a million tiny doubts

On the way home from work recently, I saw a bad accident near my neighborhood. Apparently a truck cut across 4 lanes of traffic and a median, hitting several oncoming cars and ending up in the woods. I’m not sure of the details. I try not to be one of those rubber-neckers that stop to stare at calamity.

It is always shocking to come across an accident like this, especially near home. I immediately felt sorrow and empathy for everyone involved in the accident. Which is probably what caused another shocking event in my own car as I drove by the accident.

I crossed myself and said a prayer.

It was completely reflexive. I didn’t even think about it. Before I knew what happened, my left hand shifted to the steering wheel and my right hand made the sign of the Cross as I thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

This is how I used to respond to calamity. Once upon a time, my first response to an accident was to say a prayer interceding for the victims and the emergency workers, and thanking that I was spared. However, I never could quite reconcile the idea that God’s grace somehow protected me while allowing those “other” people to sustain injury. How did that even make sense?

If God was good and loving, why did he let any of the people get hurt? Especially the innocent ones who weren’t drunk or lawless or texting, who were obeying the law and doing the right thing when some other idiot made bad choices and injured/killed them? And what made me so special that “but for the grace of God’s there go I”?

Growing up, whenever we were late for an event or when we were delayed in traffic, my mom always coped by suggesting that maybe the delay was God’s way of keeping us out of harms way. Rather than being impatient we should be thankful.  While this attitude isn’t bad in itself – we could all use more patience and less road rage – the idea that the creator of the universe took time out of his celestial schedule specifically to direct me out of harm’s way was baffling to me. I learned to accept and trust it, but I could never shake the secondary thought of “what about….?”

What about the people who were harmed in that hypothetical accident that we missed by the skin of our teeth? What about the good woman at church who never smoked but ended up with lung cancer? What about the children who had never harmed anyone but lived with terror daily just because they were born to the wrong people? What about the good people who couldn’t have children at all? What about the helpless women who were abused, raped, enslaved? How could I thank a deity for a good parking space or a great sale on Coach purses when there were people dying by the thousands from hunger and thirst, disease and oppression, or for no damned good reason at all? And how fair was it that, if they died in the wrong part of the world with the wrong beliefs, they were damned to hell for all eternity?

None of these thoughts, no incident in particular, caused my faith to leave me. There was no calamity that I can point to, no particular crux of justice or reason. But now I wonder if these life-long questions laid the groundwork without my awareness. Perhaps the rock on which I stood for 40+ years was simply overtaken by the erosion of a million tiny doubts.

erosion

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6 thoughts on “a million tiny doubts

  1. That certainly seems to be the theme with most of us who have deconverted. And something most of those who haven’t can’t wrap their minds around. It’s not usually just one big thing. It’s a million little things.

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  2. I can’t remember exactly which atheist blogged about this (maybe charles?), but he said his faith died by “death from a thousand cuts.” I was one of those “big moment” people who had a sudden collapse of faith, but for years leading up to that the questions in my mind were growing ever bigger.

    As for you making the sign of the cross, it’s nothing more than religious conditioning. This kind of thing runs deep and I’ve found it almost impossible to suppress. I don’t know if it will get better over time or not, but I struggle with the same thing and forever end up feeling like a fool over it. At least I’m not the only atheist still accidentally praying and crossing themselves!

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  3. Skirt, it will go away.

    Eight months after my deconversion my family almost got into a horrible accident. It was a really rainy day. We drove up an extremely curvy ramp unto a highway. The ramp was part pavement and part concrete. As we hit the concrete, the car spun around and faced oncoming traffic. It was the first time that I didn’t call out to God or say a prayer. All I was focused on was yelling at my husband (thinking he was careless) and watching out for our baby boys in the back. This realization didn’t occur to me for a day or two and when it dawned on me I was so relieved. It felt great to know that I was fully present in my reality. All of my husband’s military training came in to play in dealing with a stressful situation calmly. This new awareness gave us both peace.

    I prayed an awful lot, non stop, from about age seven or eight until my deconversion at 39. I think that this aspect wasn’t too hard for me to let go of because I was constantly let down in it during my faith. I recently came across some journal entries from those last couple of months of Christianity. All I read were cries, prayers and flat out begging Every. Single. Day.

    It’ll change at some point for you, it’s different for every deconvert though.

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  4. “There but for the grace of God go I.” That phrase makes me cringe. It comes across as very… pious? Is that the word? Like the person thinks that because they pray or cross themselves or collect crucifixes that God loves them and keeps them from harm.

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  5. I think it best I respond with a joke:

    Sitting on the side of a US highway waiting to catch speeding drivers, a State Police Officer noticed a car going along at 22 MPH.

    The officer thought to himself, “This driver is just as dangerous as a speeder!” So he turned on his lights and pulled the driver over.

    When he got to the car he noticed that there were five elderly ladies — two in the front seat and three in the back – eyes wide and white as ghosts. The driver, obviously confused, said to him, “Officer, I don’t understand, I was doing exactly the speed limit! What seems to be the problem?”

    “Ma’am,” the officer replied, “You weren’t speeding, but you should know that driving slower than the speed limit can also be a danger to other drivers.”

    “Slower than the speed limit?” she asked. No sir, I was doing the speed limit exactly… Twenty-Two miles an hour!” the woman said a bit proudly.

    The Officer tried not to smile and explained to her that “22” was the route number, not the speed limit. A bit embarrassed, the woman grinned and thanked the officer for pointing out her error.

    “But before I let you go, Ma’am, I have to ask… Is everyone in this car ok? These women seem a bit shaken and they haven’t said a single peep this whole time.”

    “Oh, don’t worry officer, they’ll be alright in a minute. We just got off Route 119.”

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