Discovering meaning after de-conversion
I’ve enjoyed reading through the comments on Karen’s recent post “Are de-converts doomed to live in the pit of existentialist despair?” I do appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this topic.
Discovering the meaning of life was my biggest, baddest bugaboo upon de-conversion. Life seemed drained of color without God. It was more than just no longer having a sweeping trans-historical drama in which to play a part. It was, for me, that the universe no longer seemed like a home. It was no longer warm and friendly. Instead, it was harsh, alien, bare, and empty. Working through meaning was my biggest challenge.
Here’s how it went for me. Christianity teaches, in essence, that all the sorrows of life are destined to end. All the “existential givens” such as loneliness and isolation, the responsibility to create one’s own life, the thirst for larger meaning and purpose, even death itself — all these problems are solved, for the Christian. C.S. Lewis quite explicitly teaches that all you have ever desired is destined for ultimate satisfaction in heaven. You will not die. You will not be alone. Your responsibility is only to obey. Your meaning is given to you.
Losing God for me was like that moment in all of our lives when we realize, really realize, that our parents are not really larger than life. They are not necessarily smarter or wiser or more able than us. They are just human. In fact, there is *no one* out there “bigger than me”, so to speak, that I can look to for unfailing guidance. It was that realization that overwhelmed me at first. It was terrifying and so very sad.
Yet in that very moment of “groundlessness”, as existentialists say, was the answer, the same answer alluded to in the Karen’s post. It was in a rock-bottom awareness of the finite-ness of life that I suddenly saw its preciousness. It was just that awareness that life *does not* last forever, that there *is* no one who will ever swoop in an make it all right, that in the end (in a way) we *are* alone, no one will die with us — that awareness, brought out for me by the loss of the illusion of the God-parent — that opened me up the possibility of such a sublime joy.
I can honestly say I never knew joy as a Christian. Christianity wants to narcotize us to the pain of life by teaching everything will eventually be perfect for you. However, the reality is, it will not be.
So, grieving that loss and opening myself up to the pain that exists in life because it is finite was exactly what made enabled me to appreciate its joys. You cannot expunge the pain in life without expunging the possibility of joy in the process. The wish to do so, in a nutshell, is the Christian illusion.
I have never felt more alive than I have since I left fundamentalism. Life is gorgeous, despite all its pain.