Two Things That Unexpectedly Prolonged My Theism

There are a lot of things that kept me in the faith that aren’t surprising: inspirational speakers, science-y sounding authors, the love of my family. That I was a practically born poet and loved The Matrix prolonged my theism? A little more unexpected.

If you’re a former theist, feel free to share anything that you used to justify your faith — wackiness not required, but definitely encouraged.

My Poetic Side

Smart people are incredibly good at convincing themselves of things. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a smart person, but I am pretty good at forming arguments. That doesn’t always mean that what I’m arguing for is correct, just that I’m good at arguing for things.

Though I don’t rely on poetry for my arguments anymore, my ability to draw parallels is what started my interest in better argument formation. I was able to make analogies that seemed very clever and apt, convincing myself that my position was also very clever and apt. Analogies-as-reasoning are classic religious tactics (Christians comparing the world to an airplane, anyone?) but Islam is a particularly analogy-loving faith.

The Matrix

In the first (and, in my heart, only) Matrix movie, audiences were introduced to the Oracle. In the *shudder* sequel, the Oracle said something that I found profound because I was a teenager:

Neo: But if you already know, how can I make a choice?
The Oracle: Because you didn’t come here to make the choice, you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand *why* you made it. I thought you’d have figured that out by now.

I had struggled with the seeming contradiction of Allah having predestined the world and yet people being responsible for their actions — in some cases, so responsible that they’d be condemned to infinite punishment for a finite crime. What the Oracle said seemed to make some kind of sense to me. It sounded wise and cryptic and deep. In those moments where I felt I didn’t understand it, I figured I must not be smart enough.

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Two Things That Unexpectedly Prolonged My Theism
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11 thoughts on “Two Things That Unexpectedly Prolonged My Theism

  1. 1

    Oddly enough, my love of fantasy and sci-fi served to be an underlying solidifier of my devotion to religion. I love the idea of magic, or of cosmic systems beyond our current understanding, and I figured that Charismatic Pentecostal Christianity was real magic. Like, Harry Potter could wave his wand all he wants, but we had the actual, real power of the Holy Spirit to actually heal people and cause miracles and do other magical things. We didn’t call it magic, but it was, and it was the closest thing I could get to thinking I was in some kind of awesome otherwordly system.

    I always suspected something was off with everything I believed in, but several other “normal” factors (such as being taught that it was true from a young age, social forces, fear of hellfire, etc.) always convinced me that my doubts were just a weakness and if I just prayed hard enough I could totally live in a real life fantasy world.

    And I definitely wouldn’t have admitted it was all fantasy at the time.

  2. Ed
    3

    The mystical and inner devotional element. I was fascinated the idea that God was a being or power that was infinite, beyond time, containing all knowledge and wisdom. I had pantheistic leanings and was drawn to the idea that this entity that was so vast and cosmic was also within us, and present in every moment. With this came a feeling of being loved and comforted and life having intrinsic meaning and beauty. Even though I had been exposed to the idea of a petty, angry God, as soon as I was able to think for myself, I always associated God with love, acceptance and connectedness.

  3. 4

    These have been a real interesting look at the thoughts of the faithful, however long after the faith. I never had that experience. I’ve often thought how much I’d love to believe in the supernatural, even stuff that had nothing to do with eternal life. Why no magic or psychic powers or ghosts etc? I feel that less now, not sure why. Mostly I just hope for better medical treatments for the sick people I care about. Science, bust yo ass!

  4. 5

    I saw the Matrix with my friends after sitting the last of our Religious Studies exams. It was kind of weird in that context all the religious symbolism (religious symbolism in art and other media being something we had studied). The weirdest bit was that the oracle has a sign saying “Know Thyself” (like the Oracle of Delphi). Our teacher had a sign with this over his classroom door.

    Like you I thought I must be missing something since so many clever people believed it. The collective worship requirements in UK schools meant that we were proselytised to in school assemblies and made to pray and sing hymns. Religious Studies was different, we were taught about religions. I thought choosing it as an option would strengthen my faith but it just gave me more reasons to doubt and showed me how self-deluding some very clever people are.

  5. 6

    I stayed as a kind of vague, transcendentalist theist for many years after deciding the Bible was no more divine than any other book. The main thing that kept me there was the observation that a similar code of morality seemed to have developed spontaneously in so many cultures around the world. Surely, I thought, if people were governed by consciences that functioned almost the same, despite such varying backgrounds, then their minds must be connected in some way — if not by a conscious deity, then perhaps by some kind of moral field, akin to a magnetic field. So many people are “inspired” with similar thoughts — that inspiration has to come from somewhere.

    What blew that out of the water was meme theory. Oh, perhaps certain types of altruistic behavior evolved because societies that encouraged them had a competitive advantage over societies that didn’t? Hmm, that’s a waaaay better theory than the one I was working with.

  6. 7

    The two things that prolonged my theism were the Emergent Church and Kierkegaard.

    For those that don’t know, the Emergent Church is basically a group of (mostly white and mostly male) evangelicals who think they’re somehow revolutionary for discovering liberal theology all of a sudden. But I was young and thought evangelicalism was the only true form of Christianity, so I bought it. They were actually pretty supportive. Whenever I expressed my doubts, they usually said, “It’s okay, faith and doubt go hand in hand. Besides, the Virgin Birth didn’t really happen. Neither did any of Jesus’ miracles.” After about a good two or three years of deconstructing, I finally realized there isn’t really a god after all. Whoops!

    In “Fear and Trembling,” Kierkegaard says that faith isn’t supposed to make sense. It’s supposed to boggle the mind and fuck with our reasoning. Once again, I bought it for a while, then realized having faith doesn’t guarantee God will reward you.

  7. 9

    Kirkegaard had a place for me, too–doubly so since he’s my namesake. So did C.S. Lewis–not his actual apologetics (which I didn’t read until after I’d gone most of the way to dropping my faith, and which never really had much persuasive power), but rather The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.

    TGD, in particular, did a solid job of addressing my concerns about the idea of Hell–it actually seemed to be a way of describing a fairly sensible afterlife of a deity that had compassion for his creation, without tossing out the idea that you at least need some sort of moral code to make the grade. You can choose at any time between a world of, if not exactly delights, at least common comforts (note the couple at the beginning, who obviously leave the bus-stop to go and snog like rabbits) and potential intellectual curiosities, OR you can opt for moving up and onward, ending up in the land of real apples and unicorns.

    Screwtape, meanwhile, shows that for all of Lewis’ many, many, MANY flaws as a logician, he at least had some insight into human nature. The senior devil of his letters has excellent insight into how humans would deal with one another if we didn’t get lost in our bullshit (and then, of course, describes in detail how to make certain that never happens). Even on subjects like spiritual pride, he got in some nice zingers.

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