Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Good People, Bad Ideas

I do not not think that people of faith are stupid. I simply assert that they maintain some markedly stupid ideas. They are of course in good company; a lot of us hold a lot of bad ideas and find it near impossible to shed them.
Why so? Well, we are beginning to understand a bit more about this. Through study of the brain we've learned where many of our impulses arise from, and we can plot them to regions that handle social interaction and similar functionality. Now I can speak only in lay terms, but there's sufficient evidential currency to suggest that it really was man that made God, rather than the other way around. My interest in this has stemmed from wanting to understand my own conversion experiences at the age of 24. They seemed very tangible and authentic, and my life changed dramatically and for the better. This is very hard to explain to those who've not had such an adventure, but suffice to say everything get's turned on it's head. Overnight I stopped swearing, whilst I felt a calmness and self awareness that was unknown to me. The world appeared visually different, and I was able to see people in a new light. They became souls, transcendent, and I recall being in town praying for the salvation of complete strangers. For a Christian, this is where they nod knowingly and assert that it was truly God that changed my life. However, knowing as I do now I'd suggest that's a very hasty conclusion to reach, and for the following reasons.
For one, I had always held a belief in God and had always prayed every day, suggesting a desire to believe that there was something beyond the material. So when somebody comes along and affirms that I was nearly, but only nearly on the right track they were bound to have my ear. I recall being given a paperback called Basic Christianity, along with a copy of the Bible. Inside the latter was penned, "Don't let this get dusty".
I didn't. I read voraciously. I was alone and had a lot of time to reflect and ponder, even though the traffic was only one way. I learned that Jesus was indeed a historical figure, and regaled myself of all the evidences. I learned about the lifestyle, the nature of faith, and literally swam in Christianity for months without surfacing. And then there's the people I met. Wonderful, warm, genuine, nothing like the creepy evangelicals one tends to picture. I formed genuine friendships, and I think I was something of an encouragement to them. You don't see many young men coming to faith in their 20's.
In summary, I ate, drank, and slept my newfound belief. Nobody indoctrinated me; I indoctrinated myself. Perhaps my biggest mistake was that it never occurred to me to step back and consider some alternative voices. Why didn't I read some books that challenged Christianity, or seek out alternative ideas? Easy. I did not want to. I had found hope and acceptance and camaraderie at a level completely new to me. I was a lonely young man from a small town who's life was on the fast track to nowhere. I was perfect conversion material. What happens when you really want to believe something is that you start seeking various confirmations, and these can take different forms. Perhaps a Bible verse, or a word from a Pastor or a friend, or a serendipitous event like a tax rebate prior to a trip away. All signs, all confirmations.  As I reflect on my time as a Christian I say without hesitation that it was largely a positive experience, and the cracks came much later, and for reasons I may write about some other time. Today I just want to reflect on those early days, as it helps me better understand why I took the path I chose. Doubtless any Christians reading this remain convinced that my journey was real, and to them there is nothing I could say that would prompt them to think otherwise. Belief is a powerful thing, piercing us to the very core of our being. It churns up our insides and get's us asking those basic questions that many of us avoid or just flirt with. I know I take a fiercely anti religious stance on many fronts, but my ire is never intended to personally wound. I want to know how the cosmos works whilst I have a mind capable of rising to the challenge. I think out loud and it is clumsy sometimes.

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