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Loss Of Faith

I grew up in a Christian home. My father's family was American Lutheran and my mother's was Missouri Synod Lutheran. I couldn't tell the difference, but some people would spend hours arguing fine points of doctrinal differences. In any case, we moved around a lot so which Lutheran church we belonged to would be a matter of which was nearest. As a kid, all the way up through high school, I was a true believer. Wasn't everybody? I underwent baptism. I went to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and I was confirmed. It was just all part of life, wasn't it? Holidays like Christmas and Easter had profound meaning. Such was life in rural small-town America.

 

Then I went to college, a major state university. We had to take a bunch of General Education courses as a part of our liberal arts education and one I chose was a year-long psychology course. It was very interesting and brought up things I had just not thought of before. A lot of them had to do with the religious nature of the human mind. It was neither pro-religious nor anti-religious, but I could see my own beliefs in a way that I had never even considered and it was rather deeply disturbing, but it was disturbing in a good way. I was learning why I was the way I was. At the same time, I was taking a year-long course in Anthropology. The first semester was physical anthropology and it had to do with human origins and evolution from the oldest fossils down to modern humans. I was just stunned. I wondered, where does creation and Adam and Eve fit into all of this? Alas, there was no mention of Adam and Eve, or of creation. Not a word. The whole course was very fair and very factual and no mention of religion, either pro or con, came up at any time. This was not the origin and history of the Earth I knew to be true from my churchly education. What was going on? My mind was reeling and I needed help. I was told by our minister that the bible was the infallible word of God and was the truth. If my courses and professors said something and it differed from the bible, then I should take the biblical explanation as being the truth. And have faith, I was told. 

 

The second semester of Anthropology considered the cultural aspects of human populations. Of course,  a major part of it had to do with the different religions in different parts of the world. How were religions similar? How did they differ? Well, they differed a lot, but the most striking thing was how similar they all were. Almost all the religions had explanation of human origins and all had ideas regarding death and what might happen after that event. All seemed to have gods and these gods came in an amazing variety, but they all were rulers on high in one way or another and their wisdom and teachings were not to be questioned. Usually there were written rules and laws or commandments. Well, the rules and commandments, although highly varied, were much the same. We were looking at the nature of the human religious experience and how all the different cultures handled it. At no time was any one religion considered superior to the others. It was just a comparison. Oh, that was considerably different than the way I was brought up. To us, Catholics were heathen because they worshiped idols (statues) and the Baptists weren't much better. Both would probably roast in hell, we thought, unless they somehow found the true religion, namely ours. The cultural anthropology course was a profound blow to both my religious faith and to the denomination to which I belonged.

 

During the next year, I had decided to be a geology major and my first semester had a course called physical geology. It was just fascinating. It had to do with rivers and streams, oceans glaciers, land forms, deserts and a host of other things. I loved it! I was a geologist! No question, and I've never changed my mind. In any case, physical geology had no particular clash with religious beliefs, at least at the freshman level, and it was good to experience a pause from the relentless onslaught of the first year of college. Well, the next semester was historical geology. It had to do with the origin of the earth, the origin of life on earth and the evolution of life as represented by the fossil record. In short, the course could be titled the History of the Earth. Boy, what an eye opener!  Anthropology and Psychology had brought body blows to my faith. Historical Geology finished it off. I looked back on my Christian teachings and wondered how could I have ever believed that stuff?

 

I had no one to talk to. Our preacher was just not someone I could have a serious discussion about religion with. My parents didn't even understand what the problem was and thought of all people without faith as atheists, and they held atheists in very low regard . I was living at home and I was more or less forced into going to church with the family every week. What a dreadful experience! In any case, our church had a group for college-aged people and it was called the Walther League. Supposedly, you could go to it for social reasons and then, as a part of the program, there would be a session where you could bring up questions about things that bothered you in your education. The minister and several elders would be there to help resolve any problems. A lot of the students brought up troubling questions and, I felt, were answered in a very shallow faith-based way. I remarked that in our church teachings, God had created the earth and all inhabitants and it worked out at about 6000 years ago and was formed in six days. Yet in my geology courses the earth was said to be formed 3 or 4 billion years ago (now known to be 4.5 billion). I wondered how this could be resolved in that the geological argument was pretty convincing. Our preacher admitted that he couldn't resolve the matter because he knew nothing about geology, but he opened the bible to a variety of passages which he read from Genesis to see what God had to say about the matter. One of the elders added that the bible was the infallible word of God and that I had to have faith in that. Not too long after that incident our pastor retired and was replaced by another. The new pastor came over for dinner as a way of getting to know his flock. After dinner, we sat in the living room for a friendly chat. The pastor turned to me and asked what I had majored in (I was a senior at the time). I replied that I majored in geology and he visibly stiffened. He asked if that didn't interfere with my faith, in a slightly hostile manner. I replied that it didn't interfere at all. It was a completely honest answer. By that time, I no longer had a faith.

 

Oh, what a difficult time. I underwent a major cleavage with my family and I couldn't talk about it. Dad accused me of being an atheist and for a while I thought I was going to be kicked out of the house. Mom was more understanding but hardly said anything one way or another. I remember her remarking that if Grandpa knew about this, it would kill him. They both regretted that they had ever allowed me to go to the university. I just shut up and got along as best as I could. Basically, I withdrew. Within a month I graduated. I was the only one out of our two large families (9 and 10) to have graduated with a college degree and my parents were very proud, despite the difficulties. I then had a summer job, which took me out of the environment, and in September I entered graduate school at a university 1500 miles away.

 

Organized religion is like a drug. The opiate of the masses, as Karl Marx put it. Well, it's true. And now my comforting opium was gone and I went into withdrawal symptoms. I responded by reading books. I guess that between my graduation and my first quarter of graduate school I must have read at least a hundred books. And they were quality books, not just trash. I still have them. Paperbacks. I value the additional education they provided. A second comforter was my graduate education. I completely lost myself. It was so interesting and there was so much to do. For the first time in my life, I wasn't home for Christmas (and Easter, later on). I felt so lonely. I ended up going to a Unitarian service on Christmas Eve. They had a fellow come out and read Christmas poetry. All thoughts on Christmas were represented, and some were quite funny. It was just what I needed. There were no Christmas carols. In between the readings, a fellow played the flute and was accompanied by a piano player. they were exceptionally  talented and provide a wonderful background. What a difference with my old church!

 

Graduate school was so concentrated and came at me so fast that I didn't have time to worry about my problems. After the first academic year, I had a summer of field research totally on my own in the wilds of Northern California. Then it was back to the campus to write up my research, take my remaining classes and pass a few examinations. A Master of Science degree was awarded and I went on directly for a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Geology and it was granted in two years at the age of 26 and I managed to obtain a teaching position at a four-year institution. My religion had faded into the distant past and I never looked back. 

 

So, I'm now 75 and in the twilight of a long career. Do I regret my loss of faith way back in my early 20s? No, not a bit. The farther I get away from it, the better I feel. Do I regret having been a Christian? No, not really. It was an education in itself and there are a lot of good values that come along as a part of the beliefs. Would I raise my child to be a Christian? No, but he'll be aware of it. What do I think about others who are still in the faith? I feel sorry for them. They have lived their lives in a false world. A substantial part of the beliefs are just ridiculous. Do I fear death? Well, I'm not looking forward to it but everybody dies. Have I missed my chances for an afterlife. Well, my chances of an afterlife are just as good as anyone else's.

gleep gleep 70+, M Aug 7, 2011

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