My experience with religion: Part 1

The road up and the road down are one and the same.

– Heraclitus

Continued from My Experience with Atheism

I have seen a few blogs where people describe their way from faith to atheism. Questioning one’s own beliefs is the only way to find truth. As I mentioned before, I grew up as an atheist, in an atheistic country (Soviet Union), in a family of atheists, with lots of atheist friends. For me, questioning my own beliefs means something quite opposite. I’d like to share my story of discovering religion for myself.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, attitude towards religion in the former Soviet republics changed. Religion became a symbol of national identity to Ukrainians and Russians and a symbol of “spiritual revival”. Religion became fashionable. Russian and Ukrainian presidents consider it politically necessary to be seen in church on Christmas and Easter.

Russian and Ukrainian presidents in church
Russian and Ukrainian presidents in church

I did not hold the Bible in my hands until I was about 20 years old. Bibles were not sold in Soviet book stores. I got one when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate and there were lots of missionaries distributing Bibles for free.

When I opened the Bible for the first time, I turned a few pages and my attention was caught by the book of Proverbs (it’s almost in the middle of the book). I would say, reading the book of Proverbs had an emotional impact on me. There was a feeling of reading timeless wisdom. The language is live and strong – very brief and to the point. It occurred to me that communists, perhaps, made a huge mistake discounting religion. They could make it work to their advantage big time, considering that religion already had a huge influence on the minds of Russian people.

Reading the Bible did not make me a believer. A few years before I married my wife, she had accepted Catholicism, driven by an emotional impulse. A few months after we got our marriage license from civil authorities, my wife went to confession. The priest told her that she lived in sin because she did not have a wedding. So, her relationship with me was still considered “extramarital” by the church. She told me her concerns. It wasn’t a huge deal for me, so we decided to have a church wedding. It turned out that I needed to be baptized before I could have a church wedding. OK. A few drops of water on my head wouldn’t hurt, I thought. Before I could be baptized and before we could have a wedding, we had to take classes regarding the meaning of those rituals. The premarital classes also had a few useful medical tips on detecting ovulation to use them whichever way we needed.

I don’t recall the baptism to be “a turning point in my life”. The wedding was more impressive. It took place in the central gothic cathedral of the city built in 13th century. The civil marriage ceremony left us both tired, annoyed, and disappointed. So, we decided to keep the church ceremony to ourselves. There were just us, the priest, the two witnesses, and God. They even had someone play Bach on the organ (the real one, with pipes under the ceiling).

This is the photo of the cathedral where my wife and I had a wedding.  It shows the back wall where the organ is located.  The acoustic is stunning.  The whole building, very crowded during the services, was just for the two of us.
This is a photo of the cathedral where my wife and I had a wedding. It shows the back wall where the organ is located. The acoustic is stunning. The whole building, very crowded during the services, was just for the two of us.

Having children made me understand how unpredictable life is. When things don’t go the way we like, it’s easy to be disappointed and frustrated. When people don’t behave the way we expect them to behave, it’s easy to get angry. It’s difficult to accept things and people as they are. Uncertainty can lead to fear and anxiety. Professionally, my job is to resolve quality issues of semiconductor circuits. I deal with consequences of design flaws, human errors, process defects, lack of due diligence, unrealistic promises resulting in unrealistic schedules resulting in cutting corners. Earlier in my professional and personal life, things were more difficult than I was prepared to handle. I noticed myself to become bitter, unhappy and blaming others for these difficulties.

Then I decided to give religion a try – in a practical way. I decided to change the way I think and treat people and circumstances. Instead of getting angry and frustrated at people, I started to think that I love them and think of the ways I could help them instead of feeling contempt. I made a conscious effort to avoid judging others and avoid worry and anxiety about things I cannot control. Results were interesting. First of all, I noticed a change in other people’s attitude towards me. They seemed to like me better, at home and at work. Second, I believe I became happier although, there was no objective change in any situation. Perhaps, the change of my attitude made people more likely to listen to me which, in turn, lead to change in their attitude towards matters of quality.

I don’t see anything supernatural in my experience. An interesting conclusion that faith does not work without practice. “Loving your neighbor” needs to show itself in practical actions and words rather than an abstract declarations. Still, “not worrying about tomorrow” needs some more work. It implies that “God will take care of tomorrow”. This is an interesting belief which can be interpreted as carelessness. Things are known to go sometimes very badly. There are all kinds of evils and disasters in the world. Which leads to a bigger question: “is it reasonable to believe in God?”

More on my experience with religion next time.

14 thoughts on “My experience with religion: Part 1

  1. I am following your story, agrudzinsky, with fascination, and I’m looking forward to the rest of it, but I would like to add that one really doesn’t need religion, to treat others as we would like to be treated. Confucious advised us to do that in 300 BCE, and there were others yet before him, who did so. I’d like to think I treat people kindly, and I haven’t been religious since I was twelve.

    • I’m not saying that one needs religion to treat people nicely. I don’t think I was a bad person when I thought of myself as an atheist and, perhaps, I am not much better now than I was before. Of course, Jesus did not invent the Golden Rule. I don’t mean my story to be a proof of anything supernatural. I’m just sharing my experience.

      There are many good rules to live by and most people know them. But few people follow them. Some rules sound like trivial buzz-phrases, but they are very difficult to internalize and truly follow. E.g. Matthew 18:21 recommends to forgive a brother who keeps sinning against you seventy times seven times. Practically, it means not to hold grudges against people at all. Can you say that you never get angry or annoyed at anyone? Do you honk at people who cut you in traffic? Do you even consider it to be unforgiving?

      Take the story of the Prodigal Son. Who do you identify with? Do you think the father was right forgiving his younger son? Was it a good decision for a parent? Or was it a bad message that would encourage his son to do it again? And what about the older brother? Was he right to be angry and jealous about what father did? Or was he being selfish? Now, how much time do atheists spend thinking about such questions? I’m not saying that all believers think about them. Also, these moral questions can be found in different forms in the world literature for those who reads it. But, seriously, how many people read Confucius or Aristotle compared to the Bible? I’m just saying that religion did make me think of some subtle sides of human nature and understand myself and others a little better, among other things.

      • “Do you think the father was right forgiving his younger son? Was it a good decision for a parent?”

        You have to admit, there was some enabling going on.

        I’m not arguing with you or debating in any sense, obviously there is some accumulated wisdom in the Bible, but there’s a lot of bad advice in there as well, stoning disrespectful children is only one case in point – it’s human. It’s only when people begin attaching the supernatural to it, that I tend to get a bit uneasy.

        It’s also true that more people are likely to read the Bible, certainly, than Confucius or any of the other great philosophers, but sadly, they rarely read it through, they merely cherry-pick.

        Again, I’m fascinated with your travelogue, and look forward to each installment. It’s not my intention to criticize.

          • Ah, yes, I recall that passage from Kings quite clearly, and with revulsion.

            “It’s a fairly good image of humanity, with all the ugliness without exception.”

            If you can look past the belief of some, that it’s 100% true and literal, it’s the longest-running history of a people that we have, actually dating back about a thousand years, when the Hebrews first developed the written word. Prior to 1000 BCE, it was all legend and word-of-mouth stories, and we both know how those are subject to modification by each teller of the tales.

            Unfortunately, we also have writers with an agenda, such as the Jewish priests in captivity in Babylon, who rewrote certain parts of the OT, and discarded others, hoping to gain for themselves a greater piece of the pie.

          • Rewriting history with an agenda is very common, even today. Coming from the Soviet Union, I have seen it done two or three times in my lifetime. I, actually, like the fact that the Bible has not changed in 2,000 years. I think, these passages should stay there forever, for everyone to see and serve as a reminder of who we are and where we come from.

          • I know what you mean, the entire story about George Washington, as a child, chopping down his father’s cherry tree and admitting having done it, was fabricated by a minister named, Weems, to encourage little children to tell the truth.

          • Yep. You read my post about the Soviet Union. Lenin with the log is just one such story. There were plenty of stories about Lenin and his imaginary encounters with children or working people.

            But this is fairly benign. In Western Ukraine, where I grew up, in 1940-s, there was a nationalist movement against Soviets. Soviet propaganda portrayed them as traitors and murderers. Now they are treated as national heroes. There are monuments and streets named in their memory. On the other hand, monuments to Lenin who was, virtually, sanctified by Soviets, are demolished and vandalized.

            When I was in the Soviet Army, I gave an oath of allegiance to the red flag of the Soviet Union. After the SU disintegrated (I was a student), there were ceremonies held at the university for all reserve servicemen to give an oath of allegiance to the flag of Ukraine. I said “Thanks, but I already gave one.”

            After watching all these idols raising and falling and others erected in their place, the second commandment which forbids idolatry, makes a lot of sense to me. Sometimes it feels like we still live in times described in Chronicles.

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