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I can think of a number of different ways to express my answer to the question of how I came to my current beliefs, if it caused me any problems, and support I found along the way. I have come to value objectivity, science, and critical thinking, and have studied humans and human behavior for quite a while, trying to understand as best I can and "figure it all out." I have also been through a lot of things in my personal life that have tested my beliefs and thought processes. This is why my answer to this question could be really long.
I will start by saying that I have always tried to conform, as that is something that my parents and extended family indicated was the best and "right" thing to do. I was taught to respect, admire, and look up to the authority figures in my life - they were authority figures for a reason, after all. They knew and had accomplished things, and I should try to be like them. I was also raised Methodist, and when I had questions, like "If the story in the Bible is true, where did the dinosaurs come in?", my mother would just say "I don't know." I've since realized that I am fundamentally curious, though many other people are not, and I have come to accept that that is okay - everyone is different.
Learning the difference between subjectivity and objectivity helped, but also made things more complicated and harder to reconcile. It's almost like people live in different worlds, and for the longest time, I tried to make them fit together. This and other things caused a lot of heartache and tears - mostly from feeling really bad about myself, which was either self-inflicted (from having no self-confidence) or occurred after being punished or abused - but also from losses I have suffered. An advisor pointed out to me once that some treatment has occurred because I am female - which threw me off a bit, until I realized that she was right. I have cried many many tears in my lifetime so far.
When I was going through my divorce, I was shunned by many in the church, and I still went, to try to atone for my faults and mistakes. Once again, I felt a lot of shame. My last attempts at attending church in my late 20s and early 30s (I'm 56 now) were frustrating, and after recognizing the pattern of how they operate and treat people that they deem don't live up to their "standards," it felt like another form of abuse to continue to attend and try to fit in. It felt shallow, like a facade. I felt there was a lot of pretense and self-righteousness, ego-led indignation and haughtiness. I couldn't play along. Most of my family still seems to use the fact of whether someone attends church, or the family they come from, as a way to define a "good [Christian] person." Clearly, they think morality comes (only) from the Bible. A book that has been translated and changed hundreds of times, and was written by human beings, with all their faults, agendas, biases. It's a moving target. They don't seem to notice the contradictions within the book, or the missing parts. Many Christians I know do not follow the teachings of Jesus.
I am leaving out a lot, but the trump years were very difficult for me (and many others!), and I learned some hard lessons. Not everyone can be pulled in by reason, love or respect for family members (especially if it's not really there - ?), or "the truth." I have had to accept that not everyone's "truth" is the same, and if their beliefs work for them, perhaps I should let them be. The hardest part of this for me is the people that they hurt in the process. And of course, I'm considered a "liberal," and those people can't be trusted - we are just "brainwashed" and don't "get it." I probably don't need to point out that the Christians in my family are also the conservatives. Got to save the babies. The reason our country is falling apart is because we took God out of the schools and we don't go to church or believe. You may not, by this point, be surprised that I was once conservative. I used to listen to conservative talk radio and watch Fox News (in the 90s).
For a while, I thought that critical thinking was the ticket, and that most people would want to know how to do it - to know how their thinking is faulty and perhaps, to know that they are mistaken. As much as I value critical thinking and separating facts from fancy, many other people simply don't - even if they claim to or believe that they do. This is another thing that has been very hard for me to accept (I am noticing that I write "hard for me to accept" a lot - must be yet another lesson in this for me). Sometimes people believe what they (feel they) have to believe - they have total, blind faith that they are "right" and others are "wrong." There seems to be no getting past that, no matter how hard I try or which strategy of communicating with them that I come up with. Even if I bare my heart. Over time, I've realized that it's not that I have "failed" to help them understand, it's that people are usually invested in the way they think and believe, and that they are most influenced through their emotions and by showing, not telling, them. How do we show them?
Maybe I shouldn't have poo-pooed postmodernism in grad school. Maybe, in human terms, the facts are relative for a large proportion of people. Are we in a post-truth society now? Is that the norm? Or, in terms of evolution, are we devolving? Or evolving into something we don't yet know about or understand, and science can't study?
Lisa, you bring up several different points, and I will tangentially approach just one of them.
I am sorry, but not surprised, to hear that your church did not support you when you most needed help during and after your divorce. Rather, you felt shunned. Oh, the burden of being morally superior and the religious duty to treat others in need with indifference at best and cruelty at worst! Regardless of how the religious community treats you, one's own religious sense of moral failure can also be damaging. Life can be difficult enough without having the additional guilt of disappointing a seemingly demanding, but actually non-existent god.
Unfortunately, we in the freethought community do not do a particularly good job of providing such support. I really wish we did. I struggle with how we can better reach out and support those in need. Internally within PFC, we have discussed scheduling a support group, but not sure if there would be sufficient interest. If anyone does have interest or ideas, please reply in this forum or send email to email@example.com.
Thanks so much for your response to my entry.
I don't know what the best and most feasible way of providing support would be, but I do have an interest in discussing it or in forming a group.
I will say that it helps to be heard/seen and understood, as your response has done here.
I am not sure how best to support people in need. I do know that the church is offering help to people in need, and swallowing them up. Societal division, it seems, is still growing. White nationalism and evangelism are scary.
It seems that people have experienced existential and sometimes very real threats that have only increased since covid and trump. At one point, as I said in my post, I thought that if people knew how to think critically, it would take us a long way. But in recent years, I have seen that some people just want to believe what they want to believe. They aren't rational. People are more influenced by their cultural identities and by societal structures than they realize. Our world has really been rocked, and there seems to be no going back, only forward into an unknown and uncertain future. There is so much loneliness and misunderstanding.
I do know that people need hope, love, and empathy.
At present I don't have any ideas for how we can support people, but I am open to discussing it!
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