Thursday, February 09, 2006

One-way mirror

This is a little something I wrote up. It captures the feelings I went through when I lost my faith.

I could never see what was behind the one way-mirror, but I always believed and truly felt that there was an awesome presence there; a presence worthy of the highest respect, but also one that desired to be an intimate friend. I used to speak directly to the mirror, believing that that the presence – possibly in some adjoining room - listened, and cared for me. Sometimes I even thought that the presence spoke back to me, although not in an audible voice, mind you. Its messages had to be found and studied elsewhere: in a book, from other people, from a feeling deep down inside of me. There was never any direct correspondence.

One day I started to doubt that there was someone behind the mirror. I asked – and then cried – for the hidden presence to reveal itself. It did not, and in a final stroke of frustration I flung my chair at it. The mirror shattered into a thousand pieces, and I suddenly saw that there was no room behind the mirror. No friend. Just a blank, solid wall.

“But this is impossible”, I cried to myself, “I know, deep down inside, that someone was there. I could feel his presence. I could hear his small, still voice. If there was no-one there, where did all these impressions come from? Where did all the certainty and belief have its source?”

I suddenly looked down and found my answer. From one of the shards of glass on the floor, I saw a reflection – a face looking back at me.

The face was my own. . .

(c) 2005 by Kevin Parry


Shmanky said...

That is very nice.

I remember when I used to believe in God, when I was a Deist, that I felt God's presence. Now I suspect it was the instinct of being aware of ones surroundings and whether one is being watched by a predator that is the most likely candidate for an explanation. Or simply imagination.

Kevin Cadman said...

What an exceptionally well written post. I'm going to give your blog link to many people who I think need to read it.

Keep it up - I really enjoy your writing.


noell said...

I remember these same feelings when I was a believer, that someone was there. Those overwhelming feelings of love, the prompting thoughts I believed came from outside of myself, felt incredible. I was addicted to having them. But how perplexing they were when they contradicted themselves over the years. This often happened as a result of my gaining new knowledge or understanding about something. I guessed I must have misunderstood the previous insight from without.

In addition to what I thought was God, I also had another imagined presence based on my beliefs. My relgion and parents taught me that the world was filled with evil spirits, Satan's followers. These spirits outnumbered living humans, and especially liked to target the "righteous." Therefore, I could expect a multitude of evil spirits following me around, trying to get at me.

Upon learning that the source of the god-presence was my imagination, the evil-spirit presence (and paranoia) vanished, also. Abandoning religion, for me, has also meant abandoning potential insanity!!!

Thanks for your comment on my blog! You made an excellent point about creationism.

Roger Saner said...

Knock knock, Neo. The Matrix has you!

And again: "What *is* real?"


"Its messages had to be found and studied elsewhere: in a book, from other people, from a feeling deep down inside of me. There was never any direct correspondence."
Hmm. Seems to me like what you wrote above actually *was* direct correspondence! Suprise! Would it suprise you that God would speak to you using all of these things?!

Or would you prefer God *did* speak to you audibly - then you'd be the guy going round saying "God spoke to me last night" and we'd all just think you were weird. Maybe, to quote noell, God saved you from potential instanity by not speaking to you audibly...hehe!

<climbs on soapbox. gently. looks out over crowd... not a sausage.>
That said, I think much more in mainstream Christianity needs to be made of the absence of well as all of the misleading "God exists to give me incredible feelings" stuff. So much of the bias out there is towards always feeling loved by God, always feeling his presence, always feeling happy because God loves you and blah blah blah. Where's the reality in that? Where are the times of "My God my God, why have you forsaken me?" The times of "I thought of God and I groaned." (Psalm 77).

Only once we begin to grapple with God's absence can our faith become real...otherwise we simply have faith in something we're certain in - and that's an oxymoron, because the opposite of faith isn't doubt...but certainty.

<stage dives off soapbox. falls to ground; grazes knees. picks self up and wonders when he's going to stop doing that.>

Stardust1954 said...

Great blog here.

I was a christian for more than 30 years. The longer I was in it, the more bizarre it seemed to me. Going to church each sunday to be told that I was such a bad person a mysterious ancient guy had to die a dreadful death for me was quite depressing and extremely morbid. I am not bad, my husband is not bad and my kids (who are grown now) are not bad. It is such a release to let that all go and to be able to think clearly and rationally. It was also a relief not to have to go through the motions just to be part of a social group. Most people follow christianity and other religions because they fear death, or are threatened with hell if they don't believe. I have accepted the nature of things and the cycle of life. Every living thing must die sooner or later. I will make the best of this life while I am here, and am at peace with the nature of things. I am at peace with myself.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Roger

Thank you for your wonderful and insightful comments. When I see a new comment posted by you, I know that I’m going to read something that will spur or challenge my thinking.

Roger wrote:
Seems to me like what you wrote above actually *was* direct correspondence

Now that I think about it, you are absolutely right. If a friend sent me an email, I would consider it direct correspondence, despite the fact that email was the medium used. I should have been more clear in my post – I should of written: ‘there was no direct correspondence that was certain’. It may very well be that God corresponds directly to Christians through different media, but the problem for me was that I was never entirely sure that it was God who was doing the speaking.

One of my hobbies is amateur radio, and I get to speak to fellow radio hams all over the world through radio waves. Sometimes the radio conditions are not that great – there is a lot of static, for example – and I battle to actually hear other stations calling me. Once I arranged to meet a friend of mine on a certain frequency at a specific time. I called for him a number of times, but there was nothing but static. After listening to the static for a while, I thought I heard his voice, but so faint that I could not discern what he was saying. Although we were using a direct medium to communicate, I could not be sure if it was actually him I was hearing, or if my mind was imagining the voice. This is the kind of feeling I had when I was a Christian.

Roger said:
Or would you prefer God *did* speak to you audibly - then you'd be the guy going round saying "God spoke to me last night" and we'd all just think you were weird.

This is a very good point. I think that if I suddenly burst through the door and claimed that I had met with Jesus for coffee at Spur, my wife would have me in a straight jacket in no time :-) But if all Christians suddenly started claiming that they physically met God (or Jesus), and they provided strong physical evidence, then we would start to question our conclusion that they were all weird. If it were general practice for God to speak to all Christians directly, we wouldn’t think it strange at all, as it would be common occurrence. Again, it was the uncertainty – brought about by the way God was supposed to communicate to Christians in general - that bugged me as a struggling Christian.

There are also examples in the Bible where God did speak directly to certain individuals. Moses had the burning bush; Jacob physically wrestled with God for a whole night; and we all know about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. But no modern day Christian thinks these individuals were weird or deluded. Why, then, do Christians raise eyebrows when someone gets on stage at church to share their testimony and they ramble on about how they physically saw and spoke to Jesus who fought off demons in their bedroom, etc, etc. I once heard such a testimony when I was a Christian, and I definitely raised my eyebrows; but I was more than willing to believe that Noah was ‘all there’ when he spoke directly to God regarding blueprints for the Ark.

Thanks again for your constructive comments. By the way, I tried to leave a comment on one of your blogs (the one you recently moved to a new site). I did not see it after I pressed ‘Submit’? Is there something else I should’ve done?

All the best

Roger Saner said...

Hi Kevin - thanks for your gracious response. I was thinking about this after heading across to the site you spoke about and read through the forums there. What really bugged me is that the comments by the self-proclaimed "ex-Christian atheists" annoyed me in exactly the same way as I'm annoyed by much of mainline fundamental Christianity. There seemed to be little capacity to dialogue and to have a decent conversation - it was all about ridiculing the people that were different to them (in this case, Christians).

My impression (well, at least on the page I was on) was that they've got their own "religion" doing exactly the same things - forming their own fundamentalist "doctrine" (which you disagree with at your peril), deciding who's "in" or "out" - as the Christians they hate. Quite ironic if someone had to grow up within that "religion" and then to leave atheism because of their dogmatic refusal to be open to anything else! (Which is why I enjoy your writings - because you've walked away from Christianity but you're not a raving lunatic...(I think! lol!) Plus you write honestly and have the ability to dialogue. The reason I visit is not to try and convert you (which would make you first on my list!) but to get something out of your writings - so thank you :))

So what I realised is that I don't have a problem with anyone based on what they believe - but I think I have a problem with fundamentalists, which I'd probably define as "people who don't let you disagree with them and want to convert you to their way of thinking, without respecting your humanity (your right to disagree)."

I like your amateur radio analogy. It's very similar to Frederick Buechner referring to "whispers from the wings" - speaking about God's involvement in creation. How do we know it's God? ... I don't know. I've had experiences where I was sure it was God - but looking back I've changed my mind. And I've gone through stuff where God was noticeably absent - but on review He seemed to be there. Damn - wish it was easier to figure out!


(Hehe - I hope you get to hang out at Spur more!)

But if all Christians suddenly started claiming that they physically met God (or Jesus), and they provided strong physical evidence, then we would start to question our conclusion that they were all weird. But hang on - don't most evangelical Christians claim exactly that? Oh wait - no - your key word was "physically." I guess the evangelical claim is they met Jesus "in their hearts." (Although, coming to think of it - why do we get to decide that it's physical evidence that will convince us?) Hmmm...maybe the better evidence of someone "meeting God" is this: if God is real and if He really is good and if He really cares about us and wants us to become fully alive through relationship with Him - "meeting Him" will leave the person profoundly changed. Would it not make sense to claim that if all of the above is true then we'd look for evidence of God in the lives of those who claim to have met him? (Admittedly not as easy to verify as physical evidence - and maybe a bit harder to prove/disprove?)

Regarding the raised eyebrows to Christians who get on stage and talk about meeting Jesus in their bedrooms etc - I don't know - most of the people it's been my bemused pleasure to observe in that context might well be describing a weed-induced hallucination. And these people seem to have personalities which are over-the-top extrovert - not that they're bad, but it just doesn't seem believable. I'm much more inclined to believe someone who you wouldn't expect this to happen to. I remember a friend of mine who was a pretty normal guy talking about about his telepathic experiences as a Satanist - and he spoke about it in measured, factual terms which chilled me exactly because the way he spoke about it was authentic.


Also, the reason I believe God spoke to Noah is because I've heard Bill Cosby's take on it ("Noah - I want you to ARK." "Yeah right - what's an ark?!") and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Btw, I did get the comment you left on my blog - thanks - I've just got this moderation thing which stops spam - but I've approved it. Oh - and is there any way for me to keep up-to-date with the comments here? I know you can set it up that you get mailed after someone leaves a comment - but can common plebs like me do that too?

Roger Saner said...

Sorry for the long comment! If you made it to the end go to Spur and have a coffee!

Roger Saner said...

PS - the blog you left your comment on is my personal blog which will probably be very boring to anyone who doesn't know me (and, to be honest, is probably very boring to those who do!).

You might be more interested in my thoughts at FutureChurchJourney and EmergentAfrica.

freethoughtmom said...

Kevin, nice, well written post! You really do capture that feeling of trying to allow the supernatural to be part of your life.

Kevin Parry said...

Roger wrote:
What really bugged me is that the comments by the self-proclaimed "ex-Christian atheists" annoyed me in exactly the same way as I'm annoyed by much of mainline fundamental Christianity

I totally agree with you on this point. I have my own theory about this. I think that most of the debate between atheism and theism occurs in the States. Due to the intense sensitivity over highly emotional issues such as church and state separation, abortion, Christianity in schools, and such like, both sides have become so polarised that in most cases they can’t even dialogue with each other anymore. And sadly it seems that these kinds of not-negotiable stances on religion and secularism is rubbing off on the rest of the world.

I also think a group develops a fundamentalistic paradigm as a result of the martyr/persecution complex. Some argue that Christian fundamentalism strengthened in the States as a result of state/church separation. Christians felt that they were being persecuted, so they became more militaristic in order to ‘fight’ what they perceived as intrusions on their turf. Right now, Christian fundamentalism is increasing in the States, so now the non-theists (comprising, and I could be wrong here, only 4% of the population) feel threatened . . . and so the cycle of polarisation and conflict continues.

I’ve got more to comment on in the rest of your post, but I will write it out during this week.


Anonymous said...

Amazing Grace... it sounds so sweet, but it would be sweeter to hear the Voice of God penetrating through the darkness and into our hearts. The book of Job states... God speaks once, yeah twice, but man percieves it not. My repeated prayer has been for him to speak 7 times 7 and to overcome my spiritual deafness. Still waiting...