I only just discovered this site a couple of days ago, and have just now had time to register.
Which I did, obviously. After reading a number of others' posts, I was encouraged to post my experience, too.
Maybe someone else will be helped a tiny bit; maybe not.
I know _I_ will feel better!
I was raised in a fundamentalist faith, Assembly's of God, up until I was in late high school. I followed all the formulas, got 'saved' time and again, due to the constant pressure to reform, etc, etc.
This went on for literally years and years: from 1st grade on up.
At the same time, I was blessed with a huge curiosity about the world; and understanding parents who would feed that with science books, encyclopedias, and so on.
They purchased the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Britannica Junior when I was in second grade. I literally devoured those pages: I used to pick one of the Junior volumes for 'light, casual reading' at that time. Earthly Heaven! [to me].
And all that time, I was living somewhat of a lie: on one hand, I was a fundamentalist Christian; on the other I was reveling in science, scientific thought and scientific discovery.
But, my parents were more liberal that I realized; they never did see a conflict between science and Christian religion. Me, I just did not think about it much.
Then, late in my high school, my parents finally bailed out of Fundamentalism entirely, and joined a Methodist Church. They jumped into it with both feet; my father describes the experience as 'coming home'. My mother's reaction was more like 'finally - it's about time.' It seems that they never were fundamentalists at all; they were just raised in it like so many.
Me, I went along, too - my 'faith' was mostly that: conform to whatever Christians said that I was hanging out with.
Years and years went by. I went through a marriage: I prayed about the decision to marry my now ex, and thought I received a clear 'go ahead' from 'God'.
The marriage was a miserable failure; due to a variety of reasons - it really does take TWO to make a marriage work. It's sort of like rowing a boat and you each have one paddle. If only one of you is rowing, the boat will just spin in place ...
But, my 'prayers' were NOT answered - Christianity had failed me just when I needed it most.
This happened again and again; I just did not 'get it'.
But, I continued to study my first love: science, followed closely by technology and engineering.
I also began to branch out into other studies: philosophy and other religions besides Christianity. And, I studied Christian history, as I had been doing since high school.
And History; I finally discovered real History - not the watered down 'pablum' they feed you in public school. (I guess I missed the historical bits, when I was reading through those Britannicas ...)
It all came to a head, about 5 or 6 years ago.
I finally realized that I never really DID have the 'Faith' that is/was spoken of by so many people.
I realized, finally, after all these years, that I was not willing to 'believe' in something without FIRST having some sort of rational proof. The classic Missouri state's motto: "Show Me".
I re-read Descartes, and was taken by three of his quotes:
I think, therefore I am.
It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.
If you would be a real seeker after truth, you must at least once in your life doubt, as far as possible, all things.
-- René Descartes
I realized that I never did let go that last tiny bit of doubt; my whole life, I had always hung on to that shred of doubt: what if all this is not REAL?
I finally gave up trying to 'believe' in things that can not be proven - it is just not in me (if indeed it ever was) to make that 'leap of faith'.
It was as if I had finally lifted a veil. But, it did not come all at once. It took about a year to clear all the 'faith' cobwebs out of my head.
I think that it is mostly a matter of 'mental practice' - just as one may practice tennis or the piano to the point that playing either is nearly 'automatic' I think that you may practice purely mental things, too. And faith is just another mental activity, in my opinion.
As I began to cast off the trappings of 'faith think' I did have a sort of revelation: that I no longer felt guilty about things I did in the past.
I finally realized that the past is --- well, past. And that NO PERSON has the power to change the past; it's fixed forever.
So, why worry about it at all? Just resolve to do better next time, if there is a next time for something you felt that you did not do well.
But, no need to feel guilty about it at all.
And sin: I discovered that 'sin' is a myth. It's not real at all.
Oh, don't get me wrong, there is STILL Ethical Behavior (and conversely, Unethical Behavior). As an Ethical person, I strive to behave ethically in all things.
Not because I am afraid of some nebulous punishment; but because it Is The Right Thing To Do.
I have adopted as my personal system of Ethic, Enlightened Self Interest. It is a very complex idea that I picked up from my wide ranging reading.
But the short answer boils down to this: I treat my neighbor well, not because I am some sort of 'saint.' I treat him well, so that HE will treat ME well. It's in my OWN SELF INTEREST to treat well and honestly with my neighbors: most of them will treat me well in response. Society as a Whole simply Works Better if we all act Ethically to each other. (And EVERYONE has a 'self interest'.)
I'm happier now that I'm finally honest with myself. I no longer worry about things I cannot affect directly. I don't worry about 'praying for others' anymore: I will try to DO SOME GOOD for them instead - anonymously or not, doesn't matter - _I_ will know.
It's been a 45+ year journey to reach this place - and I look forward to What Happens Next.
As for the afterlife: I do not worry about THAT, either. Soon enough, I will KNOW what it is like (or not, if it's oblivion after all )
In the meantime, I intend to enjoy Life, the Universe and Everything.
Now, when asked what I believe in, I can honestly say: nothing. nothing at all. And smile about it.
I have found inspiration from the following, in no particular order:
Robert A Heinlein
Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Dr Susan Pagel
Dr Mouzon Biggs, Jr
and literally hundreds of authors who's names I have forgotten
My maternal Grandmother (who now KNOWS what the afterlife is like)
My paternal Grandfather (who also knows, only sooner)
My two best friends (who put up with me until now <heh>)
National Geographic magazine (of which I devoured as a kid; still read as an adult)
The Library (any library, any where)
Science Musems (any of'em)