I’m not an atheist.
I have a strong respect for skeptics, that may even go beyond the respect I have for the rare folks I encounter who claim a certain religion and then back it up with actual attempts to adhere to its tenants. They have what I cannot help but think is the very real ability to put aside petty superstition and embrace logic. I simply have been unable to do it. Lord knows, I’ve tried. Tiny belief keeps sneaking back into my brain, though.
I need to explain on the outset that I do not hold my beliefs to be useful. While some view their faith as a shield or an anchor, and others condemn faith as a crutch, I truthfully regard mine as a virus. This comes down to the fact that I’ve finally become honest with how my mind works.
As a child, I was raised in the Lutheran Missouri Synod’s parochial school system. I had every intention of becoming a pastor. However, my nights were filled with terror. I was convinced that I could, while asleep, suddenly lose my faith in God and therefore die and wake up in Hell. This was the start of the endless obsessive testing that marked my first departure from the teachings of the LMS. There was no doubt in my mind that flipping a coin and saying, “If it’s heads, then God exists,” was completely out of the scope of normal religion. I was treading dangerous waters, I assumed, heading straight into the beckoning arms of witchcraft.
As time went on, I began to mature in my thoughts. I realized that I would not be punished for what I dreamed, or even for having questions about my beliefs. For example, I noted that had I been born in neighboring Wordon, I may have been a Methodist. How different is it that, I asked, than being born in a Muslim country? I thought my sibling’s protest of, “You shouldn’t think about that,” were childish, and my father’s answer of, “That’s why missionaries are so important,” as being too easy. I was well on my way to becoming a skeptic.
No matter how close I came, however, there were always things that held me back. I got caught up in what I saw as a disparity between people’s stated religious beliefs and their actions. I got obsessed with the fact that the cross was the symbol everyone used, instead of a triangle, or something I felt was more fitting. I heard the words of the liturgy and realized that the language was that of sniveling minions to a vengeful overlord. “Of course!” I realized. “Jesus came to help us escape his father’s tyranny, and instead, we killed Jesus to appease God-the-Father! They wear crosses to glorify the death rather than Jesus himself.” I then thought myself a genius and patted myself on the back, hardly recognizing that I had just slipped back into the Christian mythos. I went through endless variations of this, thinking that I was the first one to come up with these theories. In the end, my once iron-clad Christian beliefs were watered down to that of a mere intellectual exercise. No longer did I spend nights in terror.
However, old habits die hard. Instead of becoming a true skeptic, the coin-flipping superstitious side of me found a new outlet. The idea of the world responding to *my* whims, but on a time delay was found in several New Age “awaken your psychic powers” books I read in college. It had the perfect defense against logic the logic that threatens other belief systems: “If it doesn’t work, you just aren’t believing hard enough.” Brilliant. “The world will do whatever you want. You *want* magic not to work, and therefore it won’t.”
I’ve encountered plenty of people that use these techniques over the years, and I think many have fallen into the same mistake I did at first. Namely, if you buy into the idea that “If it doesn’t work, you’re not believing hard enough,” then *pretending* it’s working is the same as believing hard enough. Much like the breath of fresh air of running into real practice-what-you-preach Christians, running into non-deluded positive thinkers is a rarity.
I so now, I’m stuck between two ends of the spectrum. If I claimed I was an honest-to-goodness skeptic, I’d simply be deluding myself. It would be the same as walking around without my glasses, claiming that I’m psychically healing myself while missing buses because I can’t read the route number. They’re rooted in the same action, professing that which I know to be false. As it stands, my eyes were healed when I got laser surgery on them. My brain didn’t allow me to believe that that was it, though. The surgery was the *excuse* I needed to allow them to be healed, it said, you were just standing in its way until now. This sort of thing drives me nuts. It’s a constant war between my logic and my spiritual tendencies. It is a mental illness, one against which I constantly struggle.
As it stands, if I check my email and there isn’t anything in there, it’s because I checked it to soon, or I didn’t *want* there to be any, or I wanted it to be there too much. It’s never because someone simply hasn’t written me.
I’ve learned from discussions with my therapist that this is actually a bit normal. Many people feel this way, they just don’t articulate it. That makes me feel much better.
Still, much like a ghost stays around in a house due to the fascination of its occupants, I wonder if these beliefs don’t stick around because deep down I don’t want to be rid of them. If I could just stop worrying about them, they’ll go away. Still, it seems very similar to the “it’s not working because you don’t believe it” problem.
I realize a just used ghost behavior as a way to explain why maybe I’m not a true skeptic.
You see what I’m dealing with?