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03 February, 2010

Questioning God

What exactly was it about religion that appealed to me so much when I believed in God? I'm not just talking about when I was very young and Santa Claus and Jesus gave me the same warm-fuzzy feeling that I got when I thought about my mom or dad. I'm talking about even after I shed Christianity altogether. For awhile I called God "Goddess" and then I simply called it "God" and described it as an indescribable, loving being having nothing to do with any holy books.

My case is unique, I believe, simply because at 19 I found that reliance on that simple idea of God saved my life. I understand today that the belief in a higher power is the higher power that got and kept me clean and sober for seven years (seven today, in fact), and that regardless of not believing in God anymore, I still haven't gotten drunk. I am now the second atheist I've ever known in recovery, although I don't often go to meetings anymore.

So how can one live for years believing in a miracle and suddenly become an atheist? That brings me back to the first question. The idea of God let me do quite a few things when I was getting sober. It let me believe that I wasn't shouldering the whole responsibility of changing my life and my behavior, a task that would have seemed too arduous had I tried to do it on my own. The saying, "God never gives you more than you can handle" was very comforting when trying to put the torn remnants of my life back together. It gave me someone to cry to when I couldn't or didn't want to get someone on the phone. It helped me learn patience when things didn't go my way (all in God's time). It did a lot for me for quite awhile.

Looking back, I didn't originally need a belief in God in order to learn these things. After all, if that were the case, I would have learned them between the ages of 5 and 12 when I went to church and truly believed in Jesus or from 15-19 when I played around with witch craft. It was a predetermined physiology that I was born with a tendency to drink heavily and use drugs and therefore not surprising that I ended up looking for the only solution that I knew (my mother is also in recovery and achieved sobriety when I was six). I see now that it was just that the conditions were right. If my parents had been Scientologists, I would have gone to Narcanon.

The day that my belief began to end was when I was telling someone why I believed in a most basic and mysterious idea of God. I thought how precise the laws in the Universe were and that they seemed so perfect to be holding everything together. My friend told me that the Universe is far from perfect, that black holes can't be explained to serve any purpose, there are fluctuations in the forces that hold everything together and that there are probably multiple dimensions that we just can't sense yet. I remember a large stone dropping in my stomach. From then on out, faith started losing its grip. It took about two years, some investigating of my own, and a philosophy class (taught by a Christian, so no one can tell me the class had a liberal, atheist bias) and I found myself an atheist.

I cried. I did. I'm not afraid to admit it. But since then, I've found it remarkable how free it feels.

Even believing in the basic concept of God while trying to shed the punishing, jealous God of my youth during my recovery, I would find myself wondering if God were punishing me when things went wrong. Did I get a flat tire because I skimped out on working on one of my 12 steps last night? Did God make me an alcoholic because I lied to my parents as a teenager? Did my parents get divorced because I had a cigarette when I was 12? I no longer have those thoughts very often. Out of habit my mind wanders back there sometimes, but it's not often.

The other night I was in a situation in which an event I've been planning with two bands at a local venue almost crashed down around my head. After doing everything I could to calm the situation, I gave up and gave the people involved time to work it out on their own. I remember thinking, "This is usually the point when I used to say the Serenity Prayer and ask God to let everything work itself out." I didn't pray. I told myself that everything would work itself out, band or no band. I went home and ate dinner. Everything worked itself out -- with band -- and God had no hand in it. It was as simple as that, but still profound to me as I've only truly been convinced of the absence of God for a few months now.

That is my own journey to non-belief. I truly think that if someone like me can shed the chains of faith, then anyone can do so with enough investigation. It isn't a pleasant journey all the time, but in the end I have to agree with Carl Sagan. "It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

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