Define ‘God’ – Part – 1

A few friends that I once shared the Christian Faith with have recently asked me why I have departed from belief in God. This 2-Part post is an attempt to shed some light. I know that many people in Christian Communities struggle with disbelief in silence, so hopefully this helps someone feel less alone and gives more insight to those who have no experience with Organized Religion…

I find religion fascinating. Whether Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. I just think it’s interesting. What’s most interesting to me is the origin stories of various religious beliefs and how those beliefs propagate through time. I’m not a religious scholar by any means and although I am primarily in reference to belief systems that involve some component of spirituality, I think we all have religions of some sort and a tendency to adhere to doctrines of some sort. I believe that’s influenced primarily by our families and cultures that we are exposed to at a young age. For instance:

  • The Religion of Home Ownership – Particularly in The Construct of the American Dream, The belief that owning a home is always a good investment and the fact that many people are willing to make what amounts to huge financial bets on their futures without any guarantee of future income or housing market stability. Seems like a leap of faith to me?
  • The Religion of Higher Education – Same as above but I think even more of a quagmire. A huge leap of faith financially (that only seems to be getting bigger) against a piece of paper that in a rapidly changing economy, that may or may not, get you a job, that may or may not, pay you well, relative to the amount you pay (or are indebted) for the degree. And many of us are convinced to make this leap at 18 years old. (Y’all, if that’s not blind faith I don’t know what is.)

I’d say that I am religious about exercise and budgeting, etc. These are habits in which I have a measure of faith that the practices will lead to a more rich experience of life in the future. At a minimum, I believe these practices will stave off some (not all) bad experiences in the future.

When I say I have faith in exercise or budgeting practices, that faith is informed. I’ve seen and read about people who practice these habits and, by doing so, they have experienced life in ways that I find desirable. So I say to myself, “Okay, let me experiment with these things and see what happens.”

That was the same way I approached the Christian Faith back when I first adopted Christianity after graduating from College. To make a long story short, the testimonies of other Christians communicated to me the potential that I might find certain solutions to growing existential problems I was having at that time. I don’t say this to be flippant, but my thought as an Engineer was, “Let me experiment with the Christian Paradigm and see what happens? Maybe God will help find the courage to leave engineering and maybe God will help me use my story to help others?”

Well, as you all know, I did leave Engineering and I do believe I am helping others with my story. However, I made a mistake in my reasoning about the existence of God. Sometimes we conflate correlation with causation. This is what I did. I assumed that because I was able to find answers to problems that I was struggling with at the time (Walking away from engineering and starting down a new road) then the acceptance of faith that came along with that time must have been responsible for those answers. Therefore, the associated claims of that faith (Jesus is the way to salvation, Bible is the Word of God, etc.) must all be true. The practices of prayer and modeling the faith/courage that I saw in Biblical Stories, were both massive components of me having the courage to make the decision to leave Engineering. However, the fact that the decision turned out well for me is not evidence that Christian Doctrines are now all true and given from the One True God of the Bible. Further more, my most recent encounter with Christianity showed me that what I perceive as a positive outcome of my decisions in a Christian Context, is not proof of the existence of God.

You see… A few years ago as I was separating from the Church for a second time in my life. I began asking myself, “How do I know that God exists and why do I believe in the idea of ‘God’ or a ‘Higher Power’?”

I was introduced to Christianity in The South, in Houston, Texas. ‘God’ is very much a part of the culture in The South and, I would argue, even more so a part of African American Culture in The South. Both of my parents grew up attending Church weekly. My mom described being in church 3x/week and being over it once she turned 18 y.o. and could make her own choices. She’s never been a Church-goer, but she’s always expressed belief in God throughout my life. She always encouraged me to pray and reach out to God when life was difficult. Being the fat kid who was bullied a lot, life felt difficult often and, on many occasions, I asked God why these things were happening to me. Prayer was helpful. I came to believe that God was making me strong for something later in life.

I adopted the idea of God from my mother and my culture. I believe that Adversity fused that idea to my psychology as a means to cope with the challenges I was dealing with at the time. When I look back, I appreciate that I had that tool but as of today, I see no evidence of God’s existence. Also, the practices of faith, I’ve had in the past, are things I continue to practice today and I don’t see a need to believe in God to practice them… for instance:

  • Being Grateful – Before I would have thanked God but the act of simply being in an appreciative mind-state has had the same affect for me. I recognize that many things beyond my control have had to land in my favor for me to have accomplished certain goals – Weight Loss, Green Beret etc.
  • Seeing the Blessing in Adversity – Y’all, flat out, this is something I’ve been doing my whole life. It’s something that resonated with me intensely in the Biblical Story of Joseph in the Old Testament. The Bible didn’t teach me this principle. It’s something I believed in already and the Bible just affirmed it in certain stories. I think you could simply call this a Growth Mindset. I don’t need to believe in God to have that. There have been many unfavorable events that I have encountered in life and I was able to overcome because I kept looking for the opportunity to grow – The Resilience that came from being bullied as a child helped me become a Green Beret.

For me, the practices in personal growth are the important pieces. The framework in which a person chooses to conduct those practices (Theistic Religion or Not) is personal choice.

My statements that I don’t believe in God aren’t totally accurate. Generally, I am in reference to a Theistic God, which I don’t believe in. However, your definition of God could be different. For instance, if a person believes that nature is God. The sun, the trees, water, earth etc. Maybe they believe that we are small organisms living in a broader ecosystem that is nature and we have to live under the laws of nature (gravity, friction, oxygen for our tissues and food for our bodies etc.). Maybe they call that God? In that sense, yeah, I believe in God.

However, if you define God as the God of The Protestant Christian Bible or any other Particular Theistic Religion, I just don’t see the evidence for that. My former belief in God came from some assumptions I was unaware that I was making. Those assumption were beliefs I inherent from my parents and the culture that I grew up in. As an adult I believe I have a responsibility to challenge those ideas for validity if I am going to continue to live by them. Upon challenging myself to validate the existence of God, I have yet to find sufficient evidence of a Theistic God… And I’m open to challenges.

More to come in Part 2 next week…

I would characterize my experience with Christianity as the resultant of familial and cultural legacies (this is an oversimplification for the sake of this blog). What are some ideas that you have adopted about life that come from your family or culture? Why are those ideas valid/invalid?

Share thoughts/questions in the comments.

-Travis

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