In the 1973 movie, Soylent Green, we see the overcrowded Earth of the future, where the only pleasant experience is death. There are euthanasia centers where you get a “full 20 minutes, guaranteed” to slip away while listening to your favorite music and watching beautiful scenes of the former Earth.
Because Earth’s resources have been depleted, most people subsist on one of the manufactured food products from the Soylent Corporation, of which Soylent Green is the choicest. Supposedly it is made from plankton, but Charlton Heston’s character discovers the horrible truth.
As he is carried away in a stretcher, Heston begs those surrounding him to listen. “It’s people. They’re making our food out of people. Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle — for food. … You’ve gotta tell ‘em! You’ve gotta tell ‘em! Soylent Green is people! We’ve gotta stop ‘em! Somehow!!”
But the crowd just stands there. It’s impossible to tell whether they disbelieve him or do not care.
That is how I felt in the immediate aftermath of leaving evangelical Christianity. I had discovered the horrible truths about the God of the Bible. Almost panicked, I was trying to get my pastor and others to see what was now so obvious to me, but they were carrying on with business as usual. How could these people be so complacent in the face of such horror!?
Mixed with the panic was the anger I have already described — anger toward evangelical leaders for being so careless about truth while pretending allegiance to it, and anger toward myself for being a willing dupe.
Being a dupe was the least of my sins. I felt tremendous guilt for proclaiming the justice of a God who had ordered genocide, slavery, plunder and rape, among a long list of other horrors — even going so far as to proffer excuses for those specific atrocities. My hands were drenched with blood.
I was also guilty of having pushed away people who had given me ample encouragement to see things differently.
Over time, I have been making progress forgiving myself. I hope those I offended have forgiven me, too.
The Good Parts…
Those were the tough aspects of losing my faith. After that difficult transition, I was surprised by how many up-sides there were. (And let me emphasize to my evangelical readers that I did not leave the faith because I was seeking these benefits. They were totally unexpected.)
As a Christian, I hadn’t fully realized what oppressive cognitive burdens my faith had placed on me. What a relief it was to no longer have to puzzle over why worthy prayers weren’t answered, why science and scripture don’t line up, and why God’s ways must be higher than our ways as he allows all sorts of horrible things to happen or even actively brings them to pass. I didn’t realize how much emotional energy I had chronically spent on issues like these until I was out from under it all.
It was also a relief not to have to second-guess my every decision: “This seems wise, but is it really God’s will? Do I think it’s God’s will because it really is, or because I want it to be?” And on and on.
A totally unexpected boon has been the pervasive sense of wonder I have about the world. The story of how everything came to be is so much more fascinating than “God did it.”
Just this week, I was driving to work and found myself marveling at how we humans have arisen from the inanimate stuff of the Earth and now we’re dragging more stuff out of the Earth after ourselves, to build roads and cars so we can convey ourselves from place to place. What’s more, we have developed an aesthetic sense so the driver ahead of me evidently likes navy blue cars, and I do, too.
How can you feel depressed when everywhere you look there is something that amazes you?
In the same vein, I vividly recall hearing a choir on the radio singing a lush, 19th-century work and my thinking, “How incredible it is that these collections of molecules (the singers) have arranged themselves to vibrate other molecules (the air) so they bump into yet more molecules (their own eardrums) in such a way as to initiate a chain of chemical events that brings them pleasure!”
Even more amazing is that my own set of molecules has finally arranged itself so that it has some clue about how the universe works. I get a lot of aesthetic satisfaction out of that — more than enough to compensate for having lost 99.999999% of my future,
At some level, we’re all just molecules bumping and adjusting. There are patterns of behavior that deserve the name evil, to be sure, and we want to discourage those. But I have a much greater tolerance than I used to for people who are just trying to find their way.
It’s not that I don’t care. In fact, one of the big surprises about my deconversion is that I now care more about things in this life. As an evangelical, my prejudice was that non-believers have no reason to care about anything. It turns out that’s not true, and I wrote a short series of posts on the subject, if you’re interested.
My purpose, in a nutshell, is to enjoy the one life I know I have. I learned enough from my time as a Christian to know that true enjoyment is not found in selfish, hedonistic pursuit. I enjoy my family, the life of the mind, and the beauty that is everywhere.
After a tumultuous exit from faith, I can now say most heartily, “Life is good.”