Unraveling My Faith

Photo by Stephen Ainsley

It all started when I pulled one loose thread from the fabric of the belief that had been woven around me when I was growing up. This fabric had protected me, warmed me and gave me comfort when I was yet a child and had not yet formed my own convictions.

I guess I was around 14 or 15 at that time when I noticed a few loose ends. It was at a national inter-church summer camp in Baguio City. I tugged a bit at those ends. I had a long discussion with my best friend. We threw around questions like “Why would an all-knowing God create Lucifer in the first place when he knew he would rebel against him? How come God put the forbidden fruit in the garden when he already knew that man would fail the test and take a bite from it? What if you were born in a remote place and you never heard about Jesus? Would it be fair for God to throw you in hell because of that?”

We went back and forth with these questions, trying to find answers from the Bible, from our own experience, and from what we had heard from other church leaders. We discussed these issues until way past midnight and even brought them up to a pastor the next day.

Looking back, my goal at that time was not so much to seek the truth no matter what, but to find a position of defensible comfort within my belief system. And so when the pastor replied with — “You know, I look at it this way. We are like people standing behind an expert painter create a masterpiece. While he is still working on the painting, we don’t understand it. We see that some parts are dark and some strokes look ugly. But when the master is done and the final work is revealed, we will marvel at how wonderful it is” — I accepted that reply even if it really didn’t answer the question. I was contented enough with it and accepted that my puny mind could never comprehend the infinite wisdom of God. I ignored those loose ends and left them there, assured that all will be revealed and make sense when I died and went to heaven.

Fast forward to a just a few years ago. I was in my mid-thirties, had gone through  tremendous swings in my spiritual journey, had married and had 3 kids, had experienced dealing with many different kinds of people, had a richer and wider view of reality than I had when I was a pimply teenager. I saw those loose threads. They were still there. They didn’t go away no matter how I tried to ignore them.

So I started to pull again. I started asking questions in an earlier blog I made. So now I had a wider audience — not just Christians and pastors but really different people with different beliefs. And I found out two things — one is that there were many people like me, on their own journey of unraveling the threads of their beliefs, and the other is that the Christian answers to the questions were more or less the same ones I had received as a teen — and they no longer satisfied me. To paraphrase from the Apostle Paul — the answers were milk when what I needed was meat. It was like feeding baby food to an adult.

Because I wasn’t satisfied, I continued pulling and it became a bit scarier because the fabric was beginning to tear and my skin was showing beneath it. I worried about how others would see me. I wondered about those who read my blog and what they thought about me: “Oh he’s backsliding” or “he’s being deceived by the devil” or “he should really stop this or God will stop blessing him.”

I think I stopped pulling for a while when I began to get numerous reactions, even calls from close relatives and friends who were “concerned” and “praying for me.” I didn’t want to rock the boat that much yet.

But in the end, my desire for truth outweighed everything else. Jesus rightly said, “the truth will set you free,” and I wanted so badly to be free. And so I decided to pursue the truth — even if that truth said that the Jesus I believed in was a lie. I started pulling harder at the strings and the fabric unraveled faster. I might have lost a few relationships because of this but those that have remained no matter what, I cherish as true friends.

Now, only a few tatters remain from the tapestry of faith that once covered me, but I have never felt happier, have never felt more joy and at peace with myself. I no longer wonder whether what I do is God’s will for me or not. I am no longer tormented by guilt that I have not prayed enough or have not nurtured my relationship with God enough. The responsibility for my life is mine alone. I accept it and lay blame at no one’s feet when things go wrong. No more asking, “Why God?” No more clutching at false hope and prayer, but simply accepting what comes today and then moving forward to create a better tomorrow.

My only regret, perhaps, is not pulling those strings sooner and having tasted this freedom earlier in my life, because the unraveling of my belief has left me stark naked to all the wonder the universe has to offer.

The truth has finally set me free.

 

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This article also appears in filipinofreethinkers.org

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17 thoughts on “Unraveling My Faith”

  1. boc, you must have ruffled a lot of feathers with the search for your truth. but ultimately, it’s the truth that sets you free.
    btw, great musings in your blog. i like your writing style. never been a good writer. wish i was though.

  2. Thanks Grace, but the ruffling is far from over. Hahaha.

    Writing is only a matter of finding your own voice. The more you do it, the less conscious you become of what others might think and really focus on saying what you want to say. But it needs doing. Try it 🙂

  3. Just wanting to say it’s encouraging to “meet” another questioner along the way. I look forward to checking out the rest of your blog. If your other posts are like this one, I can identify a lot. =)

  4. I find your article very inspiring sir and your blog is relevant to the changes i’m experiencing now with my faith. I could say that we have a somewhat parallel experiences. I am (was) a protestant ever since. I read the bible, gave tracks to other people and i passionately defend my faith. Some people even suggest that i could become a pastor or missionary because of how articulate i am delivering the good news. But, interestingly ever since ive known the bible, there were already conflicts inside of my head; conflicts that sometimes I’m aware that what I say doesn’t make sense. Its as if my rational self is telling me to pull back and somehow analyze what i have been reading. and i really could not tell how many contradictions i found in the bible. but i would say my first conflict when i was a kid was from Revelation. In my young mind before i really could not imagine that for all the achievements mankind had it would end in a theater like production of war and tribulation set in to motion on what revelation tells us. i would never forget the first word in my mind when i heard that. “REALLY?!” (with a healthy dose of skepticism) and Christians hold Revelation to be a genuine prophecy and therefore a future event. i wouldn’t even mention the “end times ahead” that’s for another story. But i still continued with my faith thinking that it was only a misinterpretation. Recently i even became a campus minister at DLS-CSB. but then the time came when my conscience really said “STOP!” and i started to unravel my own fabric of faith. Its not really so much about the doctrine that i stepped out; it’s with the Christians as well. They lack “humanity”, honestly they do. but i wont expound it here. i guess i owe a lot to my mom who gave me science, astronomy and biology books when i was a child. because of that i had an open mind on everything, trying understand things in a different way not from a single point of view. it was only through my tita when i first encountered the bible. maybe if it weren’t for my tita i would be a skeptic as a kid and an atheist as i grew up. but she had a great commission to fulfill so i genuinely accepted Christ back then at first grudgingly but genuinely the next time. UNTIL now. I do not blame Christians, they are good people. i could safely say 100% that i am now an atheist. not publicly YET. In the right time. I know i’ll have the same reactions as you experienced before so i’m still mustering a proper and kind response to those people. Some people say its a social suicide. but I don’t care. i have never felt this happiness and excitement now that i am an unbeliever. To those people out there, atheism is not a religion: its a personal realization, its not a sin but a gift. I thank you again for this blog and i am preparing a blog for myself for all my thoughts on things. Sorry i got carried away my experiences are really recent maybe 1 or 2 months ago.

  5. I, too, was like you many years ago. I was brought up catholic. After many questions with no real answers, i gave up. Then i met some people with real answers. The toughest thing for me was realizing that many people called themselves Christians, but, if we were in a court of law, there would not be enough evidence to convict. I eventually found tons of answers, many to questions i didn’t even know existed. Not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is, and no Christian is perfect with every answer that will resonare with everyone. What books did you read? Who did you listen to (other than Ravi)? If your heartfelt questions had rational andwers, would you ultimately chose God, or do you think you are happier without Him? I always see people who say theyvare happy. Some seem to be, some still have those strings, and some are drug addicts who have convinced themselves that they are happy.

  6. Well, hello there. I see you’ve been busy going over my older posts the past few days…it’s going to take me a while to reply to all of them since I do have a full-time job (that’s not related to writing), aside from being a parent and other things. But I’ll start here since this is one of my earliest articles…

    You mentioned you were brought up catholic. May I know what you are now and what you believe in? A little background on who I’m having a conversation with will help a lot. Feel free to share some more about yourself. I don’t even know if we share the same culture or geographic location so I want to know if I have to compensate for misunderstandings due to those.

    Anyway, you asked what books I’ve read and who I’ve listened to…I assume you mean Christian books? Well…a whole lot…I’ll try to name a few off the top of my head:

    *Most of Philip Yancey’s books – The Jesus I Never Knew, What’s So Amazing About Grace, The Bible Jesus Read, Disappointment with God, Church – Why Bother?
    *A bunch of books by A.W. Tozer
    *Another bunch by E.M. Bounds
    *A couple of books by Watchman Nee
    *More Than A Carpenter – Josh McDowell
    *The Grace Awakening – Chuck Swindoll
    *Some books by Jack Hayford
    *The Bondage Breaker
    *The Late Great Planet Earth
    *There was also this rather obscure book by a Jesuit priest talking about a Cosmic Christ…I just remembered it because it was different and quite fascinating, actually — but I forgot the title and author — oh I remember now… Making All Things New
    *A bunch of books by Anthony de Mello (although some would argue against his books being Christian, even me, but I’ll just put them here because de Mello is a Jesuit priest after all)

    Of course, this is not to mention a whole lot of other books devotionals, bible study materials, readings in college theology and philosophy classes and so on.

    As for who I’ve listened to…again, there are too many to mention, pastors, preachers and priests whom I listened to in sermons and also approached one-on-one, bible studies, conferences and so on…definitely not just Ravi. In fact, I only heard about Ravi towards the tail-end of my Christian experience.

    Next question, If your heartfelt questions had rational answers, would you ultimately choose God, or do you think you are happier without Him?

    I don’t really get the question…If my questions had rational answers, then why would there be a need to choose? I’ll just go with the answers.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but your last line sounds sarcastic. Like you don’t believe I’m happy when I say I am…else why mention drug addicts who are happy…so are you saying I am not experiencing “true” happiness (whatever that means)? Or that you doubt that I am really happy?

  7. I was brought up catholic. Much of the dogma was ingrained in me. I could recite much of it. I always felt like it had a nugget of truth, but none of the priests, sisters, teachers, etc.. were able to answer any real questions. I kind of floates by mostly ignoring it. I wound up with a friend who claimed to be Christian and we would have many discussions, usually at the local tavern, throwing back way too many beers. It was all an intellectual debate for me. It seemed like something fun to pass the time and i love a good debate. One where i could argue either side. He had a friend he called one day to meet us at the bar. It wound up beimg someone i had known years earlier. The type of guy who was very aggressive and you knew i fight was going to break out no matter where he was. Usually a big brawl, police, the whole nine yards. I wanted to leave before he got there because I didn’t want any part of that kind of lifestyle. He showed up before i could gracefully worm my way out of the bar. I have never in my life seen such a drastic change in a person as i saw in him. In an instant, i could see how cool, collective, and joyful he was. He went on to explain how he had become a born again Christian and how it jad radically changed his life. What i took away from that experience was the i obviously didn’t know as much as I thought I did.
    Over the next several years, i did real research. Not the google something and call it research. I read books written by anti-christians who helped destroy my thoughts of God, helped formed by my catholoc upbringing. I read countless books on many different religions since i was thinking that the Christian faith wasn’t true, or at least for me. I read on quasi Christian religions, and a started to read on Christianity. To me, what real Christianity is. Like the times in your articles where you portray Jesus in a positive light, but, man, i have read so many anti-christian books, i had so many questions, i didn’t think it was possible. I have read most of the books you mentioned. There are several things that jumped out at me. You only mentioned (mostly) Christian books. Not a lot of books that directly, intelligently, logically, answer skeptics questions directly. Once i started reading those, light bulbs started going off. Not all of the books are good, but a large number of them. Your booklist didn’t mention other types, like a reference to bart ehrman. I can appreciate honest questioning. I have to be honest. His books are so distorted and seem to be so intentional in their misleading and misinterpretation of things, i get a little throw up in my mouth when i hear his name.
    Anyway, back on track. I now consider myself to be a born again Christian, non-denominational.
    As far as the answers to your questions question, there are many people who choose to live life like they want because they want to, damn all evidence to the contrary. Some people actually stop thinking once they have realized that their perceptions are wrong. They just want to be left alone.
    I love sarcasm and have laced many of my rebutals to you with it. This one was not actually sarcasm. I believe you really think you are happy. You may even be happy. My point is that, since these discussions go beyond you and i, some other people reading might realize that they think they are happy, but are not. Drug addicts think they are happy. It was a reflective question, meaning, i thought if i was happy. I wanted you and other readers to actually evaluate whether they were happy or not. It can be so ingrained in our everyday mindset to say, or think, that we are happy. Kind of like when you see someone and you say “hi. How are you?” How does almost everyone respond? “Fine. Thank you.” Without thought.
    As far as more about me, i am a middle aged guy in the midwest in the good old U. S. of A. As far as region and all of that other stuff goes, any misspelled words or the like can be attributed to my typing on my phone in the dark before bed. You know, a little light reading before bed. You are very articulate and i think regional differences are moot. Looking at your posts from a phone instead of a pc makes things a little more random. I habe also never followed a blog, so this part of it has been a new experience for me.

  8. Thanks for sharing all that. Yeah, I figured you were American or British the moment I read “tavern” in the first paragraph. Nobody uses that in common talk where I’m from, which in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is in Southern Philippines.

    Anyway, I talked about having to overcome cultural barriers and such because you mentioned growing up Catholic…so I had to wonder where exactly you grew up Catholic. Growing up Catholic in the Philippines is a bit different from growing up Catholic in the US in some aspects…so I just had to know for sure in order to properly address some of your comments.

    Also, you should know that my blog entries actually come out as a weekly opinion column in a local paper in my city. So I’m actually writing primarily for a local audience. So sometimes I talk about local politics or might make references that make no sense to you. That also explains why I sometimes break things up into 2 or more parts.

    Yes, I forgot to mention the non-Christian books…I was trying to remember a lot of the Christian books I had read since I was a teen. I only began exploring outside my faith in my late 30’s so that’s fairly recent given that I’m still in my early 40’s.

    So…other books:

    Conversations with God 1,2,3 – N.D. Walsch
    A couple of Bart Ehrman books
    A bunch of Richard Carrier books – Sense and Goodness without God, On the Historicity of Jesus, Proving History
    God is not Great – Christopher Hitchens (I don’t particularly like this book though)
    Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God – Frank Schaeffer
    Caught in the Pulpit – Dennet & Lascola
    The Christian Delusion – ed. John Loftus
    Some Zen books
    Some Osho books.
    A couple of Wayne Dyer books.

    It might be surprising to you but I haven’t read any Richard Dawkins book yet.

    Also watched a bunch of videos and debates over the years.

    Thank you for clarifying re: sarcasm. I enjoy sarcasm myself. However, I find that too much of it doesn’t lead much to anywhere. I know I also tend to use some sarcasm in my articles, and you used it in your comments too. But if we keep going back and forth sarcastically, it just becomes a pissing contest and we end up resenting each other.

    I’ve gone through this phase on Facebook and I think I’m past it and tired of it. These days, I’d much rather just have sane conversation where the goal is to try understanding each other rather than trying to win an argument over the other.

    If you’re ok with that, then I will slowly go over your comments and answer them as best as I can. But if you just want to pick a fight…been there, done that, and I won’t waste my time.

  9. As hopefully my direct reply to you shows, i prefer a real discussion when conversing with someone. I totally agree about too much sarcasm. I don’t want to pick a fight. An old Indian (real Indians, not native american) proverb, don’t cut off someone’s nose then offer them a rose. My rebutals were meant to point out the irony of some of the points you made.
    BTW. No one i know in america uses tavern. Maybe some people in the more rural areas, but i live in a city. I used the word to describe a gathering spot as opposed to a loud dance club environment.
    From here on out, i will promise to carry my end of oir conversation in the sane, meaningful way you described. I already have respect for you. There seem to be a lot of similarities between us. I did start down the questioning path earlier than you, so, hopefully my extra time will be a benefit. You are pretty well read. Aside from your questions that were not satisfactorily answered, what points (or who) were most influential in the path you are now on?

  10. At first I thought you were just another smartass. But yes, you were direct and straightforward with your replies, and I appreciate that we will begin to have a sane and meaningful exchange. I just wanted that out in the open and out of the way.

    Most influential points or persons in the path I’m now on:

    1) A lot of ideas from Conversations with God — this is a bit strange for me because I don’t really believe the author had an actual conversation with God as he claims. But he presents a lot of ideas in the book that made me think deeply about God, faith, religion, and so on. I read this series when I still considered myself to be a Christian. It broke down some walls that had been there for a long time.

    So yeah, I actually like the book even if I think the author is milking it for the money (he came out with other “…with God” books like Home with God, etc. which I didn’t bother reading anymore)

    I know you reacted unfavorably to one of my articles where I presented the ideas there. I’ll just post a reply there as soon as I can.

    2) Anthony de Mello — best explained here http://freethinking.me/essays/thank-you-tony-de-mello/

    3) Richard Carrier — for presenting a good case for a naturalistic position in Sense and Goodness without God. I also find interesting his arguments for a mythical Jesus in On The Historicity of Jesus.

    4) Bruce Lee — As a child I was a huge fan of his movies and I also read a lot about his life and philosophy. I didn’t like his philosophy when I was young (because he didn’t believe in God — at least not the way I did) but revisiting his statements today, I find myself agreeing with almost all of them (http://visualmeditation.co/20-bruce-lee-quotes-help-you-become-amazing-person/)

    5) The most recent book I’ve read is Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes In God by Frank Schaeffer. It appeals to me because the author finds no need to pretend to be consistent (the title of his book included), arguing instead that we humans are naturally inconsistent and conflicted. It is, however, a paradox that he embraces instead of trying to deny or get rid off.

  11. As i mull over your list here, i am very surprised. When i was in your shoes, one of the best things i think i did was actively look at arguements specifically for and against the suthors i would read. When i was refreshing my memory of Richard Carrier, i saw a response from bart ehrman. Since i like irony so much, it was funny to see them attacking each other. I have not read bruce lee yet. As i sit here and try to fathom how their eorks can be put together in anything that eould not drive a person crazy, i see your listing of Frank Schaeffer. That his writings appeal to you as you state how much you like logic just baffles me. I cannot grasp anyone enjoying inconsistency, much less a lover of logic.

  12. //When i was in your shoes, one of the best things i think i did was actively look at arguments specifically for and against the authors i would read.//

    While I also search for critiques for/against authors, my preferred method is to read their works for myself first and see what I think about them, rather than let others do my thinking for me.

    Of course, I obviously cannot do this all of the time because I won’t have time for anything else then. So it’s an unhappy compromise and a slow climb uphill in that sense.

    //When i was refreshing my memory of Richard Carrier, i saw a response from bart ehrman. Since i like irony so much, it was funny to see them attacking each other.//

    What did you find ironic or funny about them attacking each other?

    //i see your listing of Frank Schaeffer. That his writings appeal to you as you state how much you like logic just baffles me. I cannot grasp anyone enjoying inconsistency, much less a lover of logic.//

    It’s not that I enjoy inconsistency, but I see it and recognize it for what it is. Yes, I love logic, but I also love being surprised…sometimes, what we think is logical breaks down when seen from a different perspective…like Newtonian physics applied to very small particles like atoms…they simply break down — hence the need for quantum physics to supplement what Newton didn’t account for.

    I am wondering though, have you actually read Schaeffer or have you just read ABOUT him? He is actually more of a theist than an atheist. Though he broke away from evangelical Christianity, he still attends church regularly in the Greek Orthodox tradition. You might even have more in common with him than I do.

  13. The irony to me is that they could be a consistent enough of a duo, and are both so impressed by themselves that they bicker ad nausea about the inconsequential stuff.

    The reason i read the reviews first is to see if it is worth my time. I also want to see major points and thought patterns. It makes it less likely that i will miss something important while i am reading. Sometimes it is easier to see how something that seemed small at the time winds up being a big deal. I won’t take your comment about letting others do our thinking for us as an insult.

    I have read some by him. I didn’t give him much weight. I actually respect your position much more than his. It seems like he invents his own religion. It seems like you are still thinking and trying to arrive at your foundation.

  14. //The irony to me is that they could be a consistent enough of a duo, and are both so impressed by themselves that they bicker ad nausea about the inconsequential stuff.//

    Actually, they are fundamentally opposed in their viewpoints about Jesus — Ehrman believes in a historical Jesus while Carrier believes Jesus is a myth. I don’t see how that qualifies as inconsequential. Carrier gives Ehrman credit though for his other works such as “Jesus, Interrupted,” “Forged,” and “Misquoting Jesus.” It is in the historicity issue that they adamantly oppose one another.

    //The reason i read the reviews first is to see if it is worth my time. //

    Yes, I understand…which is why I mentioned that even I cannot do it most of the time. Hence, reading reviews is an unhappy compromise for me.

    //I won’t take your comment about letting others do our thinking for us as an insult.//

    Oh, no insult intended there. I just had in mind someone I used to have arguments with before…only to find that a lot of that person’s information about the books/authors we argued were secondhand information — he had never read any of them but depended only on what he read about them.

    There was this one time though that this other friend kept mentioning a book in favor of his argument, so yeah I googled the book and the author, but I decided to take the plunge. I bought the book and read it and so had a better understanding of my friend’s point of view.

    // It seems like he invents his own religion.//

    And what’s wrong with that?

    I’m not just being flippant…I mean isn’t that how religions start anyway? Someone, somewhere “invented” it — By “invented” I don’t mean that the religion was merely fabricated. The people or person who founded that particular religion may have sincerely believed it to be true, but it was “invented” anyway because they created it (even if they say it was “revealed” to them — i.e. Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Mormonism, etc). Who’s to prove otherwise?

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