Hopping Off The Bandwagon

For too many years, my view of the world was one dimensional.I saw everything around me in black and white.

The Bible was a black and white textbook on how to live. Men were to lead, women to follow. Men were to work outside the home, women were to keep the home and tend it. All mankind was destined for eternal torture in hell unless they repented of their sin and accepted salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. There was no nuance, only certainty. We were right, and everyone else was wrong.

My religious beliefs dictated not only gender roles and mankind’s eternal fate but also which politics were right, what to wear, how to educate, what science was accurate, and so much more. It mandated patriotism and economic libertarianism and the passing of laws against abortion and gay marriage. It laid out every step of my life and assured me that we were right, and everyone else was wrong.

Absolute, complete, total certainty.

It’s like being on a float in a parade and not knowing any other floats exist, or, rather, calling every other float wrong, evil, sinful, and headed for ruin. Only those on your float are right, happy, and destined for eternal salvation.  If you ever glance at the floats around you all you see are garish dragon heads and demonic white faces, and if you glance at the people on the ground you see angry yelling faces.

 

To stay on the float, there is one requirement: you have to keep repeating “it’s all true because the Bible says it” like a mantra. When everything is laid out like that in a complete and total worldview, questioning even one piece is a no-no. If you stop chanting the mantra and start to question, or to disagree with something, you have to get off the float, or else risk being thrown off.

The questions came to me slowly at first. Somehow I thought I could stay on the float. I didn’t realize right away that questioning anything meant hopping off entirely, but I soon knew. I had a choice: give up my questions and repeat the mantra, or hop off the float and start over from scratch. I got off. I looked up at the float with tears in my eyes as I saw my family and friends move by, still chanting the mantra. My mother was crying, but still she kept chanting. My sisters looked bewildered, but still, the chanting.

And then I found myself alone. I was afraid. In hopping off the float I had let go of everything I had known, but more than that, I had let go of certainty. I suddenly realized that I didn’t really know anything for sure. And that was very, very scary.

While this process was painful, it was also exhilarating. My world suddenly went from black and white to technicolor. I looked up and realized that the people standing around me were just people, like me. They weren’t angry, they were cheering. I looked at the other floats passing by and realized that the scary dragon was merely the Chinese dragon on the Chinese student association’s float, and that the demonic white faces were those of clowns entertaining the children with peels of laughter. Suddenly, I could no longer simply declare anyone different from me to be unhappy, sinful, or headed for disaster.

But there was also such a cacophony of voices. There was something so comforting about chanting the mantra in unison, something reassuring, and now I was bewildered. The world around me might not be evil, but it was also far from simple. There were such a variety of people, beliefs, and cultures. Over the following months and years, I learned about different religious beliefs, different cultural practices, and different political and economic systems without assuming in advance that I had it right and every other view was wrong.I began to understand just how complicated the world is, but also how much more interesting it is than I had always thought. My need to claim absolute truth disappeared, and I started seeing my views as contingent and subject to change. I learned that I could even say “I don’t know,” and the world would not end right then and there. 

Sometimes I still struggle with the temptation to claim certainty. In this complicated world, certainty can be very appealing. It would be easy to recreate a new black and white where I assume with absolute certainty that I and my way are right and everyone else and their way is wrong. It would be easy to jump on some other float and declare that all others were headed for disaster and mine alone is right. But I can’t do that. As soon as you close the door to the possibility of being wrong you close the door to depth, beauty, growth, and understanding.

I am fairly certain that there is no God, but that does not mean I believe that everyone needs to believe and live as I do. It does not mean that I think those who believe differently from me don’t have interesting insights or things to add to the discussion. It also does not mean that I have closed the door to future information and future arguments.I don’t think there is a God not because I choose to assume there is no God, but because it is the conclusion my current experiences and knowledge have brought me to. 

I now see life as a journey rather than a destination. Not content to stand upon the float I was born on and repeat a mantra, I am free to wander the crowds and look at the different floats and different perspectives. I can join a float I feel drawn to, perhaps just for a time, perhaps longer term, but that does not mean that I will deny the existence of every other float or proclaim them all damned or headed for destruction. 

I can embrace difference, embrace the cacophony, and embrace the ability to say “I don’t know.”

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    Love your blog!

  • http://foreverinhell.com Personal Failure

    Today has been the day for posts that make me consider my own journey of faith.I think I was never good at faith because I was never any good at certainty. Nuns and priests would tell me things with absolute certainty, not a drop of doubt, and I just couldn't fathom it. "How do you know?" I would ask. They thought I was being flippant or disruptive, but I really wanted to know how they could be so sure. I was never sure about anything.I am an atheist, but that's uncertain in its way, too. If someone were to provide me with evidence of a god or the supernatural, I would have to change my mind. Nothing is set in stone. I know gravity makes a ball fall down, but if I saw a ball fall up, I'd have to rethink gravity, wouldn't I?

  • Exrelayman

    As I like to say, 'a formidable obstacle to learning the truth is the conviction that you already know the truth'. Of course this truism is amplified unimaginably when the Hell teaching is used in conjunction with the notion that not believing is sufficient cause for going there.Or as Yeats (The Second Coming) said, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity".Given all their indoctrination tools, it is a wonder that any of us find our way out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10374620768794536239 Sheena

    It's amazing how freeing those three words are, isn't it?The certainty may feel safer and more secure, but there's so much freedom in those words.I don't know.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14856500260839151492 Gina Marie

    This made me think of this lyric: "I can stand up for faith, hope, love, while I'm getting over certainty/Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady." -U2, Stand-Up Comedy

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    OMG I love this, Libs! With every sentence emotions lifted higher, all the way to the last, "I don't know". Good for you!I kind of envy you. After all, you jumped off the float, and though it was strange at first, it was your choice and you are welcome and happy out in the big wide world.I have been sitting with my feet hanging off the back of the float, looking at the same amazing sights you see, laughing with delight at the world God loves, and wanting to get the people on the float to see it too. They eye me suspiciously from a distance. I see them whispering to one another about me and it's possible they might shove me off soon.But I won't jump, because I like it here. n_n My faith, my way of understanding the Bible, suits me in every way- intellectually satisfying, emotionally satisfying, spiritually satisfying. The people insisting they have all the answers are angry with me, because I don't agree with them. What will happen in the end?Time will tell. But I am pretty sure it will be alright. Peace and good will, SS

  • http://www.thedrantherlair.com quietpanther

    I love the words I don't know. When I actually started questioning myself and my beliefs, when I actually came to the conclusion that I don't know, I actually felt MORE safe and secure than I did when I thought I knew — and hated and feared the very things of which I was sure.Your definition of atheism sounds pretty close to my definition of agnosticism … I don't believe there IS a god, but I also don't believe there ISN'T one … I don't see any substantial evidence for god's existence, but it is of course impossible to prove a universal negative. He could be real and hiding, or he could have operated in the past and simply grown silent … there's just no way to know. And until and unless he decides to indisputably reveal himself, I have no reason to acknowledge his existence.

  • Anonymous

    Libby Anne, what was God's function ,in your life, in your growing years? What part did he play in your sinner's prayer? Did your Parents realize you had problems with the prayer? And repeating it over and over? Was it a written prayer? What did it say ? Was it ever meaningful to you? Who decided it was time for you to pray the sinners prayer.Beverly

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Beverly – As I was growing up, Jesus was my best friend. I had a personal relationship with him, and my faith meant everything to me. I prayed the sinner's prayer as a child, of my own volition and alone, because my parents did not think me old enough to understand. I didn't have any problems with the sinner's prayer, and while I sometimes wondered how I could be sure I was saved given some of the , I was for the most part completely confident in my salvation and in my relationship with God. My relationship with Jesus was the central factor of my life, and this didn't change right away when I jumped off the float. Rather, I initially looked into other expressions of faith, not doubting God but simply the legalism I came to see in my parents' views. When I say that those on the float were repeating a mantra, I don't mean that they were simply repeating the sinner's prayer or affirming God's existence. Rather, it was the whole total fundamentalist patriarchal worldview that you had to accept. If you questioned one part of this – say, young earth creationism, or a father's authority over his adult daughters – you were looked at askance, and, if you didn't step back in line, eventually pushed off the float.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    Great post.Personally speaking, I didn't "jump off the float". Sadly(but not too surprisingly), there is this notion among some believers that we former believers made a "choice" to get off "the float" because we wanted off. In my case, this couldn't be further from the truth. See, I was "nudged" off. Yup, 'nudged off by a guy who had been following me around, poking me in the back, since I was about 9 yrs old. His name? Cognitive Dissonance. As early as 9 yrs-old, I was skeptical of the story of Captain Noah and all his animals. After all, I watched Saturday morning cartoons, and this story seemed like something right off the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour. Naturally, I was told to have more "faith" and just believe. Into adulthood, the one thing that kept me on "the float" was my inability to fathom my own non-existence, even though I could admit/can admit to myself that I wasn't sad or inconvenienced that I had not existed for the trillion, and trillions of years prior to being born. Now, does the idea that my "personality" can survive the death of my physical body and go on to meet up with my deceased friends and relatives sound like a good reason to punch "Mr. Dissonance" in the face and just stay on "the float"? Yes! The problem with that, for me, was that I knew "Mr. Dissonance" would get right back up and be there jabbing me in the back again, because I had punched him many times before, and that's what he always did.Do I really need Jesus to know the difference between "right" and "wrong"?(I'd ask myself) Is loving my enemy *always*, without exception, the "right" thing to do? Do I really need to look up to any individual who would throw a hissy-fit if a fruit tree doesn't produce fruit when he or she wants it to? Common sense – and my supposed "God"-given ability to reason – told me(and still tells me) "no", to these sorts of questions. Sure, I could ignore this or that verse or create a bloated rationalization to defend it, but then I'd have to deal "Mr. Dissonance" again. So, in the end, yes, I made a "choice" to stop getting back on "the float" when I'd get nudged off. But make no mistake—I was very, very reluctant to stay off—I didn't want to stay off. The thing is, I've stayed off, and I haven't seen "Mr. Dissonance" since.

  • Anonymous

    Libby Anne,Thank you for taking your time to answer my many questions. I was told once by an aunt I asked her too many questions. I re-read my questions to you today and honestly, I think I did go over board in my number of questions, and Libby, I apologize. In addition to your comment to me today, I re-read the post you highlighted in your comment.While I believe in God's message in the Bible I definitely do not agree with legalism. To me it is very sad that you were excluded,rejected or "pushed off" for what I consider man made rules. You gave a couple of examples of man-made rules in the two you mentioned above in your comment, young earth creationism, and a father's authority over his adult daughters. In my day, an example of some of the man made rules would be things like roller skating, playing with dice or with a deck of cards, or going to a movie–although they weren't issues in the Christian home I grew up in, I personally knew of homes where these and more, were issues. As a parent of adult children, I could not imagine "pushing them off". Beverly

  • Anonymous

    P.S. I am truly sorry for the deep pain of rejection you have felt Libby, in the name of God.Beverly

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13910752034504826040 Joolz

    Fabulous post. If I was the sort of person who shared stuff online, I would share this everywhere. My mum tried to get me onto the catholic float when I was around eight years old, but fortunately I didn't like the idea of the ride (and she was willing to let me get off) so I have stuck with atheism since birth. I was born without a belief in any gods and I'll die without a belief in any gods.Julie

  • Autumn M.

    Hi Libby,Seeing the world in black & white ended up scaring me. When I was about 12 I realized that I was attracted to girls. Both my mother and my Baptist preacher said people like me will burn in hell. So I kept quiet about my orientation and hated myself for being a freak. For six years I cried alone in my room, wondering why god would make me a lesbian and then send me to hell for it.Two years ago I went away to college and met other gay & lesbian people for the first time. I also met atheists. I began studying the history of the bible and Christianity. I realize now that I wasted much of my life in fear and worry. I've concluded that there is no god, and that religion is just a way of controlling people, especially women. My mother refuses to accept it, but I'm now a pro-choice, feminist, lesbian atheist (yeah, the religious right would just loooooove me, LOL). I'm happy and free this way. I have a wonderful girlfriend, whom I'll marry someday of the backward laws of my bible belt state ever change.Anyway, I love your blog and thanks for listening.Peace,Autumn


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