I have embarked on a new journey. Well, it’s actually a journey I’ve been on for a long time but, it’s a new leg of that journey. This time I want to be vulnerable and share the process with others. To understand where I am now will require understanding a bit of my past though.
When I was a kid I went to church. I was baptized at 5 and I believed in God the way kids believe in Santa. It was a Baptist church and for many reasons my experiences in those years were far from positive. By 10 I no longer went to church. By 15 so many bad things had happened it became clear to my teenage mind that God did not love me. I decided that if God doesn’t love me, I’m not going to love God either and I walked away from my faith.
Fast forward a few years and a few more horrible experiences I got to a point in my life where I simply had to know if God was real. Life if so fucked up and, if God exists, I want to know. At first I started out learning about different religions. I then focused on Christianity and Atheism and read as much as I could get my hands on, mostly with a scientific bent. (My foray into this inquiry was prior to the publication of four now famous books that launched the New Atheism.) After I came out of that, I decided I was Agnostic. I believed it was possible there was some deity or god but that whatever that being was, it was completely beyond human comprehension. And, it was certainly nothing like the Judeo-Christian god that claimed to care about the lives of individual humans.
There was one caveat to my assertion: I recognized that my Christian cousins seemed to have a good life. Far better than mine. At that point I decided that if I ever had children I would raise them in a Christian church and, when they were old enough to understand, I would teach them about other religions. In the back of my mind I thought, “even though god doesn’t love me, if it’s possible that god is real, maybe they could love my kids.”
In 2008 my daughter was born and I remembered my promise. It took me a few years to find a church. I had tried many churches but none of them were “right” — whatever that means. One day someone convinced me to try a Baptist church. Initially I balked at the idea — no way! I know what Baptists are like and there’s no way in hell they’d accept someone like me and my daughter. Let me paint you a picture: when I walked through those doors, I was married to one man that I hadn’t seen in years — he refused to sign the divorce papers. I had a daughter by another man, who was not even two yet and whom I had never been married to. And, I was dating another man who also happened to be my landlord. Not exactly a shining example of someone that has their shit together. But, I walked through the door anyway. And, believe it or not, people welcomed me in authentic ways. At the end of the sermon the pastor came over and introduced himself to me — he said “welcome home,” which, to this day, holds more meaning than I think anyone will ever understand.
For the next few years I struggled with how to be a part of that community. How can I be a part of this community when I don’t even share any of their beliefs? Over time though, I began to read the Bible, really read the Bible. I started to dig deeper to see if it was possible that any of these things were actually true. Then, at some point, my conversion happened. It’s hard to explain. I think my Christian friends will get it but I’m not sure my non-Christian friends would. God rescued me and loved in a way I have never been rescued or loved by any single person. Ever. After that I began to believe that God knows me as a person — flaws, strengths, and brokenness — and loves me exactly as I am. There is nothing I could ever do to earn their love and there is nothing I could ever do to lose their love.
Embracing this newfound faith wasn’t exactly easy though. I started my undergraduate program at Wellesley to study science and I needed to know science and what the Bible teaches could actually fit together. I dove deep again. Is it possible for evolution and God to coexist? I found so many fascinating explanations for, and against, that possibility and I had so much fun trying to figure it out. I even remember asking my physics professor (I had just finished a semester learning about he theory of relativity) if you could imagine riding on a photon — how would you experience space and time. I think when (or if) that question is answered we, as humanity, will solved one of the most intriguing questions of all time. But, I digress. At the end of inquiring about that set of questions, I came to understand that evolution and God can coexist (and not just as some watchmaker paradigm).
After that I went through a journey of self-discovery, healing, purging, pain, and transformation. My faith grew stronger and deeper and I began to appreciate and know God in new and different ways. Through that process I started to make my faith my own, rather than what others told me it should be or look like. I love God. I love my relationship with God. I even like going to church and the community of people I have come to know there.
All of that being said, it is time for me to do another deep dive. I study the brain and, brains are these incredible organisms that can deceive us in so many ways. ALL. OF. THE. TIME. As a cognitive neuroscientist, I know how powerful belief is and how we can cling to things that aren’t real. And so, if God is merely a construction of my mind, or a cultural construction, I want to know. I don’t want to live my life deluding myself into believing God is real when it’s not true. As such, I’m going to dive back in. I’d like to document my journey here this time for two reasons. First, the word I’ve picked to guide my year is “vulnerability.” I want to try to be vulnerable in authentic ways and trust the people I am vulnerable with. The second reason is because I want this to be as authentic a process as possible. I want people to challenge my thoughts and my conclusions — one of the best ways to do that is in community.
I got halfway through Dennett’s book from Bach to Bacteria and Back and realized that for me to totally understand some of the things he saying I’d need to go back and read his book Breaking the Spell. I’ve started reading that now. I’m not sure what I’ll read next or how to go about this journey well. But, I feel like the question that’s guiding my inquiry is, “can I prove that God is not real?” If I can, I will stop believing in God. The idea of losing my faith scares me. But, the idea of being a blind follower, or believing in a god I’ve constructed rather than a True God is even scarier.
Thanks for reading.