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.