Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wherein DuWayne Talks About Something He Firmly Believed But Came to Doubt

And here is my introductory essay..Uncorrected from it's return by the venerable research/writing instructor. Tragically, I managed to lose the long version written before I realized that google docs doesn't format page sizes like normal word processors. Originally, I just thought that my three pages has been magically imbued with the ability to say everything I was trying to get across.

I was raised as an evangelical Christian. At first, my mother took my brothers and I to a rather moderate, United Methodist church. When I was seven we made the shift to a pentecostal church and I began my journey to becoming a fundamentalist golden child. I went to a parochial school and was part of a scout group through the church, called the Royal Rangers. During the school year I was in church every week day, every Sunday and often times on Saturdays for special events. I became very solid in my faith, I was an absolute Believer. We eventually left that church and I went back to the public schools, for a while we returned to the Methodist church. I didn't know it at the time, but it was because of some horrifying acts of hypocrisy that my mom was rather keen on hiding from me. It was at this point that I began to get serious about studying theology - I was eleven years old. It was also at this point that I began writing music, with a deep seated desire to bring glory to my god and help others worship him.

During the year we spent at the Methodist church I worked my way through most of the works of John Wesley, the pentecostal founder of the Methodist church. I realized that the Methodist church had gone far afield from the teachings of it's founder and began to really push to find us a church that fit our beliefs. I also began to study other theologians, both old and modern. I read Martin Luther, Aquinas and Augustine. I read C.S. Lewis, Frederick Beuchner and Francis Schaeffer. I read the works of theologians who supported my beliefs and the works of theologians who's reasoning I believed to be flawed. I wanted to understand the thinking of men who read and understood the Christian Bible and of men who had misinterpreted it. Throughout all of this, I read through multiple translations of the bible, because most of all, I wanted to understand it all for myself.

A couple of years before we moved to Agape, my dad (an atheist) took me to see Carl Sagan. I was very excited about going to see him, because my family had watched Cosmos a couple of times and I found astronomy quite fascinating. I was even more excited when after I asked a couple of good questions during the Q&A, someone from UoM came up and said that Prof. Sagan would like to meet me. I then took the opportunity to ask him if he believed we might someday discover god in the cosmos. He very graciously replied that he sincerely doubted that there is a god to discover, but that I should not take his word for it - that it was important that I learn as much as I can about the world and universe around me and draw my own conclusions. He emphasized the importance of thinking for myself and never just taking someone else's word as a functional truth. He also expressed an interest in hearing from me in a few years to see where I was at. I walked away from that exchange energized, believing that my drive to learn more about my faith and what drove it was of critical importance. In essence, I took this recommendation from an atheist and applied it to Belief. But to draw a Christian parallel, a seed was planted

Then we found the church that would change my life. We moved to a non-denominational pentecostal church, Agape Christian Fellowship. It was here that my musical abilities flourished, under the tutelage of the music minister. It is also where I became a part of a church's leadership, becoming a part of the worship team and occasionally filling the role of primary worship leader. I was even able to sell some of the music I wrote. At this point in my life, I had an absolute Faith that is no different than the Faith which causes people of other religions to strap bombs to themselves and kill in the name of their god. The only difference is in what I believed that my god wanted me to do with that faith. For me, it was a compulsion to witness to others in an attempt to help them realize the need for salvation through Jesus Christ. And a significant, near pathological compulsion it was, because I believed absolutely that anyone who didn't receive such salvation would be condemned to eternal damnation and suffering. As I mentioned, my dad is an atheist - so are some of my siblings, so this was a particularly terrifying notion to me. On top of that, I also took very strongly to heart the notion of loving others and believed that I was commended to do so with no strings attached, so I took my responsibility to be a good witness very seriously.

I didn't receive my first inkling of doubt, until I watched The Power of Myth, in which Bill Moyers interviews Joseph Campbell. It was not a sudden transition, it really didn't strongly affect me at all at first. Again a seed was planted. At the same time, I became heavily involved with working at a thrift shop my uncle had opened, to support a house he had started to house persons infected with AIDS. For the first time in my life, I was spending a lot of time around gays. And I discovered something – homosexuals are human beings too. But the major event that blew me out of the water, happened with my church.

A young women in the youth group committed the cardinal sin – she got pregnant. And instead of doing what I absolutely believed the bible was quite clear on and surrounding her in loving support, she was made a pariah. I was soon to follow. After talking with some of the leadership of the church, I decided to take matters into my own hands. The Sunday following the unsatisfactory discussion with the youth pastor and pastor, I used the time I was supposed to sing a new song, to make my feelings on the matter known, quoting scripture to back me up. Not too far into it the mic was cut off and shortly after that I was escorted off the platform and out of the building. It helped, but the fact that I didn't leave alone that day was little enough comfort.

I was devastated by the rank hypocrisy. I understood that such hypocrisy existed, even that it was somewhat common. What I didn't realize, was that it was alive and well in my own church. This, combined with some rather unsatisfactory discussions about geology, evolution and gay rights put me over the edge. I didn't set foot in another church for several years. Unfortunately, I was not done with my faith, though from then on it was to take on a very strange shape.

Shortly after this experience, I lost my virginity. I was smoking cigarettes and decided to try marijuana too. I soon came to the conclusion that this was all ok, mainly because it was so easy to manage all of these “sins.” I honestly came to believe that my god must approve, because when I saw someone I really, really wanted to have sex with, it ended up working out. Never occurred to me at the time that (at the time) I was a pretty boy. I also got to where if I wanted to get stoned, one of my friends would have weed. Never occurred to me that was because all the friends I had at that point were stoners. Nope. To me it was just evidence that my god wanted me to be happy and have all these things in my life.

I went through years of trying to reconcile the bible with my acceptance of evidence based geology, evolution and gay rights. I performed remarkable feats of mental gymnastics, I bought into outright lies. I decided that the bible was not actually the literal word of god, rather it was a collection of stories that formed the backbone of the Christian faith – to be accepted only to a certain point. But I finally crumbled when I was finally unable to justify worshiping a god that advocated rape, fratricide and genocide. Nor could I manage to fool myself into thinking that the god described in the Christian bible was anything but. But the final spike in the coffin, was the understanding that not all religions could be valid, but if one religion is valid, then all of them must be valid. At that, the hold out vestiges of my faith crumbled into dust.

Throughout all of this, I did manage to hold onto one final notion. I didn't become an atheist, except in the very broadest sense of the word. I don't discount the idea that there is a god, nor do I discount the idea that such a god might intervene in human affairs. For several years I was a very enthusiastic user of LSD and other hallucinogens, or as I prefer to refer to them, entheogens. I would even go as far as to say that I have addiction problems with hallucinogens, especially LSD – though I have thankfully been clean of them for eight years this summer. Throughout my experience with them, I found reason to hold onto something that, until now, I never believed I could question.

I have always believed in a spiritual/physical duality. I never questioned it – not once in all my years of searching for my faith and my god. Even when I completely rejected revealed religion, I didn't question that basic tenet. It may be that I have just been desperate to hold onto something of a faith that I had committed my entire life to – and have no doubt, I was committed for life. I can't even say how this doubt crept in or mark it's beginning. Nor can I say that I don't believe in this duality, only that my absolute certainty it exists is no longer a certainty. The most remarkable thing about it is, I'm comfortable with my doubt. I am at peace with it and have even found peace in it.


Juniper Shoemaker said...

What a wonderful essay! It reveals you as an idealist with a deep and abiding interest in reality as well as the welfare of others.

(But if that description offends you, you can safely reject it without offending me. I think what I'm trying to say, sleepless here in the middle of the night, is that you strike me as a person who is caring and honest in a particularly valuable way. Sleepy reasoning! Always tricky.)

Several of the experiences you describe resonate with me, even though they aren't similar to mine. About two years ago, I became a de facto atheist-- mainly as a defense against my tendency to be dangerously impressionable. I do not think there is much evidence for the existence of a God. I also struggle with the notion of an omnipotent and purely loving deity that presides over a world in which people do unspeakably horrific things to others. But I can't help hoping that I turn out to be wrong. Carl Sagan says something like this in Demon-Haunted World, incidentally.

I often wonder if "God" is simply our vague common sense description of phenomena that we could explain scientifically if we knew a whole lot more physics than we presently do as a species. It wouldn't surprise me. It wouldn't ruin the concept of "spirituality" for me, either. It's such a tremendous challenge to understand "reality". It excites and inspires me that it's truly not enough just to attribute phenomena to supernatural forces that want us to stop investigating them past that point.

I, too, was abruptly hurt and disillusioned by my teen encounters with hypocrisy in Christian congregations. It stunned me that people who discussed Scripture all the time could smoothly transition between Catechism and beating up students rumored to be gay in the parking lot, or any of the hundred other cruel and unethical things they did. (It also stunned my best friend, the only person I admired as a Catholic who struggled mightily to practice what she preached, every day.) To this day, despite my atheism, professed (usually right-wing, ahem) Christians in the news will anger me: "What happened to all that stuff Jesus said about taking the plank out of your own eye first! ARRRGGGHH!!!!!!!" It's like I still can't believe that some Christians have no problem egregiously failing to meet their own standards.

The most remarkable thing about it is, I'm comfortable with my doubt. I am at peace with it and have even found peace in it.

This is one of the billion of things that I love about science. Additionally, since I've relatively recently become comfortable with my doubt, I've learned to treat people exponentially better than I did several years ago. You can't be generous with and attentive to people if you aren't comfortable with doubt-- and, yes, I mean exactly in the sense that you've used the word.

What instrument(s) do you play, anyway?

PhizzleDizzle said...

Very compelling. You and Juniper should have a "compelling write-off." :)

I heard from someone once that to believe absolutely that there is a god requires faith, because obviously we cannot prove it. At the same time, believing absolutely that there isn't one is also an act of faith, since we can't actually prove that either. The person was advocating that the only *rational* thing to do was be an agnostic. And that's what I am. But my journey was considerably less twisted and turned. Yours is way more interesting :).

Comrade Physioprof said...

Beautiful shit, dude!

DuWayne Brayton said...

Juniper -

I sing and play enough of the keyboard or guitar to help me write. Though with the advent of kickass composition programs, I often forgo instruments to just put notes on the page.

Smoking and drugging have taken some tole on my voice, but I spent years with a variety of voice instructors. I might have some trouble doing it today, but at one time I could stand in a orchestra rehersal room (they have a lot of acoustic dampening and are fucking huge) and fill the room, thanks to my opera coach. I could also sing with proper diction in French, Italian, Latin, German (really hard one), Swedish and Hebrew, thanks to a Swedish voice coach.

But becoming convinced that high school just wasn't going to work for me, screwed up a possible career in that direction. Juliard likes kick ass musicians and composers, but they require they have a high school diploma.

And as for your opening para, not offended at all.

PhizzleDizzle -

I wish mine were more lame and relaxed. Believe me. I am glad that I am who I am, I just wish getting here didn't suck as bad as it has.

Candid Engineer said...

The idea of Christianity is very compelling to me, but I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school for 13 years... and the hypocrisy was palpable and ever-present. I stopped regularly attending church the day the homily focused on how homosexuals were ruining the family structure of our country. Fucking bullshit.

Anyway, nice post.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

Very compelling. You and Juniper should have a "compelling write-off."

Awwww, Phizzle! I was really, really cranky over something foolish before I read that. What an inspiring idea. At least, what a way to inspire a blogger to finish her meaty posts.

I heard from someone once that to believe absolutely that there is a god requires faith, because obviously we cannot prove it. At the same time, believing absolutely that there isn't one is also an act of faith, since we can't actually prove that either. The person was advocating that the only *rational* thing to do was be an agnostic

Richard Dawkins has combatted this argument by pointing out that the two outcomes-- God or no God-- are not necessarily equiprobable. He says, "I am as agnostic about the belief in the existence of a God as I am about the existence of fairies at the bottom of the well in my garden." (Or some shit like that. I'm recalling from memory and I may have paraphrased a little, if not significantly.) Technically, one cannot be anything but agnostic about anything. There's always the possibility that, say, HIV doesn't cause AIDS. But what the hell is the probability of that being true weighed against that being FALSE, based on the empirical evidence we have at present?

Though with the advent of kickass composition programs, I often forgo instruments to just put notes on the page.

That's fucking awesome, DuWayne. I didn't even know you could do it that way.

JLK said...

DuWayne, this post is a perfect example of why I am having such a hard time coming up with interview questions for you. You are always so open about your life with the blogosphere that I've been having trouble thinking of things that I don't already know about you!

Here are your interview questions. They were the best I could come up with.

1. What is your fondest memory?

2. If you could either be a world-famous, highly-respected, inspiring and well-paid musician or a world-famous, highly-respected, and well-paid neuropsychologist with major contributions to the field of addiction research - but you had to give up one completely in order to embark on the journey of the other, which would you choose and why?

3. I'm a genie in a bottle and you just rubbed me the right way. You've got 3 wishes. What are they?

4. You've been kidnapped again by those space Nazis, only this time they're going to take everything that's left from your brain and there will be no way to get it back. But they've given you the opportunity to pass on 5 life lessons to your kids before you go. What are they?

5. You're given the opportunity to live anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, for one year. Where do you go, what do you do while you're there, and why did you choose that place?

alysdexia said...

with hick misspellings and mis'wordings too (My break is for New English vowel w as bent sh·wá.)