Tuesday, July 20, 2004

In the Real World: my naturalistic worldview (my story part 6)

If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. – Albert Einstein

I was stunned to see my whole world view and belief system suddenly disintegrating. Over the next few weeks I pondered many of the implications of this change in my thinking. I thought about the many ways I had parted company with conventional Christianity in the past and came to the conclusion that my own thinking made more sense than the inconsistent, poorly-substantiated doctrines I had been taught all my life. I wondered if there is a God at all. I re-evaluated the basis for my belief in him, and found that very little of it was rooted in my own experience; the great majority was a result of what I had heard second-hand. When I realized that my faith had been based primarily on tradition, I came to the conclusion that I don't know if there is a God, or a supreme being of any kind.

One of my first realizations was that my underlying purpose in life—although expressed in very subtle ways—had been sharing my belief that a good and loving God was taking care of us. Now I had no goal to replace that. I began reading a lot more, and reading a greater variety of books, as a way of looking for something toward which I would want to direct my life. I began to read more books on science, and discovered a strong congruence between scientific inquiry and the way I had grown to view the world. I found that evolutionary theory, in particular, explained many of the oddities of nature (e.g., instincts, food chains and diseases) far better than creationism.

One day in 2002 I reviewed James Sire's intriguing book, The Universe Next Door: A Basic World View Catalog, and found that my world view is most similar to what he calls naturalism. As a Christian apologist, Sire states the naturalistic view rather dogmatically (e.g., "Matter exists eternally and is all there is. God does not exist."). I would severely qualify such statements to admit the limitations of our knowledge. I would say, for example, that matter and energy have existed since the beginning of time, and we don't know of anything else that exists. Spirits (including God) don't exist as far as we have been able to determine.

One day as I was browsing the web looking for people with similar viewpoints, I found the web site of The Brights, an organization that seeks to connect people with a naturalistic world view, to protect their freedoms and communicate their concerns. I joined immediately.

The change in my viewpoint was almost as shocking to my family and friends as it was to me. I didn't even tell Jeanne and the boys until a week or so after it happened, because I didn't want to upset them without being confident that it wasn't just a temporary period of doubt. All my closest friends were strong Christians, so I felt like I was turning my back on them. This change in my relationships has been one of the most difficult events in my life. Jeanne has kept the trauma to a minimum by continuing to work to improve our marriage in spite of her dismay over the loss of her Christian husband. She's a dear woman!

One day I happened to find Marlene Winell's book Leaving the Fold in the public library. It was a great encouragement to me because it told about the experiences of other people who had left Christianity, and it helped me think about how to refocus my life and how to explain my new perspectives on life to my family and friends. These posts are an outgrowth of the ideas in that book.

This series of posts tells the story of how I went free of religion:

    Part 6  In the Real World:  my naturalistic world view

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