“My sense of hopelessness was overwhelming. What I wanted to do was pull some massive emergency brake on the universe, like the brakes I’d seen on the subways during our school trip to New York City. I wanted to call a time out, to demand that everybody just STOP until I could understand everything. I suppose this urge to force the entire universe to stop in its tracks until I could get a grip on myself might have been the beginning of my “control issues”….
I should say here that I’m aware not everyone goes through this kind of metaphysical crisis. Some of us are hardwired for anxiety about mortality, while some of us just seem more comfortable with the whole deal. You meet lots of apathetic people in this world, of course, but you also meet some people who seem to be able to gracefully accept the terms upon which the universe operates and who genuinely don’t seem troubled by its paradoxes and injustices…
Letting go, of course, is a scary enterprise for those of us who believe that the world revolves only because it has a handle on the top of it which we personally turn, and that if we were to drop this handle for even a moment, well – that would be the end of the universe…. Sit quietly for now and cease your relentless participation. Watch what happens. The birds do not crash dead out of the sky in mid-flight, after all. The trees do not wither and die, the rivers do not run red with blood. Life continues to go on…. why are you so sure that your micromanagement of every moment in this whole world is so essential? Why don’t you let it be?”
The above excerpts are from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. She is such a lovable protagonist in the story, and her struggles really resonated with me.
I’ve wanted to write a post about my faith for a long time, but I’ve always been apprehensive. There are those who I used to attend church with who, I’m sure, are wondering why I haven’t been going, and what stopped me. This pretty much sums it up for those people. And then there are those who know me more for who I am now, and I hope you’ll consider the thoughts below. Believe me, it took awhile to come to these conclusions.
I don’t want to offend, hurt, or slander anyone, and I certainly don’t want to cause any issues with my family and friends, but I can’t stand by and watch some of the atrocities that take place in our country in the name of religion with a clean conscience. So…. if you’re prone to anger about your personal brand of religion, you may want to abandon the post here.
I can’t stand Christianity any longer.
I say that without a shred of guilt.
There are so many things I’d love to say about Jesus, but I don’t even know where to start. He was everything I could ever hope to be. He was loving to all. Patient, kind, caring, and forgiving. He sought out those who had been cast out by society, and made them his family. He instructed those who wanted to follow him to give up all they had, and didn’t give a whip about the rules put in place by his religious predecessors who were in power when he was on earth.
In short? He was a communist, a revolutionary, and hung out with the grunge of society.
But today’s Christians are no longer synonymous with the teachings of Christ.
Christians are concerned with their dogma. They are repeating the follies of the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day, and putting more stock in their rules and pointing out the sin in others than setting aside their judgments in favor of mercy, kindness, and selflessness. They are concerned about everyone infringing on their rights (TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION! TEA PARTY! PRAYER IN SCHOOLS!), but give little thought to the way they infringe upon others.
I know this is true. I was once one of them.
I used to think about the world as it affected ME. As a cashier at Publix when I went to school in Florida, I wanted to know why the people with the coolest new phone and expensive clothes, driving away in an Escalade, were the ones who used food stamps in the checkout line. I wanted to know why those people had the nice things, when I was working, driving a crappy old Saturn, and hadn’t bought new clothes in months. (Oh, and I still drive that “crappy” old Saturn, 6 years later. Not so crappy, perhaps?)
I wanted to know why gay people wanted to get married, like they were REAL couples. They were just people who were into some REALLY sick sexual practices. Why should we, the “normal” ones, validate their illness by calling it “love”?
Seriously. These are the disgusting thoughts that permeated my brain.
I cannot explain the guilt I hold in my heart for the straight up malice I felt towards people who weren’t like me. My world revolved around trying to “convert” people by telling them why they were wrong, and I was right.
Universe, I am so sorry for my thoughts and actions. I was a fool.
The death of one of my high school friends was my breaking point. He was someone who I loved very much, but I pushed away when I became a “Christian” because he was gay, and I didn’t agree with his life choice. It wasn’t a conscious thing at the time…. I just moved in another direction, and he moved in his. But when he died, I faced a startling reality: in the belief system I embraced, this man would be cast into hell for all eternity for something he never chose…. just always *was*.
This simply could not be. He had one of the most joyful hearts out of anyone I ever met, and a beautiful soul.
From then on, I had a serious problem with the “god” that could, by the “rules” of the Bible, cast such a soul into eternal damnation. I couldn’t wrap my mind around a religion that would embrace such an idea, and let it be such a major part of their “worship” and “ministry”.
“Why, God, would you create such a rule book, knowing its contents would cast so many into eternal torment?”
“Why, God, would you create beings who were attracted to the opposite sex from birth, and then cast them away forever because of it?”
“Why, God, would you damn anyone for eternity for something they did in this short life we live on earth in comparison? How does that punishment fit the crime?”
“If we were made in Your image, with your feelings and compassion, what kind of being are you that you could cast any soul into eternal damnation? Why would I worship you, in that case?”
I had questions. I had concerns. And when I took them to an elder at the church I attended, his answer was, “Darlin’, you’re whittlin’ on God’s end of the stick.”
This may be a fair assessment. If there *was* a God, judgement was HIS territory, not mine. What happened to someone’s soul was not up to me! What a relief! But why, then, did I not feel any better?
It was because I was looking for a black and white; an easy judgement. What I’d always been taught is that there was a clear cut right and wrong in every situation. Gays are sinners, and are going to hell. Dancing is evil, because if you dance, you *will* lust. Drinking is bad, because being drunk is bad, and if you drink, you will get drunk and lose your ability to make decisions. Not working for your own money is lazy and sinful. All of these observations are easy teaching tools for those who cannot use their own conscience as their guide, and need someone else to tell them what is good and bad, yes. But for the rest of us, life is simply not black and white. It’s a shade of grey.
Once I came to this conclusion, life changed around me. People on welfare became people in need instead of lazy people who avoid work. Gay people stopped becoming evil sinners with no regard for God, and became friends, family, and loved ones to me. Alcohol became an occasional indulgence in small amounts with meals, and dancing became a source of pure joy. But my questions about the creator remained. Is there one God? Where did the Bible *really* come from? Should I join one specific church, and if I don’t, will I really go to hell for all eternity?
Where do I stand, after all of this?
I decided to just let go.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know for sure if there’s anything after this life or not. I don’t know if there’s a “master plan”; after all, the world today feels like a series of horrible things happening to good people who don’t deserve it. My amazing mother-in-law had a stroke in her early 50’s. One of my friends just went through her sixth round of cancer at the ripe old age of 21. And people who desperately want children are slapped in the face by those who carelessly mishandle their bodies, and ‘dispose’ of their babies, because they’re inconvenient at the time.
But the beautiful thing about life is that I don’t *have* to have all the answers.
As Anne Rice put so well, “I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life…. but I remain committed to Christ, as always.”
Christ was amazing. His mission was clear. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
I don’t believe that is the mission of many churches today. Until I find a church that seems to make Christ’s mission their own, I’ll stick to my guns, and go at it alone. I refuse to be part of a group that drags the name of Christ through the mud with hate, willful misunderstanding, and a complete lack of regard for Christ’s true message.
I will, however, boldly go forward and assist anyone who asks for help. I’ll give to causes that are working hard to help those in need. I’ll joyfully pay my taxes, knowing that, even though some people DO take advantage of the system, those who truly need assistance will get it. And I’ll try to see Jesus in every person I meet, whether they’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Gay, Straight, or otherwise.
If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading the ramblings of a doubting Thomas. If you’re a “Christian”, please consider your actions, your words, and even the looks you give others. Love like Jesus commanded you to love, because you claim to worship him. Forgive. Give what you can. Stop worrying about being taken advantage of, about the way the world impacts YOU, and instead, think about how you can impact the world in ways you can be proud of. Maybe, then, the world will be more apt to hear Christ’s message from you. If you’re not a Christian….. think about how you’d want to be treated, and reciprocate.
Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy, right?