I was raised as a Protestant Baptist. Among mostly kind, well-intentioned, community minded folks. The churches ran outdoor camps, canoe trips, youth groups, exchange programs and other activities that helped many people, including me, explore the world surrounded by decent people.
It wasn’t all good. I found myself trapped at youth camp with leaders overzealous to further convert people. Some of my early church teachers seemed genuinely frightened by life and death, and shared that fear with young people in a, perhaps, not helpful way. And church was boring. And long. Really boring, and really long.
But nothing really bad, and lots of good, happened.
My first break from this belief system occurred when I learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real, around the late age of 8 or so. The frightening thing about this wasn’t the realization that a jolly feller didn’t come down chimneys with gifts, because obviously this wasn’t true. The frightening thing was my sudden realization that I had been willing to suspend belief in what I observed in the real world to believe in an imaginary world. Indeed, this event was the first of two that damaged my belief in mystical things, something that I never really recovered from.
The second event, not counting the release of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, was psychedelic drugs, in my teenage years. What I discovered was that there was an easy path to deeply mystical feelings that were more intense and real on a whole new scale. And for a few years I was convinced there was some real truth behind this, something that I now believe is dangerous nonsense. Although, interesting. These days, I think anyone who chooses never to take psychedelic drugs is blessed. And many people who choose differently, differently blessed. One caution: you can’t go back. Psychedelics are in many ways far safer than the witches brew of other poisons people take to mess with their minds. But they alter your thinking. Forever.
I have no doubt that psychedelics made me a better engineer and problem solver. But also, maybe a bit nuts.
Post teenage years, I embraced science and engineering and reason as the path to truth, and rejected Christianity. And science is fun like drugs and far more amazing. It is, and remains, the shit.
About a decade later, I started to think about history and the development of societies. And much to my surprise, I noticed that many of the core values that shaped societies that successfully elevated humanity from a state of brutish nature (for a while), were rooted in Christian belief. Christianity wasn’t the only religion to do this, but it was an important one.
At that point I made some peace with Christianity, and decided that even if the specifics were unbelievable, and, perhaps, there was no God, much practical good flowed from it. Maybe. But I still held on to what I now understand was just bigotry, that Christians were, if not actually feeble-minded, willing to delude themselves. Sometimes dangerously so.
I took actually working closely with brilliant engineers who also happened to be Christians to make me question this unpleasantness. I encountered deeply thoughtful, logical, and decent people who were not in any way afraid to share their beliefs and their the thought process behind them. They knew exactly when they had become comfortable with the suspension of disbelief, and why. Basically, it was a belief that absolute truth was unknowable, and that the choice was nihilism, or a belief system. And that thier choice of belief system was net positive for them. They offered considerable evidence of truth, but ultimately made no argument of certainty.
I was unpersuaded. But considerably less judgmental.
In my late 30s and 40s, I had learned enough about physics to conclude that what we cannot see, or directly measure, or really know from our observation position on planet earth was a road to insanity. At least it would be for me. And this observation didn’t in any way damped my deep awe for people who could understand quantum mechanics, relativity, and multiple dimensions.
But I was unpersuaded. Indeed, I reached a point where I decided that science and engineering, while working magic on a grand scale to elevate humanity, wasn’t ultimately going to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.
Some people seem to argue with passion that the earth was created in 6 days, by a benign, eternal, all-knowing omnipotent creator. Who got tired, and need rest on the 7th day. And all of that led to jet airplanes, atomic bombs, iPhones and the Pet Shop Boys.
Somehow, this just seems too bizarrely improbable (to me) as to be likely.
Other people seem to argue that from nothing, a completely random explosion happened, that coded into the very structure of everything mechanisms that would eventually lead to airplanes, atomic bombs, iPhones, and the Pet Shop Boys.
Somehow, this just seems to bizarrely improbable to as to be likely.
Others argue that airplanes etc. are the result of a gazillion raised to the power of a bazillion random accidents, the vast majority of which led to nothing.
‘Nuf said about that.
Throughout the journey, I’ve never lost a deep fascination with nature boarder lining on the mystical. It’s gift, a blessing that I treasure.
I’ve long thought it was also a clue.