Faith No More: a cautionary tale
Terri Julians finds some sympathy for people who cannot let go of dogma – She was one of them.
It is very difficult to admit that, after years of believing in something which sustained and fulfilled you to the point of certainty, that you have probably been wrong, misled, deceived or just plain gullible.
A faith or belief on which so much rests is not easily abandoned, which is why I do sympathise with those of faith who doggedly and in the face of so much contra-evidence, hang on to their religious beliefs for dear life. Sometimes it is all they have that makes their lives seem dear to them.
I can honestly say, as a result of my own experiences, that it physically hurts to face yourself and admit that all you have built for yourself which has sustained you through the worse of times, which enabled you to cope with the death of loved ones and justify all that ever happened to you, is actually built on foundations of jelly, albeit a very tasty and seemingly fulfilling jelly.
When the foundations do finally give way and the edifice of belief comes crashing down, it also grabs your insides on the way, and brings your guts, your heart and “soul” and the whole sorry mess down with it.
When it happened to me I lay stunned and injured in the metaphorical rubble trying to get my senses back for quite some time.
Even after it happened I did not want to accept it. I tried with all I could muster to bring it back; I searched using all the old tried and trusted methods; I saw it as a test of my courage and faith, a well worn cliché for such occasions. I called on all the forces of nature, all the spirits and loved ones. Jesus, St Francis, the Tao, anyone and anything at all, to help me get it all back. Nothing happened. Nothing.
As pathetic as it sounds, I really did feel like a naked child out in the cold, abandoned and terrified. I was totally alone with it all to the point where I completely believed there was no point staying alive. I had lost everything, my home, my value; I had failed utterly. I was hospitalised in a psychiatric ward for 2 months; when I came out I was a homeless person living in a tent for nine months while trying to hold down a full time job.
Everything that once sustained me now brought pain; birdsong reduced me to tears so much so that I had to cover my ears. I was unable to look at flowers or listen to beautiful music. The world had become a foreign and foreboding place to be in. I felt abandoned by everything and everyone.
Chance, a very forward thinking and caring GP, and to be honest, a certain amount of bloody minded determination, caused me to stand up on my own two feet, look at the world through new eyes and see it and my life for what it actually is rather than what I wanted it to be or thought it was. Only then could I see that all my beliefs, all my certainties were based on pure wishful thinking; what I wanted them to be; because facing life without those beliefs was just too bloody awful to contemplate. It was a sink or swim moment and I learned how to swim for my life, albeit ungracefully and without direction for a while.
I say all this to hone the point that we would be wise to realise how painful seeing truth and abandoning faith actually is, especially when you think you already had that truth.
If you have a sudden revelation and all in a flash your old faith doesn’t cut it anymore, then that’s all right; you kind of “see the light” and it’s an easy step into Reason. However, if, like me, your faith sustained you, was your best and only friend through the trials and tribulations of all of your life, justified your pain and soothed your fears, then you want to hang on to it, against all reason.
Faith is a giant safety net
Hardship, grief, despair, loneliness are all caught in that net and bounced off into the arms of “God“. God has an answer for everything and they don’t need to be understand, just accepted.
This is why people of intellect, apparent wisdom and reason, can still maintain the juxtaposition of faith and belief in a deity, a creed, book or a hierarchy of priesthood. Even with their logic and wisdom, the thought of being that lost child fending for itself for the first time is overwhelmingly abhorrent and terrifying.
Faith is subjective, therefore only you know how much it affects your life and actions. Only you know the void left when it is gone and only you can deal with it.
It’s a bit like the movie The Matrix; you get a choice of pills; the red one will transport you to reality, with all it’s horrors and discomforts; it may be harder to face that reality with nothing but your reasoning but at least it’s the truth, at least it’s the real world and real life.
The blue pill, however, will enable you to stay in the Matrix, unaware that all you are seeing and experiencing is unreal, a sham. It is an illusion to keep you servile and compliant but it’s better than reality. How many times would we ask the question, “why oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?”.
I think we have to understand why so many people do take the blue pill. Why, when faced with evidence, facts and common sense, so many good people prefer to stay in their Faith Matrix.
Once you step outside there really is no going back not unless you are prepared to live your life knowing you are living a lie just to make yourself feel better.
I have spoken to people who have lost so much yet gained a real sense of comfort by the thought of this “god”. One couple I spoke with had 3 children killed in a head on collision, their whole family wiped out in an instant. The only way they live with this trauma is to convince themselves that God is aware of this, had a plan for their children and that they, the couple, would find strength in this knowledge. They convinced themselves that they were somehow singled out by God and were part of a grand plan. The event actually strengthened their faith and they were applauded for it.
Now it could be that, without that “faith”, they would have crumbled into pieces. They would have been reduced to gibbering wrecks; shells of their former selves trying to deal with this tragic loss.
Had they been brought up to understand the way life really works, that the terrible crash which killed their family was a random accident; the children were in the wrong place at the wrong time and a series of circumstances, all of which could have played out differently, just happened to play out to a tragic end, then their mindset may have been geared to deal with the harsh reality, however unjust, unfair or cruel it turns out.
One of the main reasons for clinging to faith is “Divine Justice”.
That all the horrors of the world, all the atrocities on small or grand scales, are somehow documented for scrutiny by a god who will make everything alright; who will punish the wrong doers and placate the victims.
People of faith believe that this will happen. It allows them to cope and it is comforting to believe that, no matter what pain or injustice you go through, someone somewhere is seeing it from all sides and keeping account of it.
If you are a good person then you know God knows you are a good person. If you make mistakes he will know you had a weak moment and will still love you and help you work through it.
To turn away from this “certainty” is to turn away from everything that helps you make sense of non-sense situations without losing your sanity.
To contemplate life without this eventual Divine Justice can be too difficult for some people.
To accept that unfortunate things happen randomly or by cruel intent, and that, apart from following the due process of civil law, there is NO justice to be had now or in the future, is anathema to our learned responses.
Deliberate acts of cruelty, torture and murder, on any scale, usually have no justification.
Shit happens and it often happens to the best of people while selfish, cruel people can prosper at their expense. A rapist may win the lottery, an innocent child may get hit by a truck.
Fat, greedy kings keep all the nations wealth to build themselves palaces while the children of their nation die of starvation.
Some people are bemoaning the fact that their central heating has gone wrong while others are trying to claw their children out of the rubble of earthquakes.
None of these things will ever be put right through a Divine Justice but many people simply cannot contemplate this. It is easier for them to go through life convinced that, one day, all this will be put right; that one day, this heavenly entity will put his arms around them and say “it’s ok, I saw all you went through, you coped well and I love you” and then they run into the arms of you’re their children.
Another way of coping is to perceive all the horrors as part of a divine plan. That god always knew what was going to happen and watched it play out because it was part of his plan.
However painful the result, this justification is actually fuelled by the pain because your pain is proof of your faith. You trust God to know what he is doing and, if taking your babies from you through a violent act was his plan then your duty is not to question it but accept it, even though you don’t know what that plan is. You faith will be rewarded when the Divine Justice is eventually dished out.
For the Faithful all becomes resolved through Divine Justice. God sees it all and has plans for all concerned. The pain of loss is slightly lessened by the thought of ultimate come-uppance for the perpetrator and absoloute, everlasting life and love for the victim.
For the Faithless it is a different story.
No matter how much we may like the idea of Divine Justice, we simply cannot accept it; it goes against reason and reality for those of us not in the Matrix.
How do we deal with trauma and grief? Through pain. It is inescapable I’m afraid and part of being human.
Some dissolve under its weight and never emerge whole again; their life grinds to a shuddering halt. Others come through and actually find some strength by using their own experience to help others who find themselves in the same situation. Through their experience and pain they help someone else. The Religious will claim this as their own; however this is not the case.
All of us, with or without faith, are capable of this act of selflessness.
It can be a self helping device to find some solace from a seemingly impossible grief.
Some manage this, some do not.
It is down to personal resource and the love of others that we manage a terrible situation.
For this we can and should take the full credit.
The strength and power of love and compassion which a human is capable of is astonishing.
It is born of a natural resource which some possess more than others for whatever reason.
The Faithful prefer to give this credit to a deity. The Faithless see it for what it is and humbly acknowledge it.
In an ideal world there would be Counsellors available to help people cope with the loss of their faith. People may find help to overcome their experiences of being part of a Cult; I see it as the same thing. The psychological trauma of abandoning or losing Faith should not be underestimated. It can, for some, be an existential crisis; one which can be overcome through finding meaning in ones life without the need for wishful thinking and platitudes.
I admit I still struggle from time to time; I was brought up as a Spiritualist and still hope there is a life after death as I had always believed. Although even in the midst of my beliefs I did not accept any idea of a personal “God”, the thought of someone, somewhere loving you unconditionally is a comforting one. Maybe it takers a degree of courage to stand alone in a scary world.
I still wonder if there are dimensions of existence which have yet to be discovered and quantified which may one day prove the existence of individual consciousness.
Yes, I have heard all the arguments against this but I still wonder about what we do not yet know.
The one thing I am certain of, is that whatever we have yet to discover, I hope to goodness there is NOT such a thing as “God”.
Terri Julians is a Phlebotomist in the NHS and a military history illustrator. She is passionate about promoting secularism, Humanism and freedom of speech.