Thursday, September 5, 2013

Undercover Agnostic (Update 19): “I Wish I Could Believe Sometimes”

“Is that a pentacle or a pentagram?” I asked “Mark” as he took over for me in the guard shack because the guy who normally works that night shift for early in the week had called off. I was asking him about a tattoo on his right arm.

He said it was in fact a pentagram, he said he got it some years ago when he was “mad at god”. He grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist background, and was beginning to separate himself from Christianity, and was feeling a lot of anger about his time spent in it, and what he had been taught. He had no connections to Satanism, either now or at the time, but regarded it as a kind of “screw Christianity” kind of message, like some hard rock singers and death metal bands viewed the pentagram in the 70’s-90’s.

He said he wished he didn’t have the tattoo now, mostly because it was so visible, he said he has other tattoos, but he kept them in places out of sight, places where a short sleeved shirt would easily cover them up. He said now that he considers himself an atheist, but he seems at times to be rather confused. He said that he finds many aspects of the Bible to be rather absurd, like Noah’s Ark, the Creation story, etc, and is repulsed by some aspects of Christian theology, (he also agrees with me that the concept of free will in Christianity is a false illusion), but he said something that surprised me, he said he wished he could still believe in Christianity.

He said that he thought that people in Christianity were much happier than people outside of it, and talked about various studies that claim that Christians are happier than other groups. He finds Christianity to be highly contradictory, and rather bizarre, but he’s longing for that sense of joy that many Christians appear on the surface to have. You see, unlike me, he has been very open about his mental health issues at work, he has OCD and anxiety issues, and chooses to deal with it sometimes by making a joke of it, laughing about being on Xanax to keep the anxiety down, etc.

I had told him that in my experience, being a former fundamentalist myself, that many people are not as happy as they try to pass themselves off to be in those circles. People have the mentality that the only true way to happiness is through their belief in god, and their perceived relationship with him. This leads to people thinking that if they aren’t happy, then there must something wrong with their level of faith, or that it’s coming from sin or guilt (I've personally had that said to my face), which leads to a lot of denial that someone has mental disorders like depression or bipolar disorder, or they may recognize it, but deny the true causes of it.

There are many people suffering in silence on those kinds of circles, but they keep plastering on a happy face, and trying to tell everyone just how happy they are because of their faith, the expectation to be happy all the time, and to live up to impossibly high standards leads to what I call the Stained Glass Masquerade. It’s a necessary survival skill that you have to learn in those circles to get through life.

After I talked to him about that, he started to talk about all the anger he used to have about the fact that if god created him, he apparently created him with his OCD, and how angry that used to make him. Why would god create him this way? The discussion kept going on about religion, and he talked about a 12 hour long debate he had once with our fellow co-worker Jason one night when they were both on holiday overtime (for some reason, our company requires two people to be in the guard shack on holidays when the building itself is closed). They sure didn’t see eye to eye on Christianity.

When we were discussing the various schools of thought of Christianity, a conversation that came up because he had mentioned the Calvinistic doctrine of "unconditional election" (the idea that god didn’t just simply know who would accept and reject him, he decided who would do so, condemning some people to hell with no recourse, no way to change their fate), I had told him about more liberal forms of Christianity.

 I had brought up to him the various ideas about hell within Christianity, including the growing idea within more liberal doctrines that hell does not exist at all in the first place, the concept of Christian univeralism, which one of my favorite bloggers, Lana Hope of Wide Open Ground believes in. It’s the concept that god’s forgiveness covers everyone, no matter who they are, what they have done, or even if they decide to accept Christianity.

He was interested in looking into that, since he was not familiar with such ideas during his upbringing, I had talked to him about my many objections to fundamentalist ideals, and with some foundational aspects of Christianity itself, and he agreed with all of it, I think that he doesn’t truly want to go back to Christianity, he is just longing for that peace of mind, the false illusion of hope, the state of feeling like you know all the answers in life with certainty, and without questioning. 


  1. Agreed, I am pretty sure he will not go back to Christianity. More than likely just looking for meaning in life. I have many atheist friends that ask these questions as they try find their path in life.... hell I even ask that question sometimes. I like to think its waking up to reality and acceptance that this is our one chance.

    1. I think the mental health issues are making him long for somewhere he can belong and be accepted. I think this is one of the reasons why an "atheist church" type organization, which some people have started trying to do, could be very helpful, especially for recovering fundamentalists.

  2. "...the state of feeling like you know all the answers in life with certainty, and without questioning"
    -----Certainty closes the door to knowledge...doubt opens it....
    " is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows."---Epictetus.

    Happiness---The Buddhists say that happiness and suffering are temporary illusions. It often seems that we are the only ones suffering--but in reality all human beings go through periods of suffering and happiness.

    In my own life, it was the tests and trials that got me to where I am today as a person---the times of happiness (though plenty) were a period of respite/long vacation so I could face another round of challenges......

    Here is a Haiku (Japanese poem)
    "A grapefruit split open
    bursts forth like joy
    its color and smell"
    ------Hakyo Ishida

    That is happiness......


    1. Certainty closes the door to knowledge...doubt opens it.

      Exactly, but it does feel good sometimes to think that you have all the answers. ;)

  3. The good thing about being nonreligious is that a person can create his or her personal support network without having to be loaded up on crazy dogma.

    It strikes me that many atheists don't grasp how important it is to have an active godless community around in terms of maintaining good mental as well as physical health.

    While I probably would've discussed the more liberal (and in some ways more irritating) forms of Christianity, I wouldn't have framed them as a reasonable alternative to reality.

    1. "It strikes me that many atheists don't grasp how important it is to have an active godless community around in terms of maintaining good mental as well as physical health."

      Exactly, and I think that was the point of the new "atheist church" movement was to do exactly that. I wish someone would start one of those here in the St.Louis area.

      As for the liberal Christian theology, we were discussing theology as it was, and I realized he probably didn't know that there were conflicting views on the doctrine of hell. I wouldn't recommend joining Christianity to anyone, and especially not someone in a situation like this guy, Mark.


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