Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

Oh God, where art thou?

37 Comments

I’ve been a bit depressed lately. I know we can’t find out truth about God in this life. I’ve given up upon this a while ago. But it would help me to know that there is a God or at least something.

I really admire the way atheists can deal with life. Life is a journey, there is no judgement, enjoy it while you can cause once the light is out, it’s really out. Nothingness. Darkness. The end. And the audience gets up, wipes the last pieces of popcorn off their clothes and leaves. That was a nice movie, they’ll say. What was it about? Forgotten before we reach home. Who cares, there’s many other movies to watch.

If that is true then I have wasted my life. Or at least parts of it. There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s that.

Time is worthless if there is eternity. If time is an endless resource, like in the world of fundamentalism, then you needn’t worry about what you’re doing with it. Sure, there’s only one lifetime so you’re doing something you like and make sure you’re not going to hell, but at the end of it you’ll go to super paradise-heaven land where Jesus plays football with the boys and goes shopping with the girls all day long, at the same time. He’s just cool like that.

What if that’s not true? What if my time is limited? Here’s an easy market law: If a good is limited, price will increase. And suddenly, my time is worth something. I can waste it, or I can put it to use and do something I find my time worth spending on. Whenever I think of this I feel like my parents owe me. Big time. Why’d they waste my time when I would’ve prefered spending it on something else?

I might seem like a calm person but I’m constantly afraid. Where’d I put my time? It’s running through my fingers like water, dripping on thirsty ground. There’s nothing I can do to get it back. Sometimes I want to scream, at my family, my friends, at my readers, at random people on the street: “DO SOMETHING! Time is short! Do something with it! You’re wasting!”

I look back at the time spent and I have nothing left. My time wasn’t put to a good purpose. I have nothing. I didn’t make money, I didn’t learn anything useful, I didn’t make friends for life, nothing. All that I have is a bunch of memories in my brain, and once my time is over they’ll rot away with the rest. Forgotten for eternity. Who will remember me?

My aunt has an old family album. Some photos in it are as old  as 100, 110 years. I look at them, I look at strangers, looking into their blank stare. Who are these people, I ask. That’s your great-grandmother and her sister. That’s an uncle of your great-grandfather. That’s another person you’re related to. I stare at them and I know they’re part of my past, part of my life. Because of them, I exist. And that shames me deeply – I don’t know them. They are forgotten, shadows in the past, and if it wasn’t for that one picture they took (and probably spent a lot of money on), nobody would even know they existed.

Vanishing as if they’d never been there. That is my fate, and yours too, if there is no God.

I know it doesn’t make much sense to believe in something supernatural. But it’s the only thing that calms my mind. And the question of what I should do with this box of life, broken open already, becomes less torturing.

The one thing I cling to in such moments is something I read a long time ago:

Animals in the deep-sea have no eyes because there is no light to see. If we lived in utter and complete dark, if there was no light at all in the universe, we wouldn’t have eyes either. Would we know about light and dark? Certainly not. The ability to even imagine the possibility of light and darkness is based upon the fact that we have eyes. If we can wonder if there is a God or not, doesn’t that mean that there must be something at least remotely similar?

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37 thoughts on “Oh God, where art thou?

  1. “If we can wonder if there is a God or not, doesn’t that mean that there must be something at least remotely similar?”

    No. We imagined God just like we imagined mermaids or unicorns. There is something remotely similar, I suppose you might say – us. Why is it that in the Bible God takes the form of a man? Why does he have a “face”? What man did is imagine a bigger, better man, an all powerful man in charge of the universe just like kings at the time were in charge of cities, and then called it “god.”

    You describe a sense of longing for something more, something beyond us, something greater that offers meaning and purpose and some sort of life after death. I think this longing is why man invented God, and why the vast, vast majority of people on this planet today believe in God. The concept of God offers comforting answers to the many questions we have (why are we here? what’s the point?) and allows us to feel that we can control the world around us (either through prayer, or by declaring that God is in charge so we needn’t worry). It’s really no wonder so many people believe in a God (and remember, mankind has created a multiplicity of religions, all designed perfectly to answer metaphysical questions and offer solace) given the comfort such a belief can offer. Sometimes I wish I still believed too. It would be nice to imagine that I could live forever in some sort of magical happy happy afterlife.

    The problem, though, is that wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true. I can’t believe in something I see no evidence for. I’m not going to spend my whole life wishing for something that I honestly don’t think is real. It would be like spending your life imagining you have a rich relative who will step in and help you if you are in trouble and who will eventually give you a huge fortune. It’d be nice, but imagining it won’t make it happen. Instead, you’ve just got to take your life into your own hands and go about bettering it yourself.

    But those are just my thoughts, Lisa. You feel free to believe as you like. If believe in God comforts you and you are able to believe, far be it from me to try to stop you. Just know, though, that I became an atheist after years of spiritual struggle and found that there is still joy and beauty in the world, and that the idea of death being the end doesn’t really scare me. It just is. But you go wherever makes you happiest and most comfortable, and I wish you luck. :-)

  2. I don’t think you’re asking anything that hasn’t been asked by everyone else throughout history. I know I’ve asked the same thing. And the conclusion I have come to is that the Bible has lasted this long pretty much the same so I will believe in God and live my life with love for God and my fellow man. But I’m not going to get caught up in “doing everything right” or “grabbing all I can get before I die.”

    Praying for you.

  3. Great questions … I ask many of the same ones.
    I’ve made some measure of peace with some of them … and I know there will always be mysteries I don’t understand.

    I’m not sure if the fact that we question whether or not there is a God means there is a God. Maybe we question because we’ve heard so much about him and had so much of our life shaped by his ‘rules’ … and maybe people in general question because religion has been around for centuries.

    I tend to assume if God exists and he is everything and is everywhere … it’s audacious to think he would be contained in doctrine, traditions, knowledge or concepts that I can comprehend. I know there is so much I don’t know … so instead I think that spreading love everywhere and living fully alive, embracing each day and doing the best I can, with what I know at the time is the best way to live life.

    Peace.

  4. One more thing – it’s not just Christianity that makes God out in the shape of man with man’s emotions and desires, but other religions as well. Think of the Greek and Roman gods, for instance! They had relationships and petty quarrels and were as human as human can be. The Hindu gods are similar, and the Aztec gods were as well. I think you’d be hard pressed to think of even one religion that doesn’t picture God (or the gods) as some sort of glorified human.

    There are some religions, I think, that aren’t really religions at all in that they don’t believe in actual supernatural beings but rather in self actualization and in harnessing the power and energy within you. Buddhism, Taoism, some of those, I think. I need to learn more about eastern religions, clearly! ;-P But anyway, I think these are the only ones where you won’t find God in the shape of man, because they don’t have gods to begin with.

  5. Oh, sweetie, my heart aches for you.

    Libby Anne already nailed (much better than I could) everything I was going to say, so I’ll just add a tiny bit. It gets better. Our time is ours (to waste or to spend well). We can’t change the past—just move on to the future, living it as best we can. You will find your own meaning—in things that make you happy, or make the world a better place (ideally both).

    The idea that “there must be something out there” is a hard one to shake—many of my friends cling to some form of deism for this exact reason. But the fact is that “something out there” doesn’t change any of the problems you’ve mentioned—love, value, meaningfulness. We are our own meaning. We create our own value. We find our own love. You will, too. Hang in there.

  6. You haven’t wasted your time. You would have done different things had you been raised differently, but now that you know you only have one life, you’re free to make of it whatever you choose. You can put your past experiences to use in the future. Even writing this blog is helping the world. You’re giving people insight into a life that is alien to them, and helping people like yourself, who have had similar upbringings. You’re contributing knowledge and understanding.You’re so young and every day has the promise of purpose. And the best thing is that purpose comes from your own heart and your own mind. There’s no tyrant up in the sky or tyrant here on earth (pretending to be speaking with the authority of the tyrant in the sky) telling you what your purpose is.

    When you’re feeling especially bereft, you might be comforted by reading some things written by non-believers. You’re not alone.

    Let’s be honest. We humans can imagine all kinds of things that are not only not true, but have no possibility of being true. We imagine time travel and fortune-telling. We imagine the earth sitting on the back of a giant turtle. We imagine fairy lands and underworlds and vampires. We look at the universe and think that it would be cool if it were all made and designed for us. We want to be taken care of and treated as the most special being in the world just like we were as infants. But when we look at what we’ve discovered about the cosmos, we don’t see giant turtles or fairies.

    However, reality is just as wondrous and awesome and inspiring as any mythology. Just think, we’re literally made of stardust. We’re actually physical, biological relatives of every living thing on the earth right now and of every living thing that has ever existed here. Matter and energy are just different presentations of the same stuff. Here we are, just descendents of some self-replicating molecules, and yet we can think and dream and write poetry and travel to the stars from whence we came. We’re learning more and more every day about everything. An individual’s life may be short and relatively insignificant in the grand sweep of time, but together we can accomplish great things.

  7. I have been here, some days I still am. Some day’s I am fine with this life being all there is, it motivates me to live it that much more fully. Other days I feel like there must be something more, and then I allow myself to think that there is. I really feel like we can’t fully know what is there, and I haven’t found anyone who seems to know for sure, so I think that religion is for each person, not for God. If you need it or want it, go for it. If you don’t need or want religion, then don’t bother.

  8. I do think that humanity has the capacity to perceive something greater, because there is something greater. I think much of our mythology and imaginative capacity is our effort to put shape to the spiritual dimension. I have had too many personal experiences of holiness, of thin places, of being overwhelmed by that which is greater, to reject it for myself.

    But I think what you are asking here is “what is meaningful.” I can tell you that when I am uncertain, I try to go back to basics, to ask myself what would be the best way to spend my life in preparation for eternity, and then what would be the best way to spend my life if it is all that I have. Where there is overlap (things that show up on both lists) is what I focus on for that time in my life.

    Every time I do this, I come up with the same answer: love is what makes it meaningful, whether life is for now or forever. There are wonderful individuals all around me, and every one of them needs more love. There is suffering in this world, and anything I can do to make it better will have value beyond my life, even if there is no eternity. Even if my name is forgotten, I hope that any good I can do will have a ripple effect and touch lives far from my own, both in space and in time.

    That is just my own personal conclusion though. I hope you will find something that works for you.

  9. Oh, and I have to add one more thing – you have not wasted your life up until this point. You did not have much self-determination until very recently. As soon as you gained some capacity to make your own decisions (even against immense resistance) you displayed some really incredible strength, insight, and clarity. Your work here on this blog is very valuable to many people.

    It is true that you might die, or the world might end, tomorrow. However, it isn’t likely. If your general health is sound and your physical risk-taking is low, you probably have another 60 or 70 years ahead of you. When I was 15, I had the idea that I wouldn’t live past 30, and it warped my perspective in subtle ways for a long time. I’m 26 now, and only starting to conceive of my life as a really ongoing project. It really opens up the horizons, to consider that I might still be doing meaningful things at 80.

  10. I think we spend the better part of our twenties trying to get over whatever damage our parents inflicted upon us. Believe me, secular parents can do some nasty damage too. But I remember at some point when I was around 26 or so thinking to myself, “Is this it?” I think everyone hits that wall at some point. All you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other until you don’t feel so weighted by it. With any luck you’ll find your reason to get out of bed every day along the way.

    Speaking of which, I found what you said about old photographs to be interesting. Maybe you should give photography a try? If anything it would give you something to add to your blog.

  11. I’m an atheist. Thanks for the confidence in how we deal with life. I constantly feel like I’m not making the most out of my life. There are so many things that I want to do that it’s overwhelming. I worry that I won’t get to do any of them and just end up being a drain on society. You seem to think that we’ve got it all figured out. Trust me, everyone else is muddling through life with as much confusion as you. On the other hand, maybe you’re on to something and there could be some things that I do well. Maybe I’ll figure it out one day.

    • I think I’m just generalizing atheists. All the ones I’ve met were happy and confident in their decision. “I don’t have to worry about making mistakes. I get to enjoy my time and that’s all I need to be happy”, that type of thinking. Good to know it’s not true for everyone!

      • Worrying about making mistakes is part of being human (except for those people with psychological disorders). There are often times I look at my life and feel I haven’t done enough with the time I’ve used up. Being an atheist doesn’t make one immune to those feelings. But there’s a big difference with being disappointed in oneself or feeling insignificant from time to time, and feeling utterly bereft because there’s no grand plan for the universe or a magical supernatural parent who is concerned with everything we do. Believers often expect atheists to fall into the latter category (God-shaped hole in the heart and all that), but very few that I’ve heard of do.

  12. First of all, you are highly intelligent. I know that doesn’t seem like much comfort, but it means that you will eventually find the answers. I am in such a similar situation! Next to my bed are books on atheism because I have never had the bravery to listen to the opposite arguments. I find it difficult to believe that we all evolved from the primordial ooze, or a big bang that just happened, over billions of years, to create the incredible variety that we see now.

    My main issue is that the God I read about in the Old Testament is not a Deity I would consider to be at all moral – He is terrifying. Something is “off” about that. The Old Testament is the Jewish collection of interpretations about creation and why we all speak different languages and adding a bit of Divine justification for their bloodthirsty conquest of lands and tribes not their own. It is part history and part myth and fiction.

    IF there is no God, I find it comforting. There is no threat of everlasting punishment and hell for being unable or unwilling to believe in Him the way He was revealed in the Bible. We live a life as fully as we can, and then we die and it is over. That doesn’t have to be depression or desperate. And it doesn’t help to look back – it really doesn’t. That is just a matter of learning to remain in the NOW. Each moment is where life exists. The past moments, when we reflect on them during the present moment, are stealing our present! The future moments are not guaranteed, so worry about them is also stealing the NOW where memories are created and we choose what to do. Apart from God, there is still morality, and hope, and support of friends. It means a world of choices open up to us. Sure it means there is no “Supernatural” Deity up there that we can ask for help, but to be honest, He never really helped all that much in answer to prayers, did He. More like, even if we prayed to a holy elephant, 50% of our requested might be answered with a yes – it’s kindof a luck sort of thing. God gave me a parking space! But what about all the other times I didn’t get one? And look at what we have NOT been protected from. Not at all.

    Here is something I find freeing. Life does NOT have to have meaning. You are still in performance mode. You don’t have to do anything! The insistence that we “make a difference” or any of that is all about the American ego and it stresses us all out. In tribes across the globe that are not as sophisticated (as we define it), they live in the moment, learning to get along with each other, enjoying the beautiful things around them, and eating and talking around the fire.

    Fear apart from the knowledge that there is a God is the exact reason religion is harmful. I totally understand the fear, but really, since God doesn’t seem to protect His children from murder, rape, being burned in house fires, dying in freak car accidents, being born with hideous birth defects, disease, the actions of the evil . . . we’ve been on our own all along. For the sake of mental health, it may be that people from our background choose to believe that since we really do NOT know where the very first matter originated from, we hold on to a form of God or higher power. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we can certainly imagine from the beauty in the world that this force could be an artist and creator of beauty along with the chaos we sell.

    Let’s remember that we are in the middle of the process of finding ourselves – what we love, what we want to learn, and what we are going to do NOW. We can drop the ego’s demand that we “make a difference” or “leave something behind for future generations” – the biggest thing we can do is to love other people. Everything else errs on the side of performance and conditional approval or love and is a form of the religious pain we chose to abandon. It is work to build a social circle apart from religious circles but it can be done. And most of us don’t have life-long friends – that can be a curse as well as a blessing! We all change and outgrow friendships and make new ones. : )

    You don’t need to do a damn thing before you die. That is all performance. All from your past conditioning. If you can learn to love, you are doing the most important thing. And believing in God isn’t silly – evolution AND believing in an intelligent designer both have their strong points. Evolution can NOT explain where the very first matter came from – the very origins. They can only speculate. And Creation by a Supreme Being is just as faith-necessary but it makes sense to me as an alternative! Why not?!

    Remember that when you torment yourself with “what to do with this life” you are emphasizing DO. Christ said we are to love. That is enough to suck up all my energy! When you are sad that there is nobody out there to make sure you do this or that, you are emphasizing your own inability to be independent and find out for yourself what you want to do, and that you do NOT “have to do” or try to second=guess a secret plan in this life! We are so used to being told what we have to do and that there is a “plan” for our lives, but really, truly, life with God never reflected that – it was just a thing people with less intelligence used to explain stuff. “I prayed and knew that she was the woman I was supposed to marry.” (Then 15 years later she has an affair and leaves him.) OOPS! “God has called me to be a Pastor.” (but the dude can’t teach worth crap and everybody around him knows it) OOPS! LOL!

    We are in the middle of figuring things out. We have no benefit from looking back. That is a way of avoiding the task at hand, which is to learn what makes us happy, and when we are happy, we are FAR more able to treat others with love as well as ourselves. Otherwise we cower in pain in our caves and get depressed and feel even worse (which is kinda where I’m at). I don’t even know my favorite color, I can’t cook, I don’t know any “secular” bands, I am confused about a future career or what I would enjoy – all of these are things most people are familiar with, but those of us from strict religious backgrounds were taught to “die to SELF” and that prevented us from developing SELF, which is not evil!! It is the way we love others in a unique way that no-one else can do. It’s o.k. to be selfish right now and focus on what makes you happy!

    Thank you for putting your thoughts into words. If you need a purpose, which we all in this culture seem to need (probably as a result of Calvinism and the emphasis of using every SECOND like worker-bees to be industrious or God will be displeased), then I will tell you that one of your purposes is to communicate and help others by your intelligence, honesty, questioning, writing, and wrestling with the great questions of life that THOUSANDS before us have wrestled with. We are not alone. It just feels that way when you’ve grown up among sheep that all believe the same tightly controlled things and do not question. The whole world is our oyster now! Mental health does depend on not having a “dual and divided will” so this phase of life is not exactly conducive to happiness. But if we endure this comfort, comfort will come. : ) We will come to some sort of manifesto that we can chose to live our lives by. I intend fully to write mine down some day. Here is the beginning of my creed.

    “I believe there may be a Creator, and that it is more likely than our origins just “coming from nothing” into all this complexity we see today. But I reject the morally awful and scary God the Jewish people describe in the Old Testament. I believe that Jesus Christ existed, and that He genuinely felt He was a Savior that would redeem mankind from not overcoming our selfish instincts and making choices apart from love. I’m not sure if He was the Son of God. If He was, I am grateful for that unselfish gesture. He really cared. If He was just a madman, which I will never know, then the story isn’t as comforting. But I hold it like a comforting stone in my pocket and if I need to, I will pray just in case He is real and is listening. I will certainly accept the gift He wanted to give me, because I do make choices apart from love at times. It’s cool that there might be forgiveness from that, and that a loving God might exist, but I am not foolish enough to state with 100% certainty that these things are true. I don’t know if there is a heaven, and hell certainly seems like overkill. An eternity of punishment for displeasing some Deity in the blip of time that is our life? Unfair and immoral and threatening – a tool teachers including Jesus have used to pressure people into doing the right thing – a reflection that they didn’t understand how to truly motivate others! Fear is never a condition to force love. And perfect love casts out fear.”

    That’s all I have so far. :)

  13. And OH MY GOSH, I just realized you were born in 1988? Honey you have not wasted your life! Your life is just beginning! At 23, do you realize the literal bones in your skull only fused together permanently 5 years ago? You are just on the verge of adulthood. And I wouldn’t take a million bucks to go back to my 20’s. They are tough because you are finding out who you are, regardless of whether you grew up in a controlling, fundamentalist religion or not. (sure, there are some that seem to be confident from birth, but I don’t usually get along with them – they’re boring!).

    I’m almost 44 years old and I’ve never been married because I just haven’t known myself well enough to connect with someone, and certainly I have not wanted children since I was taught they were all evil and needed to have the crap beat out of them all the time – who would want to give birth to THAT? hahahha! I am excited because I am just now trying to figure out the whole religion thing and look at YOU! Waaaaaay ahead of me, girl!! I wish you lived near me in Portland, Oregon – we’d go out for coffee and have some great talks. : )

  14. The late and very missed English humanist and humorist Linda Smith summed up my atheist feelings very neatly: “I don’t think God wants us to believe in him. If he wanted us to believe in him he’d do something about it — like exist perhaps!”. (Incidentally, a sane or kind god would not have taken such a lovely generous lass away from us many decades too early; so was it a capricious monster of a god or chance that took her?)

    Everybody constructs their own philosophy of life to suit themselves, often by inheriting most of it from their parents or peer group. I have never been able to understand those who think it’s an option to pick a religion that fits their desires (as if shopping for a new pair of shoes) and then “believe” in it. You cannot wish a god into existence just because you want one to exist.

    It is important to understand the I, you, we are really not important. We live, we die, we have an impact on a family and friends and are special to many of those, but we remain unknown and irrelevant to 99.9999% of the several billion inhabitants of this planet. There are perhaps a thousand presidents, revolutionaries, superstars of sport and entertainment, moguls of industry, designers, inventors, scientists who have a global and lasting impact, but most of us leave very fleeting footprints in the sands of society, washed away by the tides of years.

    Around the Pacific, hundreds of thousands of lives were snuffed out in the 2004 tsunami, tens of thousands more in Japan’s 2011 tsunami. Everything they did, all they built, loved or cared for, gone. But it’s the same for most of us in a smaller, more gradual way. I have just been going through my recently deceased father’s things, and it’s sad to find small things that had value to him which have to go into the bin, because they have no value to anyone else. His mementos and the stories attached to them are lost or have no significance now – who are those people in those photos from the 1950s? He was important to me and to all his family, but his legacy is only a few memories.

    Is this a counsel of despair? No! Accept your insignificance; fill your time trying to be good and useful, realising that in 100 years time your only remains will be an entry on someone’s family tree. If you waste time, so what? We could all do better. But we won’t (most of us) and it doesn’t matter. Ir really doesn’t matter, the world will continue to revolve.

    If you wasted time worrying about the (non-)existence of your god, so what? Is that any more wasted time then (say) spending hours watching baseball on the television? Or days spent hiking in the hills? Don’t feel guilty about not spending all your time doing good deeds for others!

    You should be proud that your blog attracts, informs, educates, entertains, affects so many people, and that many have been brought to a more peaceful internal life by you (and others) sharing your life stories. You have had more of a beneficial impact on the world than most people, be quietly proud of that. You have already done your bit now, even if you never blogged any more… but please do continue!

    And certainly yours is a life better spent than those of the QF monsters, abusing their families and others in the name of their misguided superstition. Oh, they may act in good faith, but they do evil, and evil done in good faith is still evil. Isn’t it?

    • If the world is really like this, I don’t want to be in it. The world is full of great suffering. If it is all meaningless, why subject myself to it? If it’s really meaningless, why subject myself to the angst and existential suffering that comes with self-awareness?

      • The only meaning to life is life. It’s not unusual to want more from your life, but if you do, you have to make that meaning for your self. And that’s hard work. It’s much easier to have faith that something else exists that automatically gives your life meaning. So be it if that makes you feel better.

        But how much greater is it to decide “I will give my life meaning! I will make this world a better place!” and work towards that goal. Not only do you make your own life better, but you make other people’s lives better as well. That is truly something to glory in.

  15. I don’t believe in the old concept of god as the patriarchal tyrant who followed my every move with jealous eyes. I do believe in Love with a capital “L”, in the divine in the natural world around us, in the impulse of compassion prompted by something outside ourselves. Sometimes I call this God.

    I believe we are all connected with a web of grace and beauty and though that web may sometimes be in tatters, for me that web is God holding us all together somehow and someway.

    I believe in a place beyond death but not a place only for those who say the right words and sing the right songs. I believe in a place of soul and spirit. I believe we may be parted from this life and those we love but I believe we live on and the love we have lives on. How this happens I don’t know but I don’t believe our souls are wasted. I believe that energy continues and is transformed, perhaps into something better but something I believe is still ultimately “us.”

    I don’t have proof of any of these things except for something sure and strong deep inside my stomach. It’s enough for me because these are not things I’ve been told I must believe. After much searching these are the things of which I feel sure and I choose to believe them. If I am wrong, then I am wrong but my life is more meaningful because of them.

  16. In thinking about your post I asked the same questions. I found that I tended to look back over the last 66 yrs and wonder, what did I do, did I do anything or simply exist just raising children, working to support my family, caring for my family, following things I liked doing. And yet I found myself questioning your questions – is time really worthless if there is an eternity? Is our time to exist limited? If time is an endless resource do we really need not worry what we are going to do with it? Is there more to living than just making sure we don’t go to hell? Who is God? Questions, but what are the answers?

    I believe we are put here to serve one another, to have relationships, to care for the needy and oppressed, to cultivate and care for the earth, to be stewards of the earth, to love and by loved, to plant and sow, to enjoy the sunshine and all of nature, to work and reap its rewards (not necessarily monetary rewards), to grow, learn about and explore the world around us. Those things give us purpose and a reason to live. I also believe we are put here to know and worship our Creator.
    To have purpose doesn’t mean we need to be famous for some spectacular feat. It just means we live our daily lives going about our business, doing what we can, learning, caring, being aware of others. And we realize that we are human, some days will be the same ole stuff, some days will we will have the opportunity to care for and comfort a fellow human in need of a hug or a word of comfort and some days will be spent simply enjoying the world around us. And it will look different for each of us.

    As a Christian there is more to life than doing what we can do to stay out of hell. You see our striving to stay out of hell is about our works, what we are doing. It is following a list of things that we feel makes us acceptable to God. The problem is we could never work hard enough or be good enough, we don’t know how high the standard is, and we don’t know what to use to measure it with. So in utter frustration we simply give up trying and rid ourselves of the whole thing. By ridding ourselves of the whole religion thing we are free from the struggle. But there needs to be a distinction between getting rid of the oppressive rules and getting rid of God. God is not the author of oppression. Man is. We can be rid of the struggle and experience freedom without getting rid of God.

    It seems today there are many “Christian” teachers who are teaching a gospel of fear based works that we have to do in order to become acceptable to God. It becomes a fearful, lacking in joy or peace have to do thing if I don’t want to go to Hell thing. Legalism makes religion a burden consisting of rules, it robs us of peace, joy and happiness. It makes us anxious and afraid. When following God is reduced to our own effort, our obedience, our following the rules or commands of God, our keeping the law the focus becomes on us and our effort not on what has already been done by God. We don’t need strive to be accepted by God because we are already accepted by God through Christ. We don’t need to work to win His approval, we already have His approval.

    Personally for me when I realized that I didn’t need to work to be accepted, when I realized that I didn’t need to cling to Him because He was already holding me (and wouldn’t drop me) and that I was to work because I was accepted not to become accepted then work became a want to do thing instead of a burdensome have to do thing. And it was freeing to realize I was accepted by God as I was for who I was. The struggle to measure up was gone and that brought freedom and peace.

    • “I believe we are put here to serve one another, to have relationships, to care for the needy and oppressed, to cultivate and care for the earth, to be stewards of the earth, to love and by loved, to plant and sow, to enjoy the sunshine and all of nature, to work and reap its rewards (not necessarily monetary rewards), to grow, learn about and explore the world around us. Those things give us purpose and a reason to live. I also believe we are put here to know and worship our Creator.”

      See, that’s what I mean by time as an endless resource. If I had limited bread, I’d give it to the people close to me – family, friends. If I had unlimited bread, I’d be free to give it to anyone in the world for no apparent reason, just because I can. We could “waste” this endless resource, which would give us meaning and purpose in return. If it’s limited, well, then it’s all about survival and getting by as well as you can without looking too much at others.

      • I guess I look at it as I do have limited time here on earth because I view living here and living in eternity as two separate blocks of time. The one on earth is limited, the one in eternity is not. While I have limited time on this earth that doesn’t mean I am excused from looking after the needs of others. And I should be caring about others not to gain a reward in Heaven but because I truly care for them. Otherwise I am using people in the here and now to gain something in the hereafter and I believe using others in that way is wrong.

        You ask very good, thought provoking questions. Keep questioning, thinking and seeking the truth and you find what you are looking for.

  17. But there IS something like God that exists. There is . . . humanity. Us. You. Me. Your forgotten ancestors. Your unborn children. We are the the incredible beings that broke through the roof of heaven, that recreated elements not known since a few seconds after the big bang, that cracked the genetic code, and more.

    I’m not sure how to properly convey the wonder of all this. You are the cosmos. You are the child of pure energy, the sister of all life on earth, the manifestation of all the laws of nature. You are the stars reborn; every atom in your body was born in the heart of a star, and the atoms in your right hand almost certainly didn’t come from the same star as the atoms in your left hand.

    Your time wasn’t wasted, it was lived. The wonder in that it is incomprehensible. You got up in the morning. You washed your face and felt the chill of the water. You made breakfast and tasted the sweetness of fruit, smelled warm bread. You spoke with people you loved and heard their replies. You saw grass poking out from beneath the snow. You daydreamed, transporting yourself from this incredible physical reality to an equally incredible mental reality. Even if you did nothing else with your life, you have accomplished such a miraculous feat that I can’t properly articulate it.

    These are not simple things. They are not mundane things. We are not properly awed only because if we were, we would never do anything but gaze about in wonder, not able to even motivate ourselves to look for food.

    If you visited every other planet in our solar system, you would not find these things. You could even visit our own planet at various times and places and not find it.

    There is an incredible comfort and power in this. We don’t need to be remembered to have existed. We are here, now, as avatars of the cosmos knowing the cosmos. Someday we will all return to the ashes that we were born from, but we will have LIVED.

    If you ‘waste’ a moment in time, that’s all right. There is no Great Watcher in the sky judging if what we did is worthy or not. What we have is enough, more than enough.

    I can’t tell you what you need to do to live the life that is best for you. Perhaps it is best for you to believe in a God; most people believe in God. But if you are struggling, know that you aren’t alone. I also struggled. I have always been an atheist, but it was often against my will. I wanted to believe. I thought that if only I could settle my heart on the divine, I would find completion. It wasn’t true. I had to find completion somewhere else. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t simple, it wasn’t guaranteed. But it came when I stopped frantically looking for it and simply started living the best I could. I asked myself what I loved, what I wanted, what gave me peace, and I started pursuing it. If my interests, changed, I went along with it and wasn’t critical. And I found myself.

    I seem to have rambled. I hope it is helpful.

  18. I feel like life has thrown you into a huge pendulum swing. Praying that the swinging will slow and that you will find peace somewhere in the middle. Just remember, as some of the other commenters stated…”Just because we believe there is a God, doesn’t mean it’s true”. I would like to throw out there that the same can be said for the opposite… “Just because we don’t believe in God, doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.” Just a thought.

  19. Wow, I have had some of the exact same experiences and thoughts, right down to looking at the photos and wondering who they were and thinking about when someone will look at my photo that way. If there’s no God, I’ve wasted my life acting a lot more moral than I ought to. If I were sure there was no God, I would act very differently, and I don’t think I’d like the person I’d be. Without a God, I just don’t see any reason for there to be any large, absolute morals outside of cultural and societal mores. If there’s no God, there is no reason to act self-sacrificingly – if there’s only one you and you only have one existence, that wouldn’t be logical or even intelligent. I don’t understand the atheists who say that they can still be self-sacrificing and uphold moral standards like loving your enemies – that makes no sense without a God who makes those actions worthwhile. I don’t like that kind of a world. It’s part of the reason I hold on to hope in a God. I don’t want the world to be the way it would be without Him/Her/It.

    • Oh my, I know what you mean! I’ve thought to myself a few times that without God, I wouldn’t be such a nice person. If it was eat or be eaten before it’s all over, I surely wouldn’t feel that much compassion and love towards people I don’t know and therefore wouldn’t have to care about…

    • Are you saying that we don’t exist? Are atheists the equivalent of unicorns and fairies? Making the world a better place is a worthy – and measurable – goal! This is the only life we have – it is important to make the most of it.

      I don’t understand Christians who require a reward before they are willing to do the right thing – or worse, believe that working to destroy the world we have will bring them glory in some future life more quickly. Nor do I understand how a Christian can’t honor and respect all life without being told that they will go to hell if they don’t. Do you enjoy being treated like a child, allowing other people (or God) to make decisions for you and take responsibility for you? What do you do when confronted by a situation that is not spelled out in the Bible – such as climate change? Do you refuse to even consider the facts? Do you wonder why we no longer accept the “morality” of slavery when the Bible says that owning slaves is a moral way to live?

      I grew up in a church. I left because the Bible was clearly contradictory. It was also clear to me that people were discouraged from actually reading it without a guide (either in person or from a book) that carefully helped them interpret it the way the church wanted it interpreted. It became clear to me fairly early that the church never wanted me to become a real adult: to think for myself, take responsibility for myself and make the right decisions for myself – and my community and my world! – without vague promises of future reward or punishment.

      • As Christians we are to do the right thing because it is right thing to do. We are not to work for a reward but work because we are part of the human race and should care for one another with no strings atttached. We are also supposed to be good stewards of the earth and that means taking care of it, not trashing it. Slavery mentioned in the Bible was vastly different than American slavery. American slavery was evil and violent and many God fearing people both here and abroad sought to abolish it. Who ever lead you to believe otherwise is mistaken.

        http://christianthinktank.com/qnoslave.html discusses the difference between the slavery of the Bible and American slavery.

      • “Are you saying that we don’t exist?”
        Huh? No! Did I express that somewhere? Sorry, didn’t mean to say that hehe!

        The fact that I want to make my own decisions was the biggest problem for my family actually, and one of the major reasons why they won’t talk to me. I’m not lead by God but by the “flesh” which effectively is the devil to them.

        The “facts” are a tricky topic for fundamentalists. They have their own “facts” (see creationism) and pretty much every error in the bible can be explained away. I know what you mean when you say that everybody needs help to understand the bible. I never got why interpretations weren’t ok unless they came from a person within that group.

      • @maevza1 – And yet the promise of retribution is there. It’s like if I told my son that he should get good grades just because he wants to hold himself to a higher standard, but I’ll give him $100 for every A and whip him every time he gets a D. To what extend can his motivations ever be said to be internal given such a system?

        The good stewards bit is interpretation. Nowhere in the Bible is this interpretation explicitly stated, making it no more or less valid as the interpretation that the world is made for us to use and abuse as we please.

        As for slavery, I understand the motivation to distinguish “biblical slavery” from the horrors that we saw all too recently, but many Christian apologists gloss over the very real horrors of any slave-based economy in their attempt to do so. For all the argument that biblical slaves weren’t really slaves in the antebellum south sense, their owners still had the right to pierce their ears, force them to marry, and even beat them (so long as they don’t die within a few days of the beating). The only real difference is that in biblibal times, everyone was doing it. There were no Frederick Douglasses or Aphra Behns. The only hope for freedom back then was tied to the dream of someday getting to own slaves too.

        But even if we try to argue that slavery was qualitatively different back then, that every slave was really happy, that every master was kind, and that every slave entered into the system voluntarily, we’re still left with a book that claims that God likes and promotes the ownership of human beings. Anyone truly deriving their moral compass from the “good book” ought to be avoided at all costs.

    • From my perspective, this is a problem that religion invented so that it could sell us a cure.

      It’s a bit like Santa Claus. When you’re a little kid, your parents need to tell you that you won’t get any presents if you don’t stop hitting your sister. But when you’re 20-something, you don’t hit your sister even though you don’t believe in Santa Claus any more. Why? Because you’ve outgrown the need for external motivation.

      And that’s the thing, my morals – my desire to be good to other people – comes from inside me. It feels good to help others and to be liked in return. I like who I am, I feel good inside my skin, when I am a good person.

      That’s where I fear that religion may do it’s most insidious harm. By handing us a moral code, complete and without the need for individual thought, by making us simply follow external rules rather than developing inner reasons to be good, we never get to flex our moral muscles. The result is exactly as you describe: take away God and suddenly there’s no reason to be a good person any more. Religion stuns your moral growth at the stage where morals are simply rules that are imposed upon a person, rather than a desire that comes from that person. That makes doubt very dangerous (and I’m sure religious leaders throughout history have liked it that way).

      • Thank you for putting into words what I’ve thought about atheism for a long time. I don’t understand how Christians can claim that atheists are immoral. When you are raised without religion (as I was) you develop an internal sense of right and wrong. Personally I believe there is enough pain and sorrow in the world as it is. Therefore we do not need to add to it intentionally.

        The people I’ve known with the most sincere goodness in them have been atheists. When someone quickly identifies themselves to me as a Christian it immediately makes me nervous. I’ve had too many awful things done to me by Christians who claim it was God’s will that they did what they did.

  20. I’m an atheist, and I can tell you that we’ve all dealt with that fear. I think it’s easier for the second generation because they won’t have grown up with the sense of eternal time to compare to. For people like my son, I think that this reality is just what they’re used to.

    The way I cope is by working on meaningful things. I volunteer a lot, hoping to leave the world a slightly better place for me having been in it. I also try to do at least one self-improvement thing every day. like crafts or working on a novel.

    Knowing that my time is limited also means that I make sure to spend my time with people I love. In my family, we got rid of the TV so that we would spend more time together, interacting. I also minimize the amount of time I spent with people who are mean or grumpy. My time is precious, and I won’t give it up for things that put me in a bad mood.

    And that’s my answer to you: Be someone worth remembering. Live, enjoy yourself, be kind to others, and create memories for people to tell each other long after you’re gone.

  21. Pingback: On religion and morality | Mr. Sentiment's Parlour

  22. Broken Daughter, my heart weeps for you and all that you have been through. I am so sorry for the way you were raised and the hurt and problems it has resulted with you have to live with…it is a good thing you got away from that situation and it is not surprising you question the existance of God. It is ok to question, even cuss out God. But we are all faulty. Faulty people is the reason that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. I know you have heard it before, but He also died on the cross for our hurts, and for out good and bad times.

    To make it easier for you to understand, there is a war going on between God and the devil. And the devil is doing all he can to twist, contort, confuse God’s people and is doing a real good job of it too.

    We all ask why does God allow all the bad stuff to happen? One possiblity may be because we are not puppets on a string. God gives us free will and some people use that free will to steal, murder or rape or hold daughters in bondage or to claim that God does not exist. And if we want God to stop bad things, where would you draw the line on what God should allow and not allow? Some things we might think are wrong to do, others may think are perfectly ok to do. If we tell God do not allow a certain action, stopping that action may be impinging on another’s free will. You saw that yourself when you saw Tiffany have freedoms that you thought were sin. (her husband cooking, their laughter and outward show of affection. But something pulled you towards them…it was God’s love in their life, something not visible in your own family)

    But here is something to remember….Putting a turd in the cookie jar does not make it a cookie. “look at me, I am a great cookie” but you look at them and all you see is stink!!! Many call themselves christian but who says they truly are. Scripture says by their fruit you shall know them. And often their fruit is rotten.

    You are suffering the effects of man’s rules put forth as God’s rules. Men are really good at doing that and boy what a mess they make.

    If you like to read and think, I suggest C.S. Lewis (even his Narnia books are full of showing the love of Jesus through the character of Aslan the Lion. But Lewis also wrote deep deep thoughts about christianity and similar subjects. He was an athiest for many years. He is the one that came up with how to see Jesus in one of 3 ways— He was who he said he was (Lord) or he was a liar or just plain lunatic.

    Also a book called Tramp for the Lord by Corrie Ten Boom. She, her sister and her father hid Jews in their home during WW2 and they were put in prison…why did God allow such terrible things to happen to such a wonderful woman?

    I have been to church (but not for years) and heard many sermons but only one do I really remember….God stands at the apex of history…like looking down on a map He can see where we have been and where we are going. And He has an uncanny ability to take all those bad things that happened to us and turn them around to be positive. Check out a woman called Joni Eareckson Tada who said she would rather be in her wheel chair with God than on 2 feet without Him

    Jesus loves you so much. And He offers healing to the hurting. You can go to him without fear of judgement… He will accept you just as you are. You do not have to earn any part of Him. He gives it freely. His burden is easy and His yoke is light.

    I am far from a truly faithful christian, I do not know all the ins and outs of this life. I am probably mistaken on many things that I think are true about God and certainly have many faults to deal with. (I will probably cuss out my husband at least once before the day is over.) But I want to point you to the One who is perfect, who can meet all your needs right where you are at. God bless. You are not alone!!!!

  23. “MrPopularSentiment on October 17, 2011 at 10:49 am said: we’re still left with a book that claims that God likes and promotes the ownership of human beings.”

    What you surmised about God is the same thing that P/QF and other fringe groups who actually believe in the Bible do– they ADD to it – There are no scriptures that say God likes slavery or promotes it- what is being said on the new Testament is giving guidelines for this new belief called christianity about how slave owners and slaves were supposed to behave and think once they became christians. There was not much the writers of those Bible books could do to change the Roman culture of the day in a social or political way.

    In the old testament, slavery was a part of the culture and for many in poverty the only way they could exist…to outlaw slavery in those days was to have many poor face death with no way of living as many often sold themselves or family members into slavery because of the need to eat.

    It is like here in the US we make a certain minimum wage and there are many laws in place governing work place safety…but in 3rd world countries people and children work for pennies and in dangerous coniditions. We in the US are horrified and we force it to stop but what happens to those people who jobs you have just taken away, their only source of income for them and those children. For them working in the places was much better than having no jobs and facing starvation or selling their children. We mistakenly put our way of thinking and standards on some else without considering their standards and way of thinking which may be and often is very different.

    Many do not realize the OT is a history book of God’s people. It tells the good, bad and ugly things about them. Culture and way of thinking and facing life was different back then 1000’s of years ago. I have also heard that people of that time and place were also of the oriental mindset which is much different from the Western mindset or how we think today about life, death, justice, etc.

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