X is the founder-writer-designer of Help Shed the Faith.
It's only now that I look back, that I realise just how religious my childhood environment was.

My Christian mother taught me everything she knew- how to calculate with trigonometry and ratios, how to create works of art, how to sew, how to write, and how to think and act altruistically. I was showered with books and given free reign to explore whatever caught my interest.

In the midst of this, she told me stories from the Bible and inspired me with teachings from Christianity about godliness, perfection, and the ability of human beings to rise above their circumstances. I attended a kindergarten that was run by a Methodist church, and was enrolled in a Methodist elementary school for two years, before switching to a secular one for reasons unrelated to the faith. I attended services regularly in Anglican, Presbyterian, and non-denominational churches at various points in time.

I assimilated concepts about spirituality along with everything else, and, as with all other forms of second hand knowledge, accepted and maintained a healthy amount of respect for them, as long as the need to question them remained low.

I often found that the moral code of conduct advocated by my religion embodied all the qualities that I admired- love, mutual understanding, graciousness, compassion, belief in the good in oneself and others, and the need to always try one’s best.

Even now, it pains me a little when I think about the child I used to be, and compare myself now- I definitely used to think better of people and hold them to higher standards, and I think that part of this difference is attributable to religious outlook, not just to age and experience.

Moving on- while many religious doctrines remained logical, beneficial, and exemplary, others came to seem increasingly odd, unfounded, and inapplicable, or arbitrary at best. Adherence to the latter lot often resulted in disunity and hostility, as boundaries, which struck me as artificial and unnecessary, were drawn between people for reasons that lay beyond their influence, and thus for which they could not reasonably be condemned.

I employed a slew of stop-gap explanations to rationalise these inconsistencies. Combined with my determination to withhold judgment for the time being, until I gathered further evidence, they helped me to stay restrained about voicing doubts in front of other believers, and to couch my queries in discreet language.

All the while, I was highly conscious of my desire to avoid triggering a backlash from my friends and family members, by insensitively and abruptly broadcasting my growing impression that some of their cherished beliefs were untenable, and, in certain situations, detrimental.

As time went on, I was increasingly dissatisfied with religion for the following reasons:

  • Instead of acquiring knowledge that bolstered my confidence in religion, I saw the opposite process occurring- when it came to the doctrines that had initially seemed strange, the more I learnt, the less justifiable they became, and the less convinced I felt by arguments that lay in favour of them.

  • As for the aspects of religion that remained convincing and justifiable, I realised that they did not belong exclusively to the domain of religion, or any one religion, but could existed throughout nature. They were not even unique to human beings, and could be found in various forms and to differing degrees in other species.

  • I had to establish a personal moral code, which was based on the religious doctrines I had been exposed to, but modified in numerous aspects and details.

    I found that it was impossible to abide by that dictated by my religion, for two main reasons: the religious code of conduct was ambiguously stated and widely open to interpretation to begin with, and furthermore, it advocated certain types of behaviour that I found repugnant and immoral, or at best, embarrassing and pointless.

  • I felt that I'd extracted a sufficient amount of knowledge from religious sources that was useful and beneficial, and that the rest was simply useless, incorrect, and annoying- certainly not worth the time or effort it took to get acquainted with it.

    On the other hand, new avenues were opening up- I was absorbing large amounts of fascinating information from non-religious sources, which were completely absent from religious spheres.

    The diminishing returns from religious study had no hope of competing with the exponential rates offered by my school textbooks, popular science books, and conversations with non-religious people.

    I realised that religion did not have a monopoly on truth or the development of our understanding of the world- instead, it appropriated findings which were made independently of any belief in God or religion, and updated its teachings to fit believers’ expectations of its role and relevance in society.

  • Compounding my feeling of being less than impressed by religious doctrines was the lack of openness that I encountered within religious circles. To be sure, many of the believers around me were curious and contemplative, and asked good questions about specific religious topics. At some stage, they would naturally broach the most difficult, basic questions about the assumptions underlying religion itself.

    They then discovered that there was no way to answer or fully resolve these issues, and all that one could do was believe, without even having a clear definition of the principles in which one claimed to believe. Instead of conducting a full-fledged investigation of these fundamental premises of religion, they simply accepted the maxim that this state of ignorance is inevitable.

    Having uncritically assumed these suppositions to be true, they proceeded to delve ‘deeper’ into their faith, examining specific details of their belief systems, based on received information, without having thoroughly examined and deconstructed the foundations of their faith. Essentially, the benefits obtained from their commitment to faith overrode their desire to maintain high standards in critical thinking.

    I found this extremely understandable but personally unacceptable- especially when one has had the time and opportunity to examine prior beliefs and currently has access to a wider pool of resources than before.
When I say that I'm sympathetic to believers who are surrounded by and committed to their religion, I mean it- I know that religion isn't just an isolated facet of life that pertains to one’s belief in God. Rather, it's an integral part of your personality and identity, which affects everything from your family relationships, to your choice of work, to the concepts that you teach your children as they grow up.

Religion provides compelling reasons for being a believer (see the sections on Prayer, Community, Forgiveness, Tithing, and Rituals, for more details). This is true to a certain degree- religion provides us with these reasons to the extent that we perceive these reasons to stem exclusively from religion.

What I've discovered along the way is that all these positive things do not exist or come about solely through your religious beliefs. Religion is one of many possible sources of these reasons. One can, and should, pursue the benefits of religion for the sake of the positive outcomes themselves.

For many people, religion provides a source of motivation to do good, and it would not be appropriate to deprive people of that motivation. What I aim for, instead, is to replace the source of that motivation with something genuine- something that they can truly believe in, understand, and accept, without having to fear that one day, under unexpected duress or stress, their faith will be swept away from underneath them and they have little else to inspire them with in life.

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