First...I think it is incredibly rude to respond to another person's honesty about a difficult life situation with BLAME. Those who know me well know that its never just one thing with me. One could even say that one of my biggest flaws is my tendency to overanalyze a situation to death. For example, the few friendships I have ended in my life were always done after many attempts to come to an understanding or even to appreciate them for who they are. Despite a lonely and difficult experience at BYU, when I left there not wanting to know another Mormon ever again, I was able to take a step back and balance my experience as I maintained friendships with the ones I had the most in common with, despite our religious differences.
So...for a person to claim that I am angry at God or rejecting God merely because I'm still stuck in this job that I hate is a gross over-simplication of a complex problem. And to accuse me of that after I made an honest statement about my faith on a public forum is rude and ignorant (sorry, dude). Everyone else showed their empathy and offered personal examples that really meant a lot to me. No one was accusatory, making me sound like I was some kind of petty person for losing faith in God.
With this post, I am baring my soul and actually EXPLAINING the events that led to my loss of faith in God last year (I haven't pinpointed the exact moment, but it was sometime in November or December). My loss of faith isn't just because I'm still stuck in the worst job of my life. It actually goes back twenty years, to my atheist period. I am not entering my second atheist period, however. I feel like I have finally moved beyond the hurdle of believing in a personal, anthropomorphic God and now embrace the Buddhist / Hindu view of God: a creative energy field that we are all a part of. In many ways, I can thank Yoda for first introducing the concept to me when I was just 8 years old and walked away from seeing The Empire Strikes Back believing in the power of the Force (which helped me to ride a bicycle without training wheels).
What I write below is not a critique aimed at any individual. Just an explanation about how I came to be where I am today, at the dawn of a new decade (which I hope will be more like the 1990s than the 2000s). I know that I don't owe anyone any explanation, but I'm all about understanding. Its another flaw of mine in that I want to be understood more than I care to be liked. I feel as though I understand more people than who understand me and its frustrating to not be able to share in deeply personal thoughts. Had I known that I would be critiqued so harshly, though, because of a Facebook update that I thought was honest, I probably would not have done it. So, we get this post because of that misunderstanding.
In my senior year of high school, I had the fortunate luck to be a student of a young male teacher who was outspoken in his views about racial equality, and as I learned soon enough, his atheism. I had never met an atheist before, so I was shocked and devastated at first. I spent many after school afternoons in his classroom asking all kinds of questions about his beliefs and was taken by the logic of his argument. Since my religious views were mostly what my parents and church taught me, I didn't have my own testimony to fall back on. I also had the bad experience during my years in Germany when my dad made me attend the protestant youth group meetings offered by the Army base chapel. I disliked the evangelicals and wasn't quite sure why, other than that they thought my church was a "cult" (my definition of cult was seared by the Jim Jones cult in which 1,000 of his followers drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid in Guyana in the late 1970s). I hated the judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and ignorance of the evangelical Christians I met that it planted a seed that would blossom a few years later in my rebellion against religion.
My government teacher didn't intend to lead me away from my church heritage, but I couldn't argue with the logic and history he presented. My belief in God ended sometime in November or December 1989. When I joined the Navy and was assigned overseas, I didn't care one whit about God. I lived life and enjoyed my experiences. God wasn't on my mind, yet I had amazing experiences. Coincidences that are statistically impossible. I was living the dream, as I saw many of the things I wanted come true. In essence, 1991 and 1992 still remain as the two greatest years of my life. I was living in in an emotional high point during that two year period.
In 1993, I had the strangest coincidence of my life (which I've written about previously on this blog) which had me questioning the atheistic view of the world. There was something strange going on that neither religion nor atheistic science could explain to my satisfaction about my personal experiences. By 1994 (my third best year in life), I had reconciled with God with the understanding that I would not "fake" my belief for the sake of others. I would be honest about what I believed and why, even if it upset other people. In 1998, I finally accepted reincarnation as the most accurate and logical belief system about life on earth. Of course, this view has bothered some church members I've shared it with, but its not like I'm demanding that our church preach it or accept it as doctrine. Its a personal belief rooted in personal spiritual experience and I've never been the type of person who required another person to believe as I do nor would I force it on another person or congregation or world church body. It doesn't matter to me if no other church member believes it is true.
In 2001, I had the most intense spiritual experience of my life, which fit everything I had read about in Buddhist texts about what an "enlightenment experience" feels like. Even Mormons have told me what it was like to have an experience like this. I've also written about this personal experience of mine on the blog before. In this decade, I've become much more interested in eastern religions, as I read books about Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. One of the questions I have is on the nature of God. Is God an anthropomorphic being (an exalted human-looking being who rewards and punishes at will, taking a vested interest in every detail of a person's life), which many Christians believe...or is God more like a creative energy field, similar to water, in which we're all just particles of that same energy? Honestly, this decade, I've been moving further away from a personal God and towards this "energy field" (the Force!) as I learn more about "the Law of Attraction", karma, dharma, and other ideas offered by the eastern religions.
My crisis is spurred on by my unanswered prayers for the past three years about why I'm in this organization and where I should look for a career. In the past when I made such a prayer, I've always received an answer. This time, there hasn't been an answer for three years. Very unusual, I thought. If a friend of mine ignored a sincere request of mine, I would be very miffed. I don't ask people for much as I prefer to do things myself. I pride myself on my independence, so when I ask for help from someone, its usually at my last straw. A cry for help. If a human ignores a request like this, naturally, I'd be upset. But they may have their reasons for not helping that have nothing to do with me.
When its God ignoring a request, though, its devastating. Its the one reason why I HATE-HATE-HATE that popular "Footprints" quote that Christians love to tell one another (the one about a single set of footprints on the beach during the most difficult period of a person's life being the time that Jesus carried you). This is the sixth "Dark Night of the Soul" period I've undergone since 1990, and it has gone on longer than all the others, with a much deeper sense of despair. I can tell you from personal experience...each "dark night of the soul" period...you do feel alone. God or Jesus most definitely is not carrying me through these times. All it takes is just an answer to a simple question. For me, understanding the "why" of a situation is enough to carry me through a bad experience. When I was robbed at knifepoint in Johannesburg as a young man, I knew immediately the "why." No one had to explain the reason it happened, because I already knew.
I'm in the job I'm in because of a coincidence that lead me to this place. I never would have sought the job on my own, but I really believed at the time that the coincidence would lead to better opportunities down the line. Instead, the coincidence had the effect of leading me away from a belief in a benevolent God (as anthropomorphic being) and towards the Hindu / Buddhist /New Age / Star Wars version of God. I knew in 2008 that I was in danger of losing my faith in God, but it finally happened late last year (I suspected it was the case for me when YAPS did the church service at the Eugene Congregation, but I was certain of it when I attended the Christmas Eve service and felt spiritually dead inside).
Don't get me wrong...I'm a spiritual being and always will be. I have experienced far too much in life to dismiss my experiences, coincidences, synchronicities as random, statistical occurrences that science can rationalize away. However, my belief in a personal God is effectively dead. For this decade, I embark on a new adventure in spirituality. I want to replicate and surpass the success of the 1990s. This past weekend, as I thought about the past decade, just how overall shitty it was for me, an image came to mind. What is shit, essentially? Its actually good fertilizer. That means all the shit I endured and dealt with last decade is actually the fertilizer that will enrich this decade as my goals and dreams come true.
At the end of last year, as I contemplated my loss of faith in a personal God, I asked myself (and a few spiritually strong people I admire), "How does one rebuild faith in God?" One day, I was staring at the books that line one of my bookcases and noticed a book I had bought on sale a few years ago but never touched. Its a textbook full of pictures and quite comprehensive. Its called: God: A Brief History by John Bowker. I pulled it from the shelf and flipped through the pages and laughed. This is exactly what I need as I "rediscover" what God is. The first page mentioned "the graveyard of dead gods" and listed all the powerful and mighty gods that humans had once believed in over the several millennia we've inhabited this planet. I liked that phrase so much that I decided to use it in my Facebook update (modified to my belief in a single God, of course). Who knew such a status update would provoke such a response?
In 2009, I had thought of taking a hiatus from church...a result of my disappointment for not being hired in that church position that I applied for. I decided to give church another chance but nothing changed. I only felt worse as the year wore on. It was especially hard to see the collapse of MAYAs as everyone fell into relationships and lost interest in the group as a whole. Once again, I was the "odd man out." Thus why I am taking that hiatus from church this year as I engage in personal studies about God and attend various eastern religious services (a Hindu service is scheduled for February).
Mostly, though, I will spend my Sundays working on three autobiographies I've been planning to write for a decade now. I figure this is a great way to remind myself of who I was as a child, what I had hoped and dreamed I would be in the future, and hopefully will lead me to my new career. It would be so much easier if God or whatever spiritual force out there could answer the single question that has weighed on my mind for three years now: "How does a guy like me who hated this organization as a teenager, who majored in international politics because he loves all things foreign and wanted a career in that field end up being stuck in this organization that goes against everything he believes in?" What is it about me that manifested this hellish existence for myself? How did I get so lost on the way to adulthood? And how do I find the way back to what I was born to do? That question will be answered in 2010. Stay tuned.