…or How the Most Holy City in the World Can Expose the Holes in Your Faith
The most common question I get asked is “Why don’t you believe in God?” This is a deeply personal question, and like most atheists that are as vocal as I am, it is one I have considered at great length. I was raised by a loving, deeply Christian family. I attended Sunday School regularly in our sparse Lutheran church and was even a senior sacristan at an Anglican private school. I’ll be honest though, I was always shaky in my faith, but as certain, or so I thought, as one could be about the existence of God. So for me, I spent most of my young adult life seeking a spiritual awakening. I tried religions on like shoes for a few years. I dabbled in Mormonism, Scientology, and every major denomination of the Christian churches. Never having the born again moment that so many spoke of.
In the end it took a trip to Jerusalem to sway me. I did a tour and saw the wall being built around Palestine; I stood at the Wailing Wall with a cardboard yarmulke on my head. I visited the twelve Stations of the Cross, knelt at the rock of Golgotha, and finally entered the tomb of the holy sepulcher.
It was in this low ceilinged tomb that I lost my faith. As I peered at the marble slab over the place of Jesus’ supposed burial I was stuck by the crack in the marble. This crack was a too perfect flaw in a too perfect piece of marble on a too perfect altar in a too perfect room. I peered deep into the dark crack searching for answers, waiting for my personal spiritual awakening. It never came, and I realized…this is silly. This “Holy City” was in actual fact a contrived Disney world from the era of Constantine. I believed in none of it, and realized I wasn’t in love with God; I was in love with the idea of God.
My faith thoroughly fractured by the most holy place on earth I returned home. I watched with wry cynicism as the Orthodox Jewish gentlemen on the plane got up to say their prayers. I watched as they strapped with leather the small black boxes that contain scripture to their arms and head. I watched as they rocked and murmured their prayers in the aisles just as they had at the Wailing Wall. I realized in that moment that faith can be forced, but true belief was not a choice. A person’s faith was at best a product of repetition, an act of continued self assurance against all observable evidence. No one truly knew, as I had assumed they did. They just lie to convince themselves. It seemed that the more frequently you do this, the deeper your faith appeared to become.
More importantly I discovered that for me, continuing to try to do this for myself was disingenuous. An act of self denial that was wholly unnecessary. As my eyes opened I began to see the negative aspects of religion. The complete disdain religions have for other people’s ethics and life choices became enraging in that moment. The use of faith based arguments against logical reason became fallacious. I realized religion as a whole only marginally emulates the social awareness and humanist philosophies of the fabled Jesus, and at worst it destroys outsider’s lives in an almost incomprehensible number of vicious ways.
The final remnants of my faith departed me when I read The God Delusion. Richard Dawkins book justified my doubt, confirmed my skepticism and explained how one can accept that the question “what is the meaning of life” does not require succinct explanation. To paraphrase my very best and first atheist friend, “You can’t possibly answer the question, so why bother asking?” Those words still resonate in my ears almost twenty years later. I take it to mean that not everything requires an answer, and if you are unable to come up with it on your own, why waste your time on it. Rather, gaze in wonder that is our life, the world, the universe and everything and be dumbfounded. Because the fact is we are just that, too dumb to explain it all.
First published on The Atheist Monkey.