Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chasing the Dragon of Eden

When I was a young, I went to church. Like most middle income American families, Sunday was an affair as regular as clockwork.
1.Get up early
2.Put on 'church clothes'
3.Go to Sunday school (little of which I remember outside of cookies)
5.Stand around while old people talk

Somewhere along the line, I got really caught up in the whole affair. They had me in there, hook line and sinker. Hell, I was a member of the Royal Ambassadors. (Kinda like hella religious boy scouts, instead of just kinda religious.) I went to Vacation Bible School, and even to some summer camp that was just the bees knees and something to look forward other than catching up on reading over the tedious break.

I lived for this. I lived to try and be what I thought the Bible said I should be. I wanted everyone to do the same. I was excited when my parents gave me my very own personalized Bible for Christmas one year.

Then we moved. I was in the sixth grade, and we didn't just leave my neighborhood, or the city. We shipped out of state. Gone were the foundations of my life that I had built on for so many years.

My parents jumped around from church to church, but they never seemed to stick any where, and eventually we stopped going while we were in Austin. When we moved to Houston, more wandering but never settling.

It was during this time of exposure to the secular world, with no real religion in my life, the idea of any kind of deity took a back seat to my reading about epics and learning about history and science.

Man, science. It blew me away when I was first introduced to the method and really GOT it. The teacher honestly and whole heartedly cared about his subject, and I felt something awaken in me. A sleeping dragon woke, and it was more fantastic than any story I had read up to that point.
This dragon was voracious and insatiable. I had to KNOW things. How they worked, why they worked, what drove them. It burned through books and devoured journals and articles. It continued on like this, until my sophomore year of high school, when I changed schools.

I hung out with a group of people while there that were either into New Age nonsense, or devoutly Christian. Still just barely standing on my critical thinking legs and still in awe at the incredible vastness of the universe and I bought a lot of what they said hook, line, and sinker. I was drawn back into Christianity fast and hard. But even caught up in the fervent torrent of worship a small voice in my mind continued to doubt. It continued to question what I had been pulled back into. I had a habit of ignoring the answers, especially when they contradicted what I believed. But it got harder and harder to do so as time went on.

Especially one morning early in my second semester of that year.
An answer appeared. It wasn't gradual. It wasn't slow. It wasn't even nice. It came down on me like a ton of bricks and knocked me senseless.

I no longer believed that god existed.

A new dragon had reared its head. This one ancient, and from an age long past. I could not abide that this had happened, that I had become so skeptical. So I started tagging along to church with my friends in the hopes of easing this trouble in my mind as the two dragons fought for supremacy.

At first I tried to reconcile the two. I thought that they could exist together and that there was no problem. I would just go to church and reacquaint myself with god.
I prayed. I sang. I read. I talked with the minister about what was going on.

But the dragons never slept. One was always there, reminding me that nothing I was being told could be proven, and much of it contradicted what I knew to be true.
I prayed on, listening to the biblical teaching that god guides us when we call on him.

Finally, after so long, I explained it once again to my minister and he said. "Jarrad, you are trying to get something from god, but that's not the way it works. You must not be selfish. Instead, open your heart to Jesus Christ, and you will find peace. You must be honest and humble."

So I did. That night after everyone had gone to bed, I sat up to be alone with my thoughts and god. I closed my eyes, and prayed. I asked for forgiveness for my foolishness, and that instead of talking, I should have been listening and that I was ready to be the man I was called to be. That I gave myself willingly to serve god and that I opened myself up to him and his message of love and grace.

All I heard was the echo in my own mind. Not a literal one, but just an empty feeling as if I had been talking to the air except worse. At least the air had substance.
The bottom dropped out of my stomach, and I sunk with it, trying to implode on this hollow emptiness.

The dragons stirred once more. The Dragon of Eden, who I so much wanted to believe in because of the promise of life everlasting, guidance, and protection. But the dragon who I had been trying so hard to suppress, the one who knew how to find REAL, tangible answers. It could find things that I could touch, taste, and see their effect on the world around me. It promised me no comfort except that double edged blade of understanding.

While I just lay there, feeling lost and empty, these two notions raged on in my head. I was powerless to stop them, as my mind seemed out of control and in the grip of directionless emotion.

Then, it hit me. The reality of what I had thought. That this was the key to reality. I understood what I saw for the first time. There were no gods hiding in the wings, making magic and shooting rainbows and happiness.

The reason the world looked so harsh was because I compared it to a fiction. The fiction of perfection. This notion that I was not good enough, that the world was falling apart, all stemmed from this idea in my head that there was something better.

There wasn't. This was it. I had to make the best of my life under my own power. The wonders of the world blossomed before me. The wonders of the solar system, the beauty of the cell, all here just because. No reason, just IS. It was beauty manifest.

But a cold sunk in as well. If there was no god, who was there to guide my hand towards good? Why should I even be good? This passed quickly as I realized that I guided my hand, and that every action was my responsibility.

What need have I of gods or devils when both powers lay within myself?

As one image of heaven faded, and with it its totalitarian lord, a new one replaced it. In my young mind was planted a seed. A picture of a world undivided by petty tribal notions of angry deities. A world where we were free to love, and play, and help each other not because it was ordained, but because it was right.

The dragon of reason stopped fighting the phantom of Eden. There was nothing there to combat. No substance. Just empty promises and ancient folk tales. A shadow of the once ominous creature that had ruled over me.

Today I have grown, and with each piece of new knowledge the beauty and potential of our species and the planet we inhabit grows. The flames of reason burn brightly and magnificently.

I do not know if a god exists, and as those around me are fond of saying, yes, when I die I might just find out. But as it stands now, no matter the cost, I stand by my decisions. It becomes more and more apparent as time goes on that we must stop chasing phantom dragons. We must stop longing for a world beyond this one, and instead fight to make this life the best we can. If there is a god, and it has a plan (as many are quick to claim) then let it work, and if there is not, then we will die knowing we did the best we could under the circumstances. Either way we must cast off these shackles to our thought. Do away with the blinders that close our eyes to the beauty in THIS world.
Only then can we be free to explore our potential, be truly equal, to look on our fellow man as brother instead of enemy.

Then, when that is in our grasp, will the lovely, intricate, ever changing, delicate universe we live in open up to us.

Then we will see with unclouded eyes what we are.

I do not say this in an attempt to goad people into taking away religion. I say this only because it is the way I see it.

That is why I am an atheist.

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