Losing My Religion

I’ve been losing my religion for about a decade now. I didn’t mean to do it. In many ways, I wish I could go back. In some ways, I’m glad I can’t. It hasn’t been easy. In fact it just about killed me. My life had become what others have since affirmed. I was a modern-day Job. Everything had progressively been stripped from my life – family, health, finances, and career. People say you don’t really know God until he’s all you have left. That was me, until I got to a place where religion would lead me to think that I had lost him too. Talk about despair.

It all started with my divorce. Actually it started with a herniated disc in my lower back that ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back of my marriage…and my back too (ha ha) but those are both long boring stories. Life continued to get worse following both my divorce and paralyzing back injury and no help to care for my then 2-year-old daughter.

In the religious world, prosperity and healing is often regarded as a sign that you are right with God. Injury, illness and catastrophe is often a symptom of unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, unfaithfulness, and a sign that you have gone wrong somewhere in the religious formula. When you are doing it right, the sick get cured, the lame will walk, the blind will see, bills get paid, money appears, your home is spared the tornado that devastated the rest of the street. There is no room for undeserved pain. So, my Christian friends told me that the only answer left for my continuing struggles was that I must have unconfessed sin. I took that to prayer and I asked. I got nothing. Religion taught me that I just needed to keep asking. Nothing. So, I began to beg God, over and over and over to reveal to me my unconfessed sin. I didn’t want to keep displeasing him so greatly that he would continue to strip me of my extended family, husband, child, finances, continuously losing in divorce court, my health, my sleep, my back. I was definitely a modern-day Job and I wanted that to change. I tithed. I served. I attended church every week. I wanted to do all of those things but I also wanted my life to get better and it just continued to get worse. Worst of all, my greatest prayer of wanting my unconfessed sin to be revealed was not answered. In fact I got no answer at all. After a time, I felt that even God had abandoned me.

As a last resort, I decided to read my new Chronological Bible in a Year. To stay accountable to my goal, I started a daily blog to create a structure to really understand what I was reading, rather than check off the reading for the day as completed. I often had to rely on Biblical commentaries to help me, but I was determined to “figure it all out”. Religion kept me in the belief that I was bad, wrong and sinful. It kept me stuck and this was my plan for redemption, or so I thought.

Unfortunately, my dark night of the soul ebbed into dark years of the soul. Going into this reading/blog endeavor, I was really familiar with The New Testament and had already read most of it. As the weeks turned into months, I started to realize that if the New Testament is the ‘ Gospel Good news’, than the Old Testament was…the Gospel Bad news. The Old Testament is full of events that were absolutely horrifying. It’s one thing to hear about God’s favored people on a random Sunday or how God killed unrepentant people. It’s another to read passage after passage, day after day of the brutality attributed to God. Regular church attendance is sold for being like mini seminary, the place where regular Christians get schooled on The Bible. So, in a way regular church attendance is exactly what ended up shielding me from realizing that God is apparently responsible for killing almost 3 million people, until now. There’s no sermon that ties together all of God’s mass killings! For good reason, people might stop going.

If people die at God’s hand, is it still murder? Is it okay for God to violate the 10 Commandments? Then there’s also the threat that if you don’t repent of your constant sinful nature you will spend eternity in hell and there’s never enough repentance. There is no holiday for being unclean. It sounds utterly exhausting and no wonder the sacrificial blood of Jesus was such good news! However, did the blood of Jesus also transform God from being a sick psychopath to unconditionally loving? God allowed Satan to inflict suffering upon Job to prove that Job would remain loyal to God even if all of his prosperity was taken. If you have kids, would you do that to one of them? I wouldn’t. Can we mere humans be capable of more love than an unconditionally loving God?  I began to wonder how many Christians have actually read the entire Bible. Because, no one ever talks about this kind of thing.

The brutality that I read God capable and responsible for was very much a problem for me. If my faith was in the Bible and its inerrancy than I had to revise my unconditionally loving God to being a complete psychopath. If I wanted to keep my belief in an unconditionally loving God, I had to change my beliefs about the Bible. I could no longer hold room for an unconditionally loving God AND an inerrant Bible. I ultimately kept my unconditionally loving God and concluded that the Bible is a collection of writings, possibly divinely inspired, but more likely, man’s attempt to document his experiences with God. At times, it was man projecting his anger, resentment, prejudice and privilege upon God. At others, it was man projecting his love, joy, peace and humility on God. It all sounds pretty human to me.

The deconstruction of my religion was and is terrifying. It’s lonely. I no longer fit into Christianity, but I’m not an atheist or agnostic. I have not found a new religion and I’m not looking for one. I desire to be in a place of no religion because religion harmed me and all around me I see how it has and is harming others. I don’t think it has to be that way and I’m still looking for my place in this world. God help me.

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A Faith of My Own

A month ago, I decided to start home churching my 14 year old daughter. For months she had been complaining about attending church and simply not wanting to go at all. The advice from everyone in the church community was as you might guess – “Don’t let her think for a second that church attendance is optional. It shouldn’t even be up for discussion. You simply just go.” Alternatively, a recent Christian article surprised me when it said that the greatest at risk teenager in America is not the teenager whose parents are atheist or agnostic but those teens whose parents are Christians. Apparently studies have been consistently showing that about 88% of Christian teenagers no longer attend church two years after high school graduation.

I was taught by the church that a good parent ingrains the Christian faith into their children so that it’s all they know. The desire being that our children will reject secular ideas, beliefs, behaviors, actions and people. Hmmm, according to statistics, this approach isn’t working. I’m guilty of implementing it, but not anymore. I’m going against the religious current and not only is there no support for that, there’s condemnation. I would argue that we are on the same side and I’m just looking for a more effective approach.

Why are kids leaving the church? There are many theories. I argue that no matter what the external reasons are – the internal one is that their faith in God was never one that they personally took ownership in. It seems that many have learned to go through the religious motions. They showed up at bible study, at church on Sunday and played the part of the “good Christian” because, for most, someone made them do it. Have we taught our children to conform to the expectations of others by making them conform to ours? When kids leave home, the expectations of “the others” in their lives usually changes. Let’s face it, in the adult world, for the majority, the expectations of others are quite contrary to spiritual growth and good self-care. Belonging is so incredibly primal that we all gravitate to where we sense it exists. When kids leave home, where and how they belong often changes drastically. What do we belong to if we don’t have opportunities to develop our own beliefs? It’s as if we want to teach our children to think for themselves except for the important stuff like our values, our judgments and our prejudices. Those things our children need to accept unquestioned and take for granted, while thinking critically in all other ways. That creates some significant cognitive dissonance.

An interesting twist to this is that we parents, are encouraged, if not expected, to drop our children off in Sunday school so they can learn about God. Most parents abdicate learning about God to someone else. Often, in mega churches, it is a complete stranger. Somewhere, myself included was the idea that as parents, we are not the ideal candidates to teach our children about God. Ideally, we model the religious activities that demonstrate we have a relationship with God, worship him or revere him. There’s some belief ingrained in Christian parents that the other mom/parent/person who is volunteering to be in Sunday school with our children is somehow more equipped to use the worksheets provided to them to teach our children about the most important relationship they will ever have.

When I take a step back and talk to my daughter about what she has learned after 14 years of regular church and Sunday school attendance, its appears to boil down to an indoctrination for how God cares mostly about her outward religious activities and not so much about her or her heart. With all due respect to churches and Christians and humans that I believe with all of my heart are doing the very best they can with the resources that they have….I’ve discovered that what my child has really been learning is how to be a class act Pharisee.

At best, most of us were taught to emulate Bible characters, who are complete strangers to us. No one currently alive knew them and none of us know anyone who once did such as a grandmother. The characters of the Bible shared their perspectives and beliefs, colored by their life experiences. None of us ever knew them personally. In my experience, when something isn’t personally relational, it isn’t usually personally applicable. We’ve been taught to superimpose the faith of strangers, their wisdom, and their stories into our lives like a template instead of seeking God directly in the divine creation of our own. How many of us never develop a relationship with God because we’ve been trained to think we already know him based on what people we’ve never met said about him. Most of what we learn in church is intellectual knowledge of God that over time reinforces a faith that lives only in our minds. Our knowledge of God can often become the barrier to knowing God. We can ingrain the minds of our children, but their hearts seem to fall to the wayside. From what I see, our world is full of big minds and small hearts.

It took many decades and a tremendous amount of heartache and pain for me to approach life and God with this mindset. To follow the divine in my heart instead of a church, pastor or dogma. To begin to run off that Pharisee that lived in my mind and alter that faith that only lived in my mind. Faith that I won’t walk away from because it goes up against the expectations of someone else. Faith that is the foundation for where I will belong instead of faith that can be modified to achieve belonging somewhere outside of myself. A faith that is my own. A faith that resides in my heart. A faith I can take personal ownership in everywhere I go.

With Jesus as my guide, from now on, the focus is going to be on my daughter’s insides rather than her outsides, her heart rather than her mind. The real desire of my heart is to inspire my daughter to seek the God that exists in everyone and everything. Instead of seeking the sin in herself and the world to discern what to reject, it frees her up to focus on who and what to love. Maybe along the way, we might inspire others to do the same, much like Jesus did when he was here.

The world doesn’t need any more Pharisees.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you” – Matthew 6:33