In this article I will share with you some thoughts on what actually happened to my view of life when I left my former religion behind.
World View changes
I think the first thing that changed for me was the restructuring of my world view. I had to reassemble everything in my mind and figure out how it all fit together. I tend to think we all probably carry in our head some notion of what the world is and where we fit within it. It's all about contextualising everything and for me the process is usually fairly automatic. But in this case there were conflicts and it took some mental shifts to discover a new perspective that made sense of everything.
One perhaps surprising thing that changed for me was that I felt a much stronger connection with other people and with humanity as a whole after leaving the religion. I suspect it was because within the religion I was constantly taught that I was different, separate, and not a part of "the world". Now with that piece of dogma removed, I could finally see myself as I really am, a human, just like everybody else. I think this realisation that I am part of humanity and not separate from it, formed the basis of most of the changes in my worldview. This was the first piece of "meaning" that began to take hold in this new outlook. It is not that people were not meaningful to me before. They were, or at least the Christadelphian ones were. But now my connections and relationships with non-Christadelphians took on a whole new meaning as I now viewed them all as equals, with their own stories and struggles, and far more relatable than when they were all just part of "the world".
I went from being a member of a group of hundreds or thousands of people, to being a member of a group of billions of people. This dramatic widening of perspective became a recurring theme in so many areas of my life. While for some this might make them feel less significant, for me it really grounded me and provided a solid basis for my interactions with other people. I wasn't interacting with "the world" or with people "from outside". I was interacting with my peers, and in a deeper sense, my family. I could see our shared humanity, and I felt empathy and profound connection. I am human. These are my people. All of them.
We ARE nature
This re-framing of perspective continued with how I viewed the planet as well, and all of nature within it. Humans are not separate from nature. We are part of it. Some may be concerned that this might devalue us, but I think it only enriches our value. We are not mere servants designated to tend to the garden of Eden. We are part of the garden. We are made of the same ingredients and we grow up and live alongside and amongst it. Our genes share the same language, and we are quite literally made of the stuff of our planet. And that stuff, the molecules and raw materials, as science has discovered, was formed in the supernova explosions of dying stars. The universe is as poetic as it is beautiful and scary. It is our home, and it also gave birth to us.
We are still learning
This perspective helps to paint a picture of who we are and how we relate to everything around us. But it doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't dictate who we should be, or how we should view ourselves and each other. There are many details left for us to figure out, and human history is full of examples of our triumphs and failures along that path.
Purpose is personal and subjective
Many people have searched for some definitive purpose "out there" either in the sky or in ancient writings and many claim to have found it, though they often disagree with each other. And some have then tried to force that purpose on others, often going so far as to kill (or these days, excommunicate) those who resist. Having read much about the perspectives of those from other religions, the religion I grew up in no longer feels special. No doubt it was unique in some specific things but when viewed from afar it was just one among many competing religions, all making similar judgements and requiring similar behaviours. And like many other religions, they forgot how to be human. Their religious texts became a weapon used to beat other people with, and a tool for division instead of harmony.
The things that matter
Life after the Christadelphians feels much more like an intentional celebration of life in all of its joys and sadnesses. Rather than get bogged down trying to follow the tenets of a collection of iron-age writings, I have shifted to trying to invest in the people in my life as well as exploring my hobbies and interests. I know that my life is finite, which makes it all the more meaningful and valuable to me. There will be no "after" in which to enjoy all of these things, and only finite time available now, so I need to prioritise the things that will prove most meaningful, and things that will enrich my life and its experiences. It's not that I chose for life to be finite. I believe everyone's life is finite, even Christadelphians. I simply accept this fact, as scary and unsettling as it can sometimes be.
Sometimes prioritising what matters means choosing not to engage in arguments or disputes in order to maximise the success of some valued relationships. Sometimes it means working hard in order to achieve more at work, or in developing personal skills or hobbies. And sometimes it means taking the time to really notice my surroundings, practice mindfulness, and "be here now". To be able to go for a nice walk and tell myself I have no deadlines and nowhere I need to be, and just absorb the experience, is one of my favourite luxuries.
In all of this, I often find myself in a state of wonder and awe. Life can be cruel and stressful one day, and it can be warm and exciting another day. But in everything there is experience and consciousness, and that feels precious to me. I am someone who feels emotion very strongly, and I am amazed at the depth and character of human emotions. One of the most powerful lessons I have learned is the ability to feel and experience emotions without needing to act on them. This is a truly powerful thing and something I highly recommend. Emotions are our natural, involuntary response to various internal and external stimuli. Learning how to "observe" negative emotions while letting them pass through, has been quite transformative for my mental health.
The most meaningful things in my life are firstly my family and friends, and secondly the deep connection I feel with nature and the universe. I love learning about deep space, and the physics of the cosmos. I love the grand narratives that science tells us about the origins of our universe, the possibilities of a multiverse beyond, the rise of humanity from such humble beginnings, and the marvels of human art, music, design, engineering, and exploration.
For all of our faults and weaknesses, we are a remarkable species, related to so many other remarkable life forms on this wonderful planet in our beautiful solar system.
I love the idea that the universe is filled with stories, and in particular the vast story of humanity with all of its highs and lows, twists and turns, right down to the tiny details of every experience of every day. And I am one of the lucky few to have been granted a pen, to write my own chapter.
It's just a short page or two, and though I will no doubt wish for a little more time, when I consider the wonder of human existence in this unimaginably vast spacetime, it is enough for me.