Before anyone reads any further, please know if you are a person of faith, I’m likely to say things you will disagree with and perhaps even make you angry. But understand it is in no way meant to attack you, because this is my story, not yours. It’s my journey, not yours. If you’re interested in learning about who I am and who I have become, please continue…
The last decade has brought me very far in my journey has a human. I’ve gone through all the high and lows that one can experience, other than maybe moving to another home. I am far from the same person I was in 2010 in many ways. One of the largest, if not most personal and private, is my slow and steady exploration beyond religion and my (former) Christian foundation.
For decades and decades and decades I dutifully sought answers to reaffirm and bolster my beliefs. To fortify my faith. I went to church every Sunday. I (tried) to read the Bible. I clumsily prayed. I devoured books expanding my theological and historical understanding of Christian foundations. But more than anything else, I consistently tried to convince myself God did not hate me (all the times I heard that God hated sinners, and that I was a sinner not worthy of his love, and whatever “but” followed in the form of forgiveness or blood sacrifices or whatever, never ever washed away my nearly life-long cultivated self-loathing that I was and would never be worthy of Gods love, let alone another human, and certainly never from myself). Any doubt I felt was used as a bludgeon to manifest more devotion, not a tool to explore deeper truth.
As a rule follower, and honestly someone terrified of making anyone unhappy, mixed with a hint of the desire to be a true and faithful believer, I unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) feared what wrath would reign down on me if I dared wandered outside the kingdom. Hell. Damnation. Separation from an all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal super being. Hardships. Destitution. Complete ruin. The root of all sin came about because Adam and Eve sought knowledge. Why should I or anyone within Christianity seek any honest truth?
I was told that doubt was welcome. The disciples all had doubt, and Jesus still loved them. That searching for the truth was necessarily. But underlining that claim was the unspoken warning that any doubt, that any search was only worthwhile as long as it didn’t combat what one already believed. All truth naturally leads back to Jesus. Back to faith. All doubts and searching take you to where you already stand. It wasn’t a matter if such searching or exploration reinforced faith and compelled deeper adoration, it was a matter of when. And if that didn’t happen, then it wasn’t doubt it was apostasy and unpardonable.
I felt like a fraud because I had no passion or connection to anything I heard or read. Life was grueling – a constant examination of my shortcomings and flaws that God observed and marked as to why I would not receive His love and care and provisions. I didn’t really read the Bible. I pretended. I told people I did. But I didn’t. And I prayed, not because I really thought God would change anything, especially for me (in my experience He didn’t, but that was always because He had bigger plans or maybe I didn’t have enough faith or there was larger purpose). I prayed because I desperately wanted someone to hear me.
The cycle of fear and faith worn on me for decades. Sundays were my least favorite day of the week since I can remember. I hated church. I’m not a social person. I just wanted to leave so I could go home and draw or play with my Star Wars figures or build something with my LEGOs. Hell, I even preferred going to my grandmothers house in Media PA to eat steamed lima beans and play in her creepy basement where I was certain a ghost wished to pull me into eternal torture. I couldn’t stand singing hymns, or being forced to happily greet someone sitting next to me, or chatting with strangers who were unreasonably “joyous” about life, after sitting through what is essentially a dull lecture on the same handful of topics thousands of times. None of it was comfortable or natural or remotely a positive experience for me, no matter the churches and denominations I attended.
I have always been a fairly skeptical person. But skepticism doesn’t always mean you’re mistrustful of the most equitable things. My personal skepticism carefully towed the line of healthy inquisitiveness and outright rejection. I was so afraid of being found out, or being on the outside, or of detaching from the only community and identity I knew from birth, that I thought it was the only option. One in which was believing in God and being forgiven, which gave life meaning and purpose, and then when I died I’d go to heaven to spend it with God eternally. The other option was not believing in God, which meant a life of hatred and hardship, of emptiness and pointlessness, only to die and spend forever in nightmarish torture and pain and isolation and fear in hell.
For years I was unhappy, and hated myself for my lack of faith. I always thought that despite praying for God to forgive me and to save me, that I must have done something wrong because I never truly felt His presence or love. I was a continual disappoint to God and myself. I passively let life happen to me, as I awaited some sort of signs and direction from this invisible, unknowable, loving, yet sometimes angry and inactive space being. I was far too afraid of the alternatives to move in any direction other than the one I always already heading. I thought “Sure, it might be bad now, but just wait till you die and go to heaven and everything will be great, despite it possibly being an eternity spent doing the things you hate most about church forever!” I really wanted die just so I could know what it might be like or if it was even real.
The cracks spread and spread and couldn’t be contained. My parents got divorced. My father was unfaithful, and the reactions to his actions were far from loving or forgiving or accepting, despite is attempts to seek forgiveness. I saw no Christ in these “Christian” reactions. But the act of accepting my father’s apologies, of showing any sort of forgiveness or mercy, in just wanting to maintain a relationship with my own Dad, threw me into some equally unforgivable position of ridicule. By trying to act Christlike was treated like a heathen.
So then we just stopped going to church. I stopped caring about reading the Bible, and only reading books related to Christianity. I stopped believing that there was or should even be a hell. The definition of what was and wasn’t a sin began to seem arbitrary, conceited, privileged, myopic and cruel. The thought of a literal heaven became ludicrous. And the idea of who God was or is or should be and how others defined and confined and refined Him was unappealing and growingly appalling.
I started to read books and articles, and listened to podcasts that were the antithesis of everything I once consumed. Atheists and mystics and agnostics and Buddhists and scientists started to say things that made sense and were not bound by the rules and fears and threats of my past. And oddly enough, I began to like and value myself, and the world around me became more miraculous and beautiful and purposeful. I no longer was depending on some future rescue mission to save humanity from its evils. No longer waiting on some unattainable idea of perfection, some magical transformation that would make all problems of the world disappear (as long as I believed things in a specific way). I began to care far more than I ever had before about others, in their stories, plights and journeys, the struggle of everyday survival, of being treated like a human, with rights and needs, not anchored to a system of this for that. I had true compassion because I wasn’t reliant upon a formula or a recipe or a checklist to a possible future solution, but started to see that here on earth, in the present, as the only chance to bring heaven to others.
Once I stopped fearing the actual search for answers to my nagging questions, my shackled inquisitiveness, and wandering through the fence of religion, did I realize the fence wasn’t for protection or empowerment or freedom, but for controlled truth and bound thought. My former beliefs did not want me to seek fresh answers, or develop ripe ideas, or embark on fruitful exploration. My old beliefs sought to make me more concerned with staying in the garden, in being isolated and kept and observed inside a fence of absolutes.
I have no idea if God is real, or if Jesus was an actual person, let alone the son of God. I don’t know so many things about things we don’t understand or can’t comprehend. I’m as much perplexed by the universe and gravity and space time and quantum mechanics. I’m no longer interested in convincing anyone they have to believe a certain way in a specific thing in order to understand life and existence. I embrace the unknown and the undefined. Faith and belief aren’t proprietary, they aren’t trademarked by a specific creed.
Sadly this journey has and will alienate me from friends, and I’m sure their are quiet a few others who feel compelled to pray for my soul and salvation. If I could survive and thrive and retain a modicum of authenticity and honesty about retaining my former beliefs, I would. It would be far easier in so many ways to stay where I was and not disrupt life. But I can’t and I won’t do that.
I will always appreciate anyone’s genuine compassion and care for me. I don’t hate Christians or anyone for being one. I do not wish to convert anyone away from their beliefs.
While I longer understand or want to participate within that system, it is never at the expensive of respectful and reasonable interactions with my fellow humanity. I need relationships. I need earnest connection and conversation, and intellectual honesty about the things we collectively participate and witness in this world.
I don’t need beliefs that support suppression and fear, superiority and subjection, hatred and shame, absolutes and regression, judgement and repudiation. I don’t need hidden purpose and motivation to try to save me (I know the thinking, I know the reasoning, I know what I’d think of me if I were me 10 years ago, I lived it for four decades). I don’t need saving.
I’m sure reading this might be angering, maddening, saddening, or infuriating to many, but my hope is that there are others to whom it will be honest and real and freeing and opening and meaningful in your own journey. None of us know what the next moment of life will bring. I don’t wish to postpone the beauty of now for an unreachable horizon.
I believe that what most of us want in life is a sense that there is a reason and purpose for our existence on this planet. That someone or something cares, is listening, is loving us because we’re all terrified of being alone and unloved and that our lives were pointless.
Our very universe is fantastical and miraculously, regardless of how you seek to define and understand it, and there are so many ways to do that, with so many different words. But at the core of everything is mystery, and I embrace that mystery because that is the essence of exploration.