaningless life” was so vivid and personal. The feeling that Heaven was up and Hell was down had suddenly vanished. I wondered what was up there, and what was down below?

Then came questions of morality. Was I equipped to make moral decisions on my own? If God were not my north star, then what would be my guiding light?

With no solid foundation, and questions to fill a book, I started reading. And discussing, with friends, mentors, and family. It did not take long before I realized that before searching for answers, I need to examine the questions. People often asked me, “what are you looking for?” 

There was no way to know for sure if my life had meaning, but it sure as hell felt like it did. Of course, this was coming from a man who was raised to believe his life had intrinsic, significant meaning, simply because he was a “Child of God”. This idea was a basic assumption in my life. It was an unquestionable truth.

This is the important part, because this is where I started to recognize how many assumptions I was living according to.

What is meaning of life? Assumption: Life has meaning.

What will fill the void? Assumption: There is a void.

What will my life be like without meaning? Assumption: You need meaning to live a good life, or to “live” at all.

I was calling out the assumptions. I was getting to the root of all this existential babble by scraping away all of the assumptions associated with each given question and answer- this is the foundation of my journey.