My Winding Spiritual Path 5: Now

I had been a Catholic, then as I read the bible and studied science I began to lean toward Deism. So now I'm in my mid 30's. After inundating myself with Atheist videos and podcasts, I was pretty sure I was an Atheist... thought I rarely referred to myself as such and I still cowardly kept this information from almost everyone but my wife.

After the birth of our Son I dug deeper and began searching for something to frame my life with. This is when I found the philosophy of Stoicism. Stoicism was based on reason, contained a kind of spirituality and it was enlightening, engaging and challenging. After reading several of the texts I knew that this philosophy could help me. I also know myself. I am prone to get lazy an give up on challenging projects so, I decided to do a podcast. I felt that by talking about Stoicism on a regular basis, it would force me to stay engaged with it.

I also realized that I was a lot more comfortable with the Stoic concept of god and slowly I started giving Deity another try. I felt a deep yearning for community, and the need to improve myself, but I don't know if the attempt to believe in deity was real or an attempt to fit in. Living in the South and not being in a church can be quite isolating. My Atheism slowly morphed into a Pandeistic view.

Then, as my 40th birthday loomed 6 months ahead, I did something drastic, possibly approaching the level of midlife crisis. Living hundreds of miles away from my family and most of my friends, I was feeling depressed and needed community. Many of the close friends I had made here in Arkansas had since taken jobs elsewhere and moved away. I also was desperately seeking some form of spirituality and ritual (the one part of mass that I still miss) of the Catholic church. As it turns out, one of my Arkansas friends is a Freemason. Masons in Arkansas require a belief in a supreme being and in the immortality of the soul. Based on my meandering spiritual past, I had to really dig deep and think about that before joining. After much reflection I felt that I was qualified to petition the lodge.

The day I became a Master Mason

I went through the three degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, Master Mason), and found a community of men to break bread with and share a ritual or two with at least once a month. Not only that, but I was good at learning the rituals. But once the challenge of learning the material for the three degrees was over and I began to study the lessons of Masonry (many are similar to Stoicism and a lot are based on the Old Testament) and hanging out with my new Brothers. I realized that that my faith was nowhere near as deep as those around me, almost everyone in the lodge was conservative Christian. Meanwhile, it was clear to me that mine was a forced faith driven by insecurity and a want to fit in. It was unsustainable.

I really wanted to stay in the lodge. I had come to like the company of several members especially my mentor. With my knack of learning the ritual, he thought I would be his replacement. He is a strong man with strong convictions and a veteran of more than one war. I learned not only about Freemasonry from him but he gave advice about life, investing, raising kids etc. This was exactly the sort of thing I had been looking for. A community where people help each other.

I deiced to try explore faith further so I could stay a Mason. I began to read more about religious views, trying to find my path to keeping faith, leading , my wife and to join a church, the Unitarian Universalists. This church was like a breath of fresh air. They have no dogma that must be accepted, they are open to all. The pews are full of ex Catholics, atheists, spiritualists of different flavors and lots of college professors. I realized quickly that I fit in more at church than at lodge.

I knew something was wrong as I felt "unaligned" like I was lying to myself. It was time to figure this out to the best of my ability. What am I? What do I truly believe? Then comes March of 2020 and the pandemic hits. This gave me time... too much time to live in my head and reflect. I had to find an answer, I felt that while I liked Masonry, my old doubts were creeping back in. In the back of my mind, Stoicism began to remind me that my life was not aligned to reality.

Reading books by religious naturalists like “When God is Gone Everything is Holy” by Chet Raymo, "Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time: by Marcus Borg, “A Reluctant Pantheism” by Walt McLaughlin, The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough, and “Standing in the Light” by Sharman Apt Russell starting to mold my thinking a bit. The lessons of Freemasonry and Stoicism taught me to work on my character, to shed the superfluous and be who I truly am. Unfortunately this meant that in less than a year of membership I discovered that I could not truly remain a member, I had been trying so hard to will a personal God and a soul into existence that I was exhausted.

I have had serious anxiety and depression issues the last few months as I wrestled with what to do about Masonry. I was good at it, I had a community. But I know that while the past me could have belonged there, the current me does not. This was my old self's last stand.

A week ago,I mailed out a letter to have myself expelled myself from Freemasonry. The anxiety and cognitive dissonance that had been haunting me the last few months melted away when I signed the letter. I thought about staying a Mason to see if my belief in an afterlife or of a personal God (both are necessary for membership) can come back to me, but I know they won't, when it comes to these questions I can only be agnostic. I'm done bending who I am to fit into this world. But the hardest thing that I had to do is tell my mentor and tell him that I can't stay a Mason, I have failed him.

I hate to have changed my positions on faith so much through my life. I am often jealous of people like my brother who have a single unchanging solid conviction (Catholicism in his case). My own beliefs have been hard won, tentative and liable to change.

Using the tools of self reflection offered by Stoicism I have learned a lot about myself in the last 4 months. I know that in the future, I must be careful, I can rationalize almost anything, at least for a while and a desire to fit it could cause me to stain my character. I have learned that one of my strongest character traits is a desire to believe in what is true. This is not a sin. This is not a fault. My winding path has not been a waste, it has been an experiment, and I have arrived at an answer. Like any scientific answer, it is tentative and may change with further evidence, but that is the closest thing to "truth" a human can come. I am a Stoic, an "Catholic Agnostic", and a Religious Naturalist / Naturalistic Pantheist. More importantly I am a father, a husband And a science educator.

I am embarrassed about how inconsistent this journey has been, how much of a hypocrite and coward I can be. And surprised how much I can bend beliefs to try to fit in. But I am happy that my mind does not allow this self deception to last. I even took the first step to admit my views to my very Catholic family. Though I unfortunately did it in a juvenile and crude way (Unbecoming of a good Stoic). I hope that these blog posts will help them to better understand my thoughts.

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