This post is part of an ordered sequence of posts. If you are new to the site, please scroll to the bottom of the page or click here to start at the beginning.
I want to tell you about the strangest day of my life. This day fell within the few weeks of last fall (2010) during which I transitioned from being a committed Christian to being a committed non-Christian.
During these weeks every mental activity of my mind was focused on the dilemma at hand. I was determined to establish what I believed. My Christianity had become somewhat stagnant and I had been trying for quite some time to revive it. I was tired of being wishy-washy and luke-warm. I needed to KNOW what I believed and LIVE it, instead of just shrugging and going through the motions.
I also wanted to be affirm to myself that Christianity was something I had chosen NOT because it was what I grew up with, but rather because it authentically rang true in my life. I needed to know that I was not biasing myself against other perspectives and clinging to my Christian world-view for reasons other than its evident truth. At this particular point in my life I was genuinely willing to sacrifice absolutely anything to get at the truth. I had been trying for months to pull myself out of a slump. My life had felt meaningless and empty for so long that I reached a point where every ounce of my determination was focused on getting out. Life was not going to get the best of me. No sir. I was going to get through this, no matter what it took, but I knew that any form of compromise for an “easy fix” would be the stupidest thing I could ever do and I became driven with determination to discover the true core of my current dilemma and fix it thoroughly and completely.
I decided it was time to turn my world-view upside down and shake out all the contents so I could analyse and assess what was there. SOMETHING was wrong and I needed to know what it was. Picking at parts of it seemed not to be proving successful so I decided it was time for a full disassembling of it in order to rebuild it in a way that didn’t result in me being miserable and feeling meaningless all the time. It should be noted that I in no way thought that Christianity was problematic, but rather that I had somehow mangled my understanding of it in a way that made my life stop working.
My process of disassembling included a day on which I chose to “follow my mind around” so as to collect data about its various reactions to regular intellectual stimuli. The reason this sounds so weird is because it is very weird. I have never in my life experienced anything like I experienced that day and I don’t believe I ever will again. It was only possible because the of the exact set of circumstances leading up to it. Any attempt I could make to duplicate it would be entirely inauthentic and result only in contrived experiences.
This day happened to fall on a Sunday, and on Halloween. I chose, like I often did during times of high mental stress, to walk and ride transit around downtown Toronto (definitely an interesting experience on Halloween). On this particular day I had no specific topics which I wished to hash out in my mind (even though there were many) because I wanted to just see where my mind would go when I gave it no specific direction.
Naturally, my mind began reacting to the various things that I saw as I wandered the streets of Toronto. One thing I noticed were people. I noticed specific people (strangers) and I thought: “How is my mind going to react to this visual stimuli of people?” My mind wasted no time assessing the visual stimuli of “people.” Immediately my mind had an explanation for this stimuli and it came as no surprise to me. These people were creations of God, loved by Him and created for a purpose. They were beings that desired a love which could only be fulfilled through the love of Christ. My own relationship to them was one of [agape] love in that if I were to interact with them I would demonstrate the love of Christ and hope that one day, when the circumstances were right, they would come to accept Him as their saviour.
This is the very first split-second assessment that my mind conjured up after an encounter with the visual stimuli of a person. That was what “person” meant to me and was naturally the very first place my mind led me. That was interesting to me and I made a mental note about the knee-jerk assessments that my mind made. On this particular day, I had chosen that no priority would be given to any particular bias I might have. I simply wanted to observe and analyse the ones that were there. I had now stored one piece of data about my mind’s initial reaction to the stimuli “person.” It was an explanation that cohered with my current (but temporarily suspended) Christian world-view. Interesting.
My mind continued to wander on the subject of “person,” and I studiously followed it. It stumbled upon an alternative explanation for “person.” This particular alternative explanation was a non-theistic one in which “person” did not entail a being loved and created by God for a purpose. A person was merely a product of evolution, an “accident,” a being who was merely “lucky” to be in existence, whose life had no real meaning. My mind immediately found this explanation distinctly repulsive and incoherent. It wreaked of falseness and the thought of it was offensive to me. Interesting. I made another mental note. I had collected another piece of data about the workings of my mind. My mind did not just find this alternative explanation disagreeable, but it was literally repulsed by it while the Christian explanation just “fit” and felt right and natural. Interesting, interesting. But no conclusion is to be made today. Only observations.
My mind continued on the topic of “person.” I thought: “What if I was a person who believed the repulsive alternative explanation? How would I justify it to myself if I was that person?” I considered the specific things I would need to come to terms with if I was a person who believed these non-theistic things about “person.” Well, if I was a person with a non-theistic (naturalistic) world-view I would believe that I and every other person are just highly advanced animals, surviving because our ancestors were the “fittest.” Our lives wouldn’t have any real (objective) meaning and there would be no afterlife. We wouldn’t have any obligation to each other and “every man for himself” would seem like a perfectly reasonable way to live. The concept of “love” would not have any elevated status. There would be no objective moral standard and no way to discern which action is morally better than another.
I thought about how my perspective to other people would be changed. If I was a person with a non-theistic world-view I would have no reason to go out of my way to “show Christ’s love” to them, or to hope that they would one day accept Christ as their saviour. To me, they would just be similar beings to myself, living their lives according to how they see fit and then dying and being forever gone. There would be no “higher cause or meaning,” no “answer.” If I was a person holding a non-theistic world-view I would not believe that the overwhelming majority of the thousands of people I pass on the street throughout my life would experience hell (in some form or another). My mind reacted very unexpectedly to this thought. I was overwhelmed by a flood of relief when I thought of this possibility. I had uncovered something that was apparently a heavy burden on my mind. I noticed there was a topic that my mind always skipped over consistently and determinedly. It was a topic that I could never get myself to look square in the eye. This observation made me curious, so I looked it square in the eye.
The topic that was so difficult for me to stare in the eye was a topic of statistics, more specifically the topic of the statistical probability of an undesirable fate for the souls of almost everyone I encountered on a day-to-day basis. I did not want to think about it that so many of the people I encountered were not ever going to accept Christ as their saviour. I could be the most wonderfully authentic and loving Christian but all these people would still never accept Christianity. I wanted to comfort myself by telling myself that maybe a lot of them would whisper a prayer on their deathbed and their soul would be saved, but I knew this was wishful thinking. When I really thought about it, I knew, I knew that thousands upon thousands of souls would reach their end without even coming close to accepting Christ, no matter what I did. This BOTHERED me. I had an immense burden for these people and I so badly wished that I could press some magic button and reverse the statistic. But no wishful thinking could get me past this one. This statistical reality burdened me to a degree that I had apparently created a mental block to keep myself from thinking about it directly, which was revealed by an unsuspected flood of relief brought on by the prospect of not having to believe it anymore.
VERY interesting. A third piece of data was added to my mental notes. The reaction in my mind generated by the idea of not having to believe that the destiny of so many people’s souls is hell was massive. My mind LONGED for it to be true, so it could escape the uncomfortable and burdening reality. But I still had no intentions of making a decision on the matter. Only collecting data. This was not a time for hasty decisions.
To be continued…
[Note: In order to keep a respectful dialogue, comments will be moderated before appearing on the site.]