Synchronistic Reader

Where Life Intertwines With the Books I Read

Lauren J Barnhart

Lauren J Barnhart
Location
Seattle, Washington,
Birthday
April 11
Title
Author & Publisher
Company
Knotted Tree Press
Bio
My memoir 'No End Of The Bed' spans my search for truth through differing perceptions of sex, with some surprising parallels made between the fundamentalist church and the sex-positive movement. It is now available at most online retailers. You can also find my writing in past issues of Jersey Devil Press and Monkey Bicycle.

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JANUARY 2, 2012 5:29PM

Why I Stopped Believing in God

Rate: 29 Flag

                           TinyDeath

      After my sister was born, my mom was told she couldn’t have any more kids.  Six years later, I was her miracle.  She always told me I wouldn’t be here if God hadn’t intervened.  So I guess it’s kind of ironic that I no longer believe in God.

The writer Christopher Hitchens passed away last week.  In Vanity Fair he openly shared his struggle with cancer over the last year in his column.  His death brought him to life in my mind, and I knew it was time to read his book, God Is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything.  I had suspected this all of my life, but never had the words to fully formulate what I felt. 

Over Christmas I felt agitated by the fact that my parents are not able to accept that I am not a Christian.  They gave us a book entitled Dinner With a Perfect Stranger about a modern day businessman who has dinner with Jesus.  On the back flap is a direct quote from the character of Jesus, “… You’re worried about God stealing your fun, but you’ve got it backwards…  there’s no adventure like being joined to the Creator of the Universe.” 

I think my parents feel that this is why I left the church - because it wasn’t fun enough.  My mom kept telling stories about people being transformed when they were ‘saved.’  I just had to say it, “Actually, for me it was the opposite.  I was depressed when I was a Christian.  I am finally healthy after breaking down all those old mental patterns.”  Immediately my dad leapt over from the coffeemaker and held my shoulders in his hands, “Never stop searching Lauren.”

            “I never do.”  Of course my search does not lead back to where my dad would like it too.  I am a creative thinker, and religion does not like either of those things.  I was in Christian schools from 3rd grade through college.  I was taught to be afraid of everything that had to do with “the world.”  But this only made me want to understand exactly why I should be afraid.  I began to have a lot of questions.  But if you question faith, you are a weak believer.  Questions equal failure.

            Towards the middle of college I decided to put it all in and really discipline my life to God.  But the more time I spent praying and meditating the more delusional I became.  I started to have visions of absolute destruction that I would somehow manage to escape.  Then there was the night in my dorm room, being taunted by spirits.  I looked in the mirror and had the distinct sense that I was no longer in my body. 

It felt like I was in a life or death struggle.  A poltergeist.  If Jesus wasn’t inside of me, the spirits would take me over and I would be obliterated.  I really believed this.  All the fear I’d been brainwashed with, and all the guilt, and my complete split personality was driving me mentally insane.  I’d been severely depressed since the age of nine and had been suicidal for ten years.  But it was really just the need to kill the side of myself that wasn’t me at all.  It was the side that everyone around me wanted me to be.  I felt so much pressure.  I can remember my disbelief going back to the age of five – but all that time fear had ruled the roost.

            After college I began the long, arduous process of retraining my brain how to think outside of the false concepts of religion.  I went to extremes, breaking the old self through pleasure.  Eventually, I grew numb to all of my devices for forgetting.  It took me ten years to finally be ready to face what I really felt.  And then I began to feel a great deal of anger. 

I don’t blame my parents.  I love them and I support them in the way that they feel.  My mom was very extreme when I was young, but I blame all the people that she was susceptible too.

            More and more I began to see that pastors and leaders in all faiths are simply people hungry for power.  They like to preach that if you love God, you will get rich.  But if bad things do happen, never question God, and never question the pastor because his words come from God.  Of course, power and libido are made for each other.  I witnessed the downfalls of many pastors, usually due to a secret sexual life that leaked.

            Then there is the issue that religion and the concept of God are completely man-made.  “God did not create man in his own image.  Evidently it was the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization (Hitchens, 8).”  If you take the Bible literally (which many Christians are taught to do), God comes off as a complete mental case and a reflection of the lunacy of man.  And religion is responsible for more lunacy than anything else in the history of humanity.

            “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience (Hitchens, 56).”

            It seems lazy to never question religion, or explore all the evidence against it.  But it has more to do with fear.  When you are infiltrated with a belief system from birth, and told that everything else is wrong, and everyone you know is within the faith; if you leave, you have nothing at first.  You have to build a new life.  You have to change the way you’ve been trained to think and die to the old self to be reborn an individual.    

            People will always try to explain the universe.  And the more unbelievable it is, the more people are apt to believe.  “It is not snobbish to notice the way in which people show their gullibility and their herd instinct, and their wish, or perhaps their need, to be credulous and to be fooled.  This is an ancient problem.  Credulity may be a form of innocence, and even innocuous in itself, but it provides a standing invitation for the wicked and the clever to exploit their brothers and sisters, and is thus one of humanity’s great vulnerabilities (Hitchens, 161).”

            For a while I explored other belief systems - Buddhism and concepts of Hinduism, Shamanism and Wicca.  Anything mysterious seemed like it might be the thing.  But it all turns out to be the same.  An insecure chosen one who claims to know all the secrets, while the further in you go the more sinister it becomes.

            Religion is only made real by the minds that believe it is real.  And religion will exist as long as there is fear - fear of ourselves, fear of death, fear of each other.  Religion thrives on fear.  And powerful people take advantage of this.  They have always done their best to silence anyone who questions.  “All religions take care to silence or to execute those who question them (and I choose to regard this recurrent tendency as a weakness rather than their strength) (Hitchens).”

            The claim of all religions is that you will be freed from pain and suffering if you believe.  But I have not found this to be true.  In fact, my experience with Christians was always just the opposite.  Repression equals depression.  And as Christians look down on other people, it makes them feel just a little bit better.  On one hand they function as a servant to God, on the other the ego is served through a God that cares about their minute details.  At my college it was a common occurrence for a boy to approach a girl he’d never spoken to before and say, “God told me that I am to marry you.”  How wonderfully self-serving!    

I believe in a universal connective energy between us.  I feel that other dimensions do exist.  But none of it has anything to do with simplistic notions of good and evil.  I am not a child who needs rules and boundaries and bedtime stories.  I am an adult who is open to the full experience of birth, life, death, and what lies beyond.

            Life after religion is a gift of happiness.  I speak my mind, and question, and gather information and always remain in awe of the fact that the universe is full of inspiration in its own right – overlapping layers of time and existence, a beautiful and heroic place made even more amazing without the existence of a man-made God and dictator.  I am at peace with the unknown.    

 

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Congratulations - you've been born again.

P.S. - As a Wiccan, I'd be interested in your experiences that led you to conclude that "An insecure chosen one who claims to know all the secrets, while the further in you go the more sinister it becomes."
I appreciate many of the philosophies of Wicca, but within the Coven's that I experienced, the hierarchy aspect bothered me. I understand the need for teachers, but prefer that more on an equal footing.
Makes perfect sense to me. Having been raised much like you were, I can relate on many levels. Reading, "The Road Less Travelled" in college (many years after it came out, ha!) opened my eyes to the brainwashing by religious groups that can really skew a person's common sense. The biggest tragedy, to me, is the families that are torn apart by hyper-religious family members who could use some mental therapy. R
Ah, a coven. Of what brand, if I may inquire? Many of the "trad" ones are quite hierarchical and guard "the mysteries" - tho there are no mysteries, none that can be guarded and eventually revealed to obedient covenors anyway.

One of the weaknesses as well as strengths of Wicca is anarchy and lack of any central responsibility or set of standards.

As the long-time HPS of my (grudgingly accepted by some as within the trad umbrella) coven, I can assure you that some of us are loosey-goosey, and "teaching" is what you pick up as you go along.

BUT not to to persuade you to try again. Too much chance involved - plus you already got the t-shirt.
Religions are all shackles--every single one of them. Live your life as Hitchens prescribed and did--throw off the doctrines and live your life unfettered by chains.
Taking that first step out of the life you were raised in can be frightening, but if your path is justifiable to you, then it is the right path.

As a Buddhist, however, I feel it necessary to correct one thing ... where you state "An insecure chosen one who claims to know all the secrets, while the further in you go the more sinister it becomes." is not entirely correct. The Buddhist religion teaches one to find their *own* truths, because no being has all the answers.

In the end, if you conduct your life in a manner that promotes peace and compassion, you don't need religion to tell you what to believe in.
I Love your last sentence.
Who dare explain mystery,
harmony, the unknowable,
respect a few do Believe.
`
Leo Tolstoy was at odds with the church.
He said "If I believe 'stuff' good happens.
When I insist I know nothing happens.
I paraphrased him. apology sometimes?
I sure can'y describe the Laws of Nature.
Gnosis. a word "lord" use to be Respect.
Lord?
It's a humble sense we humans are frail.
We're part and parcel of universe/cosmos.
Con C. once wrote:
agnostic is less argument than a`atheist.

I paraphrased Con Chapman. apology. ah!
A Boston Lawyer babbles with 2- year old!
He talks to a baby toddler babble in court!
tease
I think we are safe with humble non-knowing.
"Lord" in the past meant something governs.
How does the Universe keep unfolding? Huh?
We are all lucky/fortunate we no fall into a`
`
Vast dark space
planet gets hit
a meteor crash
we see` Lights.
`
Congrats on EP.
Eat ice cream
Sprinkle colors
see a rainbow
`
Who taught birds
they sing beauty
who made me?
Ma and Pa`
they did a`
nasty in a`
cornfield.
`
I am nor sure.
I agree that my quote, "An insecure chosen one who claims to know all the secrets, while the further in you go the more sinister it becomes." is a bit of a sweeping generalization and this is not always the case. But unfortunately, it's more often true than not.
This is a very well written piece! I appreciate your honesty and find your early experience of religion and God heartbreaking. I hope you will take the rest of my comment as purely an expression of my opinion as someone having had a different experience of religion than you! I think you paint with a very broad brush when you say,"More and more I began to see that pastors and leaders in all faiths are simply people hungry for power." I don't think that saying "pastors and leaders in all faiths" is fair. I know pastors who are very willing to ask questions, to explore and allow for and experience doubt, to wrestle with suffering, who seek deeper meaning in life, who seek and embrace mystery and the unknown and who encourage other believers and "not sure" seekers to do all these things as well. I know pastors who are compassionate and caring, giving loving leadership and encouragement to their communities and their congregations. I'm sorry you have never met one.

To limit your criticism to pastors doesn't seem fair to me either. You can replace "pastors" with Senators, Teachers, Coaches, CEO's, Presidents, Bank Loan Officers, Police Officers, Town Selectmen...or simply, "some Human Beings." I know that you are not alone in your experience of "religion" and I am sorry that your experience and the experience of many others is so oppressive and repressive but there are power-hungry people everywhere. Some people are abusive and controlling. Some people are uplifting and freeing. I don't think it's fair to blame "ALL religion", or God for that matter, for how people choose to use or abuse it.
I'm not a religious person at all and most of it drives me crazy. However, I know a lot of people who are not judgmental about it and whose religion brings them comfort and probably makes them better people. I respect that and even envy it a little. I think everyone needs to find what works for them.
I kinda feel you failed to prove the connection between God and religion other than taking someone else's word for it. All atheists are gullible like that.
I'm a Christian, albeit a progressive one. In all groups there are people who are damaged by group ideology, on how it is perceived and applied. Throughout history, we've seen horrible examples of what formalized religion can do and wonderful examples. Churches are group, made up of human beings, some bad, some good.

The Christianity I know doesn't discourage the seeker -- it encourages the seeker, and encourages harmony among persons with different or no beliefs.

Peace.
Can anyone prove that there is a connection between God and religion? Can anyone prove that there is a God? That is why it's called faith.
Very good: if there is a God, it cannot have anything to do with religion. And yes, every time you ask the clergy a tough question there is always one answer: Faith. Excellent post. R
Believe in God, or not- but who seriously believes that humans, with all of our imperfections and limitations, could be the epitome of advancement, achievement, and universal evolution? If you don't presume that human beings created the universe, (and if you believe that the universe exists empirically and not merely in your private consciousness) then there are powers beyond our mortal abilities to understand and comprehend. Nobody can eat the entire feast, we aren't prepared to handle more than a slice of cosmic reality. We divvy up into camps and protect our individual slices of what we hope is fractional understanding, and we call that "religion".

Religion, like all human beings and like all human endeavors is plagued with imperfection. Many of those imperfections are glaring, hypocritical, destructive, and far too often dishonest. Many, many churches claim they have the "one true path" to God.
That is more often an indication that rather than having the "one true path" they lack even the very first clue.

Consider the example of a construction zone. There's a building going up in downtown Seattle. The project consumes an entire block. The construction firm has built a protective fence, next to the sidewalk and surrounding the job. Here are there, there are peepholes where a passer by can get a look at the building process.
No peephole can see all four sides of the construction zone. Every peephole reveals a different, partial view of the whole.

Down at the construction zone, there is much to learn about the central reality by asking the fellow around the corner "Hey, what do you see from your particular angle?" It sure beats heck out of arguing (or even going to war) over who might have the more "perfect" view.

I spent 30 years away from the church. It took all of those 30 years, exploring the spiritual wilderness, to become an actual Christian. You can't earn it, or learn it, and it isn't at all about "following rules" or observing a bunch of "thou shalt not!"s. For me, (my little slice), it was about learning that man is a spiritual being, who lives in a spiritual reality. Once you get through that door, the specific road you follow is not critically important. Every religion, and every atheist, struggles with the same human questions and is looking for the same answers- peeping through holes in the construction zone fence.
Ohhhhhh! You've really done it now! The magical cloud people will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger. Sound familiar?

I've got no problem with spirituality, but religious Gods are all over the map. I'm with Hitchens on this one, they are either obsessively neurotic at best or totally imsane on the other end. Big Top Revivalists, TV Evangelists or the Pope, they are all from the same mold. It's all about power, control and MONEY!

More people have likely died in the name of religion than any other cause. The intolerance of true believers is astounding. I could go on forever, but I see you've already seen the true light. Carry on.

BTW, excellent essay.
Excellent post. I'm a Christian, though I'm constantly doubting and questioning everything and I certainly don't take the Bible literally. I grew up in a family (and entire town, it seems) who do take the Bible literally and believe you'll eternally burn in Hell if you don't, so I've strayed quite a bit from my roots. Voting for Obama put me on some prayer lists in my hometown, I think. I agree with pretty much everything you say in your post, but for me it always comes back to what Jesus taught. If you scrape away all the other nonsense, he had some pretty good lessons -- helping the poor, loving everyone, stuff like that. Somehow everyone forgets about that stuff even though it's the whole point, so Christianity has become something else altogether. The big question is this: was Jesus just a great guy who taught everyone about peace and love, or was he really the son of God, and is there a God at all? I won't stop questioning it until the day I die, I suppose. I'm sure it's easier for people who can just faithfully accept whatever they're told, but I'd rather use the brain God gave me. Oops, I guess I do believe in God. Some days I see it all as a big bunch of man-made nonsense, and other days I believe. I think it might be a bit odd to assume you have the right answer either way when it comes to the mysteries of the universe, but I suppose we all find our own answers. It's unfortunate that for many people, the answer is a belief system that allows them to judge everyone else. I don't think that's what Jesus intended his message to be, certainly, but so many Christians pay attention the crazy stuff in the Old Testament and the obnoxious stuff that Paul said in the New Testament instead.
You hit it on the head with "Religion thrives on fear."

Reason is a much harder weapon to use against fear and much less effective in many cases.
Chuckling over the idea of pastoral power.
This article deserves serious comment....and you've gotten it. I will try not to repeat what has already been said.

Whether or not God exists, religions do....and, as artifacts, religions can be evaluated and criticized in terms of their effects.

I am constantly amazed by the number of very rich evangelicals I've come across who attribute their success to their faith....and they're right.

It's their faith that has made them successful....not their Gods.

It has been truly said that faith moves mountains because, as a psychological motivating factor, faith enables people to do things they wouldn't otherwise attempt and, sometimes, they are successful, but it's the function of faith - rather than what the believer believes in - that encourages the faithful to take risks that lead to success.

Faith is a psychological function that can be described as "belief without evidence." The ability to believe without evidence is a powerful trait, but it has nothing to do with fantasy gods and irrational religions, which use faith to control the faithful.

It's not what you believe in, but the process of belief itself that brings people to success in life.

In life, you have to believe in something because without beliefs life becomes untenable. Tenable means able to occupy. Untenable means you are not able to occupy.

Religions school people to believe in dogma and doctrine, but dogma and doctrine limit belief, which is how religions control the religious.

Faith without belief is the special doctrine of the esoteric schools that teach the techniques of spiritual development without the window dressing of superficial belief.

Certain schools of Sufism practice and teach this system of form without content, having effectively eschewed religion from their meditation practices. Some Hindu sects also practice faith without belief. Some Buddhist schools do the same.

In the end, however, there are two problems for people in our situation: the need for structure despite disbelief and the need for community.

The need for structure is absolute. The human being is only human within a matrix of social conventions. Where do these social conventions come from? Some people argue for a God gene, that good behavior is a survival trait. Others argue for an innate morality, which amounts to the same thing. Neither have the force of conviction behind them.

We look at the laws that govern our behavior and ask where do these laws come from. Oddly, when you investigate them deeply enough, most of the laws we are in accord with date back, literally, to Genghis Khan, who changed the entire structure of society itself in a single generation by making changes that today we consider simply good behavior....and Genghis Khan was a devote animist, who believed that everything was sacred to the extent that he was the first ruler to declare absolute religious freedom.

The world is a more complex place than the religious can tolerate, which is why they retreat to their religions and the comfort they provide.

Living out here, in the real world, takes real courage.
Thank you for this article. You did a wonderful job of articulating many of the feelings I have had regarding religion, but have been unable to really wrap myself around.
I understand where your thought process is coming from, and I respect it. I am wondering, however, if you have ever heard of or taken note in the world religion of Bahai? I feel at the very least it may interest you. If you ignore the social and political ties, and take only the text, it sounds as if it very well may mirror your view point on the universe.
I don't quite understand how one can realize that gods are bogus and then settle on the idea that there is a "universal connective energy between us". That's a nice idea, but no different than saying Jesus love me. It is a yearning, uniquely human, for this life to mean something. It is a yearning for something that matters.

The fact is, as far as I can tell, nothing we do adds up to anything. Life is absurd, and it is far better to have never been born at all than to be imbued with conscious awareness of mortality and be stricken utter impotent to do anything about it, except trot out happy lines about universal energy.

You take the godless stance further, to its logical extreme, and you are forced to deal with the big nothing, and it isn't a happy encounter. I agree with everything you wrote about religion thriving on fear. Yet, Jesus, or whoever, gives those people a story that helps them avoid the void. My atheism provides no tidy narrative.

I'm not saying I like religion. I think its awful, by and large. But I understand it. Fear of the void is sheer absurd terror, and nothing happy can be made of it. The only thing one can hope to do in the face of the void is accept it, and move on. There is no universal energy. There is no meaning to be had. Life means nothing. Accepting that is the only option.
Lauren,

It is a brave move to put yourself out there in such a way, writing about something that is so personal and, obviously, painful. I am sorry for your negative experiences because of church and religion, which I separate from faith. As a minister, it pains me to see that institutional religion can cause pain to people. There is a great deal of toxic religion in our world, but I do not believe it is at all reflective of God, or of authentic faith. And, I would add, not all churches, ministers, or Christians are about fear and power, that sadly many are. I think you are right that religion should be questioned. Too many people are afraid of questions, but any faith that cannot withstand questions is not really authentic faith. Thank you for your post, and blessings to you.
"Religion is only made real by the minds that believe it is real."
Living ethically, being a good human and appreciating the good in my life gives me comfort. I try to NOT HARM anyone and understand why those that cause harm and injustice do what they do. i do what I can to prevent those from doing harm to others and myself.
Being free makes us responsible for our beliefs and actions; we are free to define our reasons for how we live. We construct our own rationalizations and relationships to the world and what is in it.
Be free.
Peace.
I find comfort in your essay, Lauren. I was raised very similarly and went to a Christian college where I first began questioning what I had always been taught. I wasn't brave enough to question too far, though, and lived under the cloud of Christianity until my 40s before I finally broke loose. I've never felt more honest with myself.
Bravisima! Rated for raw truth, vitality and courage.
I have no words to communicate how deeply I can relate to what you've written. Maybe, I grok, if you know the reference.

You should also read The Belief Instinct by Jesse Bering. It's amazing.
Perhaps, the experiences you have with religion on "inside" of those you tried out helped you break free. For me it was the time my best friend got drunk before school and passed out under the sink. She was then promptly dropped from my churches special choir, handbells and not given succor. I left organized religion at age 17. I've missed nothing because I felt deeply discouraged by condemnation of D.

Now, today I pray to SheGod full of warmth and mirth who doesn't use people for gain, and am reading History of Christianity- The First Three Thousand Years and my disappointment in 1983 is just barely a scratch on the progress of Christianity. Cruelty, in-fighting and exclusion and politics began in the build up to Christianity as we know today. If you'd like to know the scope of how it began to today then get the DVD and watch a magnificent story.

I just want to encourage you to go to Bali or Japan and spend sometime as an observer of their religious practices and processes. Two images stay with me today.

Japan- Sasebo- 8pm- I'm walking in the park to see a ritual to honor those who passed before. Figures are leaning over and place candles in colorful paper boats. Heads bow and I look up and down the shining river- lighted by the candles and boats floating away to...
Absolutely breathtaking in the symbolism and beauty and it was so peaceful and the air tinged with very quiet talking as family members left together.

Bali- I'm walking about the village or small town near my hotel. I notice a beautiful expression to their God or I know not what. I had noone to ask.

Leaves about the size of 6inches or larger- deep green are covered in flowers and petals. Sometimes there is a glass of water. I asked the staff at the hotel about these displays and what they meant and it was basically common practice to thank and to remember.

Not all religions are cold or hard or damning. Not every place in the world uses it as a tool to coerce people. And, Bali is when I turned my God figure into a woman with mirth and joy and independence who loves ALL all of the time. I just could not see a male figure encouraging petals of flowers as offerings.
I think it is good to believe in nothing until you arrive at your own conclusions.

Sort of like clearing the palate.

So many people leave mainstream religion, declaring their enlightenment--only to jump into some other fantastical pre-fab belief system.

When I shed belief, I thought that I may be subjecting myself to a life without comforting and consoling thoughts.

But the opposite happened--my lack of belief has opened the possibility that anything is possible and that turned out to be the most comforting thought of all.

Stay on your journey, if there is an undeniable truth -- you will probably run into it.
Take the argument a little further. Religion is pretty hard to justify if there is no such thing as a soul to save. The religious can't even agree with each other what a spirit is or whether they exist. How can one convince me I need jesus when there was no such person? Searched your whole life to be a buddha and never found enlightenment? You must be doing it wrong.
Welcome to the real world,Lauren. We offer you nothing and give you no consolation. We only give you more questions and struggles. But truth is beauty. I wouldn't have it any other way!
Thank you for sharing your experience. As a recent transplant to the Bible Belt, I find a lot of behavior and thinking behind it pretty inexplicable. Stories like yours help me understand where the people I now know as neighbors are coming from.
Tipping my hat to you. Welcome to the Cult of Reality.

There is a connective energy between us all and between all that is. We are all energy and if Higher Energy Physics teaches us anything, it's that we are engaged in a process of learning, understanding, searching and being. The true seeker asks questions and, while the answers are nice to get, they are less important than the reflection and introspection necessary to come to terms with the likely possibility that none of this is real, that there are no easy answers and that most of us are really just trying to manage to survive each day without killing off someone else in the process.

I like to see it this way: If you believe in God, then life is a miracle, granted by a Creator and all life should be respected as having been worthy of being created, then perhaps it's not something we should destroy wantonly?

If you ascribe to a belief that there is no Creator, no God, then it's all just random chaos that got us here to the point of being able to contemplate the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything -- and that's pretty damn miraculous, too, when you get right down to it.

Being spiritual requires no religion and no self-important God/Creator to put you in the position of being who you truly are and who you think you should be. It definitely doesn't mean anything more than that you believe in something greater than just you.

Being religious means you ascribe to a specific set of principles, beliefs and dogmatic positions that are, by the very nature of Religion as Created and Commanded by a Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient God are unassailable and infallible.

The oddest thing is that the three major religion all actually have the same God. And in each faith of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (in the order of their inception) there are splinter factions that will happily glorify God by Thou Shalt Kill each other, not to mention their steadfast determination to destroy their bretheren, preaching to the same God, just because they don't believe it the same way.

Two words for that:
In
Sane

If there is one other thing they have in common it's this: Your life, if lived in service to God, will be glorious for sure, once you're dead.

Jesus today would have been at an Occupy movement, wearing sandals, having a beard, preaching against the establishment and having his freak flag flying in the breeze, grow it down to there, shoulder length or longer. In short, Jesus was a hippy.

In organized Christian (primarily evangelical sects) religion, Jesus today would be wearing a silk suit with tie, close cropped blonde hair framing his clean shaven face and the best Florsheims money could buy (Doc Martins are for ass kicking bikers, so those are definitely off the lists) and he'd have a fat wallet.

He'd be part of the 1% if you believe the media hype.

So, I'm here on the fringes, wondering how so many of the faithful can be so blind to the teachings of their own religious head? Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, fed the poor, consorted with tax collectors, assailed the Pharisees and the Sadducees for being "establishment" Jews who followed the rules without knowing the why.

That's the reason for the parable of the man who finds the Book of Law in a field.

And I'm no Christian. I believe it's misinterpreted about Jesus. "There is no God, but through me," didn't mean you had to worship Jesus as the Son of God to get to heaven. I think he meant that you had (or have) to be willing to recognize your own spiritual godhood and that the only way to see the divine in all things is to recognize it and act on it in yourself.

In the meantime, this reality may not be all it's cracked up to be. We could be living in a holographic calculation of possibility of an application inside a cosmic computational system that started with the Big Bang and ends when the lights go out.

I came across a nutjob called Zecharia Sitchin who wrote:
The Twelth Planet (and others) that are based on his reading and interpretations of the ancient Sumerian cuneiform clay tablets (well over 25,000 tablets have yet to even be examined beyond cataloguing them as extant and in this or that pile) that reveal a possibility of Gods as Aliens who genetically engineered us into a fast paced sapience (in much the same way David Brin's "Uplift" series details in principle.)

Is it true?

I have no idea, but of all the earthly explanations for religion, religious stories (like the flood, for example, or the upheavaling of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the apparent fickle and contrary actions of "God") and man's place in the world, it makes a helluva lot more sense than the Bible being the infallable and ineffable Word of God, accurately transliterated by Man at His request.

None of us know what lies beyond. Even believing we simply stop and turn into wormfood (or ash if you prefer cremation) is nothing more than belief without proof -- or an act of faith.

My point of view is this: So what? My mottoe is this: Live as well as you can with as many others as you can without stepping on someone else's toes.

Everything else is, like all that we experience, is subject to interpretation.

--peace and rated--
"I believe in a universal connective energy between us. I feel that other dimensions do exist."

This is not belief; this is truth. The Universe is fabric. Disbelieving this merely proves credulity and the absence of actual education.

"Religion is about authority and control." (Steven Hawking)

I will go with the guy who put rovers on Mars ONE MILLION PERCENT OF THE TIME over some fool at a keyboard who hasn't the huevos or estrogen to quit drinking or whatever their problem is without the need to sing about it with a bunch of other addicts and imbeciles every Sunday- all "praying" to the transit of the Sun in relation to Earth's orbit of said star. They DO NOT call it Sun Day for nothing folks ...

Further, a close look at the 1st Century refutes any and all claims made by the so called Christian of today- ignorance, credulity, insecurity, ad nauseum. Revealed religion is the domain of the weak and the scared.

Auwe (Alas)
And how many people would take to a belief in God absent the teachings and social and family pressures put on them from an early age? Nice post Lauren.
First, congratulations on your Editor's Pick. And, secondly, kudos for your courage to put yourself out there, sharing you inner journey with so many.

I loved your final sentence, "I am at peace with the unknown." To me, this statement alone shines as testimony to both the beginning of your journey and to where you find yourself now. Indeed, to be able to both appreciate and live with Mystery is an amazing place to be.

Might I add, this one sentence alone speaks, for me at least, to what is missing in so much of what we call religion these days. This is not relegated to only the world of Christianity. In any religious system where people are measured by what they profess to know without a doubt, little room is left for an experience of awe, mystery and transcendence. If anything, such an experience is discouraged, rather than encouraged.

I have long believed that any true encounter with that which is holy; any authentic realization of our "smallness" in the Universe; any epiphany or "aha" moment, will be one that is both unsettling and amazing. Unsettling in that we realize we are not the center of it all; amazing in that we realize the same.

Reading your wonderful post, I was reminded again of the richness of the spiritual journey, as well as, the incredible power of transformation.

One last thought: if you have not read Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," I encourage you to do so. You will love it.
I would never try and change your mind or anyone else's. Not even Christopher Hitchens' mind. But you're equating God with religion and they are not the same thing. You ask if anyone can prove there's a connection between God and religion. Loosely defined, a religion is a set of beliefs or deep convictions usually concerning the purpose of the universe. It is man-made. There's only a connection if whomever created the religion bases it on an entity called "God."

What you're really asking is your second question: Can anyone prove there is a God?

I'd answer with another question. Can anyone prove there's not?

Personally, I don't get hung up on that question. I got my own proof, to my own satisfaction, and I'd never try and impose it on anyone else. Why would I? I couldn't care less what anyone else believes or doesn't believe, as long as they don't try to shove it down my throat. That's where religion becomes problematic but don't blame God for that.
You are 100% Margaret Feike. A more apt title for this article would have been, "Why I Never Believed in God." This is just an attempt to get cheerleaders to rally around someone that thinks they're above God. One of the 7 deadly sins is Pride. This is a perfect example of pride. God DID make man in His image and He gave them free will. If you accept God, it would be impossible to ever reject Him. The writer is definately more at odds with religion and I question weather or not she belonged to a cult. I am Catholic and I can only say that in all my years I have never heard it said that if you believe in God, you will get rich. That's pure insanity. My religion is not based on fear. We believe that fear is evil. I also have never been told that I can't question my religion. Questioning is one thing, changing is another. People feel that just because murder is against God's law that they should be able to change that law because they don't agree with it. Sorry but this notion is FALSE. God is a mystery and the only way to Him is through your heart. If you think there is some type of mathmatical equation that equals God, you've been mislead. For those who belive, no explanation is necessary and for those who don't, no explanation is possible. One thing is for certain, In the end you will either be in heaven or hell for all of eternity. Amen
You are 100% Margaret Feike. A more apt title for this article would have been, "Why I Never Believed in God." This is just an attempt to get cheerleaders to rally around someone that thinks they're above God. One of the 7 deadly sins is Pride. This is a perfect example of pride. God DID make man in His image and He gave them free will. If you accept God, it would be impossible to ever reject Him. The writer is definately more at odds with religion and I question weather or not she belonged to a cult. I am Catholic and I can only say that in all my years I have never heard it said that if you believe in God, you will get rich. That's pure insanity. My religion is not based on fear. We believe that fear is evil. I also have never been told that I can't question my religion. Questioning is one thing, changing is another. People feel that just because murder is against God's law that they should be able to change that law because they don't agree with it. Sorry but this notion is FALSE. God is a mystery and the only way to Him is through your heart. If you think there is some type of mathmatical equation that equals God, you've been mislead. For those who belive, no explanation is necessary and for those who don't, no explanation is possible. One thing is for certain, In the end you will either be in heaven or hell for all of eternity. Amen
It was much easier for me to swear off, as I never started believing. I was "confirmed" in the Methodist Church at age 13, which is a sort of white-bread midwestern Bar Mitzvah, and I was told by our Pastor that it would change my life. It didn't. I liked your piece very much.
I find comfort in living in a world of the real. I spent a lot of time on "spiritual journeys" that always led me back to the real world. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade so to speak but I've known and lived with some fairly devout Christians and none of them ever got what they wanted from God. They prayed for peace, for relief from pain and suffering and the only real help they got was from narcotics. Okay, bear with me here for a moment. Since many will say that the narcotics came from god's creation that it counts. If that is the case then why is it that god's gift is regulated and prescribed only by physicians? Anyway the point is that while many find a religion when faced with mortality what has happened to me is that there is nothing beyond what we see in front of us and to commit evil under the guise of religion is offensive to everyone.
AWESOME writing. Thank you. -shawn
Such a complex issue and you have touched upon the many arguments. I do think its an extremely personal challenge and respect each person's right to believe or not to believe. Thoughtful, interesting post, thanks.
This is spot-on. Well done, Lauren.
The Author quoted Hitchens several times and the Bible not at all.

It appears her early instruction to avoid things of this world were for naught.

Remember: The most effective lies are the ones that seem self-evident. If there were a man-made-religion, do you really think man would add things like: Universe created in six days, burning bushes, resurrection from the dead, healing crippling diseases and blindness with words and laying on of hands? Who'd believe that?

No, the truth IS stranger than the lies of man.
You might notice that this blog is devoted to the review of books I read and the way in which they relate to my life. I have read the Bible several times in my life, but obviously, it was not the book of the week. And if you read a lot of books, you come to understand that the imagination of human beings is extraordinary, as is self-evident in the Bible.
And for Frankie B., you say that your religion is not about fear or pride yet you speak of 7 deadly sins, and your belief that I am going to hell. The fact that you are telling me what my life experience has been, aka never having believed in God, is also prideful on your part. Your entire post is a contradiction.
the imagination of human beings is extraordinary, as is self-evident in the Bible.

yes." Imagination is the Godhead, the intellectual fountain
of humanity, the Christ within." wm. blake, a devout man.

herein hitchens god bless his soul doesnt talk about
true religion:

"“Violent, irrational, intolerant,
allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry,
invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry,
contemptuous of women and coercive toward children:
organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience "

organization of religion is like catching water in a
leakproof bag then sending it to someone in
the mail. the flow, it is just gone.
I'm not sure what the 7 dealy sins have to do with fear but it seems you're mincing words again Lauren. First, I never said that you were going to hell. My exact words were, "In the end you will either be in heaven or hell for all of eternity." Your fate is not for me to judge, it is between you and your maker but your judgement is for certain. As for the 7 deadly sins, pride is the root of evil and your pride comes from showing God, your parents (and the rest of the world) how much more intelligent you are then they. Lastly, I am not prideful by saying that you never believed in God, I'm factual. Unless of course you're acknowledging Gods existence. Are you acknowledging Gods existence Lauren? If so, then I was correct in stating your Pridefulness and you were the one that was contradictory. Amen and God bless.
I once thought as you do that if you believe in God at one point, how could you possibly doubt his existence in the next. The answer to this question is found in the gullibility of human beings. Over and over I tried to fool myself into believing what the Bible and the Church told me. I was convinced that I felt God all around me. But since God was a figment of my imagination, it was not only dangerous, but delusional. Through this experience, I understand full well how the church has felt justified to commit such horrific crimes throughout history. The mind is very powerful, and faith is very powerful.
Having stepped away, studied, explored and pondered - I have finally found peace. By sharing my journey, it is not my intention to hurt the people I love who feel otherwise. Rather, I want my voice to speak for those who are arriving at similar conclusions. If you feel challenged or stretched in the process, I have done well.
Amazingly well and I'll leave it at that. The species is a long, long way from being able to take responsibility for it's own part in creating reality, with rare exception. As far as going to hell, well, as I've told many C's who've tried to convert me, "Do you realize how patently offensive you are when you tell me I have to do what you say I have to do to be "saved"? "Because that would mean that just about everyone I've ever cared about who didn't, wasn't "saved" and is in hell, in which case, that's where I want to go too, so I can meet up with the people I loved." Amen.
Poor Hitchens, whose last words were, "Wait, I was just kidding! Pick me!"
Lauren, I don't feel one bit challenged or threatend by you. As a matter of fact I would be willing to go toe to toe with you anyday. I do agree with you on the fact that you're delusional. My question to you is, if God is a figment of your imagination, then what are you tyring to prove?
You're speaking a different language here Frankie B., and revealing the failings of religious thinking for us all to see. I have nothing to prove here, and neither do you (in faith, nothing can be proven). Everyone's experience is individual and unique, and that is why we share it with others. It's not an issue whether our voices ever meet in the middle. My comments to you end there.
Really? Ha Ha. When weasels like you mince words and downright lie and then get confronted with truth, your typical reaction is to back down. Good job Lauren.
It is impossible to debate on religion when it is not based on fact. And furthermore, I choose to not debate with you because you're only interested in hitting below the belt.
Religion, to me, is like heroin. If you need it, fine. It's only when you try to stick the needle in my arm, or try to get me to pay for your fix, that I have a problem. As a barely functioning alcoholic, I could probably have come up with a better analogy.
Wrestling with the big questions! Good luck on your progress. Although I think you should be willing to remain open to the Universe and what it teaches through the slow miracles all around us. Please try not react in bitterness or cynicism; harsh dogmatism afflicts atheist and believer alike, religion has no monopoly on discord, hypocrisy, or egomania. Hitchens was a brilliant thinkier and writer, but he, too, in his way was like one of the blind men who sought to explain the elephant from his own limited perspective. I sense from your words an intelligent but troubled mind searching through the dark for a harbor where all will be lit, but the journey itself may provide your answers; do not confuse the perceived destination for what you learn along the way. Great minds through the ages have left markers and signposts. Don't be afraid to draw upon these. You have a lot of life experiences yet to come and all will take you to unexpected places and teachers.

A comment to an Open Salon post is not going to solve your problems or answer all your questions, but I felt I should respond in some meaningful and positive way, because your story mirrors what so many people feel in these bad times (and probably have always felt). I would add that it is never wrong to question faith. Faith that cannot stand the light of logic or debate is false faith.

I suggest Joseph Campbell's writings, Chesterton, and CS Lewis for some thoughtful input from believers who were also tormented by doubts. And the ancient Stoics -- Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus. They will make you feel in the company of friends. And you've studied some Eastern concepts, so you'll understand when I echo George Harrison and leave you with a last wish: Beware of sadness, beware of maya. You are life, and you are the miracle you seek.
PS:
"The claim of all religions is that you will be freed from pain and suffering if you believe. But I have not found this to be true. "

Oh, no -- this is quite wrong, foolish even, and when such a carrot is dangled, you should be suspicious. That's not religion, it's snake oil. Read some CS Lewis on the problem of pain and what it is to suffer in life, and you'll realize that to believe IS to suffer. Free will and intellect produce pain as the byproduct, even apart from the many pains and evils of this marred world. Only non-sentient creatures know no pain. None of the great masters and mistresses offer a recipe for a pain-free life. Not gonna happen. The difference is in how you deal with the pain.
I've read Joseph Campbell and C.S. Lewis and agree that they are great minds. I appreciate other points of view. But I have reached the end of man-made belief in my life and I am excited to embark on the next phase with an open mind. I still believe in the mystical and the magical. Even the miraculous and the magnificent. In fact, the universe becomes even more so without a grumpy deity who can't seem to get it right. George Harrison's quote is magnificent.
Lauren,

Some of us have been where you were, and are where you are. Thanks for writing this and giving voice to this sometimes painful, sometimes wondrous journey. I'm about as atheistic/skeptical as one can be, but that doesn't mean having to surrender all sense of mystery and the numinous. Might I suggest you acquaint yourself (if you haven't already) with Robert Anton Wilson? That guy was on a parallel track from you and he can twist your brain, in a good way.

http://boingboing.net/2012/01/10/robert-anton-wilson-week-on-bo.html
Thanks for the suggestion! I have put a few of his books on my wish list, and his work looks fascinating.
LJB - You wrote: "More and more I began to see that pastors and leaders in all faiths are simply people hungry for power."

You are a simple mind goofball, and are an embarrassment. An egocentric narcissist. You have freed yourself from everything but knowledge and understanding. I am sure you will enjoy yourself.

Just out of curiosity. Have you ever even heard of The Didache? How about the Martyrdom of Polycarp. I don't care if you decide to get naked in a sweat lodge and screw five guys on top of a black alabaster alter. But I am compelled to judge you less then intellectually worthy of the pleasure.

Have you ever read the Koran. Do you know chapter eight describes how to divide the spoils of war? Ever heard of The Martyrdom of Polycarp? Ever looked into The Shroud of Turin? Have you even heard the word Talmud?

Do you know the reason why you are not banging your head five times a day towards Mecca? There are three reasons. Charles Martel, and the two separate investitures of Vienna. But then I do not suspect you have a clue about any of this.

I could get really creepy. The Standard Model Quantum Mechanics. Entangled Particles. There just is no end of it. I do not tell you, or even suggest to you, that you do anything but what you are doing. But I really really want you to know just how silly silly you are.
You're completely right about one thing, you could definitely get more creepy. But you lost me at the misogynistic altar fantasy.
You guys should not be judging Lauren. Please. Especially to all the christians out there. The Bible states to "shine your light" and to show people that there IS a God who truly loves you. Sure, there are limited facts. You cannot talk to King Solomon or question David why he really danced, but that's when your faith kicks in. You believe in what you hear. It is normal to have doubt, but don't take it into perspective. That turns into satan just whispering into your ear words to say that will insult God, your Lord Jesus Christ. And you know what? God still forgives you. He let you be free and have ALL these kinds of religions. He never forced you to praise Him. And that is beautiful. Who are we to have a say?? Seriously! HE created us, not ourselves. You hear it over and over. Jesus died for you. I know, you get it. But do you really understand what that signified or how much pain it took? JUST so MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, you could turn over to Him. He's not asking for you to prasie Him 24/7. He's asking for you to enter Him into your life. He has worked wonders in my life and to fellow christians around me. He's changed the path of destruction to light. How great is our God! I've seen testimonies all around me. I heard this young man say how he was going to commit suicide, but the Lord heard his cry. That man did not want God. But before his suicide, he told God and prayed that e couldn't take it anymore! And you know what? He also asked God where he was all his life. He pulled the trigger. There was no blood. He didn't die. the pistol somehow did not pull. Right then, he heard a voice that said, "I've always been here with you. Why do you think he's still alive?" I encourage you to give your life to Christ. He takes away all your pain. You could call Him imaginary, but there is a reason why he isn't on this Earth. He is waiting for you to answer Him. God bless. Something that encourages me is listening to KLOVE. It speaks greats testimonies and there are so many encouraging songs to listen to. God bless you all. I may not know you, but I know you enough to say that I love you through Christ. Because by His wounds, we are free!
@Chuck Gould:
Must you assume that your building is constructed by a higher power? In other words, must the building be constructed by something greater than the building? We have seen what tiny ants can do, and our skyscrapers and massive bridges need not be constructed by giants, but by complex collectives of humans tiny and insignificant compared to their work. An enormous tree can come from a tiny seed.

To imagine a great intelligence must have constructed our universe is a fallacy of limited human imagination. It answers no questions, but only creates a whole new set of questions, namely who or what created your wonderful intelligent creator?

It is just as hard for our limited minds to imagine the existance of nothing as it is to understand why there is something rather than nothing. If you carefully consider the cosmological argument and the concept of first cause, there is no reason to feel comfortable that a power of enormous intelligence must have been the unmoved mover, or that a first cause must exist at all.

The universe could have been constructed by swarms of tiny robots smaller than quarks. It could be a hive of miniscule near-nothings, rather than a great creator that caused our universe to come into being. The possible scenarios for the origins of our universe are endless, and anything but scientific enquiry is mere speculation that is next to useless and nearly meaningless, including the musings of desert nomads sitting around the campfire in the bronze age that so many people who lack imagination have found compelling for so long.
Good post. Re: your parents thinking religion wasn't fun enough; the religious often assume that being an atheist is about wanting to sin, about having immoral instincts, and the desire to indulge in hedonism without consequences or punishment.

Of course any thoughtful atheist who has read deeply about religion and sincerely pondered the questions of existence and death and creation and birth knows how ridiculous this shallow notion is.

Your parents are actually being "reasonable" and "logical". The problem is the premises they have accepted long ago without ever questioning them. If one starts with faulty premises, the best logic in the world will lead you to invalid conclusions.

So if you cannot see any way to doubt the premise that all persons of good-will must be religious, or the premise that all morality has its source in God, then your mind is effectively locked in a religious cage, constrained to reach religious conclusions, just as a river is constrained to flow inside the channels created by its boundaries, the riverbanks.
YOUR WRITING IS SO EMOTIONAL AND TOUCHING..SORRY MY ENGLISH,I AM GREEK...I AM IN THE SAME ΡLACE...AND I AM WANDERING IN WHAT TO BELIVE..YOUR WORDS "It felt like I was in a life or death struggle" DESCRIBE THE AGONY IN WHICH TRUE BELIEVERS ARE!! BEST REGARDS!!