By the end of high school, I was very much in the “spiritual but not religious” camp. Conveniently, it was also a great way to get people to stop asking you about religion, and to avoid thinking too deeply about things. Religion had been a background part of my life for so long, I probably didn’t know what I’d do without it. But looking back at it now, the choice to be “spiritual but not religious” was probably my first step down the road away from belief.
Like I said, it allowed me to avoid thinking critically about my beliefs, and at the time this was a good thing. I had graduated high school a year early, and was well on my way to going to college. I planned to double major, and would have little time to spend pondering the vagaries of existence.
Unsurprisingly, religion and spirituality became less of a daily concern. I was more concerned first with keeping my head above academic water, and then avoiding completely burning out after a grueling freshman year. I began to say and think things like “I’ve got too much going on in my normal life to worry about the next one.” I even stopped referring to myself as “spiritual but not religious.”
I woke up one day and realized how little my previous beliefs had to do with my life. But more surprisingly, I realized how little difference that made to me. I still got up in the morning. I still went to class and work. I still enjoyed my hobbies and the company of my friends. My life still felt full.
For a while, that was enough for me. I became wholly unconcerned with the question of whether or not there was anything “out there,” metaphysically speaking. I guess you could call me “un-gnostic:” I didn’t need to know.
But as it turns out, I was merely ignoring the issue. I had yet to really ask myself any tough questions. As a result, I still held on to a lot of internalized beliefs that I hadn’t critically investigated. The big one was whether or not life (…the universe, and everything) had any overarching purpose that it/we/I was meant to fulfill.
This became my greatest source of angst for quite a while. Unlike other people around me, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what I was supposed to do. So I worried. And then my old friend Catholic Guilt reared its head to make things even better. So I wandered. I finished college. I fell into a job. I tried grad school. I quit the job, finished grad school. I got depressed.
Until one day I was driving my car and had an epiphany: what if there wasn’t any purpose to things? What if there wasn’t any deeper meaning to life? What if what we saw in front of us was all there was, the only meaning that which we give to things?
I don’t know if I can communicate how freeing that realization was. It was like the sun came out after a long, dark winter. I actually smiled, laughing slightly to myself as I drove down the road. “Everything is meaningless!” I told myself. And I knew that it was true. Rather than sucking the wonder and vitality out of everything, it seemed to enhance them.
So there’s my story, how my faith ended with mostly a whimper. It trickled out gradually, and I found that I didn’t miss it. I still have some baggage from my religious and spiritual past, of course. I don’t always remember that life is meaningless, but when I do, it frees me from a bit of the guilt I carry around with me. And talking with people who may not know about my journey and current worldview can get awkward. Especially given my tendency to not want to rock the boat/cause a scene.
Hopefully you enjoyed this look into my mind. Hopefully you came away educated rather than offended. But just in case, I will add a final disclaimer: this is what works for me. What works for you and makes you happy may be different, and I respect that. I’m willing to have a good conversation about things, even a debate. But if you want me to respect your beliefs, all I ask is that you respect mine.