Every night, I step outside to assess my situation. The stars are mostly unsympathetic to my questions, and I can’t blame them; thousands others have groped for answers under their dim light, and I doubt I am all that different from my predecessors. It’s comforting to imagine that on a night like this, somewhere in the world another man is stepping onto the balcony of his apartment to stop and consider just what kind of man he is, and that he will be looking at the same sky that I am. Perhaps Socrates did the same thing, shivering in his fruity little toga as he watched the moon wax and wane in precisely the same manner as it does for me. He probably didn’t have any trip-hop to listen to while he did this, though I’m certain he would have liked some.
The timelessness of the universe is shocking, to me. When I consider the earth, it feels so tumultuous and unstable. The trees around me can only count their years in decades, but the stars above have watched for eternity. The stars are so overwhelmingly countless. Consider this picture of the Great Orion nebula. Look at all those goddamn stars. Each of them in their own solar system, most of them larger than our own. Millions of planets and moons, asteroids and comets whose light is unfathomably old. How would Socrates feel, considering himself in the glow of such ancient entities? I am but one person, standing alone upon a stretch of snow, in a city of thousands, in a state of millions, in a country of many millions, in a world of billions. Though Socrates’ world was so much smaller than mine, his sky was just the same as mine, give or take a few supernovae.
I often consider how my understanding of such realities changes with my philosophy. When I began to conclude against Christianity in England, the first question I asked of myself was this: what does it mean to look at the stars as a Christian? What do they become, when I deny Christianity? More importantly, who do I become?
In my brief time off between Christmas and New Years, my family went down to Pennsylvania for our first gathering with my mother’s side of the family in a few years. Inevitably, my aunt probed me about my experience in England, and when I revealed that L’Abri’s tireless encouragement of asking questions and embracing doubt led me to conclude against Christianity, a three hour battle ensued between myself and the whole of my family (or at least, my grandparents, parents, aunt, and uncle). I dearly love a good debate, and I enjoyed the challenge quite thoroughly, but the attitudes revealed throughout the course of the discussion were exemplary of why I’ve left the faith. I should make it clear that I love my family, and that our disagreements have not left me bitter or feeling any less fond of them, but I’m also of the conviction that they’re wrong. And so the discussion went forth.
A key argument for my father and grandfather lay in the idea that Christianity is responsible for the majority of modern progress, and that Eastern societies have only succeeded once Christianity entered into their culture (they cited China as an example, lol). In particular, they cited democracy as a Christian invention. Christ’s focus on human equality, they argued, was a new idea and is the primary reason that modern democracy is able to succeed.
I was quick to point out democracy existed long before Christ’s time, but I focused more on pointing out that it could be argued far more easily that Christianity ended up stifling the rise of democratic government because of the reign of the church in the dark and middle ages. Which brought my aunt and uncle to argue my next example of infuriating thought: Anything that might seem to be a negative product of Christianity, was brought about by false Christians.
Around this time, I started flipping out a little. It was about two and a half hours in and this was an argument they’d brought up repetitively, and each time I pointed out the incredible convenience of labeling anyone that makes your faith look bad as false or confused. Although I can certainly recognize that more than a few folks have taken up the label of Christianity with devious purposes in mind, they seemed to stress that true Christians can do no evil, that any evil that might seem to be a product of Christianity was actually a product of sin. Furthermore, at several points they attempted to distinguish Christianity from religion. When I pointed to the Crusades or the Inquisition, they claimed those were products of religion, and not Christianity. These were impossible arguments to overcome, and I confess that my temper flared just a little in the face of such ridiculous defenses.
A third attitude that left me vexed was the notion that science is ultimately futile. This came up when I was arguing that science offers new ways to understand ourselves as humans, to pinpoint why we are the way we are, rather than dismissing crime and malevolence as sin and exploring no further. They scoffed, however, citing how scientists are constantly contradicting each other and releasing studies that invalidate research released just weeks prior. My attempts to explain the scientific method did not seem to satisfy their qualms with this cycle.
The discussion ended on the topic of homosexuality. After attempting to explain the important discovery of the role of genetics and environment in determining sexuality, my grandfather simply stated that “Science has shown all homosexuals to be liars”, at which point I shook my head and bowed out – further debate would most certainly have led to more regrettable words. My father later came outside to commend me for my performance, a gesture which speaks much to his credit.
After all this, I’m left feeling quite strongly that if Christianity were true, their faith would not produce such convictions. I believe quite firmly that the truth will set you free – but I do not see freedom, here. A faith that produces the belief that “circular reasoning is okay if you’re right” (a quip from my father, during this debacle) is not, for me, intellectually honest. God would not grant us intellects of truth and logic if he did not intend for them to be fulfilled.
There’s a lot more to say on the matter, but I’ll leave it at that, for now.
“In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” – Nietzsche