As promised, here is the story that my grandmother fed me with countless time, about the time she met Jesus and the angels. I will tell it with as many details I can remember, I will try not to let too many things get lost in translation.
She was a child, among many siblings. One day one of her brothers had eaten the cream that their mother had prepared for dessert and blamed it on my grandmother and she first finds out that she has been wrongly accused right after supper when her mother tells everyone “I’m sorry, but none of us can have any dessert tonight because Mary (not her real name) has eaten all the cream”. She received many angry looks from all apart from the guilty party who had a smug look on his face.
She felt helpless, it would have been her word against his but now that her mother had been convinced and now voiced it out in front of the whole family they were all convinced she was guilty. She went to bed and cried.
That night she heard a voice call her name. She looked around and all her siblings were sleeping so she tried to go back to sleep herself when after a while she heard the voice again and, just like before, all her siblings seemed asleep. Wondering if someone was pretending to sleep to mess with her she tried to ignore it but the third time (always in threes, huh?) she heard it, it also added “come out”, so she followed the voice and left the house. Out in the street she saw a beautiful man stand with his arms spread out in a welcoming gesture, and although there were no light sources he was well lit in the middle of the night.
She realized this man was Jesus. He showed her to a rope-ladder and invited her to climb it and she did, all the way to heaven.
And she saw the most glorious city of gold full of beautiful angels, who were all welcome and they all wanted to play with her, so they played all-through the night until she was too tired to continue. The angels assured her that the next time they would meet, she would not have to worry about ever feeling tired again. And they carried her back down to her house.
I remember her telling me this when I was very young and even when my religious doubt was just a spark in the back of my head I had trouble swallowing it. I guess I figured it was the kind of thing you tell a child to convey a greater meaning rather than a telling of a true event. However, she kept telling me the story every now and then, insisting that it is true, and her voice goes high as she tries to describe the wonder and glory of the event that occurred to her… and she still does! I am thirty years old now and she still tells me the story as if expecting me to take it as literal truth. It is the cringiest thing in the world, I don’t want to call her a liar and I don’t think she is one.. It seems like she really believes this but that forces me to think that she is completely batshit insane! One cannot even blame old age, because she has been telling the story for at least 25 years!
And even if I go into my most agnostic mode and try to accept that these things can against all expectations be true and depend on an element of physics we have not yet discovered there is one part of the story that just ruins even that outlook.
A rope-ladder to heaven.
Seriously. A rope ladder.
How high up is Heaven? Did she climb in her pajamas? Wouldn’t that be cold? And what kind of prick is God if he can let people fly up or send an angel to carry her but instead he drops a rope-ladder for a child to climb?
There is no way out of this. She is either a liar or insane. Or I am insane and the bible is true… I seriously doubt that third option.
The title. Why this title? Well it holds a lot of possibilities; ironic, sarcastic, symbolic etc etc. However there is one thing in particular that I want to address, it is partly what made me want to start a blog. If you read the previous two entries you know that I spent many years as an atheist without accepting the label of atheist because of issues I had with people I knew who claimed absolute certainty. You also know that I got over that phase and quite happily call myself an atheist today. However, my issue with that brand of atheism still exists, and even though it is not all that common, it is common enough to give us all a bad name. I am not suggesting we all go on missions and try to preach “true atheism” but I do think we as atheists need to watch our rhetoric just a little.
Here is where I most often react to poor atheist rhetoric, feel free to disagree. Prayer. We hear a lot from different kinds of theists about the power of prayer, and people try to solve serious problems with prayer and yes it does sound pretty ridiculous and many of my fellow atheists are quite happy to say so. However a lot of atheists are also quick to use terms like “useless” and “pointless” as if that was a fact and it is here I cringe. It is not exactly the same argument I described earlier with absolute certainty, you see I don’t know that prayer in itself has absolutely no effect. I am quite ready to believe that prayer can have a very real and physical effect on the outcome of a lot of things, I just don’t believe the theists are right about why this is.
There are many things apart from religions that utilize the concept of prayer, some call it affirmations others call it self conditioning but to me it is all the same kind of thing; putting yourself in a meditative state of mind and thinking through your goals. It is not only religions and spiritualists that do this, athletes do it, police training in my country includes this tactic of conditioning the self to react in certain ways in certain situations.
How can a prayer about something that is not specifically about your own mind work? Well, we, as human beings are mostly run by our sub conscious. I don’t want to explain this here and now, if people comment about it I may go into detail in a future entry, the point is that our brain makes a lot of choices and decisions that we are unaware of and so we have objectives and goals we do not realize we have. We see a lot more than our waking mind registers, we only seem to notice the things that seem relevant to what we are thinking about, or doing at the moment. If we, in a relaxed state of mind visualize our goals, specially if we do it several times per day, we condition our sub conscious to re-prioritize what we sub consciously think is relevant and thus we are more likely to realize and act upon when we see an opportunity to achieve the goal we were “praying” about.
Now, some of you may think that what I just described isn’t really praying at all, and I would actually agree with you. However, I do believe that it is possible for a theist to pray to his/her God, and without realizing it actually conditioning his/her own brain to be more likely to achieve whatever the prayer was about and this is why I think we need to work on our rhetoric.
When we say that as atheists we believe that praying is useless and cannot accomplish anything, a theist that may have had doubts about religion but has had real tangible results from praying will be alienated from us and our community when in fact they would be a very welcome addition to the atheist community.
So be careful when you knock prayer, don’t be so quick to say it doesn’t work, it is far more productive and helpful to talk about the reason why someone would think it works, and why, indeed, some people seem to get results from it.
Right-o. It seems, in these early stages of my blogdom (did I just invent a new word?) that starting with a brief description of myself in context of the subject matter is appropriate.
My name is Peter and I am 30 years old. I was born, and grew up in the, for this day and age, relatively secular country of Sweden. Secular (or as my grandmother would put it, godless) as this country may be, it is still officially a Christian nation, Protestant to be exact. Swedes are a pretty easy going bunch, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it kind of thing, which means that a lot of people here are christian, not because they believe in God or Jesus, but because they were raised with that label and it’s never been a problem, so why do anything about it? This meant that even though the majority of my family never really believed in it, no one saw a problem with my grandmother insisting in making sure I was indoctrinated into the faith. My mother does claim to believe in God, but her seemingly conscious sidestepping whenever the topic arises leads me to believe that she does her best to appear to be a believer in order to please her own mother, my… sensei in the culture that worships the symbol of torture and death of their savior.
So in my early years I believed. Why wouldn’t I? I was just a small child, and the people who were meant to teach me about the world, the adults, either told me there was a God or said nothing about it, and why would they lie? However, my doubts came very early. For better of for worse, I have always been an abstract thinker, a ponderer and a reveler and most of my earliest memories in life have to do with religious doubt. Simple things at first, it started with a fear of heaven. Yes, a fear of heaven, let me explain; Apparently there is this place called hell, and another place called heaven, one is for punishment and the other is for reward. Both these places have one thing in common. Eternity.
My fear of heaven was really fear of eternity, anything that lasts forever must sooner or later become a place of torment. My reasoning at the moment was something along the lines of “Sure, paradise has great games, great movies, lots of things that are fun.. but it’s eternal.. there will come a time when you’ve seen every possible movie a million times, heard every joke there is or ever will be and you’ve grown bored with everything in existence, and from that point on, eternity will go on as eternity does only now it will consist of one thing, apathy.” The only way this would not be the case would be if your scope of existence is still limited around the present and you forget things in the past but If that is true, a time will come when you will have no memory of your earthly life and so the entire experience we call life will be rendered completely pointless.
These thoughts kept me up many nights. And what followed? Guilt of course! How can I, a mere mortal have negative thoughts of heaven? God must be furious with me! I prayed and I prayed for forgiveness and tried to make sure God knew that I was sorry for my blasphemous thoughts but… I knew that my thoughts were valid, I wasn’t sorry for thinking them. Did I just lie to God? The one being in the universe that knows everything about me and I was lying through my teeth during a prayer? He will surely send me to hell for this! But.. how can that be fair? I am only thinking about the words that he gave me to guide me in life, using the brain and sense of logic he gave me, how can he sentence me to eternal torment for that? I thought God was supposed to love me? What kind of loving parent would want to force eternal torture upon his own child?
Yes, this was all before I turned 10.
There came a point where I couldn’t keep it up. I became a closet self hating christian, but tried my hardest to never ever think about it because thinking about it could only bring fear and frustration. Then came Confirmation.
I cannot remember my exact age but it was in the ballpark of 15, half my life ago, when, in christian tradition, I was to validate my baptism when of an age that would allow me to practice free will. Like everything else christian in Sweden, most people do it out of tradition rather than beliefs, and for the kids, it’s a great opportunity to score some presents. It was during confirmation that I was required to really look into my “faith” and study it in order to say “yes this is what I believe” and it was this process that made me realize that no! I do not believe this. So many things in the scripture I was asked to accept as fact were so unbelievably ridiculous that I felt stupid for ever having entertained the thought that they might be real! I won’t go into detail here but I was having a hard enough time swallowing the nonsense fed to me in my infancy, all these talking snakes, rain leaking in from space through holes in heaven, magic fairy tales and morally reprehensible acts by a loving God just pushed me over the edge. I was done with this faith. I still said the words and got the presents, what kind of fool would pass that up?
And so I drifted from Christianity. I toyed with the idea that the bible might work as metaphor, and maybe there is some kind of reincarnation, as I’ve said before, I enjoy speculation and abstract thinking. It would be at least another decade though before I started calling myself an Atheist. What took me so long? Come back later for the continuation.
How about you? Care to share stories like this with me? Comment, or contact me, I will be happy to include interesting questions or anecdotes from friendly commenters. Have you had a similar journey? Or a completely different one? Please let me know!
And also.. this was my second entry, how am I doing?