Monday, 17 August 2009

How the Alpha Course turned me into an Atheist

Like everyone on this planet, I was born an atheist. I was also fortunate enough to have non religious, liberal and enlightened parents. However the religious beliefs that soak our culture drew me in during my teenage years due to a mixture of circumstance, chance and curiosity.

I made some of my longest-standing and dearest friends through the Church (Methodist in my case), and I become deeply involved with the Church during my late teenage years. I even briefly sat on my local Church council to give the youth perspective.

However, despite attending a Billy Graham rally, I never actually experienced the highly emotional blinding light on the road to Damascus that clearly denotes the conversion point of many born again Christians. But I wanted to believe, I wanted to fit in with my new friends, I could see the Church as a force for good and I even enjoyed many of the sermons from the very good minister that we had at the time. Anyway, not everyone undergoes the sudden life changing experience, for many, it’s a slow gradual process, and that’s how I expected it would be for me.

As a younger child, I had, as I do now, an interest in science. Although I accept that many scientists have a meaningful faith, I now find the two viewpoints massively contradictory. I handled this at the time by simply ignoring science. My Church certainly never instructed that conventional science was wrong, they just focussed my attentions on more spiritual matters. So I was confirmed and I continued regularly and enthusiastically attending church, while putting any contradictory scientific notions to the back of my mind.

Over many years however my faith wasn’t growing, although fully supporting the Church, I was finding more and more sermons harder to swallow. And so my local Church, suggested, nay insisted, that I attended their next Alpha course.

I turned up at the first meeting naively expecting answers to be revealed, wisdom to be bestowed upon me and my faith to be reignited. Instead, I found myself simply unable to accept the theologies when they were laid out in front of me in all their irrational detail.

During the alpha sessions I came to realise that those with stronger faith than me, hadn’t understood something that I couldn’t grasp, they hadn’t gained extra knowledge or wisdom that I was still seeking, they had just made a blind leap of faith.

Whilst at the Alpha course, I realised that I was not going to get the intellectually satisfying answers that I sought. I was standing at the edge of a precipice while others encouraged me to make that leap of faith. But to make that leap I would have to accept things I knew to be irrational and contradictory to empirical evidence. Yes there were nice things on offer on the other side, but I decided that I would be being dishonest to myself and deliberately deluding myself if I were to make that leap.

Looking back at the Alpha course now, it seems that focusing my mind on the questions that I had been putting to the back of mind in order to retain some semblance of faith is what caused the fragile foundation of that faith to simply collapse.

Despite actively seeking a faith, I do not now mourn the loss of the little faith I had. I have worked my way through countless popular science books, and while I don’t claim that science has all the answers, or that I fully understand it all, I have nonetheless gained a rational and natural understanding of the world that gives for me more satisfaction, awe and pleasure than my spiritual journey brought me.

Apologies for the lack of satirical content, normal service will be resumed in the next post.

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