Losing my religion

June 25, 2016 § 8 Comments

It began in Sunday School. They didn’t like my questions. It was uncomfortable when I asked how a God they’d said loved everyone could exclude people from heaven just because they hadn’t heard about Jesus. That didn’t seem fair.

At university I remember the displeasure on the famous Pentecostal bishop’s face when he put his hand on my forehead to ‘slay me in the spirit’ and I resisted the firm push he was giving me. Or when he told me to open my mouth and just babble anything that came into my head so I could learn to ‘speak in tongues’.

As a young adult I remember a friend leaving the church because week after week he had to sit in the pews and hear about how anyone who wasn’t Christian was doomed to a fiery future – and his wife was Jewish. It didn’t sit well with me; I could only imagine how he felt.

I was raised in the church. I started Sunday School at age two. I’ve been christened, confirmed and baptised by full immersion. I’ve been a Sunday School teacher, and a youth leader. I’ve underlined passages in my Bible, taken notes, sung in choirs and worship bands. I’ve read books and gone to talks and listened to contemporary Christian music. When I was much younger I was comfortable praying out loud and raising my hands in praise. I’ve even preached – once.

But it never felt real. I never even vaguely understood the notion of having a relationship with God. With God, for crying out loud. As if someone you believe created the universe, and who could smite you dead with a look (I do love the word ‘smite’) could be your best buddy.

For me, there’s always been a disconnect.

Because I do believe in a higher power. Mock me if you will, atheists, but when I look at the natural world I see far too much design, too much intricate detail, too much balancing of the ecosystem in a myriad ways to believe it could all happen by chance. For me the world is brimming with evidence of something supernatural. It’s too clever to be the result of a Big Bang. That’s just how I see it.

So I choose to believe in something divine. But the older I get, the less I find my religion plausible or comfortable or a good fit for me.

I still go to church. I find comfort in some of the old familiar hymns. Bowing my head in silent prayer helps me to centre myself and shut out the noise of the world for a while, and it feeds my spirit. But I’m just not buying the whole salvation thing anymore. I have too many questions.

Why create sentient beings and give them free will, and then punish them when they choose to exercise it? Why give them only one way to be in communion with God? What about the people who came before Jesus’s death and resurrection? What about the hermit in outer Albania who never has a missionary arrive at his door to give him the option of accepting Jesus? What about all of the really good people in the world who aren’t Christians, and all the really bad people who are? And that’s just for starters.

None of this feels to me like the work of a God who is love – as we are taught over and over.

This God. This God that Christians believe in – who breathes the world into being, who creates a universe overflowing with abundance and beauty and variety – decides that there is only one way to eternal life, and that’s through the barbaric human sacrifice of his own son? That’s all he could come up with? Is that really the God I want to believe in?

No. If I’m going to believe in a supernatural power; that power better be huge. So enormous that I can’t fathom it at all. And what are religions other than humankind’s attempts to define that which – if you choose to believe in it – ultimately defies definition?

Let’s not kid ourselves – belief in any deity or higher power or divine consciousness or god (you choose your term) – is ultimately a choice. You can’t prove there is a God, and you also can’t prove there isn’t. It is a choice, and it’s ultimately about faith. And so long as your faith isn’t hurting other people, I see no harm in it.

I, for one, have a need for some sort of spiritual practice in my life – possibly because I’ve been conditioned by the church, but the reason doesn’t matter. It comforts me to believe there’s a God in whatever form he/she/it takes. It makes me feel less alone in the world.

And now that I’ve got to this point, I’m not sure what form that spiritual practice will take. I’m not quite sure where I’ll go from here, only that I have a lot more questioning and seeking to do. I’ll probably still go to church – it has its place. I may take up meditation. I may read much broader spiritual literature. I don’t know. I just know that I need to set a new course.

I also know that I have more questions than answers. That I have a deeper need that Christianity just isn’t fulfilling. And that this post is likely to shake those close to me – my parents, for one – as well as other family members. And that my very many Christian friends will be deeply concerned and want to engage in earnest conversations with me and try to bring me back into the fold.

I would respectfully ask that you don’t.

I’m okay, really I am. I’m not having a midlife or existential crisis. I’m fine. I’m still talking to God. I’m just not so sure about your understanding of who God is, or mine, and I’m trying to figure it all out for myself.

If you want to pray for me, feel free. But don’t tell me about it. Don’t give me that well-meaning Christian concerned look. Don’t try to persuade me. Don’t tell me I’m going to hell.

This is my journey, and I will take it. And really, it has nothing to do with you.

 

 

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§ 8 Responses to Losing my religion

  • The Old Duck in Grahamstown says:

    A brilliant blog, Mandypants. You’ve written so much about how I feel, especially as the years go by.

    Liked by 1 person

  • charliesbird says:

    I love this, because you are voicing the words that live in my brain, that I battle to formulate. For me, being married to an atheist has challenged my ‘faith’ on so many levels. Thankfully a very open minded (tragically now late) Anglican priest (and I struggle to call him that, maybe rather an inspired spiritualist) allowed me to reach a place where I am comfortable with what I know. And I think it’s a maturation that occurs, away from the naivety of our youth, to a place where kindness and love are the only things that matter, where there is little black and white, far more grey, and no judgement, because I sure as hell don’t want to be judged. (and if I recall correctly, isn’t that one of those biblical instructions/0

    Liked by 1 person

  • MRJones says:

    Welcome to the world of wonder, where you are allowed to wonder at all the wonder of the universe. My story is similar. I was raised Catholic. Went to Catholic school and got in trouble for asking the same questions you mention. I let myself see to the far ends of the spectrum and imagine beyond. Go forth and find your truth. Peace and love. Maggy

    Liked by 1 person

  • Brave piece, Mandy!

    Like

  • Guy McLaren says:

    I went through what you are going through in my 20’s, I studied (Ok Read) everything I could lay my hands on in the 80’s to do with religion and spirituality, from the Kabbalah to some serious woo woo. I ended up not believing at all. To center myself a trip to the bush is needed where I can just sit.

    Liked by 1 person

  • In my own journey I then have to ask myself the consequences for what I have taught my children in a difficult age and stage. Some of it challenges whether we accept the consequences of our actions, accepting credit for our achievements, what unconditional love looks like when we tell them we will always love them, no matter what.

    1. God loves you unconditionally, but there are conditions to having a relationship with Him.
    2. God had a son, and then had his son killed so that he could have a relationship with the rest of us.
    3. God is unchanging, but we can pray to change things he has power over.
    4. God has the victory over life and death, but we still have suffering, loss, sickness and death.
    5. God loves everybody, but only some can come to the party.
    6. God knows what is going to happen, but lets bad things happen anyway.
    7. When something bad happens to us, God has allowed it (not that we could have caused it and must own it)
    8. When something good happens to us, God is blessing us (not that we simply deserve the success through hard work).
    9. If we feel desperate, we can pray, and although he hears every prayer, he doesn’t always answer them.

    But don’t worry kids, we love you no matter what and you must always know that – talk to us about anything.

    So what are we teaching our children about survival and ‘success’ in a difficult and post-Christian world?

    I think I feel a book coming on…

    Liked by 1 person

  • Another post that really resonated with me. My family was very active in the church and I followed in their footsteps. Loved the church and even started doing missionary work (I cringe when I look back at that time). I felt a very deep connection with God. I use to have lots of questions and at first I was told it was good to have questions until they eventually told me that sometimes you mustn’t question you must just accept.

    My first hint of doubt came when I went to my first large live concert and strangely the feeling I got watching that was the same feeling as my connection with God. That made me think that my connection with God was probably something else.

    So many things happened that made me question religion. Only after leaving school did I come into contact with friends of different religions or no religion. And seeing so many “bad” Christians and so many good Atheists. (You do get good and bad on both sides, but as a kid I never realised that). Going to Nan Hua temple I felt more at home than I ever did in our home church. The Bible…don’t get me started on that. And the biggest one for me was if we had a caring loving God that looks after everyone why should babies suffer.

    But I do believe there is some greater being that sometimes intervenes. There are too many “miracles” that just can’t be explained. My husband shares my feelings, but my parents are not aware of it. And my children are in a Christian school so that is still a bit of a problem as I haven’t decided what to tell them.

    Like

  • Di Atherton says:

    You so speak my language Mandy! Have a lovely quote which says religion is simply the vessel that holds our spirituality. Our spirituality is our personal relationship with the Divine. The vessel may change, what it holds does not. I cannot believe in an all-punishing, fear-inducing God nor can I “unpack” my spirituality for an hour or so on a Sunday. Our mainstream religions are the cause of much separation and dis-harmony in the world. If he was in a grave, Jesus would be turning in it, at the horrors being perpetuated in his name, at the condemnation of those who do not conform to someone else’s belief system. I have been called the Anti-Christ to my face!! Every moment of every day I remind myself of my connection to that higher power, and I try and live my life from a space of non-judgement, tolerance and compassion for others. Some of the so-called Christians should try it sometime! Wonderful post, thank you for your honesty.

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