Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fighting the Fear

...continued from 'Flickering Faith'.

In my last post I drew a comparison between the flickering lighbulb in my kitchen and the flickering of my faith, which started quite unexpectedly about 8 years ago. I use the flickering light image because at an emotional level I've found that my faith doesn't seem to work like a dimmer switch, it doesn't just fade away and then fade back again. It's either there or it isn't - and frustratingly, like the lightbulb in my ceiling, I have no control over it and can't seem to fix it. Or so it seemed in the early stages of this difficult season of my life. Looking back I can see that it wasn't actually that I couldn't have control, I'd just never developed the 'psychological muscles' required to control the primal fear that accompanied the doubts in my mind. Perhaps I need to employ a metaphor here to explain myself more clearly...
Imagine you're travelling in a plane - a private jet! There's just you on board, and the pilot of course. You're enjoying the view, the sunshine, the curve of the earth, generally chilling and taking it easy. Then it starts to get dark. And then it gets turbulent. And the turbulence throws open the cabin door. From your seat you can see inside and to your horror you discover that there's no pilot after all, the plane has been on autopilot. In that split second lighting flashes, there's a deafening sound and the plane plunges into darkness. You panic. You're paralysed as utter terror overwhelms you. The plane starts to lurch and lunge wildly. After what feels like a lifetime you find yourself stumbling around, reaching towards the cabin door. Somehow you manage to find the pilot's seat and you haul yourself in. As your hands grab the controls your arms are almost wrenched out of their sockets - the strength required to gain any sense of stability is more than you've ever needed to call on. Is total oblivion the only certain scenario? How soon will it come? How long can you fight it?
And that, in a nutshell, is what I had to learn to do with my fears of God's non-existence (and the related and more pointed fear - my own eventual non-existence). I needed to learn to fight it, even though at the start I was totally unequal to the task.
...to be continued.

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spurious said...

Thanks for starting to explain this period in your life, Matt. I can appreciate it must be something that's difficult to express. I wonder if you could articulate what made you decide you needed to fight this. I had a similar, albeit not so dramatically sudden, sense of God's non-existence but chose to ride the storm rather then regain control, and explore this new outlook. Rather like the video you posted in your last blog on this subject, I chose deliberately to fly into the unknown, rather then have it blindside me and look to restore stability, as you seem to be saying you did.

To be succinct, I lost faith in faith. I could not contend that it was a sufficient basis to validate various other beliefs or any kind of proper justification for knowledge. Without it's bedrock, I was forced to re-examine my entire religious outlook. I've personally found that abandoning the notion that faith has any substance or power to it, has been a fundamentally liberating experience for me. I feel more free and secure then I ever pretended to as a believer in mainstream religion and can look back on those days now as a period during which I was supressing myself in the name of wanting to belong to a church community, feeling a sense of purpose to my life, and needing a degree of comfort. I was operating at various levels of self-delusion, which were at times so powerful that I could look you in the eye and describe what I believed with unflinching conviction. But if I had searched hard enough within me, even then I could have told you that the basis of my belief was weak.

Coming to terms with who I was at that time, and what guided and influenced my beliefs and actions, is a process that becomes much easier when the shackles have been broken.

I could write at great length about my experiences, but this is your blog, not mine. I'll look forward to reading the promised continuation.

Ezra J. said...

I would say that the first thing I would do metaphorically and literally, is turn off the auto-pilot.
I'm more of an agnostic myself and a pragmatist so it might be easier for me to take responsibility if I was in total control, disaster looming or otherwise. Like Spurious said above. I would rather fly into the unknown, however I want to be at the controls for the whole ride. I have never had a faith to lose so I might never be able to fully relate to the sudden and distinct loss of God in my life.