Just Trying To Fit In
-- Even As A Believer!
Larry D. Chadwell
I just finished reading one of your columns, in which you described your experiences with Christianity and asked God to help you overcome your unbelief. I've often had problems with unbelief myself, especially in the past week or so. However, I remain a Christian and have great personal reasons to remain so. I feel that there is sufficient proof that God exists, as much as you feel that there is proof He does not. Please respect those of us who have reasons to be theists -- just as I respect you for believing otherwise.
From the same article, the following quote, in which you mention an apparent reason for becoming a Christian, caught my eye:
To think I did all this hoping I might find purpose, fit in, and make a few friends.
I find it unfortunate that you did not find such fulfillment in your experiences as a Christian, but I offer my friendship to you. It is horrible that many theists in this world ignore that atheists are human beings too. Whatever a person believes does not make him a monster. To put it simply, I feel for you guys. Some of the crap you have to put up with is just appalling.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Larry D. Chadwell"
Subject: Re: another matter
Date: October 27, 2001 11:12 AM
Woven throughout that piece are subtle clues telling the reader the many reasons I jettisoned religion. What I did, basically, was list the several reasons why I thought it was false and why I felt it was not for me. Then, using entendre and oblique mention, I worked mention of all these things into the piece, not necessarily as a denunciation but just there. It is a unique application of the abstract that I've done only a few times.
All this is hung upon the overt plot line, which is, of course, the sheer loneliness of it all. Yes, it might have helped if I had had even a few close Christian companions during those years. Not only was that simply not to be, it was not even the main point: most of all, I never felt the "presence of God." Everybody talked about it, but I never felt it. I eventually stopped letting it bother me. My faith was based entirely upon the "promises of God," and never once did I feel a subjective religious experience.
So, when we started scrutinizing the claims of the Christian religion as part of a ministry training course we were all taking, giving every element of our faith the third degree, my brethren quickly embraced the more existential elements of their faith in favor of the apologetic and doctrinal elements. This was the pastor's goal, of course: he wanted us to see that the Christian claim was anything but cut and dried. We had committed ourselves by faith, and it was the "presence of God" combined with our commitment, our promise, that would carry us through just about anything. Little did he realize that at least one of us didn't have any existential experience at all. There was nothing there for me to embrace.
About the same time, several traumatic experiences, combined with several other wonderful experiences shook me free from what had become quite a terrifying ordeal. I was, for three years, afraid to even move. I had ended up drawing the conclusion that my very life depended on my continued faith. This was not true, of course, but that's how it felt at the time. Since I had no religious experience, it behooved me to study all the apologetics books I could get my hands on, simply because my faith didn't have anything else going for it. Toward the end, I hung on for dear life. Looking back I can see just how miserable I was -- even looking back from the perspective of a few weeks after leaving!
Today, I have a completely different set of problems, but my ideology does not seem to be a very big part of them. This is because with atheism, my ideology is not a very big part of me (as you'll see in some of my more recent columns). What's crippling me today is not my outlook but more my health and my economic situation. I really don't have the wherewithal to leave Portland, Oregon. Even if I did, I really have no place to go. But I am getting nowhere real fast up here, and I don't really know how to change. Way too many things have me shell shocked. Portland has always had a unique set of problems, and none of the problems that are getting me down today have ever been a problem anywhere else I've lived. Most of this stems from the fact that I have no family here, there's nobody that I grew up with in this town.
Sometimes life's ironies are more cutting that you could ever write as fiction: my main reason for even going to church was for the social benefits that are always touted as one of the reasons you'd want to be religious. And it was the absence of those benefits which got me wondering about the validity of the whole thing. Had I found myself happy in a social situation, I might have overlooked the other discrepancies and might still be a strong, working member of the church.
I appreciate the kind words. It's good to know that somebody reads these things. Just as the whole banana as far as the website and everything goes is here to support the print edition, the entire print edition basically revolves around an excuse, really, to write that monthly column! For this reason, it's especially good to know that somebody found them, much less reads them!
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