Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Triumph of Existentialism and Atheism

Every kid wants to be a hero. We all ran around the house with a bath towel cape at one point, thwarting our imaginary nemesis, enlisting an annoying little sibling or long suffering family dog for our trusty sidekick. At some point, we lose the towel and the spider-man underoos but for at least few the dream never dies. Some us do grow up to be everyday heroes: firemen, cops, EMTs, etc., but most of us don’t.  We go to college or get a good union job in the local factory and with time we stop thinking that we sold out. We change our definition of success until the daily grind meets it.

For me the desire to do something great and noble that I could truly be proud of never left me. I believed in a great story, written by the unerring hand of God and that God had a role for me in his unfolding drama.  God was the decider of human affairs. If I was to amount to anything in this world, it would be by the hand of God. I’ve been a very relational person my entire life, always aware of my emotions and the emotions of others. I could be carried up to the heavens with a single compliment or beaten down with a single harsh word. However, I had deep sensitivity to reality, an almost hyper-awareness of how feeling that something is true does not make it true. I poured myself into Christianity because it was the only context I had for greatness.

Adolescence didn’t cure me of these thoughts, but it did change me in two ways that weren’t compatible with Christianity. First, I became sexually aware. I thought about sex constantly and frequently while masturbating. Also, I began to struggle with occasionally despondency. God’s commands about sex and sexual fantasy are clearly withing marriage, and a Christian should be full of peace and joy, even in the midst of anguish, echoing Job’s “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be his name.” Relational as I way, this deeply concerned me. Love is shown in actions, sin “nails Christ to the cross again” so every time I was lusting I was hurting my friend and savior. I wanted a girlfriend and friends, and had none and few respectively. Christianity teaches that ones relationship with God is the fount from which all relationships flow, so when I was hurt, and lonely, and blue my pain was magnified by my additional failure to be totally content with God.

When high school was over, I was a full blown neurotic. The only thing I knew that I wanted to do with my life was to be great.  I had heard college was full of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll. To me, my inability to shut off my sexual desire showed my lack of self control. I knew the guilt that I would feel if I partied and slept with strangers, and out of fear of suicide in response, I went to Bible college instead.

Like so many young men away from home for the first time, the next part of my story begins with “So, I met this girl.” She was a little blond butterfly, social, friendly, and bouncy. I was so proud that she would even talk to me. At the same time, sensitive as I was, I knew she’d be hurt badly, torn apart inside. I could see it on her like a shadow.  Now in part I pursed her because she was cute, in part because she was aching. And I pursued because she was wounded in part because I wanted to help her, but in part because I hated myself. I thought I was trash, and thought when she realized what a filthy, disgusting person I was, only if she was desperate for man, only if she was broken inside, would she not leave me.

However, in the end, I broke up with her, believing her not to be a part of God’s plan for my life. I came home, and got a crappy job, followed by some random college classes. This became a pattern: work pointless jobs and fail out of college classes. I worked talentless, pointless jobs for almost nothing. I did it for two reasons. First, because I believed this was my path to greatness, from the lowly and humble to the top of the company by hard work and godly decisions making.  The other reason I believed this was because I still thought I was trash. I needed approval so badly and handled rejection so poorly that I took jobs any sane person would have turned down, because only when my peers were drug addicts, the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill did I feel I was appreciated enough in comparison.

During this time, I met the woman I am now married to. We did marry for love, but alloying that love was lot of desperation. For sex on my part and to get started having babies-for-Jesus on hers. I failed out college a last time, saying God needed me somewhere else, not that I hadn’t been proactive enough with my advisers about my needs as a student.  We were called to an inner city mission in Kansas City. The pain of previous failure would be worth it when we got to partner with God to save the city from Darkness. My daughter was born.

We went to that inner city saving church for 2 years. In many ways they were good years, but in the end, the church was a lot more interested in feeling like they were changing the world then changing it. Also the work environment I was in was filled with pornography, dirty stories, drugs, and cursing. To obey God and flee temptation, I quit my job, fully expecting God to give me a job that paid better, perhaps one SO nice, we wouldn’t have to take welfare anymore. The whole church prayed for us, but no one would help us.

Needing to hear that I had done the right thing, I called my brother, a pastor. He called me a fool and said that I was a failure as a father and husband.  I hung up the phone and sobbed like a little girl for three hours. When I could breathe again, I walked outside and sat on the porch. I looked at the clean new Cadillacs and broken beer bottles. I watched the drug dealers and the prostitutes mingle. I thought of my little girl upstairs. And the weight of it hit me. I was twenty five years old. My life was a third over and I had shat it all away.

In the words of Social Distortion “Well I’ve searched and I’ve searched/To find the perfect life/A brand new car and a brand new suit/I even got me a little wife/But wherever I have gone/I was sure to find myself there/You can run all your life/But not go anywhere.”  It was all my fault. I had done this all to myself. I was everything that Christianity said I was supposed be, possessing all the values that the Bible said I should have. I had lived in constant, slow, misery trying to find my place in God’s plan. I said out loud “American Christianity is a black hole. It’s never going to change anything. I’m going to find God on my own, and I am never trusting anyone else to take care of me or my family again. I’m never taking anyone’s word on what Truth is again, because the people that told me to obey God are sitting on their asses with good jobs and safe homes and I am sitting in fucking hole with loaded shotgun behind the door.” Three months later, the Air Force paid me for the privilege of moving all of my belongings to a prestigious a training school in Southern California.

I kept a promise to myself to truly understand scripture on my own. I read the Bible cover to cover and investigated the history of the early church.  A child could tell you it’s all just make believe. I didn’t make the cut in the 95% fail rate program, and for the first time in my life, the failure didn’t crush me because I didn’t care. I’d made my decision, I’d done my best. I took another career in the Air Force. I studied more and more about the Bible and began to study the things the Bible had argued with science. Science won.

And then I told my dear sweet wife, the one who had married me to raise sweet little Christian children with that I was atheist. It broke her heart. She would not have married me 5 years previous if I had been an atheist. I told her she could leave me, if she wanted a divorce I would give her one and she could have any portion of my income she wanted as long as I got to keep my daughter with me. She declined, and instead we began to get to know each other. And she fell in love again with the new me.  The me that didn’t think it was sin to sleep with other women, but chose her anyway.

And with time, the questions she had always had about Christianity became insurmountable to her. She progressed from Deist, to agnostic, to atheist.  For the first time in our lives, our future was what we made of it, not what our God ordained leaders said it was, not what the Bible said it should be, not what the Church said it was.  Our future was whatever we made it to be.  We worked our asses off. We got out of debt, became full time students, and began saving money. We started writing our own story.

That’s the key to atheism. I’m not a nihilist; I don’t think life has no meaning. I’m an existentialist. I think my life has the meaning I give it. For the first time in my life I am writing my own story. The things I did, the things I valued never belonged to me. Atheism has not cured me of occasionally struggling with despondency or even the rare depression I fall into. Importantly, neither did Christianity. Atheism gives me the freedom to accept occasional bouts of blue funk without feeling like a moral failure. Nor does atheism require to me to reject my emotional sensitivity and relational orientation as not manly enough. It takes away the right for others to tell me the best way to be…me.

Am I happy? Yes and no.  As I said, atheism and existentialism have not cured me of situational depression or high strungness. What is had cured is my belief that I need to be cured of my own identifying characteristics . I will make no apologies for what I am anymore, and ultimately, being content with who I am is a long way toward happiness. My whole life I wanted to do something great, something noble, something worth remembering. Now, I am. I am making something wonderful: me.

I am worth working on.  And starting from that single point, my dreams matter and are worth making real.

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July 31, 2009 - Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Slice of life, Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. From a fellow existentialist, I loved reading this. Keep it up.

    Comment by futiledemocracy | July 31, 2009 | Reply

  2. Fantastic story.
    And what an awesome wife you have.

    Comment by Gib | July 31, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thank you folks, and she is indeed, awesome.

    Comment by truthwalker | July 31, 2009 | Reply

  4. Wow! What progress you have made! That’s so great!

    I myself have had kind of the same experience as you. I am not athiest… I suppose I’d still call myself Christian. I believe in God… or some sort of supreme being, be it Allah or whatever. I guess I haven’t fully decided where I sit at this point.

    But, it sounds like you had similar experiences with the church and Christianity as I did. I realized over time that Christians do a lot of talking about what a good Christian is supposed to do and they are very good about sitting back at judging others and telling them what they are doing wrong and what their supposed to do. But when it comes down to it, they all talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.

    A friend recently invited me to church with her. I haven’t been in years, and I decided to go. She swore up and down their church was great! It was so different than the church we grew up in. And it was supposed to be a great sermon. The preacher was teaching on a topic that always has facinated me, “end times”. The series was called “Route 666”.

    So we get there, and you walk into the lobby, and they have this fancy little cafe with coffee, espresso, pastries and all sorts of stuff. Then you go into the auditorium, and they have this stage all dressed up for the series. They’ve made it look like a highway (you know, Route 66). They’ve actually got a guardrail, plants, hub caps… and they’ve painted the back wall like you’re looking off into the distance down Route 66. The band comes on and they have a fancy pexiglass booth for the drummer and his incredible drum set, and then 9 other band members with guitars, violin’s, piano, and god knows what else! Then the preacher goes up. Now… mind you this is NOT a huge church. I’ve been in HUGE churches where you sit in the back and you can barely see the speaker. This is a place where you sit in the back, and you can see his facial expressions! Okay… now he starts talking. And he’s got his fancy head set microphone on, and then there’s camera’s on him that are projecting him on to TWO large screens on either side of the stage. Before he starts his sermon, he talks about how the economy has started to impact people in their church and to pray for those people. They are struggling financially. They can’t pay their mortgages and need prayer. And the first thing that comes to my mind is… Forfeit the fancy screens and help them make it one more month! Forfeit all the decorations for your 6 part series and feed them for a week! I just was disgusted. I’ve seen this before, and years later it was reiterated again. The church revolves everything around prayer. The church is so quick to pass judgement, to critize the wayward people, and to pray pray pray… but when it comes time to actually serve those people, support them, and be an encouragement, the most they get is prayer. I don’t know, I’ve become bitter over the years as I’ve paid more attention to it. I’ve noticed so many flaws with the church and I just don’t think it’s “the way”. And this doesn’t count to what my point is, but for the record, that preacher said a lot of things in his sermon that I think were absolutely incorrect… according to the SCRIPTURE he was teaching out of! But that’s not my point.

    I may have gone on a tangent there… anyway, I think it’s great that you and your wife have been able to grow together through everything. I think that is something that makes strong and durable relationships. Lasting relationships. Congratulations to the two of you!! 🙂

    It’s always interesting to me how people grow and learn from their life experiences. So many people don’t. They follow the path they believe was laid out in front of them, rather than discovering for themselves. For some people, that path that was laid out for them is the right path. Maybe because their accepting? I don’t know. I know in the last 10 years or so that I’ve really worked at making decisions for myself, discovering the things in life that are important to me, and really trying to find my own way in life. I don’t like the idea of following the crowd, following the path of least resistance, or doing what’s “expected”. I don’t think that makes you a happy person. I think those are the people that end of feeling empty, unfulfilled, and unsatisfied with life. Granted, it doesn’t mean you have the “ultimate happiness”. You even addressed that yourself in your last paragraph. But I think you have a much greater chance at that ultimate happiness than the rest of the world that’s riding with the current.

    Good post friend!

    Comment by Sui Generis | July 31, 2009 | Reply

  5. So I wanted to comment on this line.
    “And she fell in love again with the new me. The me that didn’t think it was sin to sleep with other women, but chose her anyway.”

    My comment is what does it make me if I don’t think God thinks it’s a sin either. I mean really why give us such a gift, create our bodies to experience such pleasure and then apply all kinds of crazy conditions. It would be equal to giving a kid a key to a candy store and then saying but wait you can only enter the store when you find the perfect friend to go with you. And by the way, that friend may not ever show up. When and if the friend does show up you can go in but can only eat the candy in one corner of the store. That child would probably suffer a breakdown.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this. I enjoy reading your thoughts!

    Comment by lesleehorner | July 31, 2009 | Reply


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