The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Losing My Religion

When I was younger, I was what my wife refers to as “a searcher” - one who is looking for a spiritual meaning of life. I was looking for answers to how I fitted into the universe and in what shape or form a god, if s/he existed, might take. This largely grew out of an inability to grasp the idea that I could actually cease to exist.

I could imagine my body changing, I could even imagine my body not existing, but I could not imagine that core bit that I call “me” as not existing. The knock on effect of this was that I became intensely interested in what happened after death: if my body could cease to exist, but not my self or soul, for want of a better word, then it must go somewhere. Did it linger indefinitely with the body? Was it freed to roam as a ghost? Did it go on to another realm like heaven (or hell)? Was it reincarnated into another body? Was I God, limited by human existence until I died and returned to my true state? How could I possibly know?

There were plenty of religions out there, most telling me that theirs was the one true path. And when I asked how I was to know that theirs was right and the others were wrong, it usually ended in either “because our holy book/ prophet says so” or “you must have faith”. Never one for trusting authority, neither of these answers appealed.

So I read widely, questioned frequently and debated incessantly with anyone willing to engage. I returned to education and spent 4 years gaining a philosophy degree, at the end of which I wouldn’t necessarily say I was closer to any conclusions, but I did have a far better idea of how to argue for or against absolutely anything.

When my daughter, Meg, was born with Downs Syndrome nearly 8 years ago, I would bite my tongue when people would say things like “God gives special children to special parents”. I’d know that they were trying to put a positive spin on things, and so would just nod and smile. These days I’m a lot less tolerant and would be far more tempted to say “well if that’s so, then why does He give them to so many people who abort them before they have a chance to live?” (It’s estimated that somewhere between 80% and 90% of pregnancies of children with DS are terminated in our so-called “civilised” Western world).

Now Meg was born with a hole in her heart. The first few months of her life were a struggle as we fought hard to feed her (she would frequently take over one and a half hours to feed, and would need to be fed every three hours, and would throw up about every third bottle) and give her the strength to live. At 5 months old she had to have open-heart surgery and we had to face the very real possibility that our little girl could die.

At this point, more than any other in my life, I called out for some kind of meaning, some kind of support, some kind of sign or feeling that we were not on our own with this. But what I got back was nothing, nothing at all. There was no sense that there was a larger plan, that there was someone, or something looking out for us, that the universe cared in any way shape or form. All I felt was an overpowering sense of empty randomness. Meg might live; she might not. If she did then we’d be lucky, and if she didn’t then we’d be unlucky. It was as simple and straightforward as that. There was no God; there was no Universal Force at work. This was the point that I stopped searching; this was the point I lost all interest in religion.

Now as it turned out, Meg survived and thrived, and she fills our lives with joy. But we were lucky, that’s all. I cannot find it in my heart to believe anyone who would tell me otherwise. Maybe your god speaks to you, and I’m truly pleased for you if that is so, but there is nothing out there speaking to me.

36 comments

Gyrobo said...

There MUST be a god. My taxes pay his salary.

BStrong said...

It's difficult for me to comment on this post since I'm Jewish and very accepting of other religions and personal beliefs. I think that what is important here is that Meg survived her surgery and is bringing joy and happiness to you and your family every day. I also would like to think that my life is not solely based on luck or the lack of.

Sounds like another beer and coffee evening around the kitchen table:)
B

Kim Ayres said...

gyrobo - ;)

bstrong - I think we're certainly going to need a lot of beer, coffee and evenings - sounds like a lot of fun!

Andraste said...

You have the inner emotional strength and intelligence to deal with life's complexities, pains and joys without the help of any random and amorphous silliness or religious dogma. You think for yourself, which is the one thing religious people refuse to do. This is why they need religion.

I wish we could "un-invent" it.

Gyrobo said...

I heard once that God's power isn't the storm, but the calm that follows. The way I heard it was much more poetic, but you get the idea.

Tara Marie said...

I think....therefore I am.

I think that this was a very soulful post.....I like gyrobo's idea of the calm after the storm.

I'm a searcher, so I embrace everything.......

Joy,,,,that is truly a magical emotion

Naomi said...

I don't think I've ever believed in God, or ever really questioned my non-belief. I had to pray at assembly at my CofE junior school and had to "promise to do my duty to God" when I became a brownie, but they were just words and rituals to say. I'm very tolerant of others beliefs but am always slightly bemused by their faith in some greater power.

I think sometimes that I accepted Callum's DS so easily because there was no crisis of faith. I understood how it happened and that there was nothing I or anyone else could have done to stop it. He'll always have that extra chromosome it wouldn't matter if I prayed every day, gave 10% of my income to church or devoted my life to religion. Nobody chose to give him to me, nobody examined me and decided that I could handle this. The cell division just didn't go quite to plan.

You're all lucky to have each other and to live in a time where heart surgery is available.

Asher Hunter said...

You went through quite a lot, for which I sympathise and applaud you for. I can't imagine the depths of your despair or the heights of your joy.

I believe that God exists, but I believe he's put us here and said "You're on your own. I gave you the world, you go play in it". There are good things, there are bad things. There is evil, and good. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. And such.

I believe that this is a testing grounds, a place where each soul has a chance to prove its mettle. We don't get just one chance - we are born and die as many times as it takes to prove out, in the long run, who we really are.

I don't pray for things, because God won't answer my prayers. He can't. Why the hell should God stack the deck in my favour? What makes me think I'm better than anyone else, to deserve God's direct aid?

But that doesn't mean he isn't listening.

Just my 2 cents.

Don Q. said...

Your experience of religion/philosophy is very familiar to me. I too was a philosophy major in college for similar reasons (I even went on to law school, so I can REALLY argue). Halfway round the track, I still have no answers, but I do have a few theories.

First, I think it is important to never stop searching for meaning. It seems that very few people ever attain a sense of their purpose in life or anwers to the big questions. Those that do work at it for a long time.

Second, I think you have to go beyond ratonality for these answers. This is more or less where Western philosophy goes in the dumper IMHO. The power of reason (aka science in our culture) is a useful but limited tool. This was basically what I got out of 4 years of philosophy classes.

My theories keep changing, but I also refuse to give up the thought that there is an answer and that I might can still find it. While it is tempting and poetic to lapse into, "there is no answer, the search itself is the answer", I think this is a cop out. It may be true, but when I say these things to myself, I am hiding behind them. I am trying to take the sting out not knowing or realising that the last half-cracked theory was really foolish.

All of this leads to the strange position of trying out different theories with the frame of mind that this could be the answer to "life, the universe and everything" balanced with "it probably isn't". If nothing else, it makes me very tolerant of others beliefs since I may be espousing their butt-crazy ideas in the near future.

fatmammycat said...

With the greatest of respect to everyone, when people say they are still looking for answers, my first thought is, 'To what?'
What are the questions, and why must there be answers. Why can't people just live in the here and now? Andraste and I have had this one before, and our conclusion-if I remember-is that life is no dress rehearsal, we're are here, we need to be here, not always wndering about what's next.
My 1 cent.

Kim Ayres said...

I can see that this post has provoked a lot of thought and I really appreciate the time everyone has taken to comment.

I want to try and give follow up comments to everyone but am struggling for time at the moment. I will write more on Friday or Saturday.

Thanks again!

Stella said...

Hi Kim, you know me from bstrong's blog. Have been reading your blog and really enjoying it.

So, hmmmmm, the big question......I suppose I like to think there is a God out there and that when we die we don't JUST die, finito, the end. But I don't know if I BELIEVE - guess I just want to think there's something more. I don't follow a formal religion, guess that makes me agnostic, if that is the right label? I was raised catholic (hey I'm Irish, what do you expect?) but nothing too heavy as my folks weren't overly religious and I soon became disillusioned and got sick of being lectured by the "holier than thou" priests and sharing seats with hypocrites, so gave up on the formal side. But guess I would still like to believe there is a God and that my parents (who are both dead) are NOT gone forever but are watching out for me. So many co-incidences in my life have affirmed that belief I think.

Gyrobo said...

There are a lot of problems with religion, but hopefully we'll be able to progress as a global civilization. Eventually, we will spread out into the cosmos, and find God waiting for us just outside the universe.

It's the only logical conclusion.

Don Q. said...

To Fatmammycat:

The questions I mull over are:

1) Why am I here? Is there a purpose to my existence?

2) What happens to "me" after my body dies?

and the ever popular, Eternal Question of Man
3) Who am I?

I guess to some degree these questions get under your skin or they don't. I personally think they are important because the answers to them are at the core of who I am (how's that for a little bootstapping problem).

Kim Ayres said...

OK, I've managed to find half an hour before I go charging out to another Folk Session, so let's try and reply to some of these comments!

Andraste - I won't dismiss someone just for believing in something else, nor if they follow a religion - each to their own. What I do have a problem with is unquestioned religious belief, and religious systems that demand that you follow them, regardless of your own beliefs. If someone examines their belief system and comes to a different conclusion than mine, then they have my respect. It is the unexamined life that I despair about.

Gyrobo - the notion that spirituality lays in the calm rather than the rage is an interesting one, however, I'm not sure about finding God out there somewhere. What would you do if you searched and couldn't find Him?

Tara Marie - I'm all for finding joy in the world.

Naomi - it has crossed my mind many times that we are extremely fortunate that we live in a time when heart surgery is available. So many people in the past have not been as fortunate.

Kim Ayres said...

Asher - You have been through just as many depths and heights. I certainly have no monopoly on them.

Your position that there is a God, but that it makes no difference, strikes me as slightly odd. Why does He then need to be included in your outlook? And How do you know He's listening?

Don - I agree that reason and rationality are tools, not ends in themselves. "All elephants are green; Nelly is an elephant; therefore Nelly is Green" is faultless logic. However, the fact that elephant's aren't green means that the whole argument falls apart. Logic is a tool, but needs to be applied properly.

However, if you are not going to apply a rational (or scientific) approach, what will you put in it's place? Yes we can act on our emotions and gut feelings, but these can be manipulated by others very easily.

If you do find the answer, be sure to let me know :)

Fatmammycat - Why is anyone looking for answers? Well, for one of many reasons, I refer you to my posting about Agnostics (http://kimayres.blogspot.com/2005/10/what-is-agnostic.html). In it I point out that if it turns out that the rest of eternity, which really is a bloody long time, is decided by how you act in this life, or which religion you belong to, then deciding to ignore it and "wing it" when you get there is a pretty dodgy thing to do.

However, I agree with you that life is no dress rehearsal and we have to make the most of it here and now. It is that philosophy that has contributed to the major changes we have made to our lives, especially over the past year or so.

Stella - welcome to my ramblings! Glad you're enjoying them.

There is a part of me that would love to believe in something more. It would be fantastic to think that there really was something out there looking out for me, but I just cannot believe it.

In fact, if I ever was to meet God, I'd probably kick Him the balls as hard as I could because if He does exist, He has an awful lot to answer for.

But I'll happily debate that with anyone over beer or coffee. :)


OK, gotta rush for that Folk Session. If you don't hear back from me, assume that I was struck by a lightening bolt for my blasphemy...

Anonymous said...

Kim, Have you been able to view the blog "Stranger Than Fiction" in the last few days? Just curious because the page will not load for me.

Stella said...

ROFL Kim, did you manage to dodge that bolt of lightening?

Read your "agnostics" posting, hmmmm seems I'm a procrastinator - dunno, have to think about that......hmmmmmm...........heck I'll think about it tomorrow...........

fatmammycat said...

To Fatmammycat:

The questions I mull over are:

1) Why am I here? Is there a purpose to my existence?

2) What happens to "me" after my body dies?

and the ever popular, Eternal Question of Man
3) Who am I?

I guess to some degree these questions get under your skin or they don't. I personally think they are important because the answers to them are at the core of who I am (how's that for a little bootstapping problem).

It's a fabulous problem, if that is what floats your boat. But these are not questions I would ever ask myself, therefore I'm not a hundred per cent sure that I fully understand other people's quest for answers. Please don't feel that I find such questions daft, I do not. I recognise that some folk feel the burning desire to question, but I am not one of them. I know who I am, I'm me. I make every decision for myself, I think for myself and I answer to me and my own conscience, I live, I breathe,I work, I laugh, I blog, cry over sentimental moments, I have sex and I run like the clappers in the gym- I carry on living in the here and now. I never question and I never feel scared about 'what ifs'. I take my chances, sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but I never give in or blame anyone else if it goes horribly wrong, including higher powers. I don't give my life over to the supernatural, I don't read horoscopes, I don't believe in any god, and I don't believe in being mean to people. I'm loyal and I like cats. So when I wake up in the morning, I don't have any other question other than 'am I a good person.' And if the answer is yes, then I'll take it. When I'm dead I'm dead, and I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
There you have it, Fatmammycat in a small nutshell. My ethos- enjoy life, you never know the minute or the hour when it could be gone.

Gyrobo said...

I guess it doesn't really matter if I find God or not. But if I did find 'im, I'd totally mess with 'im. I'd be all like, "Why should I worship you?"

Then I'd get 'im to paint my house. 'Cause that's just me.

kats said...

I'm so glad I never had or was indoctrinated into a religion.

It's not something I have ever questioned either, and you can have spirituality without it.

Hope that makes sense.

Kats:0)

Belly said...

In the end, Meg speaks to you and whether it be luck, god or a fuzzy green unicorn I suspect it matters not. My own daughter has opened my heart in ways I could not have imagined and I really feel no reason to put any more meaning or purpose on than that. It happened, I am lucky and I love it.

Take care!

Kim Ayres said...

Anonymous - While I have the anonymous funtion enabled, in the vague hope that some of my friends who don't have blogger accounts will one day leave messages, I really would prefer if you would sign a name at the end of your comment. I like to connect to real people.

But in answer to your question, no I can't get Stranger Than Fiction's site either, and it's over a month since she last posted anything.

Stella - still here!

Fatmammycat - I really wish you would get your blog going. It wouldn't be hard work- you could just cut'n'paste from comments like these! You always write something worth reading.

Gyrobo - you're right. What is the point of knowing someone who is omnipotent if they can't paint your house for you?

Kats - yes, it makes perfect sense :)

Belly - Absolutely, the most important thing is that Meg is with us.

I have had several people ask me why, given that Meg survived her heart operation, I have no belief in God. This blog post was about answering that.

Tom said...

Kim,
I've spent more time on your blog than on any other since learning about my son's lot in life. Maybe it's because of my roots with the Brodie clan ("Ian" was chosen because of my Scottish heritage) but more likely it's because your writing is honest and endearing, but not overly sentimental, which, I hate to say, is my natural predisposition. I'm sappy and prone to wearing my heart on my sleeve.

I've checked out your videos on Youtube, and enjoyed them. And I like how Meg's down's syndrome is just part your family life. I resonate with not wanting to join a DS group, although am thinking about participating in our city's Buddy Walk. I've never been around children with DS before, even now, other than an afternoon spent filmming a Special Olympics event for a science program I was creating. I like your "model:" Live your life, love your daughter, deal with the days as they come.

On matters of faith, I come from a long line of Protestant preachers. It took me a long time to "lose my religion." I'm not playing games with semantics but am just trying to say that there came a time when I had to leave the faith of my "fathers" and make it my own. I studied a lot. Haven't participated in the corporate "Church" in years, but do have many spiritual mentors.

I'm truly sorry Meg had to go through what she did. Ian still has a flutter in his own heart and we visit the doctor on Friday to access his condition. His PDA won't close on it's own (the hole-in-the-heart" babies are born with). I appreciate your "search". And I respect your conclusions. I tend to run from bloggers who talk about how down syndrome is a "gift of God."

I look forward to more chats or just popping in to see how life's going. My only question would be, why atheism instead of agnosticism?

Tom said...

Oh... never mind. Found your other post. Cheers.

Kim Ayres said...

Tom - thanks for your warm words, and ofr rummaging around and posting here. If you read enough of the back posts you'll eventually find I'm not actually Scottish - I've lived in Scotland for nearly 20 years, and my wife and kids are Scottish, but I was born several hundred miles south of here in England. Hope you don't hold it against me :)

At the start of your child's life, of course the DS looms large - it's unknown, carries a raft of potential complications and so is scary. But it's impossible to maintain that level of fear on an everyday basis and sooner or later, it starts sinking into the background. As another day goes past and there isn't a major crisis, you begin to normalise the situation, and at that point you then get to enjoy your child again more than you fear the DS.

I hope Ian's heart is sorted out with as few complications as possible, and my thoughts are with you.

Mario Dimain said...

Did it ever occur to you, that maybe you are looking at the wrong places in search for the truth? You wont find the answers in any religion. The answer is in your heart. If your heart told you that God does not exist IN you, then the search should be over. And you are so right in believing that my God is not yours.

Kim Ayres said...

Mario - indeed, the point of this post was about the point I stopped searching.

And I'm more than happy to accept your statement that your God is not mine. However, many religious people are not prepared to make that statement.

If you belong to a monotheistic relgion such as one of the 30,000 different forms of Christianity, for example, then the one God is by definition everyone's God.

MARIO DIMAIN said...

Good morning, Kim.

Belonging works both ways. If you don't belong to my God, naturally it means, neither does He belong to you. But IF you belong to Him, (for whatever reason unknown to you) you don't need to search for Him, He will find you the same way as Jesus found His lost sheep.

To simply put it, only lens designed for Nikon will fit into a Nikon camera body. A Canon lens will never connect to a Nikon body because it chose to be Canon.

Kim Ayres said...

Hi Mario - for monotheistic religions, the one god created everything - both Nikon and Canon bodies and lenses, to extend your anaolgy.

The point I have always made is that if there is a creator god who knows of my existence and cares whether I know of his, and that I should alter my behaviour because of it, then he has not made himself known to me in a way that I would understand.

To make himself known to me in a way that I would understand is not beyond the capabilities of an all knowing, all powerful, creator god. Therefore, either such a god does not exist, or that god has not deemed it important enough for me to know of his existence. So either way, he does not exist for me.

MARIO DIMAIN said...

Hi Kim,

God also created the devil who chose to completely detach himself from God, and to this day, still incessantly defiant.

A creation of God does not necessarily equates to a child of God. They are two separate entities as proven by the existence of the devil.

If you count yourself as one of God's creation, can you honestly say it to yourself that you are also His child?

You believe that God does not exist for you. If He truly created you, He should and He does. But the question you may consider asking yourself is, "Do I exist for Him?"

Kim Ayres said...

Sorry Mario, your points don't make sense to me. The Devil has not made himself known to me either. Neither have invisible blue fairies at the bottom of the garden, nor pink trolls from under the bridge.

We can conjour up any imaginary being, but how are we to know if it exists beyond our imagination? If a pink troll, blue fairy, devil or god never makes itself known to me, then why should I decide to believe in it?

MARIO DIMAIN said...

Hello again, Kim. Anything that you don't believe in is quite difficult to grasp let alone understand it. Even the smartest of men could not decipher the mystery of my God.

I do understand you though, in every word you have written, and everything in between. How? Because I was there and back. Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I completely turned my back on God. I was in so much pain and I blamed everything on Him. I resented Him and my faith came into a sudden halt.

I was Godless for three days until God appeared in my dream and explained all the things that were clouding my mind. The following morning, my faith was restored. Truly, my great God did not want to lose me.

I know all these don't make sense to non-believers like you but I just thought I should share them with you. I want to let you know that I can honestly relate to what you understand and not understand.

If it is okay with you, I would like to include you in my prayers to my God that may you find a God that can fill the void in your search for the truth.

Peace be with you,
Mario

Kim Ayres said...

Part of the difference here, Mario, is I never turned my back on God - in fact, I went out looking, but found no evidence - not a trace. In the same way I found no evidence for blue fairies or pink trolls or ghosts or spirits or demons or angels or saints. If any such beings exist, they have not decided to reveal itself to me.

However, if it makes you feel any better, then feel free to pray for me. And if any divine being decides to convince me my atheism is wrong, I'll be sure to let you know, and you can tell me you told me so :)

MARIO DIMAIN said...

Kim, I always knew that you have not turned your back on God, you just have problems finding Him.

You may be well versed on just about any religion but you still need a LOT of growing up to mature spiritually. (sorry to say that)

Pure spirituality and full surrender, NOT religion is what will connect you to the God you are looking for.

The true God is just within your arms length but He will only reveal Himself to you when you are READY to accept Him.

It is all up to you. It's that simple.

Thank you for allowing me to pray for you _ to my great God.

Mario

Kim Ayres said...

Sorry Mario, but you have overstepped the line. I have been very careful in my responses to allow you your beliefs without judgment, even though I do not share them. But when you decide to judge my "spiritual" maturity you are not offering me the same courtesy.

I do not agree with your beliefs, though I do not belittle them, and I do not accept your judgment of me. Who do you think you are that you can decide my level of maturity on anything? The moment you start judging me on a personal level, this discussion is not going to progress, only degenerate.

Please take your god, your beliefs and your judgment elsewhere. They are not appreciated here any further.

All content copyright of Kim Ayres. Powered by Blogger.