On a related tangent to the on-going conversations revolving the philosophy of Christianity which many of us have had to come to terms with in our own ways one way or another, I’ll toss mine into the ring.
I was almost immediately at odds with Christian philosophy from day one without trying to be so.
I was, like so many of us, raised in a Christian household. Now, my raising was pretty stereotypical. Pick any 1980’s movie where a bratty teenager runs around doing whatever in rebellion of his upper-middle class Christian family household, screaming about not becoming a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc… and you pretty much have my environment. It was the typical upper-middle class American conservative protestant household; complete with a wealth of arguments about my future and how I was throwing it away by dismissing an academic focus in exchange for these non-fruitful arts ventures.
When my Dad and I buried the hatchet when I was an adult, and he made his first visit to our home (now complete with two kids of our own in their preteens at the time), his gleeful remark to my wife was, “I never thought he’d do it!”, referring to getting a house and a career job with security.
That’s not really all that relevant, but it gives a backing of the environment I was raised into. The real problem that I faced with Christianity had nothing to do with this. This part of my life was pretty good, except that I took my environment for granted and didn’t value any of it much, and valued the arts and philosophy far more.
No, my issue with Christianity actually began when I was only five years old. Yep. At five, Christianity caused me to have an existential crisis that would go on to last for most of my youth until I worked things out.
By five, I had seen death twice in two forms: my cat died, and my grandmother died. My cat was first and the lesson that I learned was that death was death, and that was it. Done. When my grandmother died, everyone was very sad. The lesson I learned there was that because death was death and that was it, it made people sad because you lose them forever.
This made sense to me as a toddler. Everything around me seemed to follow this same reasoning. Plants died and that was it. Things broke and that was it; they went to the dump. Finality made sense, and followed the same logical understanding in all things I experienced.
Without thinking about it, I had assumed the same was for humans because there was nothing ever given to me that said anything different, and no one reacted differently about humans than anything else regarding that finality. They said a bunch of things, and prayed - things I didn’t understand, so the meaning of words and conversations went right over my head. All I picked up on was emotional telecasting, which I understood because I felt that way about my cat and my grandmother…well, at least a bit. People seemed much more sad than I felt, but that didn’t mean much to my toddler mind. I couldn’t have even expressed thought over the matter at the time. I was just a typical oblivious toddler jovially running around doing silly early 1980’s things (e.g. eating play dough, dressing up as Darth Vader, making mud pies, shooting cap guns, riding my big wheel like a boss, eating junk food and watching Dukes of Hazard and GI Joe, etc…).
Then there was that one day. It sticks out in my memory like a traumatic accident in one’s early years does in others. It’s actually the first Church memory I have. I know I went to Church before this, because I have foggy memories of playing with, and losing, my metal die-cast Star Wars figures in the Church lawn, but this day is the first where I remembered anything about actual Church.
It was Sunday school and I have a memory of paying attention to the other kids in the sitting circle more than I was really listening to the teacher. At some point, however, my ears peaked and I paid sudden attention to what she was saying because I recall that she talked about heaven and how we go there after being dead.
She wasn’t talking about heaven, hell, the plan of salvation, or any other of the trappings of the discussion…not that I recall. She was just talking about the idea of heaven.
This shook me down to my core. It scared the shit out of me. I had presumed death was death and that was all there was to it, as mentioned above, I had seen and observed, and therefore learned that this was how the world works and had fully adopted this idea into my understanding of reality. It made perfect sense and felt right; I had no quarrel with it. My parents didn’t have to console me with talks about how I would see people or pets again in heaven - that never happened (which…in reflection, is actually odd, all things considering).
NOW I was being told exactly the opposite. There’s more after you die, and that in fact, you never actually die. You die from here, but that just means you go to somewhere else and in that other place you live forever.
That eternal living part. That is what was terrifying me.
My hand eagerly shot up and I asked the teacher something along the lines of, “What if we don’t want it?”
What I meant was, what if we don’t want to live forever; can we ask to stop? Can we just be done?
I don’t think she really understood. At the time, I was confused by her answer, but in reflection I think she thought that I was misunderstanding the definition of heaven because her answer was something along the lines of, “You’ll want to be there.; it’s not a bad place”
That didn’t really help. I wasn’t questioning whether it was a good or bad place.
To me, the very premise of not being dead; not being nothing was itself a type of torment; a form of hell.
As I grew up this became much worse because then I learned the rest of the story of the ontological set up regarding the weight of sin, hell, heaven, and the whole gambit we are thrust into in life as one giant growth and trial for the afterlife.
This made it so much worse, in fact, that I began to think, and say, things like, “I’m jealous of my cat!”
On the logic that cats, as it was explained to me, didn’t have special souls like humans do, so they don’t go anywhere when they die; only humans do.
Cool. Can I have what the cats are having then? “No”, was the answer. Well fuck. That meant I had to work on trying to make it into heaven because hell was a nightmare, but the whole time I’m working on getting into heaven by being a good human, I’m working towards the lesser of two nightmares, really.
So it was not exactly shocking when I finally fell out with Christianity once I grew up enough to realize that I had a choice in the matter and that Christianity wasn’t the only game being played on the planet regarding ontology.
The first bit of peace that I got was actually when we read “Siddhartha” as freshmen in high school.
By this point I had grown into a very angry kid, never feeling very well fit into my world.
And then we read that book and just the fact of watching the character go through a variety of life experiences from a young person to an old man and their reflections on life; for some reason, I found a peace in that. It clicked in some primal manner. It spoke like the simple world I had assumed as a toddler and struck a chord deep inside. I wore that book out with reading.
From there, my rebirth back to my original disposition began and my allegiance to Christian philosophy, already tenuous, began to degrade and would eventually be fully severed.
I never fully felt that “atheism” well satisfied my position. Because atheism simply expressed a non-belief in gods, and that wasn’t really my position. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a belief in gods due to lacking any compelling reason to believe in them, it was that even if there were gods, I wouldn’t want to be dealing with them. Eventually I learned of apatheism and that felt more accurate.
I don’t just not believe in gods. I don’t care about them. I care about humans and I love studying anthropology, but mostly I love astrophysics and engineering, or anything that takes creative problem solving and some wit to accomplish.
If there were gods, none of this would change. I would be exactly the same because if there are gods, then based on what every ontology I’ve looked at (and I’ve looked at every major religion on the planet now and through history via anthropology), none contain anything of my interest, or function in any manner which dominantly requires my attention.
The only ones that suppose a requirement of attention are those which control some regard over the afterlife, and I have a visceral dislike and rejection of an afterlife, so there’s nothing attractive for me in these ontologies or deities.
So my philosophy became defined by this. I’m an apatheistic humanist because I care about humanity, but not about a personal ontology in the slightest, and view being human as one of the greatest experiences that we have - just being human is already amazing in itself when you consider the breadth of articulation we have the capacity for in experience compared to other species on the planet.
I no longer envy the cat, that is, because rather than wishing for its finality, I assume I have the same finality, and in so doing, I have the one-up on the cat because the experiences that I can have while alive are vastly larger than those which the feline neurology is capable of facilitating.
As I’ve come to simplify it: The greatest achievement any human can reach is accomplished by simply waking up at the begging of a day. Everything else is icing on the cake.
It might be shitty icing sometimes, but it’s icing. All other species on this planet are eating, at best, cake without icing, or more commonly, they’re not even eating cake.