2015年8月13日 星期四

To believe or not to believe (信與不信)

The stories amongst most of my friends as far as the Christian religion is concerned is that originally they were non-believers and later got converted. But I took a different path. I was baptized as a Catholic when I entered secondary school. I remained a Catholic for more than 3 decades. Then I tried to deepen my faith.

I started reading about religion especially the Christian religion: what do we know about heaven and hell, what the arguments for the existence of God are including what certain mystics  said about their encounters with God, the efficacy of prayers,  what the great ancient and contemporary theologians have to say about God, how the Christian religion developed in history and what we actually know about the old testaments and new testaments.

I also read a lot about the psychology of religion, the psychology of belief and the psychology of superstition and the anthropology and the sociology and the philosophy of religion. I spent about a decade reading, thinking, reflecting, praying to God to help me find out more about Him etc. Then something strange happened. The more I read, the more I found out about what I believed to be God, the more I thought about God, the more I began to see the hands of man in our thinking and our ways of interacting with God.

In particular I learned about how the image of the historical Jesus was gradually changed from the son of a carpenter from a humble family, conceived before his parents got married and was later converted to the faith of his cousin John the Baptist (who by all accounts appeared to belong to a mystical Jewish sect called the Essenes who claimed a direct relation with the Jewish God) and how after his death and purported resurrection, this rebel of the orthodox Jewish faith was  gradually transformed and moulded into the Christ of Christian faith and  how he eventually  became one of the three "persons" forming the so-called Holy Trinity. In short, I learned how the human Jesus was transformed from an insightful but charismatic leader of a small Jewish sect who made a failed prophecy of the impending  arrival of the Kingdom of God to the eagerly awaiting Jews into the Christ of the Christian religion, how a mortal became an immortal, how a passionate lover of the ordinary folks and people at the margins of Jewish society at the eastern end of the Mediterranean in the first century  became God. I was particularly affected by a book  by Paul Frederiksen "From Jesus to Christ: the Origin of the New Testament Images of Jesus "1988.

I also learned about where the Jews got their idea of the Jahweh and how they adopted many of the stories in the old testaments and other mythologies from ancient Mesopotamia  eg. the story of the flood from ancient Persia, the virgin birth etc.  The evidence I found from the best sources convinced me more and more that instead of man being created in the image of God, as we were taught, it is more probable than not that God was created in the image of man.

However, my de-conversion did not happen overnight. It happened quite slowly but the tendency towards unbelief proved irreversible. I decided that if I wanted to remain true to what the best and most reliable evidence about the Christian faith  suggested, I had no choice but to abandon that faith. I stopped going to church. I didn't  want to stay silent at more and more places during the public proclamation of the Credo containing the essential dogma of the Catholic Church just before the liturgy for the Eucharist  was to begin. It was a most painful process.

As one illusion after another illusion and one belief after another belief was exposed as without good grounds, I learned that I had to struggle to find the meaning of my life on earth by myself. It was a very lonely feeling. As the experience of Kierkegaard shows, it wasn't at all easy to be a true Christian, instead of being just a mere Sunday Christian. I struggled desperately and read all the books by Christian apologists through the ages in the hope of finding some compelling or even just some sound arguments about what I knew was coming, viz.my apostasy. But none of them had any credible or persuasive arguments to offer in their theology and theodicy. They seem, sooner or later, forced repeatedly to resort to circular reasoning i.e.  assuming that which needs to be proved as part of their argument/evidence in proving what they are supposed to have to prove with independent evidence or reasons so as to ground their various dogmatic beliefs about God. I found that were the kind of evidence advanced by Christian theologians in support their dogmatic beliefs in God to be put forward in a modern court of law presided by a fair minded judge, they would have been thrown out with little difficulties: they are based not on reliable evidence but consist mostly of false inferences based on such unreliable evidence and second and third or even fourth order inferences based upon such untested and unverified evidence. 

It's never a good feeling to find your hopes dashed time after time after time. It felt really bad to have to shed one's former beliefs. But guided by an open mind and calm reason, I survived. It  also requires great courage to be able to admit one's own previous mistakes and false beliefs. But as Nietzsche said, whatever doesn't kill one makes one stronger.  But as a new phoenix can't arise except upon the ashes of its predecessor, just as Kali in the Hindu religion will first have to do her work of destruction before the new age can begin and just as Jesus himself has preached, the old Adam must die before the new Adam can be reborn, nothing new will come unless we first destroy the old. So my old beliefs will have to go.

After my decade long ordeal, I felt a strange sense of liberation and a new freedom but with such new freedom also a huge sense of responsibility. Henceforth I alone shall be held accountable for whatever good or evil that I do on earth, whether by commission or by omission and with no good grounds to suppose and therefore to rely upon such posited entities as  "heaven", "hell", "paradise", "angels" and "devils" etc and without any "God" to be the final guarantor of justice and any moral good and evil. Nevertheless, emotionally, it felt good to know that I was not alone in thus "falling away" from the old Christian point of view in my so-called apostasy. I found that I was joined by John W Loftus, a former Protestant preacher,  who wrote  Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, 2008 and also by Prof. Bart D Erhman, a noted biblical scholar. I also learned that Bertrand Russell, the famous British analytic philosopher was also convinced that it made no sense to believe in the Christian God.

I cannot claim to speak for any other person here. Everyone has to bear his own cross: the cross of living out the truth of his own life. No one can do that for another. I will have to live with the uncertainties inherent in the human condition, whether I like it or not and bear it like a man. But one finds a little consolation in the thought that I am not alone in having to bear this cross. Every one else too has to do the same if he or she intends to live his/her life with authenticity and with integrity. I have no grounds to think that I ought to be exempted from the application of that just and equitable rule, which applies to all human beings, without exception due to class, race, gender intelligence, education, status or otherwise.