Regrets and Sliding Doors

As Gwyneth Paltrow said in Sliding Doors:

If I had just caught that bloody train it would never have happened

I often find myself thinking in similar ways, thinking about how things could have been, and wishing this or that had happened differently. Losing my faith after pretty much a lifetime of believing has that effect. Not so much because I used to lean on God as a support I no longer have, but because I’ve lived my life according to beliefs that I’ve now discarded, and that change sends tiny ripples across my entire history, affecting how I relate to it and how I feel about it.

There are obvious things I’d like to have done differently – I wish I’d got out and done something more interesting than wasting my youth in a tedious, stuffy rural church; I wish I’d spent more time studying, instead of getting deeply involved with the Christian Union at university; I wish I’d avoided getting sucked into beliefs that were and are painful and difficult to escape from.

But conversely, however much I wish it had never happened, I can’t leave it behind. I have a huge number of friends from these sources, and as far as I’m concerned, they remain my friends, even if I think they’re mistaken about the thing that initially brought us together. And for all my regrets, wishing things had been different won’t change anything – I’ve still spent the Sundays of my life in church, rather than playing football or cricket. I still have to live with the degree I know should have been better – would have been better – if only I’d spent less time cultivating a belief I now consider deluded.

Then there are the things that tear me in half. I have some very happy memories which are now slightly tarnished by association with beliefs I find unsettling or damaging. And I’ll be honest – it’s very hard not to look back wistfully at the sexual encounters I could have had over the years, had things been different. But at the same time, I don’t know whether I’d want to change anything. Because, of course, I met my lovely wife through these parts of my life, and I can’t imagine what life would have been like without her. I can’t even seriously imagine wanting to be with anyone else, even though her faith is one of the scariest barriers to me potentially coming out as an atheist.

Finally, there are the things that have happened recently, which I feel uncomfortable about. I’m content – if not exactly happy – for my boys to be christened and brought up within the church, because there’s a tension between my beliefs and my wife’s, there’s a strong cultural element involved, and we’ve settled in a pretty sane, liberalish church. Something has to give where we have different views, and I can provide my own correction to any excesses. But given a completely free choice, I’d rather they had the freedom I would have wanted for myself, and were spared the indoctrination.

That’s both the pain and the joy of where I am right now. There’s so much I’d like to have done differently, but if I had, I wouldn’t be where I am, I wouldn’t have my wife and children, and I possibly wouldn’t even be recognisably the same person. The concept behind Sliding Doors, that one event can have far-reaching consequences through your whole life, makes it very hard to make peace with the interwoven “good” and “bad” aspects of my past.

Of course, it’s possible to imagine a potential alternative life, even a much better one, but I’m not sure if I want to, as it would be no more than fantasy, and would hardly help me to deal with the current situation. I somehow have to come to view my past as (to paraphrase Homer Simpson) the cause of, and solution to, all of my problems.

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

8 responses to “Regrets and Sliding Doors”

  1. 2012andallthat says :

    Thanks for sharing these deeply personal feelings. It is never easy realising that you are different from the people surrounding you.

  2. thebiblereader says :

    So how did coming out affect your marriage, wife, and raising your boys?

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Well, I’m not actually out, and I’m not sure how it would change things. I’ve been describing myself as a Christian Agnostic for a fair while, without making a big deal of it, which allows me to be pretty much true to myself without scaring the horses too much – I can change the emphasis for different audiences.

      My wife knows I’m thinking a lot about my beliefs, but we haven’t really discussed it, by a sort of mutual agreement. She understands that this blog is my personal space for working through things, and stays well clear, because we had some very difficult and emotional conversations a few years ago when I started trying on these ideas for size.

      So coming out (or not) and the aftermath is likely to be a big issue for me at some point.

  3. thebiblereader says :

    So do you still go to church? Does family or friends know? How do people react or treat you when the topic or discussion comes up about you being agnoic. Or do simply not tell anyone?

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I’m attending church, partly out of habit, partly because I still get something out of it (even if it’s only friendship), and partly because if I stopped it would effectively make a statement that I don’t think I’m ready to make. I don’t think I’d be going if I hadn’t previously, but to stop now would be awkward.

      Same goes for family – my beliefs have been shifting for a good few years, but you don’t generally make a big deal of telling everyone that you’re slightly more liberal or slightly less of a realist than you used to be. The question is when there’s anything worth mentioning. For a while, I’ve been describing myself as a Christian Agnostic to anyone who asked, but labels don’t tend to crop up as a topic of conversation.

      But even the vagueness of that label doesn’t really do justice to where I am right now, which has got to the point where “coming out” is seriously on the cards. In fact, that’s sort of why I started on this blog. I want to either discover that I do believe something, or satisfy myself that I really don’t, and act accordingly. But it could get messy if I become an atheist, so I want to be really sure of myself first.

  4. thebiblereader says :

    Maybe you should do a post on Christian Atheism vs. New Atheism, cause that what it seems you are internally fighting.

    So do you still consider the stance of agnostic, or are you leaning more towards atheism?

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I’m planning a post along those lines, but I don’t think it’s a big deal for me, or at least it’s one of many issues I’m trying to work through. I might find out more when I start to write about it, though.

      I’m definitely agnostic, or ignostic to be more precise, as I think the question needs to be better defined before I can even consider an answer. But I certainly feel that I’m inching further towards the atheist end of the spectrum.

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