Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Yippie (Sweden)

I come from an almost secular family but I was sent to Sunday School when I was really young. My mother is sort of a tradition freak. The first thing she asked me when I said I was leaving the church was how I would baptize my children when/if I ever became a parent - baptism in my country, Sweden, not being self-imposed but something you just have every newborn go through as soon as possible. As you know, Sweden isn't a religious country but our religiosity does get understated in some foreign media - it's sort of a laughable subject, with political parties running the state church and all, but it's here.

What I do remember from this period (age: 4-10) is that I was really afraid about some nightmares about death. I remember times when I couldn't sleep because all I could do was think of how worm-like creatures crawled through my dead body and I remember 'feeling' how, cold and slimy, they were moving in my stomach. I also had dreams about a bear tearing out my guts, one dream in particular where I had a framework but no flesh, for an upper body, running around trying to escape from the bear. Basically I had some very morbid dreams. I don't know why.

My first teacher was highly religious, reading passages from the Bible in front of the class, despite it's illegal in our country. Her story of Heaven and being saved after death gave me comfort from my morbid dreams and I accepted that there could be a God - I believed in this God because I thought it was good. I never did pray though, I always felt it quite contemptuous to ask this good God for anything and as He was all-knowing, I really didn't have to thank Him for anything, He just had to know already.

Then I came in contact with sorrow for the first time of my life. A classmate died of cancer. I don't know what kind of cancer it was, but I liked the girl and death has a quality about it that change how relationships work.

My teacher immediately held a praying session with the entire class, honoring her memory; I should say a sorrowful meeting but, to me, it had a religious undertone. I asked my teacher: "why did God kill her? why did God take her life?", I don't know if this was during or after the sorrow session. Her answer was something that really made me question my beliefs on a fundamental level. She said: "God has a plan for everyone". My reaction to this was a deep anger towards God, His plan was bad, He should change it and bring my friend back. I stated some of these thoughts and my teacher plainly repeated that "God has a plan for everyone". I came out of this conversation with a deep conviction that God is evil (do note that I didn't question His existence at this point, I disliked Him so much that He had to be real).

Time passed (age about 10-13), at another school, without me being bothered by God, as my new classmates and teachers really didn't care about such questions. During this time I developed a sense of Irony towards God and religion. I thought of God as the ruler of the entire world and that He had some weird sense of humor. I also, briefly, studied the Biblical stories I knew of at this time, mainly the stories about Jesus, trying to figure out what made Him tick.

I changed school again (now I was about age 13-15). At a random "short story" writing session, I put some of the thoughts I had about the irony of God down on paper and these thoughts became known to my classmates. I wrote a short story about "how Jesus just as well could have suffered from schizophrenia as having been the son of God". Most of my classmates who hadn't thought about these things reacted quite strongly against it, stating almost in chorus that I must clearly be an idiot if that's what I thought. By chance, about a month later I got a letter from my church about the Confirmation and I didn't even have to think about it to realize that I did not believe in the Christian God, so the very same day I called a number on the paper and told them I wanted to leave the church. Being underage, I had to convince my parents to sign a paper. They had only a few questions, one of which I've already stated above, before they willingly signed the paper. I left the Christian Church. Do note that I still hadn't dismissed the idea about a god as the ruler of this world, I just knew I couldn't believe in the personal Christian God. Due to a brief study of the Qur'an, I also knew I didn't believe in an Islamic God. I had completely dismissed the belief in a personal God at this time of my life.

Within a year of leaving the church I came into contact with Newtonian Physics and I thought "wow, this is god". I was always good at math, my father studied engineering courses when I was really young and because I showed interest, he taught me basic arithmetic at the age of 3 (or so he says), so the mathematics of physics, rather than hindering me from appreciating the beauty, it just made me think of physics as closer to the truth than anything I've ever seen or heard about.

Then one day, I thought about whether I could 'prove' the existence of my god through an analogy with an Ultimate Formula of Physics, the One explaining it All. As I thought about this, I realized that even if I knew exactly what was going to happen in every given situation because the Formula predicts it, I would still think there's more to learn, more to know and more to explore in this world. As I realized that my god was just my will to know how this world works, I didn't need it anymore... it was gone, unnecessary luggage from the past. I replaced the word with the facts I knew and the lust to know more.

So in short: Fear of death -> Salvation from death by a personal God seems nice -> Ah, but God is evil -> God of the Bible seems like a lunatic -> Pantheism -> Free of god. It took me quite some time to get rid of the God my first teacher asserted on my world-view. I think I did quite well considering I even had opposition in my class for discussing such questions and I was always alone in my hunt for some truth. To the defence of my classmates, several of them have apologized for being so strongly against what I had to say about Christianity, some even said that they left the church. None said this was due to me but I hope I might have helped them somehow.

Now, at the still young age of 22, I just think it's ugly what religion does to logic, the beauty of physics and the absolute wonders of the world we live in. From an aesthetic point of view, I think religion abominable.

I'm still stuck with the feeling of irony towards the world that I mentioned earlier though. As I watch the news from around the world and locally, with all the wars, murders and just bad policies being passed by small schools and the like. I mean, can people really be so stupid as to blow themselves up for their religion? How can they justify the murder of doctors but not of sperm? To not watch the world and realize there's beauty in the fact that about 300 million years ago, a fish went up on land and we are its descendants - one fish that's our great, great, (...), great grandfather - I just don't get it. I sometimes sincerely feel there's some great play of Irony taking place in the world and its name is Faith, knowing full well that it's just plain ignorance causing these problems.

Another thing that affected me greatly is that my love of physics still sticks with me. I currently study to get a Master of Science in Space Engineering. Another thing is that I applied for some summer student work at a big institution, as a result of me loving the beauty of physics so much that I took an extracurricular course in Particle and Nuclear Physics, that introduced me to the idea. I'm not calling it linearly co-dependent, but due to me leaving a faith in a personal Christian God for a love of physics, I have made several choices that ultimately made me who I am today and put me well on my way to get a good education. Without me leaving the church, I cannot even begin to imagine how my life would look like today.

End of Story.

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