“For if nothingness be the center of the world, then the world, both in its essence and in every detail, is incoherent, it fails to hold together, it is absurd.”-Fr. Seraphim Rose
It was like having your heart literally ripped from your chest. Sort of like that scene in Indiana Jones when the Thuggee High Priest went to work on that guy strapped to that cage thingy. Except this was no movie, and it wasn’t a strangely dressed fanatic doing the “ripping.” It was a realization that was to blame, and I came to find that this realization could inflict just as much, if not more, pain and suffering upon a man than any physical violence.
I came to the sober understanding that if God truly did not exist, then the meaning and depth of human experience I so desperately sought my entire life, was nothing more than…well…nothing. Literally nothing. Non-existent, like I would eventually be, and the thought of that was utterly terrifying. Not so much that I wouldn’t “go to heaven when I die,” but that my life, and yours, are without aim or purpose, and the most extreme desire in all of us, the desire for transcendent meaning, was a vacuous cosmic prank, and humanity was the butt of the joke. I would venture to say that the day I utterly lost my faith, or what I thought was faith, was one of the most painfully memorable days of my life. Before a structure is rebuilt, the Builder must destroy the old, dilapidated, crumbling lean-to that is there, and even sometimes completely demolish even the foundation. It is a dirty, sometimes painful process, but if one can just bear the disorder, mess, and chaos, a firm foundation can finally be found, and a house not built on sand will slowly begin to take shape. The following account of my journey to Orthodox Christianity is the story of how God allowed my foundation of sand to be decimated by the winds of unbelief, and how He has graciously begun the reconstruction process. No, the new house is nowhere near complete, and I venture to say it won’t be any time soon, but board by board, nail by nail, and brick by brick, I will struggle to endure, with the instruction of the Master Builder to guide me. I have dramatically condensed my “spiritual journey” down to a few sentences, and I hope it will encourage others who doubt.
I wasn’t raised in an explicitly Christian home, though I was Baptized Roman Catholic, and we did attend Mass at a Roman Catholic church from time to time. I had also gone to Catholic school for a few years, but none of it really had any significant effect on me. Around the age of 14, I became friends with a kid named Jesse, and he invited me to his youth group. I struggled to fit in during middle school and high school, so when I found a group of kids that would actually be nice to me, I was all in. I still didn’t really get all the Jesus stuff, or why the people there would jump around and get all emotional when the songs came on, but nevertheless, I was just excited to finally have some friends, regardless of the ideological eccentricities.
That summer I attended a week-long bible camp. On the first night there, during chapel, I had a profound religious experience. I “got saved.” I asked Jesus into my heart, and I had a very deep emotional encounter with God. I literally saw the world differently after that day. Now I’m not going to dissect what happened, or try to explain away the experience I had. Was I the victim of some sort of well-intentioned, albeit misguided manipulative emotionalism? Perhaps. There is much to criticize about charismatic Evangelical Christianity, and there are many strange goings on within those churches that are worthy of harsh rebuke. Nevertheless, without those people, that church, and that bible camp, I doubt I would have ever given Christianity a fair shake, so to that end, I am grateful. I continued attending church, reading my bible, and enthusiastically diving headlong into the vast, theologically diverse landscape of Western Protestantism for several years, and it was a time of naive, though fulfilling spiritual experience.
At 18, I joined the Army, and was stationed in Germany. There I met another soldier who was a professed “Witch.” He was into all sorts of various occult practices, but focused mostly on Wicca. I was fascinated. We became quick friends, and he introduced me to various occult books, Tarot, Wicca, Enochian Magick, Chaos Magick, and….Aleister Crowley. I found Crowley to be extremely interesting, though I struggled to really connect with his writings, or understand them for that matter. Eventually, I abandoned all the mystical New Age navel-gazing, and dove headlong into the wild world of Black Metal, the Occult, and eventually LaVeyan Satanism. I poured over the Satanic Bible, and I really fell in love with Anton LaVey, or at least the persona he projected through his writings. It was a total 180, and though I tried desperately to despise God, and Jesus Christ, I always had a deep-seated feeling that He was holding on to the back of my collar as I ran full speed toward the other team’s goalpost. I never did experience any strange things, or creepy, demonic encounters due to my esoteric dabbling, and I now believe that I was shielded from any consequences by, what I now know are the “bodiless powers”.
I inevitably finished my time in the service, and went home. I slowly warmed up to Christianity again, and began attending church. I’m not sure why honestly. I just lost interest in the Occult, as I never had more than an immature fascination, and I was still struggling to find an identity at that time. Death/Black Metal and misanthropic anthropological pessimism sort of go hand in hand, and I could be as cynical as I want, and be admired for my negativity. The years after my “delayed rebellion”, were a slow journey that would lead me directly through the jungle of postmodern theological revisionism, to traditional Protestantism. From Charismatic Pentecostalism, back to Emergent hipster “house churches.” From Dispensationalism and the wild world of Reformed Theology(s), to finally a very well known, and controversial mega-church in Seattle, Washington. That church, and my (in)famous pastor, would change my views on many things, instill in me a profound interest in church history, and also cause me to inevitably lose faith in God altogether.
Through study, and forcing myself to confront old objections I had glossed over in my mind, the Christianity I had embraced began to crumble, and deep cracks began to appear in my faith. I began to see profound inconsistencies in what I believed about reality, as well as my lifestyle. I was, and still am to some degree, full of contradictions, and coupled with the many philosophical challenges, the inability to acquire anything more than intellectual assent to a list of religious ideas was what inevitably drove me to a reluctant atheism. No, I did not joyfully jump on to the bandwagon of in vogue “New Atheism”, as all I saw eminating from that corner of the culture were shallow, “old” ideas and quasi-religious fundamentalism that was effectively used to sell books, and enshrine the professional skeptics in a shroud of gleeful celebrity. No thank you. I was, in fact, very unhappy about my descent into unbelief, and the brutal reality of the non existence of God was felt so deeply that the experience forced me to take time off work. I had had what I later learned was an existential crisis, and it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my entire life. It was truly a violent storm, and one that made waste to my shoddy house of Christian worldviews that I had built on the shifting sands of Protestant apologetics and DIY “spirituality”. My house was demolished, and though it was incredibly painful, terrifying, and nauseatingly bleak, that wreckless, raging, furious hurricane of doubt was also the single most blessed experience I have ever had. It was a grace.