Friday, January 28, 2011

Walking away from religious belief - my story

I grew up as a quasi- Episcopalian, sang in the junior choir. When I was 14, I was invited by a classmate to a baptist vacation bible school where I got “SAVED” i.e. born again as they say. I was an over-imaginative and socially alienated teen, happy to hear somebody loved me.... And when I say over imaginative, I was the sort, who as a child of three or four years old, had conversations with an imaginary species of “pookiebell,” a sort of small fairy creature that tended the ferns. It wasn't so much delusion as a strong creative streak that needed guidance.

In my teenage loneliness I conjured a deep emotional connection to Jesus and to god as I imagined their love for me. And this was the attraction.  I started going to a baptist church, and felt accepted there, and began writing christian folk songs. This belief conveniently kept me from having to make the usual teenage decisions about sex and drugs, gave me a ready-made group of people who were supposed to care about me and another far more  authoritative imaginary presence to talk to. After high school, I went to Philadelphia College of Bible as a music student. (Subsequent name changes include Philadelphia Biblical University. and now Cairn University)

The first chink in the old armor came one day when I was out passing out "Jesus Saves" booklets in Rittenhouse Square. I met a Hindu man and we spent some three and a half hours trying to convert each other.. My mind churned. We couldn't both be right, one of us had to be wrong, I thought. But he was every bit as sincere and devout as I was, knew his own holy books just as well...

The summer I got a job as a camp counselor at a religious “ranch” I was brought up short again when a fellow counselor told all the children that their mommies and daddies would burn in hell unless they came to believe. The terrible anguish of these children, who assumed the words of that counselor to be literal, immediate truth - starkly framed the barbarism inherent in the concept of hell.  It was the beginning of the end of fundamental evangelical Christianity for me. I no longer could believe in this version of god. Despite this, I returned to college in the fall - I needed to figure out what to do instead, how to change direction.

After one more year (three total) at bible collage, going through the motions, trying to understand - I dropped out and became an avid non-christian, interested in whatever I could read about religion(s). For many years I told the census takers I was a pantheist, a pagan, a  heathen. For a short while I I was into a sort of new age mumbo-jumboism & reincarnation,  and then dabbled in home-styled American buddhism & insight meditation. My religious opinions were further fleshed out by six years working for churches as a mezzo-soprano, including four years working for a Roman catholic church. I was a non-christian, quasi-atheist at the time, and my immediate musical bosses knew it.

Over the years I have done a lot of thinking about religion and it's creator - the human mind. At the core of each religion, there is always a set of people called mystics. When you read about their experiences they are remarkably similar even in religions that call each other heretics and infidels. I think the similarity is because a “mystical experience” is a brain-state that can happen to anyone who's brain chemistry gets bent in a particular way. It is a state accessible through mediation practice BUT it is a physical phenomenon, not a revelation of a god or gods and not a product of any supernatural process. Religious states of communion, thankfulness or “oneness” that often accompany prayer or meditation are also brain-based and beautiful even apart the common religious labels applied to them. They are natural states of the human brain.

Apparently, I have a atheistic and naturalistic view which excludes divinities as well as the supernatural.. Naturalists see no evidence for the supernatural, and no need for it either as all things, both interior and exterior, arise from the natural physical world. I am also a secular humanist. Secular humanists think that human beings should, without a god or a religion, try to live the best life they can using the power of reason to realize their unique abilities and thereby contribute to the good of society, mankind in general and to the life and history of the planet.
- Mar Walker