Journey to Agnosticism
I have read Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi a few times, and I still do not understand how the story of the tiger, hyena, zebra, orangutan, and young man on a lifeboat could make a person believe in God. Then again, I consider myself to be agnostic, and Pi detested agnostics, stating they lacked imagination.
I do not think that is fair.
I have a great imagination. If warm light surrounds me on my deathbed, I am not going to explain it away by the failing of oxygen to my brain as Pi states an agnostic would. Instead, I will cherish the moment.
I wasn’t always agnostic.
There was a time in my life when I was fanatically religious. It was back when I was seventeen, and I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). At the time, my brother had been sick for a few years, and every time he went into the hospital for surgery, there was always the possibility he would not come out of it alive. I needed to have answers to the meaning of life and to understand why he had to endure his suffering.
One day, during my spare, I ran into someone I knew from junior high school. As we got caught up on our lives, she mentioned her church. I was curious, so I agreed to meet up with some missionaries.
And, they provided the answers to life.
It was comforting to find out that we are all children of a heavenly father, we lived in a pre-existence prior to our time on earth, we will go to a spirit world after this life where we can be reunited with loved ones, and there will come a time when we will all be resurrected with our bodies.
Essentially, our lives all have meaning and my brother would live on, as would the rest of us.
So, after a lot of prayer, I became a member.
People in the church are friendly, hardworking, and they devote themselves to serving others. I believe they are sincere and passionate about their faith.
I was twenty-two when I stopped believing.
A little over a year after being in the church, I met who I thought would be my eternal companion. Seven months later, we went to the temple to be sealed for time and eternity.
I knew we would have challenges early in our marriage because we were both poor university students; however, I had faith that if we were righteous, Heavenly Father would look out for us and we would overcome our challenges.
Every day, we prayed together, I prayed on my own, and we asked Heavenly Father to bless each meal. In addition, we obeyed the word of wisdom (no alcohol, coffee, or tea), we went to church for three hours every Sunday, and we did our best to serve others.
Unfortunately, it was not enough. We budgeted our money throughout the university year with the expectation that we would both have jobs in the summer to pay expenses. While I managed to find work, my husband was not always able to do so. Yes, it was during an economic downturn, but other sisters in a similar situation had husbands who had jobs.
I prayed every day that my husband would find full time work for the summer, but it did not happen. In the meantime, we had bills to pay, and not enough money to pay them. I grew up in a home where working hard and being independent was instilled in me, so it was difficult for me to ask for help.
We made due with what we had which meant not going out at all, never buying new clothes, eating economical foods, and giving up some meals.
When things got really bad, my husband arranged for us to receive some help from the church. One Sunday every month, church members give up two meals and donate the money as fast offerings, so that economically disadvantaged people can be taken care of.
We met with the Relief Society president, and she went through our budget with us. Then she came up with a list of food for us to take to the Bishop’s Storehouse. Due to my upbringing, I found the experience demeaning. I worked hard, I did not believe that I should have been in that situation, and I resented my husband.
When we went to church the Sunday after receiving the food, the bishop spoke about the church’s welfare program and how it was not right that there were people from poor countries supporting people in our ward. Of course, I took that to heart, and I felt even worse about accepting support from the church.
Throughout the years, my husband had several more times when he was unemployed. By then, we had kids; I made sure they were always fed, and I chose to starve if there was not enough money.
People are people, even if you hold them to a higher standard. Because I was on the thinner side, I heard some sisters talk about me being anorexic. That was heartbreaking to me, because I was not starving by choice.
Throughout it all, I kept praying.
In the church, members often boasted about having the full gospel and having more knowledge than people outside of the church. That kind of thinking bothered me because it set up an us versus them mentality, which is never healthy. When I went to church, I constantly heard about what a horrible place the world is.
Yet, I did not think the church was any better. I could not understand how a church with the full gospel could take until 1978 to allow African-Americans to hold the priesthood, especially since the civil rights movement took place during the 1960’s. In that case, the world was further ahead than the church in terms of basic human rights. Whenever I brought that up to anyone as an issue I struggled with, I was told that it was not my struggle to have to struggle with.
I was also in university at the time, studying anthropology where I learned to respect other cultures and to realize that there are numerous ways to understand our world. At that point, it had been a few years since my brother passed away, and I was finally okay with not knowing for sure where he was or if he was. I was okay without having all the answers to life, and letting death be a mystery. Instead of looking forward to a time when I could be reunited with him, I chose to cherish my memories with him.
It took another seven years before I left my marriage, and during that time, I had to redefine my faith. I still pray every day—prayers of thanks—because it helps me to remain optimistic. Also, if I were a god, I would appreciate it if the people I created were thankful for all I did for them, and I would have a greater bond with those people who showed appreciation.
I believe in evolution and that species are becoming more diversified. However, I still believe there is the possibility that we all could have been created. Perhaps the Big Bang was the start of creation and everything fell into place. I do not know, and I am okay with that.
I also believe that death could be conquered someday, and perhaps we will acquire the technology to bring back the dead. Through stories such as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, we have been brainwashed to believe that playing God is dangerous. Also, there are people who think humans do not deserve this planet or any other planet due to their destructive nature. However, I do not hold the same fatalist views. I agree with Stephen Hawking in that for the survival of our species, it is essential that we go inhabit other planets. I also believe that if given a second chance, we will not make the same mistakes.
It is also essential that we keep our imaginations alive and continuously be open to various possibilities. I believe that there are things we do not know and not everything can be explained away. As for now, I believe in living this life to the fullest, and if there is an afterlife, that is a bonus.