An honest cry from an agnostic: Witness to me

The subject line must look like the biggest call of “TROLL!” in the world, so I should preface this note by saying that I am not trolling. I hope I can prove that I’m not trolling by interacting and responding to the posters who have the time and the courage to post to this thread.

That said, I’ll give you the background. I grew up in a largely non-religious household, although I suppose my parents were vaguely Christian, even if in the most non-commital sense. When I left for college, I joined a Christian organization… which, upon further review, was scarily close to a cult. Two weeks after I graduated from undergrad, I “lost my faith.” Due to personal reasons, I first said, “Fuck you God, I don’t want anything to do with you,” which then slowly devolved into agnosticism.

I never experienced the “fullness of life” while I was in Christ, and I’ve never experienced the “emptiness” of not having Christ that all Christians seem to think pervades the faithless. But something weird happened to me the other day, something I’m still trying to explore, cope with, and even put words to. I’ll try to explain that experience as best I can. Something (again, personal, sorry) happened, and I just had a gut reaction. I said things, and I acted, entirely without conscious thought. The weird thing is that my “innards,” if you will, acted on the premise that there IS a Higher Power. Almost like, deep down, I know that there’s some Higher Being, but I’ve supressed this knowledge with all forms of entirely secular thought.

This is entirely difficult for me to cope with, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a unique experience in the history of humanity. It’s especially complicated by the fact that I consider myself to be a rational, moral person. When I’m actively thinking, I make that “innard voice” seem pretty damned stupid. My conscious mind keeps telling me, “Even if there is a God, he’s a cruel fucking bastard… or have you forgotten? Fuck him” or “You’re inventing God because you want God to exist… an omnipotent being that loves you would be the Ultimate Comfort.” It’s tough for me to combat these sentiments, but it’s also tough for me to forget that inner voice… and he hasn’t spoken since that night, almost two weeks ago.

My question depends on who I’m asking, so I’ll break it up into three camps, in alphabetical order:

Atheists and agnostics: Have you experienced this voice? Did you ignore it and it merely went away? Did you attribute it to needing security, etc? Can you recommend a good book or two? As an example, I recently read Seven Theories of Religion by D. Pals, summarizing the views of such anti-religious thinkers as Freud (psychologist), Emile Durkheim (sociologist), Marx (economist/sociologist), and Geertz (another sociologist). This book illustrates different approaches in analyzing the origins of religion, but doesn’t necessarily investigate the underlying truths or lack thereof. Is there a book you can recommend that does just this? I’m not looking for something that attacks the validity of the Bible; I’m thinking of something that looks at religion in general.

Christians: I need a book or two that isn’t hostile to the rational mind. I’ve started re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and he’s an excellent illustration of the sort of mindset I’m looking for. Any book that starts with “Assuming the Bible is true, we can yadda yadda yadda” will be summarily dismissed without prejudice. I’ve read some Hugh Ross, a Christian Astrophysicist, but he seems too willing to twist the objective data to fit the only scenario he’s willing to accept: God exists. Is there someone similar with perhaps a more open mind? Also, and perhaps more importantly, due to my “culty” experience, I’ve largely only encountered Fundamentalist thought: the Bible is literally true, etc. Can you recommend a book that investigates more “liberal” ways of thinking about Christianity? A book that would be especially useful would be one comparing the Christianity of the Fundamentals with the Christianity of everyone else.

Religious Non-Christians: I have a B.A. in Religious Studies, and in the course of attaining that degree, I took more classes on Buddhism than I did on Christianity. However, most of these classes were merely interested with defining the terms rather than investigating the meat of what the religions say. Do you have any suggestions for books that DO say what your religion believes? Just for the record, I’m familiar with the basics: the Buddhist believes in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. To me, that’s akin to saying “A Jew believes in the Ten Commandments.” I guess what I’m asking is: what do you REALLY believe in? What does your particular sect hold sacred? In other words, spare me the PR crap and cut to the chase.

One final note–testimonials are equally welcome, in addition to literary suggestions. If someone has experienced something similar, then by all means, share on here, or email me if that’s more to your tastes. If you’re going to do so, please try to be analytical. I realize that these experiences are terribly difficult to put into words (Abraham Maslow wrote extensively about that), and I know I’ve done a shitty job myself. But you’re really not going to help me if your testimonial is “It was at my mother’s funeral… on a whim, I started praying, and right then I felt the Love of the Lamb, and I knew God was real.” I don’t mean to trivialize your experience, but it’s not especially helpful. I’m sorry if my candor offends you.

phew Ok, that was a ton of questions. But any and all help would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Quix

Yeah, that’s how it started with me.

I always recommend Babinsky’s translation of The Mirror of Simple Souls by Marguerite Porete. You might have read it in school to get that B.A. – I did. The Gospels aren’t a bad thing to peruse if you haven’t read them in a while either.

Quix,

I have some books that I might recommend…

Although I call myself a fundie, I read from many perspectives and enjoy all of them.

Phillip Yancey’s books are all good, Phillip came from a Fundie background, but grew up to question that premise, and although he returned to the evangelical fold, his works aren’t always accepted by the fundie rank and file.

Praticularly good are:
The Jesus I Never Knew
What’s So Amazing about Grace
Where’s God When it Hurts

I haven’t read his latest work, but have heard good reports.

Lee Strobel’s two books
A Case for Christ
A Case for Faith
describe his journey from what he calls atheism to faith. Both are fairly easy reads, and are basically interviews with experts on certain parts of the Christian faith.

Max Lucado does a great job of explaining the truth of the Bible in entertaining metaphors and common stories, his latest ‘He chose the nails’ is a great book.

Conversations with Jesus by Harold Fickett was a good read.

I’ve heard good things about: Letters from a Skeptic
by Gregory and Edward K. Boyd. Which is basically a series of letters between a son (believer) and a father (agnostic).

I may be back with more, but that has been my reading list from the last few years, and has done much to strengthen my faith.

Hope that helps.

You can always drop by the Parlor if you want. :slight_smile:

An inner voice that implies there is a God. Hm, I dunno; there’s been times when a bad thing may happen, and I recall thinking something like “please don’t let this happen.” It’s not common, and seems to be more of a kneejerk reaction; if I think about it, I just shrug it off since I don’t expect it to do any good. Now, I suppose someone could ask who I was asking, and point to that as evidence that I really do believe there’s a God “deep down”. But I don’t think I do. Appealing to fate, spirits, gods, etc. is a natural desire to somehow stack the deck, and we’re trained since birth to ask for help. As another example, though I do not believe in Karma, still sometimes I feel a trace of dread that if I do a bad thing something bad will happen to me, or if I do a good thing I halfway expect good luck. Still, I don’t believe in Karma. Personally, I don’t think my gut is all that great at making decisions about what is real and what isn’t. My gut still gets scared of monsters. I mean, when the night’s dark and the wind’s howling and you’re all alone in the house and you just watched a scary movie, doesn’t your gut insist that monsters are REAL? Nevertheless, I can use my reason and determine that no matter what my gut thinks, the monster in my closet isn’t real. I certainly won’t allow the powerful gut feeling that monsters are real to override my brain’s evaluation of the evidence. My advice is not to let feelings determine what you believe is real–it’s a highly unreliable system for determining truth, IMHO; use the evidence.

Hey Quix–good luck.

My recommendations are not from personal experience–wanted to get that up front. However, mi madre also has a BA in religious studies and loves nothing more than talking about religion, and these recommendations stem largely from her. They don’t specifically deal with what you’re going through right now (I don’t think) but may shed some light on “traditional” interpretations and help you in her search.

Aforementioned madre is wildly appreciative of Judiaism (sp?) and what she interprets as its core beliefs–that is, that people matter, not practices (so much). Her favorite religious author and rabbi is Harold Kushman, author of (for one) Why Bad Things Happen to Good People and others. You may find some insights there or in his other books. Disclaimer–they may or may not directly assume exactly what you don’t want them to and may proceed directly to your reject pile; I haven’t read them myself but have gotten their details secondhand.(For the record, both she and I were raised as fundies, but really disagree strongly with a literal interpretation of the Bible.)

Other than that, all I can direct you to are alternative interpretations of biblical passages. The Jews and, to some extent, some Catholic and Protestant writings may be helpful here. Again, these may not directly address what you’re looking for, but may give you some insights via readings other than those accepted by hard-core fundies. I’m sorry I can’t direct you to exact sources, but try searches on more popular biblical themes.

I wish I had better advice, but for now, good luck with your struggle.
A Dieu,
Snicks

Don’t have much to add other than that your OP reminded me of the old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.

I guess my old man would have been best described as an agnostic. He often would stay home while my mom dragged us kids to church, and when at church, he did not take communion. After he had his stroke, he took communion in the hospital, and enjoyed speaking with the priest. I later asked him about it, and he said while in ICU it seemed like a pretty good idea, but later it seemed kind of silly.

Enjoy your search.

been there, different order of events.

went to catholic schools, started suspecting they were lying to me in 3rd grade, never baptised. decided on agnosticism in 7th grade as a result of 3 years mental saturation with sci-fi books. LOL!

sophmore year in college had a talk with fellow student who said his family lived in haunted house. said he had seen broom move across the room and windows open and close. i got the distinct impression that he believed what he was saying but i put it in the strange but interesting but unknown category.

freaky experience occured around age 22 with reading
THE ULTIMATE FRONTIER by Eklal Kueshana

this started my reading occult material for years. it’s mostly garbage and makes no sense without some paradigm for ordering information.

you need to ask yourself how much of your ideas about god are 2nd hand christian biases. you might try researching some of early christian history before constantine became emperor. what we call christianity today has been corupted by roman/babylonian paganism and is not a reliable model for christianity. i think reading the gospels and just thinking about the ideas expressed not worrying about details is a good idea and ignore what christians tell you. my personal favorite isn’t in the bible tho.

THE AQUARIAN GOSPEL OF JESUS THE CHRIST by Levi (Dowling)

Dal Timgar, born again heisenberg heretic

The Buddhist here reccommends two books- I forget the autors, should be able to find them on amazon.

Wherever you go, There You Are
-and-
The Accdiental Buddhist

Good luck in your search for understanding, my brother.

You can sling 2 birds with one stone by taking a stab at Thomas Merton…a Catholic monk who also dabbled in Zen Buddhism…

I don’t know of any good ‘explaining Christianity to the non-Christian’ sort of books. I’m honestly not crazy about C.S. Lewis, to be honest, but a lot of stuff out there is even worse.

Rather than give you a book that intellectually explains my faith, I’ll recommend one that gives a different sort of window in: Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. She’s kinda subtle in her message, and some fundies (Nav’s not one of them, thank goodness :)) think she’s pushing witchcraft. But she isn’t - she’s talking about what it’s like, at its best, to be a Christian.

It’s technically a children’s book, so it’s fairly quick and easy reading. But be warned - it’s only technically a children’s book. :slight_smile:

One of my favorite artists is Nichole Nordeman. Her latest CD This Mystery is fantastic, and she says it is influenced by L’Engle’s Walking on Water in which she spends time trying to explain where her spirituality meshes with her art as an author.

Rufus’ mention of Madame L’Engle made me think of this, and Nichole’s lyrics will make you think too.

Peace.

This sure as hell isn’t adding too much either, but there’s the lesser known corollary:

“No one finds Jesus on Prom night.” -Paraphrased from Dennis Miller.

Born into a fundamentalist home and brought to agnosticism in my early teens by the grace of sci-fi’s Big Three and the World Book encyclopaedia.

I may in some way be restating what Gaudere said, but I have to live my life based on what I can observe; and not only such things as the freezing point of water, or that being hit by a moving vehicle can harm or kill me, but also that treating people with respect pleases them, and vice versa…

I guess what I’m saying is that since the only creative force I have direct evidence of is the human consciousness (books, art, this keyboard, the conduct of daily lives, etc…), then I have to be responsible and accountable for how I use my own consciousness… This is my biggest problem with belief in a Supreme Being – we end up passing the buck.*

As for books… the one I’ve probably thought about the most since reading it is A History of God, by Karen Armstrong (a former nun).
jm
*Disclaimer – having given that brief and simplistic view of how I live, I reserve the right to lurk in GD reading most theology-connected threads and occasionally posting to try and articulate half-formed ideas as they float through my head.

I would second (3rd?) the suggestion about reading the 4 gospels. Read them yourself and think about them without all the baggage of the way they have been interpreted to you your whole life.

Personal experience here:

The beauty of God to me, is his gift of acceptance. I don’t see God as lifting all rules on good and bad, but I do see him as loving you no matter what. I resent/regret all the condemnation that gets attributed to Christians.

My faith allows me to go about my day to day life knowing that I am not alone. This may be seen as a crutch by atheists, but so be it. I feel for those whose outlook requires them to take a solitary walk through life.

I don’t get myself hung up on what the absolute truth is, I figured out long ago that solving that riddle was far beyond me. What I do try to get hung up on, is moving myself a little closer everyday to the way I know God would want me to act. Along the way I do plenty of backsliding, temper losing and determined rule breaking, but I try to stay honest with myself about the consequences of whatever actions I do decide to take. Regardless of my decisions, I rest easy knowing that I never have to qualify for God’s love and acceptance. It’s just there for me.

Since I stopped running from God, I see a difference in my life. Even more importantly, others do as well. I don’t prioritize my life based on what others think of me, but I had been holding myself back. I had a lot of anger and that made it hard for me to deal with others. Until I dealt with my anger, compassion and empathy had no place in my life.

I live my faith journey mostly in a “lead by example” sort of way. I make sure I volunteer, and I try to make sure I am making a difference in people’s lives when I do. I don’t deny my faith, but I only share it when someone requests it. Most everyone I deal with knows I am a Christian anyway.
…Well that is a whole lot more sappy than I like to get, but you did ask for it. I hope it’s not to trite to say, but I’m praying for you.

I would suggest, the bible:D. Or even more specific, what Jesus says in the bible. Just read it like you have never even heard of christanity. And make your own decisions on what he says means. People naturally corrupt things so really the best thing to do is decide for yourself.

Pick up “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff. Great book.

If the little voice is a god, which god and why? Can you rule out other supernatural/non-falsifiable explanations such as a ghost/spirit, a demon, a fairy, an alien, a person shrunk in a tiny submarine (a la The Fantastic Voyage or Innerspace) the Invisible Pink Unicorn or something not yet known? On what basis can you rule any others out? And what exactly is a god, and how can you reach that definition objectively?

Or in other words…what do you think it is you’re trying to believe in and how can you pick that one? If your ‘innard feeling’ helps you out and steers you right, why are you concerned with what it might be if you have no way of knowing what it really is?

Jmullaney: Actually, I never did read that, I was given the option of reading William James or Marguerite Porete. I guess I’ll have to see about reading Porete.

Navigator: Well, assuming that I can go to a secular bookstore (B&N) and find these titles (grin, only kidding), I’ll at least browse them. I’m a little hesitant, though, because my limited experience with Max Lucado told me that he’s pretty damned Fundamental (heh). Still, reading the Gospels is DEFINITELY a good idea–thanks.

Gaudere, insightful points as always. I agree, instantly converting because of some inner voice is silly. But I think it’s almost as silly to disregard it just because it’s… contrary to most of my thought processes. Granted, your analogy with the “Look out for monsters!” voice is valid, but I think the Ultimate Questions of the Universe are somewhat more pressing than the Question of What’s Under my Bed. Not necessarily easier to answer, but less trivial I’d say. Let me try it this way: I don’t believe in ESP. But if a friend of mine said, “I have undeniable proof that I have ESP,” I wouldn’t flippantly dismiss him. I’d see what s/he could do, look for the tricks, etc. I know s/he’s more than likely bullshitting me, but I’d still investigate. And that’s all that I’m doing right now, investigating.

Snickers, thanks for the suggestions. I know very little about Judaism, so I’d even be open to reading about “Fundamentalist Judaism” (would that be the Orthodox?)

Dinsdale, well, I wonder, does everyone suddenly convert to Christianity when in a foxhole? Do the Japanese suddenly find Amaterasu or whoever? Amida Butsu? That’d be an interesting thing to read, testimonials from non-Westerners in foxholes…

Dal Timgar, is “The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ” anything like the Gnostic Gospels, i.e., Gospel of Thomas et al.? That’d be a good read… my little experience with the GGs left me with a distinct impression of Buddhism.

RTFirefly, heh, I read A Wrinkle in Time back in Fourth Grade. Naturally, I totally missed everything besides the story :slight_smile: I’d re-read it, but I’d be embarassed buying it or checking it out at a library. Hehe!

nothamlet, I base my life on observations as well, but the supernatural by definition is outside of the realm of Empiricism. Does that mean that I should dismiss it simply because I can’t test it with a thermometer? What if these inner voices are the “thermometers” of the supernatural? Dunno, just thinking out loud here, but I’m not so close-minded that I’ll ignore it simply because I can’t throw some God into an Atomic Absorption Spectrometer. Naturally, when a Fundie attempts to tell me that the world is 6k years old… well, it’s go time, and we’re in Science’s homefield. BTW, I can’t believe I didn’t think of Karen Armstrong. I even met the woman once.

Freedom2, I guess the problem that I have with following your lead is that I didn’t notice a significant Quality of Life difference between then and now. I didn’t feel “fulfilled” with Christ, and I don’t feel shitty without him. Heh, then why look? Good question :slight_smile:

Pinqy, I don’t know which God, or why. That’s why I asked everyone. I can’t rule out the submarine, the IPU, the Buddha, anything. Doesn’t mean I can’t look, in my book.

The rest–thanks for your responses, I’m building a nice reading list. Keep em coming (but realize that I’m a poor graduate student with limited time and funds)!

Thanks again,
Quix

I reccomend The Tao of Pooh, an excellent examination of my favorite atheistc religion.

All I ask is that you do your damndest to evaluate the evidence fairly and intelligently. Though, hell, my gut feelings are contrary to most of my thought processes frequently. I can still cheerfully disregard gut feelings if they don’t seem a sufficiently solid basis to make a decision. My gut feelings tell me to sneak away without a note when I ding someone’s car door. Fortunately, the rest of my thought processes are properly appalled and demand I leave a note with an offer to pay for any damage. My gut feelings aren’t always wrong, but I have to use my reason to determine when they’re worth listening to (like when they say not to be alone with a certain guy) and when they’re not (like when they insist monsters are real). Just use your reason to determine whether listening to your gut is an accurate way to determine whether something exists or not. Is it/has it been consistently accurate? Do you have any other evidence to support your instinctive reaction? And so on. I’m asking for an evenhanded evaluation, here; if you would not believe in the existence of monsters because you had a “gut feeling”, you should not believe in God for such a reason, either. The standards you use to determine the existence of God should also be equally useful in determining the existence of anything else. Don’t believe in God because other people do, or because you have a “feeling”, or because it make you happy to believe, or because you don’t like the alternative. Believe–or don’t believe, if you so decide–if the evidence convinces you that either proposition is the most likely. I’d rather see a dozen thinking theists than an unthinking atheist. But don’t cut God any slack just because he is God! Demand that he measure up to the standards of evidence that you require from anything else. I don’t think it is right to let any particular thing “off easy” when it somes to determining whether it exists or not–it seems dishonest.

All the more reason to not to decide to believe based on less than solid evidence.

Investigation is good. :slight_smile: I have investigated as well, and found no solid credible evidence of God. Neither have I found any solid credible evidence of ESP. Nevertheless, I do not rule either out, though my estimation of their likelihood grows more vanishing small as I continue to collect evidence. I still investigate, though it tends to go in cycles; sometimes I am very interested, sometimes the whole issue seems entirely unimportant. But I approve of your learning more about religion; it’s shaped so much of so may people’s lives that I think knowing about it will greatly help you in understanding other people. I’d like to learn more about Buddhism and other customarily non-Western religions myself. Perhaps I will get a reading list from your thread. I agree with nothamlet that The History of God is a good read. I don’t really have any “atheistic” books–I’ve never felt the need to read much about something I consider eminently commonsensical, and there’s only so much you can say about not believing in something! <grin> But I think Campbell’s The Power of Myth woud be worthwhile to read; you’ll see the common mythologies and motives and themes common to all religions. It gives you a more global perspective on the stories you will see in any particular religion. Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian is pretty good too, though it may seem a bit dated to you.

::gasp:: :wink: Wrinkle in Time is a classic, and a damn good read. You should feel no shame. And any proselytizing is damn subtle, though perhaps I’m so used to disguised Christianity (I loved the Narnia series, too) that I no longer notice it much.