December 6th, 2008

tree frog

psychological torture

One of the problems with forcing yourself to believe something that you don't is that the doubt really is more damaging.

Recent studies looking at discrimination have shown that outright, blatant discrimination is actually less harmful psychologically than subtle discrimination. Why? Because our brains spend so much more time dwelling on the issue and trying to figure out why something happened. I've experienced this firsthand, and I still wonder why I was forced out of one particular graduate program. I was told a number of things that didn't make any sense, and it was clear they were just excuses, not real reasons. But what were their reasons? It's been ten years, and I still wrack my brain sometimes trying to figure out their motives? Was it that I was a woman? My health issues? My weight? My personality? My sexual orientation? My atheism? Something else? My blunt honesty? It certainly wasn't because my writing was too polished, or because I wasn't focused because I was well ahead of the curve in terms of planning my dissertation and doing independent research. I don't know. I have this need to know, to fix what went wrong. To be more careful about what was the thing that got me into trouble, but how can I? How can I keep all these things under wraps?

The same kind of problem occurs to believers who are trying too hard... who are really non-believers but keep trying to stay within the fold. They see horrors in the world and start asking themselves why would god do this? Just like I asked it about the faculty at my old graduate school. But there are no answers. Nothing makes sense, and so the psychological torture continues as we continue to work on the "problem" years later. There is psychological advantage in being a fire-and-brimstone believer, because everyone is a sinner and deserves what they get. There is no doubt centered on how a loving god could do this to an innocent child, because even the children aren't innocent.

For the rest of us, we will eventually have to choose between a life of psychological torture, and a life that realizes there is no answer to that question... there is no force behind the tsunami or WWII that gives a shit about the innocent children. We can look at it, and realize its horror, without ripping the inside of our heads apart trying to make sense of the senseless. Just as if I had been told that I was being forced out of my graduate program because I'd pissed off too many profs with my straight-forward opinions, then fine. I'd still be pissed, but I'd have stopped worrying about the whys and wherefores long ago. I wouldn't still be trying to reconcile what happened with the words of encouragement I get from the chair.

When I finally admitted my atheism and stopped trying to believe, it was precisely for this kind of reason. I realized how destructive to myself my thinking about god had become and had to walk away from it, for the sake of my sanity, and at the time, since I was suicidally depressed, my very life. We simply can't make sense of randomness.
reading list

Myth of a Christian Nation

A couple weekends ago, I finished listening to Myth of a Christian Nation by Gregory A. Boyd. I need to mention right off the top of the bat that this book is written by an active minister, a believer, and the book is riddled with justifications of his position, not entirely based on reality, in history, but rather in the Bible. If you know a devout believer and want to encourage them to support separation of church and state, this might be the book for them.... but for the rest of us reality-based folks, it was torture listening to some pretty twisted logic. But, you know, the book was really aimed at me, so it's no wonder I wasn't that impressed.

Maybe we need to send a dozen copies to the local Mormon church? :)