: Going Home
A little conversation I'm having with Clinton reminded me of this. It's from a story I wrote. If you're my mom or my sibling you'll want to not read it, on account of the swearing and bad talking.
"Everywhere I look, I see nothing," I say.
She strokes my hair, tucks a strand behind my ear, she doesn't understand.
"Help me," I say.
It seemed so easy when I was a child. My father would put his hands on my head and magic me well, whole, safe, unafraid, unharmed. Sometimes I'll say something, anything, some random thing, and my voice sounds to me exactly like his. Usually when it happens I wince, but sometimes I feel something more complicated. My heart fills, not with love or nostalgia, nothing that straightforward. I miss the innocence I know I had to give up. I wouldn't take it back if I even could, it was a stupid crazymaking innocence, willful and blind and I see it making a mess of my siblings' lives. No, never, but sometimes I miss it. Maybe it's like I'd miss cigarettes if I smoked and quit. I miss you, thank fucking god that you're gone.
I wonder if giving up sin means I've given up redemption. Is that what the hell I'm on about?
1. On 2005-08-05, Matt Snyder wrote:
What you're on about is giving up judgment from people you've come to distrust. That's how I see it.
You want God to let you know whether you've sinned or whether you're redeemed? Funny thing is -- he always tells you through people whom you have already begun to question. They don't make sense on that matter over there, so why should they make sense on this matter right here?
I gave up trying to figure that out. I had to live with the fact that I didn't trust the judgment of people I loved, and who loved me back. That part they seemed to get right. That whole God's judgment thing? Not so much.
MS go "To clarify, "That LOVE part they seemed to get right.""
I was walking Northampton with Emily last night. I told her something Ron'd said to me once: "Vincent," said he, "you make games about the morality of people you think are immoral."
I was like, shit, look at that, so I do.
When you're a parent, I think, you want to promise your kids the world. When you're a parent and you think you speak for God, you do promise your kids the world - you promise them who even knows what. Salvation, redemption, peace, joy, glory.
It's not that I don't believe in God - I mean, not just that I don't - it's that I don't have faith in God. Too many promises made in His name, and did they think I'd keep faith, if He didn't?
I get so wracked with guilt over these same issues. I know I don't believe in a real, living God that interacts with the world. But I want to so bad. I want to enough that I rationalize a belief in Christianity just so I can fit into it.
When your parents look at you and you know that they really, truly believe that nothing you do will matter because in the end, you're lost, it's heart-breaking. I can never make them proud because in their eyes, I'm damned. Therefore, what I do on this earth doesn't matter.
Recently's been terrible. I almost don't want to invite them to my wedding: I've found this perfect, caring woman who believes that we should treat others with perfect kindness and would lay down everything she has to help someone in need. (Pretty Christ-like, if you ask me.) But she doesn't believe in God - I think she does it for the same reason I want to - because there's not a God, and someone's got to pick up the slack. And they can't support my engagement: they've verbally torpedoed it a couple of times because she doesn't believe in their God.
Man, I talked about myself way too much. So - solidarity. I understand.
And the hardest part is knowing they're not bad. They're not evil. They love you. They're just wrong. It's the hardest thing to take.
Sure thing, Vincent. That wasn't me last year. And, I'm fine with talking about it.
Here's the deal, though. I just typed three fucking pages of material explaining my background. I surprised myself at how complicated it was, because I thought it utterly simple, normal, Midwestern boredom. I just changed my own mind about that.
I can't even finish the thing, because it keeps growing. So, here's what I want to do. I'm gonna give you the shortened version, and then we must pow-wow with Clinton at the con, yes? I want to do that.
I'm a member of the First United Methodist Church, but I have not attended service in over 10 years (I'm 30, by the way). I have been at the church for a handful of ceremonies (funerals and weddings), Christmas or Easter service. Probably all told about 5-6 times since 1995 or so at my old church.
I had attended damn near every Sunday from age 3-4 to age 17. Then, when I sensed Mom would not enforce her attendance policy on me anymore, I stopped.
When I went to college, I took several religion courses (state university, almost purely academic, secular courses with a lively Jewish rabbi teacher). I have a reasonable grasp of the Bible (certainly better than my wife, who's mainly casual Catholic upbringing sometimes amazes me in its contrast). I have spent a considerable amount of time pondering -- almost always alone -- serious religious and spiritual questions. That lead me, somewhat reluctantly at first, to a pretty unshakable atheism. I do not find myself longing for the church, feeling empty, or hoping I'm wrong. I am, frankly, quite comfortable about it all. Indeed, hopeful, if that can be said. (It can. I just said it.)
Here's the "fun" curve ball. My relatives on my dad's side are Seventh Day Adventist. My relation with them has been confusing and strange (never hostile or nasty, however). It greatly shaped my view of religion, and it has everything to do with gaming. My cousin introduced my brother (and hence, me) to D&D in the late 70s, but his parents halted his hobby for religious reasons.
Now, my immediate family is a mixed bag, typical of Midwesterners. My sister became Catholic when she married, and is an active laymember. My older brother and his wife attend Lutheran church, apparently more "for the kids" than anything else. Mom, who dragged us to church every Sunday doesn't go anymore, but remains religious. I think she does not like how impersonal the church has become, especially with a disastrously uncharismatic pastor now in place.
But, my other sister is a really devoted Methodist. And, my brother in law is currently in Methodist seminary. In fact, they just moved away from the whole family so they can be together while he attends seminary. Now THAT makes for a strange issue lately. They have never pressed the church upon me, but they probably know how little I want to do with it.
I have much more to say, of course. I'll say more here if able and if people have questions. But, I hope we can talk at the con, too.
So, I wanna say something helpful, which is no guarantee that I'll succede. But I'll try . . . here's the thing: you seem to have nailed just *what* it is that you miss, but how about *why* you miss it?
I'm not too happy about the why's I come up with myself in those situations. They seems to chase the missing-feeling right out of me. 'Cause while I too have given up sin, and redemption (in at least it's most common form), I don't (damnit) seem to have given up responsibility.
I'm an arrogant sunufabich - GodIfThereIsOne'll get my faith when It earns it. Until then, I'm just going to have see what us humans can do to get by (which maybe is the point anyway),
Neither of my parents were religious. But one of my very closest friends was a child of a born-again family, complete with fears that videogames with "ninja magic" were really there to tempt people into devil worship... It affected me deeply. At 7, I would cry myself to sleep fearing that I was going to hell.
I couldn't tell you exactly how over the years, the fear of judgement, sin, hell, and the Judeo-Christian God evaporated for me, but it did. It wasn't necessarily a matter of a new religion taking it's place, as much as it was my own maturation and thinking/feeling out about life.
As it stands now, I have an incredible faith in the existence of the Creator, which was strengthened by letting go of the promises others had made in God's name. My logic was that as I learn more, I do more of what is necessary, more efficiently- so if God is all-knowing, then everything here is a result of necessity. While people talk about purifying souls, or testing for judgement, I have no clue as to the final reason for it all. All I know is that I'm seeing and learning a lot on the way.
For me, I had stopped listening to other people to tell me about God, and just started listening to life itself.
I seem to be more at peace and happier for it.
NinJ go "Judaeo-Christian is a term used by Christians"*
I was raised RC, went to church pretty much every sunday of my life until I turned into a YAJ (young adult jerk). When I grew out of that I went back, and now manage about 1-2 times a month (no mean feat, what with two working parents and 3 under-5's).
The thing I never got, and I really don't know if it's an RC/Protestant thing or a US/Canada thing or something else entirely, is that whole judgement and damnation thing. I've heard a lot of war stories about people driven from faith, or emotionally abused because of this whole thing, and I'm honestly sitting there kinda slack-jawed going "Hunh? Wha? That's not God, dude. That's your asshole dad."
I'd love to get in on any religion talk at Gencon, if you folks are willing to trust a damn near total stranger 'n all.
James said: "Hunh? Wha? That's not God, dude. That's your asshole dad."
Yes. Whether or not God exists, it's the relationships that matter.
First, a person's relationships to other people - religiuos parents can be lying and judgmental, or liberal and giving, or anything, really. That's people. They're always and ultimately responsible for their own behavior.
Second, relationship to God. I've found that even though my belief in God is shaky, sometimes there, sometimes not, whenever I talk to him, things get better for me.
Does it matter, then, if he's really there? Not to me, really; what matters is how I relate to him. If I use him as an excuse to tell others what to do, to do stupid stuff, to goof off etc, that's wrong anyway. If I use him as an aid to think straight and do the right thing, that works.
You ever see a daisy?
Ever looked? The little wonderful yellow flower.
But its not yellow.
We see yellow, because yellow is the color the daisy doesn't absorb, but reflect, deters, refuses to accept.
God isn't like the daisy.
In my view, he's invisible because he accepts all of creation equally.
We do not see it, because even lethal virii are loved by God.
We are one of God's beloved things.
But we are not his only one.
We do not see him, because he does not reject us.
I humbly suggest a book, a sad little tail which the daisy idea originally, for me, at least, came from: "Mr. God This is Anna"
It explains among other things how God can see everything, from every points to view.
God is ineffable for a reason--we are barest of imaginers, he the grandest of all, we can leap far, deep, and intensly creating whole worlds in our head, we mirror God in this, yet he can even give name to the smallest atom, loving it, knowing it, as we do our fictions.
I come to this from a very different direction. My parents were nice liberal lutherans. And so was I, untill I realised that nobody there had faith. That was cool, because faith is crazy.
Faith is going out in the wilderness to murder your only son just because god says so. Not because god can somehow make mudering your son moral; he can't do that, any more than god can make 2+2=5; but because doing what god says is more important than being moral. As I said, faith is crazy.(And if I misunderstand, then what the heck is the story of Abraham and Issac supposed to mean, anyway?)
So, it just seems to me that the world of religon is devided between people with faith, who would kill their childern on the word of some invisible bastard who tells people to kill their children; or people who lie to themselves about what faith really is. Thankfully, I was raised by people who lied to themselves about the true nature of faith. Which is cool, It's much better than the crap Vincent and the rest of you in the first category have delt with, but it seems like a waste of Sunday mornings to me.
Yeah your missing the point of Isaac and Abraham.
It was a test of Faith. God didn't allow him to actually hurt his son if you recall. The real God did that for a purpose, one which we will not fully understand, but HE DID NOT allow Abraham to proceede.
You say that the Abraham and Issac story is about a test of faith. I agree. God tested Abraham to see if his fath was stronger than his ethics, and when he knew that they were, he let issac go.
But, we may ask, why would god want to know that Abraham's faith was greater than his ethics if all of gods requests would be ethical? You don't ask sombody to choose between two things if the two things are always going to be the same.
In the end, it doesn't matter that God stayed Abraham's hand in the end. God shows his true colors just by asking the question.
J-Yes, faith is all about you, your brain, and the people you love. But you, your brain, and the brains of the people you love do not exist in a vaccum. They are all effected by culture, and in the western world at least, one cannot talk about culture and faith without talking about the bible, which is the prime shaper of our cultures view of faith. So, It's not beside the point.
I always hestitate to get into these discussions, but oh well.
I wanted to bring up that there is an alternative interpretation to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Throughout the Tanak/Bible, people constantly question God and his motives. One of the most obvious example is Jacob, who "wrestled" with God all night long. But God never chides people for doing this. Jacob got rewarded for it.
So if you look at Abraham, you have to ask, why didn't he question God about Isaac? Abraham is surprisingly quiet on the matter. In this regard, the entire story is a test for Abraham, but it was one where he failed. God wanted Abraham to question him, but Abraham didn't.
I believe that questioning one's faith is central to the pursuit of God.
NinJ go "That's a lot closer to how I feel about it."*
I kinda want to wait for Vincent to chime in, too, but no. I just got back from spending a week at the beach with 145 other Unitarian Universalists. It was great. I was raised UU, I really completely dig all the 'comparative religions/what folks believe/myth systems' section of thought and conversation, and if I'm not in on the conversation with James, Clint, Matt and whoever at GenCon, I'll be way bummed.
Basic tenants of UU: 1) the inherent worth and dignity of all beings, and 2) respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part. If you go back to the beginnings, in Romania in the 1400s, it's two heresies against the Catholic church: One God as opposed to the Trinity, and universal salvation because God is too great to condemn souls to torment. It's amazing what taking the threat of Hellfire out of a religion does to it.
The bit about kids and promises? Yep. I think that's one of the reasons I'm really glad *not* to be raising them with the 'if you do this, God will reward you with 40 wives in Heaven' or whatever.
Clinton, you capture exactly how I feel about Christianity. Only I went in the opposite direction and am a public apostate to my family and such. It sucks and is often lonely. If only I could just cross that little line, I would have this awesome relationship with my parents and many of my friends. It would be so easy -- seductively easy. But for whatever reason I can't bring myself to do it. I genuinely like most deeply religious people. I admire their optimism, their sense of compassion, their conviction. But it's just not me.
Over the past ten years (it's been that long?!) since I came out of the atheistic closet to my parents, it's been a drawn-out struggle to rebuild our relationship. We both want one. But it feels like building a road around a mountain, instead of straight through it, except instead of a mountain, there's just a void. The elephant in the room that no one talks about. *sigh*
Man, we should so wait for Vincent. His weblog, and in this case, something very personal to him.
I'm going to paraphrase something I said on my own weblog long ago about me and God.
I know longer worry about whether God exists. In a logical world, it's almost impossible to imagine that invisible all-powerful dudes exist, and in my heart, I only feel want for a God, not a real one.
But I know God's real. Wars have been fought over God. Nations have been transformed because of belief in God. Individual lives have been changed for good and ill because of belief in God. The idea of God affects change, and it will.
I believe in the idea of God. The idea of God is one of the most powerful forces in the world.
What I don't know is what to do about it.
NInJ go "Dud"
NInJ go "Ha ha! Dud! No, I mean, "It dud'n matter if people act on a belief"."*
Very interesting all this. I imagine most of the people writing here to be from US (I counted one Norwegian, though). When reading it strikes me that these things are so complicated over there!
Of my closest fifteen friends only two are non-atheists, these two exceptions being my girlfriend (who is moslem both by upbringing and faith) and my oldest friend still around (who is a babtist).
Most of the atheist crowd are members of the former state church, though (it ceased to be official state church only four, five years ago). I think the state church is the biggest reason for the very low religiosity here. It's not very engaging, to say the least.
To me religion is totally a non-matter. I don't even understand what question it would answer. There is nothing at all in the former state church that I would want in my life. When talking to people who are engaged in one of the free churches I can often miss that kind of social interaction; belonging to a group with a good spread both over age and geography. But since I'm really not into the basis for their community it's not a possibility.
[Note: I've given up on waiting for V, I guess. It turns out this is long.]
Yeah, Sven, the issue here is that there are so many people from so many backgrounds that it really throws the differences into high contrast. Of my friends, I count Unitarian Universalists, Don't-Think-About-It-Atheists, Fundamentalist Atheists, Jews from Atheist to deeply spiritual rabbis, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Neo-Pagans, Baptists, Buddhists, and one Whatever-Myles-Isist. A few weeks ago, I met some Born-Again Christians (whose sense of morality was bizarre to me, but they were nice people), and I was just down in North Carolina (where the South really gets rolling) where, if you're not a Baptist, you must be an alien.
It's a big deal, I think, for the same reason that people want to be able to call themselves "Simulationists", or they have a particular favorite game system that no one can convince them is not the best. It's a distinct identity, and us-and-not-them thing that's profoundly Primate in nature. And being human, we take that stuff and express it abstractly.
My feeling, being a non-Orthodox Jew, is that religion doesn't offer answers. It offers questions and it offers techniques for confronting those questions when the question is not "what's happening" but "why is it happening?"
That distinction is important to me: the "what's happening" questions are best served by the Scientific Process because it helps you strip away assumptions. Zen does this too, so you can see how many people don't consider it a religion.
The "why is it happening" questions are squirrely and hard to pin down, never mind answer. If you rely on someone else to tell you the answer, you invariably have to choose between accepting their answer on faith and asking why it's the answer. If you look at "why" as a process of examination, expecting a question behind it rather than an answer, then you have a religious process; you wind up with cosmological questions that can't be answered by asking "how" as happens in the Scientific Process. Wherever you wind up, it starts to look like a relationship with God, and God starts to look reeeeeallly weird.
The conversation I wanted to have here, I had already. I was like "man, the wanting to go back, shit man," and Matt was like, "yeah," and Clinton was like, "yeah," and Gordon was like, "yeah," and I was like, "yeah." And then Kevin was like, "yeah." That's what I wanted, I'm comfy.
...So what's this new conversation about, maybe I can join in. Many of you don't know (but won't be surprised to learn) that I was actually an accomplished little Mormon theologian in my youth. Like, I had an informed opinion about Abraham and Isaac, for instance. It went like this: Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac prefigured God's sacrifice of his son Jesus. God gave Abraham the mercy and forbearance that He couldn't give Himself; the sacrifices that we make for God are less than the sacrifice that God made for us. God is the protagonist of the story, not Abraham. The significant moral decision isn't Abraham's to obey - obeying God is a given, not a decision - but God's to relent.
[... The blog went down while I was writing this continuation, so it doesn't address what V just said.]
T., in my Book, the point of Akedat Yitzchak is that Abraham can't handle the responsibility and does what God says while neglecting his ethics. It may not have been the will of God to sacrifice Yitzchak, but it was sure Avraham's. So you'd think if he's passed the test, he wouldn't return home to find his wife dead.
Vincent, which are you saying is the sin: the things Mormonism stands against, or its relationship to you? Are you saying you've given up sin, or that Mormonism's rejections of sinful activities makes it unable to be redeemed?
I'm sorry if there's something I'm missing about this; I need some interreligious translation of "sin". For me, I think "sin" means something else, and I'm not sure what it is. If it means not following any of the 613 commandments, no one's doing that, because so many require the existence of the Temple; we've learned to get along without it, and without them, so the remaining ones are both more interesting and more flexible, I think. When it comes down to "I am Lord, your God, have no other gods before me" and the other nine, I'm OK with that. They're rules setting down the fundamentals of the religious philosophy and how to build a society: don't worship things, don't kill each other, don't lie and steal, don't let possessions get in the middle of your relationships." I'm cool not sinning with those. Then there are other things like "Don't cheat your workers. Don't make promises you can't keep." Those are pretty awesome, too.
Then, sometimes, it says things like "Stone homosexuals to death." Now, irrespective of whether or not that was ever actually done, there's a lot of debate and weirdness about that kind of thing. I mean, the other ones above are rules of conduct where relationships, from personal to business, are at stake. Men having sex with men doesn't get in the way of that. I think it has more to do with "Don't become part of the people around you." Hence, "Don't eat pigs, wear jewelry, or trim your beards like the Sumerians," than actual sexual practices. If that's the case, then dressing in jeans, shaving at all, and wearing baseball caps should be out.
But I don't think that's what you're talking about. Fill me in here, man.
When I say "I've given up sin" it means that I've given up thinking that what I do has eternal or supernatural consequences. What I do has immediate and material consequences, for me and the people around me - but nothing more's riding on it than that. (That's plenty.)
I don't need fear of hell nor obedience to God to control my actions. I'm capable (it turns out) of making responsible decisions based only on weighing the real consequences of 'em.
MS go "I'm like, Yeah"
SDM go "I avoided this"*
I'm pretty late to this conversation, but I figured I'd share anyway. The whole religious upbringing thing is pretty alien to me. I was raised in a completely secular family.
I mean, I know my dad was Lutheran, because he was Norwegian. And I know my mom is Jewish, cause, well, my grandpa's name was Abraham and his brother's name was Saul. But that's about the extent of it.
I never wrestled with god as a child, or even gave it much thought. But it seemed like the sort of thing I "should" be concerned with. I mean, everybody else puts such emphasis upon it. I always figured life was a matter of trying to make yourself happy while not stepping on any toes and doing right by everyone else. Cause why make other people miserable when this is what we got?
On the other hand, growing up on the Eastern shore of Maryland, there are a lot of religious people and a lot of WASPs (Catholics too, but they all kinda look the same, you know?). There are very few Jews and even fewer Norwegians. So I think that difference kinda spurred me to pursue my heritage on both fronts in an intellectual kind of way. I actually read the Torah and New Testament. Parts of it spoke to me philosophically and ethically, much of it spoke to me as a literary work of beauty, none of it spoke to my spirit.
Meanwhile I went to college a couple years early. And late in my third year, my dad died. I had always been really close to my dad, but I'd been away at school for three years, and hadn't seen him that much, and now he was gone and I hadn't even been there. I felt really guilty about that for a long, long time, and for the first time, I really, really, sincerely wanted to believe. Just so I could hold onto the idea that somewhere, sometime, I'd have the opportunity to be with my dad again.
I convinced myself that I believed, in an agnostic sort of way, after struggling with it for a long time. There had to be a Plan to give purpose to my hurting so bad.
Then I met a girl that I really wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Maybe there was something to this Plan thing. Things were looking up. But you know, despite loving each other, despite working at it, it just didn't work. And we painfully called it quits after 5 years of marriage.
I think the last part of me that was stubbornly clinging to that vestigial belief in a Plan just let go right there. Sure, I felt empty for a long time after that (still do on occasion), but it had nothing to do with giving up on the idea of a Plan. I actually found that kind of comforting, because there's nothing outside me that's directing my happiness or my suffering. There's me and there's chance, and that's it.
Just as a side note in this already really long post, my younger brother, raised in the same household as me, under the same conditions, has become a born again Southern Baptist since my father's death. I guess his ability to believe, or to convince himself that he believes (I can't really tell), is stronger than mine.
And Wow! I think I know exactly what Matt was talking about in his first post. This wound up far longer, and is far more revealing, than I originally intended. But that's kinda liberating too.
When my wife read the line "I wonder if giving up sin means I've given up redemption" she had a reaction to it. She understood, and said it articulated something she had been feeling for a long time.
Not too long ago my wife and I were on a trip across central Ontario, out in the long narrow highways of the Canadian shield. We were in a rent a wreck junker, and there were some scary moments when we weren't sure the car would make it. Several times along the way I prayed.
My wife's response, when she realized what I was doing, was to tell me, "If I could believe in a god with intent, I would. It would be nice to beleive there is something bigger looking out for me." She knows what she believes, and she is comfortable with it -- but sometimes the change from what was to what is still has its fingerprints there.
For me it is almost the opposite. If I could not believe I probably wouldn't. It would, for me, be easier to let go of sin even if it meant letting go of redemption. And yet, I have the fingerprints of my past as well, and aethiesm isn't a choice I find myself able to make.
Now, as for the protagonist issue, didn't we have this same talk about Master and Commander? I find it obvious that the story has multiple protagonists, which shouldn't be hard to see for people who play games with multiple protagonists. ;)