Monday, November 1, 2010

Old [Yet Heavily Myelinated] Pathways

Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein (Jeremiah 6:16).

It is October 8th, 2003, and I am hunched over a book. "This is really interesting," I think out loud, "I can't wait to tell Dad." The thought of sharing with Dad while reclined on the back porch in the warmth of a early fall evening sunset lingers for a moment. Suddenly my mental pathway comes to an abrupt end. I remember that Dad died a week ago.

Thoughts of this nature were common in the months following my Father's death. An idea or a thought salient to Dad or to our relationship would rush into my awareness. I would emotively embrace the thought with the warmly comforting image of having a moment to share it with him. Then, I would suddenly recall that Dad was dead, and the stark reality that I would not be able to share another moment with him would coldly overtake me. Though this was a common occurrence in the immediate aftermath of Dad's death. I found that my well-worn mental pathways were slowly being replaced. Months later the pathways, still present and well-worn, were replaced by similar, more mentally satisfying routes—pathways with destinations. Seven years later I have all but replaced these pathways; however, I have experienced the loss of two additional pathways.

Mom died January 15, 2009. I am not surprised this time around; I expected my mind to default to its seasoned pathways. This time around I have less dead-ended pathways, but they occur every day. Less than a week after her passing, I should call Mom to visit with her. The mental pathway came to a dead end. Sometimes my mind lingers on the old path despite the dead end, and I find these thoughts peaceful; however, life goes on and so must I.

I was raised in a Christian household with close connections to my family's church community. For much of my life I was surrounded by people of faith. The models in my life exhibited faith behaviors which were reinforced either by the community or by the internal satisfaction of the performer. These pathways were blazed early for me, and when I decided to wholly "commit my life to Christ" just after 7th grade, I widened and branched the pathways into all areas of my mental life—intellectual and emotional. Few areas of my thinking were not traversed by a God-faith pathway. God and faith became my identity as I broached adolescence, and I became a compulsive God-faith addict.

Leaving belief in an interventionist, personal God was not an overnight decision for me. The last five years have been formative for my skepticism; it was a gradual process. Through my ongoing critical studies of the Bible, biblical languages, science, and comparative religions, I became increasingly aware of how fragile my faith system was. I won't detail the path of my discoveries here at the moment, but I gradually found the foundations of faith crumbling. On occasion I would admit to myself that I was a closet atheist, but I would maintain outward faith. Episodes of disbelief would often be met with episodes of even stronger commitment to irrational beliefs—with increasing emphasis on the virtue of belief in the irrational. This process of learning how to not believe was critical for me. Without it, I would not have been able to openly acknowledge my disbelief.

Disbelief is like the loss of a parent for me; it is not easy. My mental pathways default to the reassurance of providence or to the efficacy of prayer as I sometimes find myself conducting an internal God dialogue within myself. My God-faith pathways are still present, and as far as I understand brain physiology, neurotransmitters that fall into disuse eventually loose myelin and become less functional. As mentioned, the process of recognizing the absence of God (or the nonexistence of God) was gradual, and so it made the process easier, but it is not easy.

One may ask, "If disbelief is difficult, then why not just believe?" Before I answer this question let me explain that the difficulty of disbelief is not intellectual, it is purely emotive. I do not intellectually pretend that I am convinced there is no God.

Second, I choose to disbelieve because it is hard. Yes, I disbelieve because it is the more difficult option for my emotive pathways; it is the option that challenges me and propels my mind into higher levels of understanding, awareness, and transcendence. In fact, I find the implied answer to this question to be an unjustified plea for ignorance. It is akin to the student asking her teacher, "This stuff is hard, why do I have to learn it?" I learn because it is hard. I press forward because the alternative is ignorance and superstition. I am done with the old, dead-end paths.

posted originally at


Jamie G. said...

Great post... hits on a very personal level.

Peter said...

Jamie, We'll have to grab a beer sometime, lol.

Have you recently lost a parent?