Personal reflections · Psychology and mental illness · Religion and Spirituality

The Devastation of Lost Faith

“I lay in a bed of resistance
Chained to either side
I really wish I could, reset, rewind
Someone has clawed out my eyes

I don’t know what they told you
But this place is not what you think

Living inside a hole, they put me underground
Where they could never find me unless they dig me out
I search for the answers
‘Cause this is the end

God, it’s caving in on me
I feel them watching
But no one seems to care anymore.” -Underoath, In Division

They say to just sit down and write, but sometimes I go through dry spells in my emotions and writing. Sometimes the words pour out, each story in its vivid detail being told with fierce determination to practice the journalism I always dreamed to – telling the untold stories. Insights on Epic Living was a tagline I based on a Christian sermon series by a pastor named Chuck Swindoll. I’ve always wanted to keep the focus of my blog open, a place for people to get lost in interesting ideas and to feel welcomed in the darkness of my mind. This desire birthed many essays that resonated with my Christian friends, my justifications for the beliefs I’d known since early childhood.

I wrote in one essay, titled “Goth culture and why Christians are attracted to the dark,” published December 2012:

The Bible has a bunch of metaphors about the dark being connected to evil, so I was confused: I thought I’d gotten rid of my darkness. I had; the negativity was gone, but I still wanted to listen to heavy music, turn off all the lights, and pry into the hidden world of my mind with the Spirit’s help. It’s scary to discover the dark corners of my own mind, but prayer directs me toward this practice because a relationship with God who is love will always mean total vulnerability. It’s even rewarding: the things I hide from myself aren’t always bad things, and could be hidden talents or aspects I covered in unwarranted shame.

Dark and light is a good metaphor, but I think the Bible only uses it as a metaphor for evil, not that the dark itself is evil. Why else would God separate the light from the darkness, call the light day and the darkness night, and say that it was altogether good?

The dark is not evil, but contains evil because like vulnerability, it has been tainted. I define evil and hell as antimatter, the thing that attacks what exists. Black holes are what within the universe provide a metaphor for what hell is. It twists and tears away, but it cannot create. So when Christians, as they get more interested in God, get an urge to seek out the quiet of the night and to explore in the dark, destroying the evil they find there and treasuring the insights the darkness offers, they are confused because they’ve been taught the dark is evil.

Goth people quickly become outcasts, because they’ve fought battles those who avoid the dark can’t understand. Going to dark places of fear, to fight battles there and seek revelation, is far from a sin. It’s a necessity for the Christian life. David, Jesus, and the Prophets all participated in going to dark places, not the least of which was the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Christians are attracted to the dark because it is good. There is solace, beauty, and revelation there. Do not ignore the darkness. Enter it with courage, and you will gain experience and fight battles.

Many of the observations I made then were organized with a very us-vs-them, black-or-white, extreme-swinging way, while I still believe in what I was getting at. I still think the darkness of the mind is a valuable place to be, and I sit with my mind every day, catching it when I dissociate or get triggered and caught up in trauma. I observe my thought processes, and try to listen to myself when my emotions surface beneath the fog of depression and the whirlwind of anxiety.

Darkness is not something to be rid of. I once scrubbed all negativity from myself, leaving an empty vessel with room for positive thoughts and a cheery disposition. I called myself the happy fairy, because I believed that God wanted me to be pure and good, to encounter the darkness for the purpose of spiritual warfare, to battle with my demons. “With the Spirit’s help” meant I firmly believed that there was a being out there who was intimately acquainted with my thoughts – after all, the Book of Ultimate Truths that I’d been memorizing promises and facts from since I could barely read said so.

I still sit with my darkness, though. Prayer doesn’t direct me there, psychology does. I want to understand my own thoughts, and I know now that nobody is responsible for them but myself. Being vulnerable with myself is even more challenging than being vulnerable with a deity, because I can project whatever I like onto that deity. This is not an exclusively Christian experience, not by a long shot – we fear the darkness and the recesses of our minds simply because we are animals, having briefly woken up in a tiny window of time on a vast planet in a vaster universe.

The process of losing my faith was like being swept under by more and more evidence, a landslide of the mind. I was overcome with depression like nothing before, and I felt more like Jesus than ever, annoyingly – abandoned by a nonexistent God. It fucking hurt to learn that there isn’t someone out there who feels what I feel, who knows what I know, who knows what I think, and who can hear my prayers when I am concerned with anything, anything at all.

I clung to my faith through losing my family, through embracing my sexuality, and through many lost friends. I fear that people who still have these things to lose, who share their religion with their communities and professional connections, are even less likely to walk away from their faith than myself. In the end, I had to do my own dark work, and grieve the religion that had promised me everything if only I would love Jesus more than my father and mother, brothers and sisters, and myself. I was terrified, not of what the world beyond mine might hold, because I was already in it, but of the void inside my mind.

Realizing that God does not exist is not a moment of belief. It is a moment of realization, of a million puzzle pieces falling into place, with such brutal imagery in the mind that it is difficult to reconstruct the existence of God again. Yet many do just that, returning to religious roots after briefly playing the skeptic. I am baffled by this fact, but faith is enticing, so easy to fall back on, that I understand why some of my friends have returned to the faith. After all, it is easier to deal with family when you can have common ground about God.

I could go on for pages and pages with the details of how exactly my faith broke down – but that will have to be saved for the book, Music in the Dream House. In it, I’m talking about how when I competed in homeschool speech Apologetics (pretty much my only education throughout high school), I began researching both original sin and a doctrine called “inerrancy “(it basically means that the Bible can’t have any errors in it because God has made sure that would never happen). I quickly found that my own holy book had little integrity behind it at all. Six years later, when I had finally faced myself and could wrestle with the concept of God without the distractions of familial ties and reputation, I read “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, which made a highly memorable observation that God is not unlike an invisible dragon, whose existence cannot be proved. I also read my first Barbara Ehrenreich book, “Living With a Wild God,” where she pointed out that God might be a cop-out answer to, well, everything we can’t explain. Then in an astronomy class, for the first time in my life, someone pointed to the table of elements and said, “these elements that make up everything we need to exist – they are made by stars. We are star stuff.”

That was it for my faith – at last, I no longer needed a creator. But nobody hands you a salve for the devastation of lost faith. I’m still angry with how many assumptions I lived under, with how much of my life I feel like I lost. Can you be angry at God for not existing? Totally, if I’m any example, though I’ll admit I feel silly about it a lot.

The thing is, the past few years have shown me far more about religion than I ever cared to see while I was still clinging to it. I now recognize religion as a method for controlling the masses, and it breaks my heart that I know so many people who are still being swept under the current. Christianity took the hero’s journey and sold it as a salvation story. But what is so good about the so-called “good news” anyway? The essence of the gospel is this: “You were bought with blood. God owns your life now.”

And that’s a hell of a lot to recover from, to unravel from the depths of an already confusing childhood. The foundation for it all was something hidden away in thick books of theology, ones I wouldn’t explore until my late teens. Then it would take several years for my faith to finally break down. I know this, yet I am impatient and angry, seeing how desperately the world needs to see the damaging impacts of religion. I want for others to join me on this side of life, where the universe is massive and mysterious, and we are but tiny, lucky observers in it. Yet I know that the loss of faith is deeply personal, a process that demands profound patience.

Looking back, I realize that it was acknowledging the darkness in the first place that helped me to escape. Music was a huge part of this process, as well – a friend recommended that I listen to Eyedea, and I sank into a new low as The Dive resonated so strongly with me. It asked, “Have you ever felt yourself slipping away, where all you think about is your sanity and how it decayed?” I remember taking a long walk on a cold December night, letting that whole album play through, letting the tears freeze on my face. My fears were realized in the haunting, repeated words at the end of the song: “And with each foot you fall, the voice in your head starts to sound more and more like yours.”

Then came part 2 of the song, and I urge anyone who is struggling with their faith to listen carefully and consider that the world beyond the dive into the darkness – even in the face of a massive question like the existence of God – is worth going to.

Take a deep breath. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
What you just did was fall to the depths of existence.
The place the mind keeps you away from by its own process of building models for understanding.
This is not insanity, this is in fact the ultimate reality
The union you’ve achieved is only possible in thoughts no more
You never fall if you never fight
You found yourself fall into madness so you dove
The best thing you ever did was let go.