I remember the exact moment when I admitted to myself that I couldn’t consider myself a Christian any longer. It was on the drive home from work and I was in the last valley on Frankfort Rd, just before reaching Versailles. I was listening to (don’t laugh) Macklemore and these lyrics finally hit home:
It's the same hate that's caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color
Complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk-outs and sit-ins
Human rights for everybody
There is no difference
Live on! And be yourself!
When I was in church, they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service
Those words aren't anointed
And that holy water that you soak in has been poisoned
When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same
But that's not important
No freedom 'til we're equal
Damn right I support it
No law's gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Even though I had heard those same lyrics well over a hundred times, and thought I understood them, it was in that moment I realized that I really didn’t. Lots of good things there, but its the last lines that made things finally click. I had heard all my life, and for the most part blindly accepted, that Christians were god’s chosen people, but the implication of that, which no other human could be, really hadn’t ever sunk in. When it did, with all the implications of excluding most of humanity, I realized it wasn’t something I could include myself into any longer.
What I really couldn’t square with reality was that, if god had selected Christians as his people, but other gods had selected other people, how are we all genetically compatible? I get that the language if more figurative than that, but it still didn’t make sense. If the Christian god created everything, the way Genesis said, then we all had to be one. Favoritism like that just made no sense. The exclusivity that Christianity preached was just not logically defensible.
From the point I had that realization to the house was only 8 minutes, and somehow I remember pulling myself together before I got to the house. While I trusted you, I didn’t know how I could square this new worldview with who we were and how I was raised. I buried it all down deep for a long time, thinking about it only when no one was around. Years went by as I slowly took out and examined most of my beliefs, one by one, thinking about who I was and if I still should be that person.
What I was surprised to come out believing was that most of what I believed was actually pretty right on. Love and respect others. Accept people as they are. Work towards a better world for everyone. Christianity had the interpersonal relationship aspects close to right; it was the spiritual pieces which seemed so incredibly wrong.
So what should I believe? Why, if I don’t think there is any objective, external source for truth, do I not just turn away from society and become a completely self-serving individual? In the end, it all came down to choice. I believe I chose (although I admit that there is a little voice in the back of my head telling me that my genetics selected this for me) to not want that. I want to believe that humans are better, and want better, than that.
What might be the downside of all this is that my trust in any type of religion or spiritual concern has evaporated. It’s not that I think I’m right or that my way is the only way, but that for me, maybe I just spent too long in, and got burned by, organized religion and spirituality to really believe anymore. I don’t know that this will always be the case, but it is now.
For quite a while, I was really angry about this. I feel like my parents did the best they could in raising me to believe, but they are a reflection of their culture, just as much as I am of mine. If I was to switch places with my dad, I would probably end up almost the same as he. They did what they felt was right, and are still doing that. I love that they do that, even when they frustrate me with it, and love that they love me enough to do that. None of that makes me feel any less bad that I spent the majority of my life, so far, believing something that just can’t be true.
I don’t know if there is a god out there somewhere, but I do have an idea there isn’t (but it isn’t faith; its an idea). At least, if there is one, it isn’t anything like what christian’s envision. I have no idea what that being would be like, only that I think no human could logically figure it out (at least with what we know now).
With that background, I want to bring back up something you said a few months back (which I am going to paraphrase my understanding), that you wished you hadn’t talked so much about your spirituality because it made me feel bad. You are so wonderful in considering me in that, but you did not make me feel bad or awkward in the least. My own thoughts and unbelief did that.
I take great solace in the knowledge that you were going through your own transformation at the same time, even if we were not going through that transformation together. I just wish I had known how to talk with you about the topic. I felt so entirely broken inside over this, a feeling which has lasted nearly 6 years now, that I had no idea how to bring up the subject with anyone, even you, the one person who I trusted and loved more than anyone else.
I am sorry that I did not reach out to you; I feel like an idiot for not. I shut you out of a large part of my internal self because that was a piece of me I couldn’t accept. I can’t tell you enough how amazed I am that we both have, independently, but in parallel, moved away from our faith.
I am also sad that I wasn’t there for you as we went through something similar. I know how excruciatingly painful it was for me to go through it without talking about it, and I can only hope that it was not as painful for you as what I went through during that time period. From what you have said though, I have a feeling that is not the case. For being so scared to say anything to you during that time, I cannot say enough that I am sorry.
Where to go from here? I feel like we’ve got two very different views of the world we live in, not at a macro level, but at a micro level. It feels like to me that we both have many of the same values for how we want to treat others and live our lives. The real differences seem to come from our inner space and how we personally interact with our local piece of the world.
From the things you have said, it feels like you have a view of the world that includes a good deal of mystical elements, where I do not see the world in those terms. I feel that the universe has sets of laws, some of which we know and some we do not, and when we don’t know the rules, then those things appear as mystical to us.
I remember once feeling that god was moving around and through me; a mystical force animating the universe. Now, I feel that was my mind providing an answer to an experience I didn’t understand. I’m still not sure how to explain all the experiences I’ve had in my life, but I don’t feel there was anything mystical about those I can’t explain; I just haven’t yet understood how they happened.
The last thing I’m trying to do is to say that your view, as I understand it anyway, is wrong, just that I don’t have the same belief. Am I wrong in seeing it this way?
What I do know is that things like church or god don’t really have much meaning to me as concepts, other than what we as humans put into them. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but given I did believe in them as recently as a decade ago, I can’t rule out returning to that belief, either.
What I do have an idea about is how we should treat each other, even if I fail, sometimes spectacularly, to live up to that idea. Love everyone, even if you don’t necessarily like them. Do your best to leave the world better than it was when you arrived. Protect those who can’t protect themselves. Help those in need. Not that different from what Jesus said, when you distill it to its essence.