Intellectual Atheist, Emotional Spiritualist

I suppose I’m a post-theist. I had a mystic experience in my first year of university, where I felt a presence all around me that permeated my body and connected me to the cosmos. God was within me. I was a pantheist, someone who believed that the universe itself has an underlying sentience, an “aliveness.” The universe is God, God is the universe, neither can be separated. Of course this is not so much a religion as a general statement of belief without any real framework. After a while, I tried to find a framework for it.

I dabbled in Neo-Paganism in my first couple of years of university, as so many other individuals of my demographic have done, though I eventually lost interest in it. As much as I love mythology and supernatural fiction, I’m ultimately unable to believe in a plurality of deities or that people are able to command the universe with a few well-placed chants and arcane gestures. I was a non-denominational pantheist for a while after I left that particular system, with the occasional experience of my soul being entered by the presence of God, like a cup being filled with water. In time, I discovered the Quakers, the Society of Friends; a religion that matched both my spiritual experiences and my personal sensibilities. For a while I happily prayed in silence every Sunday morning with the community of Friends, as we each opened ourselves up to the divine and waited for the Holy Spirit to bid us speak.

And suddenly I stopped going.

It wasn’t because I felt disillusioned with the Quakers, as I still have a lot of respect and love for their beliefs. It wasn’t because I felt the experience wasn’t useful to me, for I felt a great sense of peace attending the ceremonies, and the religion really helped me deal with the sorrow after the death of my maternal grandfather. But I realized that my mystical experience, those feelings of oneness with the universe, those feelings that existence loves me as dearly as a mother and as passionately as a lover, they didn’t prove that God exists. Logically, such feelings were more likely an eccentricity of my brain, an idle musing of my mind, and that to all logical the universe is impersonal and uncaring in a general sense, even if certain particulars could care about you very much. As much as I may respect and even love a belief system, I am unable to attend a religious service if I do not believe in the deity it invokes. It just makes me feel like a fraud.

And here I am today. I do not believe in God. Though I continue to be fascinated by religion, mysticism, all the rest, intellectually I am an agnostic who stands close to the atheist side of the pole. I believe strongly in truth: clean, objective truth, and cannot believe in something unless I feel that it is True. Many people have argued that this is simplistic and unrealistic; that certain things are true in different ways and that we have no way of knowing unconditionally that something is true, and so it’s better to focus on what view of the world is useful, and less what view is “True.” I concede that these people may well be correct, but I cannot bring myself to think like that. It’s not how I view the world. Some things are true, some things are false, and I want to know which ones are which.

Now, if that was all I felt, then I wouldn’t be too different from a lot of other people in the world. However, though intellectually I’m agnostic, emotionally I still react on very spiritual terms. In particular, I believe in the existence of sin, at least with regards to myself. “Sin” is a particular perspective on “badness” as it carries with it the idea of taint. There is a right way to behave, a particular ideal you should aspire to, and when you sin, you move away from that ideal, you damage it like a person chipping away at a marble statue. Even if the chips are small, with enough of them the statue will collapse. I believe there is a particular kind of person I’m supposed to be, something the universe wants me to be, and I continually fall short of it as I waste the time that has been granted me. The really unfortunate result of a non-theist believing this is that I feel judged by reality, but there’s nothing for me to appeal to. A Christian may feel corrupt and sinful, but at least he can pray to Jesus to forgive his sins.

I wish I could believe again. I wish I could believe in the Lord who is father and mother, sibling and lover, who is the whole universe, and who manifests with unconditional love and understanding. “I know everything that you have done and everything that you have failed to do, and I forgive you and give you my love and joy.” But I can’t. I still can’t.

-Bevan Thomas

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