Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oh, My God

UPDATE: Everything has changed.
Go ahead and read the following. It is an honest assessment of where I was at the time, but far, far away from where I am now.
I've recently been in contact with several people with whom I grew up and went to school. The topic of religion and belief in God has come up in several conversations.

I was raised in a religious household. My parents are both Seventh-day Adventist and my siblings and I were raised to be SdA. I went to private church school until midway through my sophomore year in high school. (We called it "academy". I think "high school" was a little too worldly.)

The Adventism that was practiced in my household was a religion based on rules, judgment, and fear. The message I got was "God is love, but there is a long list of things that he doesn't like. If that's not clear in the Bible, you've got EGW to expound and maybe add to the list. Neglect to follow the rules, even if it's accidental (Remember Uzzah?), there is significant discipline meted out, even unto death."

So that was how I was introduced to the concept of God.

In my teens and until I was about 30, I was quite the sinner. Based on the concept of God that was handed to me, I was in serious trouble.

When I was in my mid-20s, I spent about 3 years in the SdA church. I was already pretty miserable by then and thought that maybe the church I grew up in might have the answers. I pursued that hope with vigor and rigor. I studied. I witnessed, even to the point of preaching to the faithful. After that 3 years, I became completely disillusioned with the whole thing. I knew I had given it my all and it was not working.

After that, I got down to practicing one of my most egregious sins - being a drunkard. (Not to mention all the substances that aren't mentioned in the Bible. Did they even have meth back then?) Eventually, in 1993, I realized that if something didn't change dramatically, I was going to die before too long.

Right when I was starting to think about the gravity of my situation, my dad sent me a long letter telling me about a treatment center that several of my family members had been through. He made a very convincing case that I might consider checking myself in. So I did. Except for caffeine and nicotine, I haven't had a drink or toke or snort since that day (2/22/93, for those keeping score at home). Hallelujah.

This treatment center I checked into was different than what most people think of when they think about treatment centers. Their program was not limited to substance abuse. They treat all the isms: food addiction, sex addiction, workaholism... you name the ism and they'll treat it. That's because the basis of all their treatment is the idea that most of us are afflicted with the ism of codependency. Treat that and you all those other isms make a lot more sense.

Agree or not with the concept, it certainly worked for me. I knew almost immediately after walking into that room that I was going to be OK.

At some point during the 85 days I was there, I was handed a new concept of God. More than that, I was handed a new way of relating to the concept of God.

I had always thought and felt that one could get in serious trouble with God if one believed incorrectly. As a result, I was always terrified of the fact that I was not only in big trouble, but might even be in trouble for believing the wrong thing. By the time I left the treatment center, I knew that I could believe whatever I believed. In fact, I knew that I needed to be true to what I really believe, not what somebody compelled me to believe. Whoever or whatever this god (or gods) were, they could get along just fine, regardless of what I believed.

This led to an indisputable truth for me - I no longer had to fear. Life, death, god... no fear. Not too long ago, I was faced with a very serious brain surgery. At no time did it occur to me to ask some deity to protect me or make sure everything would turn out the way I wanted it to. I knew that regardless of how things turned out, the universe and I were going to be OK. I was not afraid to die. Of course my preference was to not die. I love life. I prefer to be alive. But when I was about to go under for the surgery, I realized that I was OK with whatever happened.

Part of my recovery was to accept that I was powerless over all the isms and that the only way to deal with that was through believing in a higher power. I was encouraged to find a higher power that worked for me. I had already realized the concept of god that I had learned in childhood definitely did not work for me. I came to believe that the important thing was to realize, on a deeply spiritual level, that I am not god. I needed to internalize the truth that I am not in charge. That is where I'm at now.

I describe myself as agnostic. I don't believe I can know whether or not there is a god or gods. The evidence that I have to work with is inconclusive. I strongly suspect that almost all religions come from a deep human desire to be OK. Part of being OK is having the hope that there's something out there that will keep us OK. That's there's something else besides life and death - that life has meaning beyond what we experience now. Religion is a very popular and sometimes successful means to that end - feeling OK.

I am OK with the idea that this (picture me stretching my arms out to my sides with palms up and open) is it. I have only today and that may very well be all there is. For me, life has meaning in the way I live today. There is sufficient meaning in trying to do the next correct thing. There is sufficient meaning in trying to treat others as I would like to be treated. There is sufficient meaning in tasting, smelling, listening to, seeing and feeling this moment. I don't need any reward - this life is good enough for me.

So there you go - god or no god, I'm OK either way.

P.S. It should go without saying that I believe everyone has the same freedom I do - to believe what they believe. I am not trying to make a case to convince anyone. I am trying to explain, to those who have asked, why and how I got to where I'm at.

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