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After Faith: Vestigial Beliefs
In past hubs I've talked a bit about my escape from the Fundamentalist religion of my parents, particularly the more extreme and often silly views of my Father. But my journey from superstition to skepticism wasn't a simple quick procedure, it was something that took several years of wandering through various beliefs which, in many ways, took the place of the Christian beliefs I was more and more leaving behind.
In this hub I hope to explore a bit more of my personal journey focusing more on my journey after I'd already stopped being an ordinary Christian. The chronology here may be very confused because after the loss of (most) of the beliefs I'd been instilled with I became a wanderer, what one might term a spiritual panhandler, going from religion to religion, belief system to belief system and trying to find something – ANYTHING – worth believing in.
If Not Christianity, Than What?
The first form that my post-Christianity beliefs took were, understandably, variations on Christianity itself. Even as early as age eighteen I was exploring different interpretations of the Bible. I didn't want to be spoon-fed from the pulpit, I'd been fed enough guilt and shame and was convinced that the best part of religion were the positive aspects. I'd already read through the entire Bible and I was not impressed by most of what I found there.
In my research I'd learned of an early sect called the Gnostics, who believed that a divine spark of sorts existed within us all. In this way Jesus might be something naturally internal to all human kind, a divine savior living in all of us. I even found verses in the Bible to agree with my interpretation, even if I had to play word games with them. I would get into debates with my Father on the subject of the Bible's alleged infallibility and say things like,
“Jesus said, I AM THE WAY, the truth and the life. He said I, as in the individual person, no middle-man required.”
When Jesus taught the Lord's prayer, I continued, he taught them to pray “OUR FATHER,” not “MY FATHER” and this, to my teenage brain, suggested that Jesus was showing us ALL how to be sons and daughters of God. My image of Jesus' God changed as well for in my studies I learned of the belief that the Old Testament God was actually an evil one called the Demi Urge. This fit in perfectly with my growing revulsion for the injustice of the Old Testament. I couldn't reconcile the idea that there was a loving creator with the claim that this same merciful God wanted Joshua to slay every person in Jericho, or get revenge on the Egyptians by slaughtering a bunch of innocent kids the same way Pharaoh had.
The idea that Jesus offered salvation from sin by simply dying to cover all sins, from the simple white lie to the actions of a mass murderer, didn't sit right with me. The idea that I had been taught was that if a person sincerely repented there was only one sin God couldn't forgive, and that was blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, not murder, rape, or any vile thing I could think of.
I didn't like this, it didn't make sense in my mind. Here was Jesus telling his followers to cut off their hand if it caused them to sin... but why would he do that if those same sins were covered under his blood sacrifice? Why would Jesus tell them to worry about the log in their own eyes before pointing out the speck in other peoples? Why would Jesus tell them to carry their OWN cross if HE was going to carry the entire burden HIMSELF?
It sure appeared as if the Gospels had conflicting messages. On the one hand Jesus was teaching the disciples to be responsible for their own sins and carry their own burdens yet according to what I was taught it was Jesus who took the blame, the sin, the shame all on the cross for all of humanity. In church we were often guilt-ed with the idea that Jesus was thinking of all of us on that cross when he uttered those words, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (an odd phrase to say if, in fact, his death was a good thing for humanity). My new version of Jesus was one who taught people to become their own savior, pick up their cross and own up to their own sins.
The late great Bill Hicks
This idea was bolstered partially by a comedian I'd discovered named Bill Hicks, who despite not really being an atheist has a great many atheist fans. Hicks repeatedly slammed religion during his brilliant but far too short career, espousing a new age style belief that we were all ONE and that there was a source of divine light within us all. Hicks was a known user of hallucinogenic drugs (particularly mushrooms) and often talked about his experiences while taking them.
Hicks view of God influenced my own though I never went so far as to actually try the drugs he suggested over the next few years I would do a lot of searching for God both within and without.
If not Christianity, than Aliens?
Even though I'd given up any idea of traditional Christianity and was now very open minded (gullible would almost be a better word) I was still very opposed to the idea of evolution due to my creationist upbringing. Evolution was tantamount to absolute atheism and in my mind at the time atheism might as well have been cynical nihilism of the darkest most depressing kind. The idea that we were all bunch of monkeys on a ball of rock, worthless and doomed to a death that brought only oblivion, was unacceptable to me.
I'd always been interested in aliens and despite my upbringing had never been closed off to the idea that they were out there somewhere. I was a huge lover of pseudoscience and most of legitimate science as well. Now that a God was seeming more and more unlikely I began to look more closely at something which had always intrigued me but which I hadn't really given much thought, the Ancient Astronaut “theory”.
Like with most WEIRD topics my initial reaction was to eat up as much material as I could find, and, again, like most WEIRD topics the rabbit hole went deeper than I could have possibly imagined. I was transfixed by the idea that most ancient cultures had very similar creation stories that involved gods which typically lived in the sky. Of course at the time it didn't occur to me that this was a gross simplification of the thousands of creation myths proposed throughout Earth's history.
I remember lying awake one night listening to some speaker on youtube, perhaps Sitchin, Von Daniken, Icke, or Tsarion, I don't remember who exactly. Suddenly I had an epiphany. I had, for years, been perplexed by what humans found valuable. Gold, silver, diamonds, precious metals and minerals that we fought and died for even though some of them served little industrial purpose especially when refined to the levels required for jewels or coins or gold bars. What gave a gold bar any value? Was it simply that gold was fairly rare? Were we really so stupid as to be THIS transfixed about shiny objects?
It all became clear when the speaker I was listening to explained that the Annunaki (what these alien beings/gods were referred to as) had engineered us to dig up the metals they needed for their home planet and technology. It was like a bolt of lightning – OF COURSE. We were a slave race! It finally made sense why people were so susceptible to herd mentality and being controlled by the wealthy and why people seemed to love worthless shit like diamonds sometimes more than they seemed to care for their fellow humans. It was something we were genetically or psychologically programmed for by aliens, a vestigial remnant of a time when they sent us to dig up their gold.
Of course looking back there are so many holes in this idea that it falls apart immediately but, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. I even took, for a period of a few months, to the 2012 hysteria sweeping the interwebs at the time (this was around 2007 if I recall) and the idea that 2012 was the return of our alien masters.
Web of Weird
During my search for truth I delved deep into every corner of the internet. In 2007 I joined the world's foremost conspiracy and fringe topic website, Abovetopsecret. The rabbit hole seemed infinitely deep. There were the 9/11 conspiracies with Alex Jones and David Icke and all sorts of voices leading the way. The New World Order was meant to come out of the aftermath of September 11th and that was all run by the illuminati and Free Masons, who killed Kennedy, were in league with interdimensional aliens and/or demonic forces and were secretly writing messages into music, movies, and all manner of pop culture.
The web of pseudoscience and conspiracy is a deep and rich collection of interconnected ideas and details strung together by tenuous threads of absurd and often self-contradictory information. Needless to say there was a great deal of time where I didn't know what to believe anymore, where any piece of information was suspect and often what felt right or “resonated” was what I ended up believing.
For a time I was obsessed with all those Ghost Hunting shows on television and even went out on various paranormal investigation. I was even allowed to tag along with a local investigation group at an event hosted by my college philosophy professor, it was a weird experience but it helped me realize that amateurs with audio recorders and cameras are not going to be the ones to crack the paranormal wide open (supposing that there is something to crack at all).
Deism, Reincarnation and the Ridiculous
During my post-Christianity search for the truth of life, the universe and everything I bumped into ideas too absurd and silly even for me to take seriously. Admittedly I usually missed the irony between what things I deemed too stupid to take seriously and the things I believed at that moment. One such hypothesis I ran across first in high school when doing an assignment but came to revere as one of the most hilarious things I'd ever heard. I'd always been fascinated by bigfoot stories, part of it was just a love of a good scary story and as a child I'd always been afraid of bigfoot. That fear was coupled with curiosity, after all everyone who saw the creature seemed so adamant that it wasn't a bear, it wasn't a man, it wasn't a hallucination and they weren't lying, they had seen the Sasquatch. So the question of what exactly bigfoot was came up. Was he part of our evolutionary chain, or a relic like the coelacanth? Or was he, dun dun duh, an ALIEN shape-shifter?
Yes, that's right, there were some proposals on the internet that bigfoot was a shapeshifting spirit or even an alien. Even I couldn't take the idea seriously but websites purported that it was the only explanation for why bigfoot tracks found in the wild seemed to stop abruptly and why photos of the elusive beast seemed blurry ALL THE TIME... clearly that meant bigfoot was in the process of transitioning forms to hide himself from the camera.
Other beliefs I touched upon were more reasonable. For a short while I became enamored with the founding fathers and their version of theism, known as deism. Deism proposes a generally uninvolved deity, a god who creates the Universe, sets it in motion and then sits back and watches it spin. I liked this idea. God as a tinkerer in a workshop, like Da Vinci or Ben Franklin, inventing the Universe and then letting it play itself out rather than poking his head from the clouds to smite sinners and burn cities with brimstone. This was a God that could only be understood through naturalism, a God that wasn't even necessarily supernatural or even necessarily a living being.
Another belief, one which I found very emotionally satisfying for a time, was the idea that God was the Universe. This pantheistic view held that the view of modern religion, that we were separated fallen creations held apart from God by our human nature was a sick twisted perversion. We weren't apart from God, I believed, we were a part OF God. In this way I was able to keep that internal voice, which I had long equated with God, alive, and get all the same warm and fuzzy feelings I'd enjoyed from Christianity without worrying that tomorrow my family was going to be raptured away and I was going to end up in hell for looking at too much porn or swearing or just not being a Christian anymore. It was all the positives with none of the negatives.
To this pantheistic view I attached the after-life of reincarnation, though I admitted to myself that no deity was needed for a cycle of rebirth at all. In fact on many days this version of God was just a nebulous positive force, not a personal deity, but an internal spark I could tap into for confidence and direction. Reincarnation had to be my preferred after-life, it was the only after-life system I could find that didn't want to make me pull my hair out.
The idea of living forever in Heaven or Hell always terrified me, probably because I actually believed it was true and tried to imagine it. For the life of me I couldn't figure out a way where living FOREVER in Heaven would be fun, eventually you'd get sick of singing Yahweh's praises and want to die. In my mind Heaven wasn't any better than hell, better food perhaps but in the end you're given no choice but to be alive without end, for billions of ears and eons and eons after that still. So reincarnation was appealing.
It was an after-life, meaning I also didn't have to be DEAD forever, I could live on but my soul's memory would be almost entirely wiped. I would get to try again, get another shot at living a better life. The core of who I was would be similar of course and perhaps even fragments of past-life memory would give me hints of who I was before but it wouldn't be as mind-f**kingly awful as living as the same exact consciousness for eternity. Like most believers I found others like me, read and researched stories of people who claimed to be reincarnated and was bolstered by what I found. To this day I am disappointed in the way many skeptics deal with reincarnation, they seem to assume that EVERYONE who claims to be reincarnated believes they were once a Prince or a Queen, but in fact many claim to have been ordinary people.
I even sat down one night and wrote out whatever came into my mind about my own past-lives. I was a blade of grass in the Tunguska blast of 1908, a dog starving on the streets of war torn London in World War 2, a Samurai sentenced to death for eloping with the Emperor's daughter in the 1600s, a Chinese worker who died building the Union Pacific railroad, and many more. I never believed any of what I wrote, it seemed too easy to come up with them, the stories seemed to flow into my head. We humans relate to each other, we're empathetic, we latch onto stories about each other and the issues we deal with, even fictional ones and are influenced by culture and being that I've been an amateur author of all sorts of stories since childhood I discarded the ideas that these lives were anything but imaginative fiction plucked from my brain.
Being Honest with One's Self
Many of my last ditch efforts to believe were just that, efforts -attempts at self-deception. I knew full well that the evidence for these things simply didn't add up and that in the end there was no good reason to believe any of it. Sure it gave me a bit of hope that maybe death wasn't the definitive end of life and that maybe, in the end, there was something, some god, some explanation, at least a good punch-line.
In the end though I had to be honest with myself. The gauntlet of weird beliefs, vestigial remains of a time before I applied my skepticism fairly, that I have either personally held or at least researched is a long one. In many ways I still enjoy and appreciate these weird beliefs and even have a hub series dedicated to talking about some of the weirder stuff I've encountered over the years.
The search for truth doesn't end but now I feel much more honest with myself about what, exactly, constitutes truth, and what is simply my own desire to believe attempting to supplant rational reasonable thought.
Life, I decided, is like a Monty Python sketch, it's more about the silly bits in the middle than it is about trying to have a clever punch-line at the end. Thanks for reading.