I’m the middle of a fascinating book called Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. Author Joseph Laycock explores, with great detail and insight, the parallel worlds of role-playing games and religion. For three decades, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were at the center of a moral panic involving everything from fears of cults, satanists, to a lost generation of super predators. His thesis is that role-playing games were threatening to the religious right because, if communities could create such intricate, imagined, and meaning-making worlds through games, does that mean that religion itself is a sort of game? But beneath this initial thesis lie some profound insights for people like me who still greatly value religion, even as I doubt the existence of a personal God.
For the past year or so now, I’ve been caught in the strange, lonely, interstitial space of no longer believing in the existence of a personal God but still deeply valuing the role of religion in my life.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve been quietly grieving for my faith in a literal, personal God for most of my twenties, and that it was only in 2017 that I finally accepted the death of my personal God. It took a long time to grieve, to even to build up the courage to pull the covers back and peak into a world without God. God felt more fundamental than my skin, breath, and blood. To lose Him felt like the loss of everything.
In his brilliant introduction to artificial intelligence, Max Tegmark describes our existence as the universe waking up from a zombie slumber. As I’ve struggled to understand what I believe about God and the universe around me, I’ve found myself finding wonder and hope in the material universe itself.
We live in frightening, polarizing times. Put more bluntly, we live in a horribly incurious time: we are incurious about the experience of others, the contents of their skulls, and what motivates them. This incuriosity is stoked from a thousand directions, from social media to bloggers to news outlets, all preying on our baser, animal instincts.
Growing up gay in the conservative church, I believed I was barred from ever having a gay relationship and that, unless something truly miraculous happened which allowed me to marry a woman, I would spend the rest of my life celibate. This wasn’t because my Christian community overtly hated gay people – though many did. It wasn’t even because of the “clobber passages” – the handful of passages that allegedly directly mention homosexuality.
No. I and my Christian community believed I was barred from a gay relationship, first and foremost, because of gender complementarianism: the belief that the union of male and female within the covenant of marriage creates a morally exclusive spiritual state, and that such a state is the only valid and virtuous “container” for sexual activity.
Last week, as I was talking to another fellow deconstruction survivor, I had a realization. I suddenly understood that what made my falling apart of faith so painful, so overwhelming, was not just the trauma of an unprecedented paradigm shift, but a breaking of myself.
I recently had a fun, engaging, meeting-of-the-minds conversation with former Scientologist Chris Shelton for his Sensibly Speaking show. In our conversation we discussed struggling with atheism, deconstruction of faith, inner truth vs. outer truth, speaking in tongues, yoga, and much more. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, and I hope you enjoy listening to it.
It is early morning as I write this, and I have just completed praying the Episcopalian Office. As always, it’s left me feeling full, centered, and comforted. I pray the Office every morning and night, and it’s become one a pillar that brings me deep pleasure.
In his excellent book Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost Faith and Found it Again Through Science, Mike McHargue, AKA Science Mike, recounts his traumatizing crisis of faith.
I’ve written a lot about faith and doubt within Christianity over the past year or so. Doubt has been my constant, dark companion. I can understand now why Martin Luther (according to myth) hurled a bottle of ink at a devil that was taunting him. I’ve been hurling my own ink, trying to fend off the monster.
I could easily shrug off the doubt and turn to the warm light of my faith, stuffing all the questions back into the box, but I can’t do that. My understanding of integrity doesn’t let me shrug off genuine questions. I know that I need to value truth, and that truth requires certain proofs to be true. I know that humility, asking questions, and accepting my capacity to be wrong is integral to living a good, upright life.