For a couple of years now, before the loss of my faith, I have been rather ambivalent towards certain religious holidays and the things associated with them. While most people flock to churches on Christmas and Easter, these were the two days out of the year that I wanted to be nowhere near the church. Mostly because, after attending church since the age of four, I have had my fill of Christmas and Easter sermons. They are all exactly the same and the "twists" that pastors try to put on them to make them more relevant (or whatever it is they are trying to do) just feel gimmicky. At Easter the tradition was to sing some songs like Because He Lives, Arise My Love, Christ Arose, or I Know My Redeemer Lives. Usually all of those one after the other. If you have a larger church or one with a youth group, perhaps there will be a pantomime of one of those songs or some weird interpretive dance that makes your mom look like a good dancer. Maybe the children will appear for a few minutes to do some sign language version of Jesus Loves Me or whatever before being ushered back to their classrooms which are as far away from the sanctuary as possible. Then comes the sermon, which at Easter is about the "Good News", but usually includes a lot of information about whipping, the human body's ability to endure pain, and how, even after getting nailed to a cross, not a bone on Jesus' body was broken because that fulfills prophecy. This sermon, which is tailor-made for the backslidden visitors who only attend church twice a year, then brings those who have been manipulated by the sermon to the front to beg for forgiveness and thank Jesus for his sacrifice. This is then followed communion, with a video of The Passion of the Christ playing in the background for dramatic effect. Church ends with everyone feeling saved again, the miracle of resurrection, and cute pictures of a grave and angels colored by four-year-old. If you are super lucky, sheep made of cotton balls. And then everyone goes on their way. Those who never attend church reappear 8 months later at Christmas time and everyone else continues on their merry church-going way because let's admit it, this service wasn't really that different from any other church service except that it had a theme.
The best Easter I ever had was about 9 years ago. Three friends and I traveled to the mountains. We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast for two nights. On Easter morning, we checked out, drove to a hiking trail and hiked for two hours down to a huge waterfall. We sat down on a giant rock at the base of the waterfall, pulled out a Bible, read the Easter story and then broke bread and poured grape juice for communion. It was the first time I hadn't spent Easter in the church. It was also the last time I have spent Easter in church. What that day showed me is that there is more than one way to celebrate a religious holiday. That morning on a rock on a waterfall, I felt more connected to my spirituality than I had in any church I had ever been in.
Yesterday, I spent Easter with my family. There was my family, all of my brothers, niece and nephews. My aunt with her new boyfriend. My uncle. Two of our neighbors and childhood friends, one of which just returned from being out of the country for four years. Another neighborhood kid stopped in to say hi. A girl my mother met in church that morning and invited over for lunch. One of my brother's friends. Altogether, seventeen people broke bread together. Years ago, I chose to make Easter something more than a ritual or an obligation. Now, even after my faith has eroded, I choose to continue in that.
I don't believe in a resurrected Jesus, but as with any holiday, I choose to find love and joy in it. Who better to do that with than my family and friends.
I stumbled across an interesting Biblical theory the other day, one that somehow I have missed in my entire faith journey and deconversion. Not once did I read anything about this, but once I searched for it, found that it was actually well-documented.
Paul was unaware of anything from the gospels except for the death and resurrection story.
No way, was my first thought. After all, Paul came after Jesus' time on earth. How can you establish a religion that grows the way it did without knowing about the miracles of Jesus or the circumstances of his birth? So wasn't I a bit surprised when I went looking through Paul's various epistles searching for references to Jesus' life and finding none. As far as Paul is concerned there was no virgin birth, no escape to Egypt, no wise men, no John the Baptist, no walking on water or feeding the five thousand. There isn't even a good Lazarus story or leper. There are a few places where it seems Paul may be quoting one of the gospels, but it seems that in those instances, both places are actually quoting something from the Old Testament, which were the only holy books available to Paul at the time.
Now, if Paul is unaware of all this and we know that some of the earliest gospels didn't appear until after Paul, we are now running into some dangerous territory. Up until this point I have always believed that Jesus probably did exist, but the miracles attributed to him were lies that were created by his apostles and he was either a crazy guy who actually believed he was God and convinced a bunch of people that he was OR he was a conniving liar with quite a few people in on his tricks. I had never jumped on the legend bandwagon, because that seemed like something that atheists often said to just disregard the entire Jesus story in an offhanded way. But what if he was just a legend? What if the reason there are no contemporary accounts of Jesus are because he wasn't a contemporary?
What if it was a few "apostles" and Paul who started a religion that began by telling people about a God who died for their sins and then later, as the religion spread, someone...or four someones...decided to chronicle the tale? It would explain the weird ways in which they tried to fulfill scripture, like a census that never took place. It would explain why no one from the time period, not a single scholar, historian, or religious leader wrote about him. It would explain why Paul knew little detail about the life of the supposed Messiah.
Paul knows full well (1 Corinthians 1:22-23) not having miracles is a stumbling block issue for Jews and yet can't produce any through action or story to satiate that need. Looking at the order that the gospels are written in Jesus goes from being divine through baptism in Mark, to divine by birth in Matthew and Luke, and finally divine from the beginning of time in John. Perhaps there is something to this whole legend thing after all? It is a mind-blowing theory to me, one that deserves further analysis. One that would turn most of the New Testament into exactly what the Old Testament is for me--a big fat myth.
I have slowly been telling people about my deconversion, mostly to the people who are very close to me and to whom I trust it will be safe to tell for various reasons. The reactions have been fascinating. My husband aside, I have now told ten people. What I knew about them before deconversion and their reactions to the news are below.
Coworker #1 - raised Catholic - seemingly ambivalent towards religion
Here is my conclusion after all of this. There are a lot of people out there who call themselves Christians, who really aren't. They have rejected many of the tenants of the faith, yet for some reason, they continue to call themselves Christian in order to either fit in or because they don't know what else to call themselves and are unwilling to go down the atheist road. Considering how much my childhood friend talks about prayer, it was actually a bit shocking to find out that she thinks the Bible is a load of hogwash and has for a long time. She does think there is a god, but was willing to admit that she might just be listening to herself. Now, so far I have been careful to only share this with people who I perceive as being supportive and my instincts have been good so far. None of the people I told were leading a small group, or post scripture verses all day on Facebook, or read their Bible religiously. I know that what I am seeing now will not be that way for some of my friends and that I will lose some friends during this process. But I do find it interesting that even in this small sampling, so many people who wear the Christian label are at best, theist and at worst agnostic.
I told my mother this morning that I was no longer going to church. Baby steps, remember? Here's an interesting thing about my parents. They have been hurt by the church. Both attended a church for years in which they were beyond under-appreciated. When they left they were extremely hurt and jaded. My dad's talents, which are considerable, had been taken for granted or even disregarded for someone with a bigger personality and a louder mouth. My mom, always the socialite, found herself ostracized for reasons that she didn't understand. Which is why she didn't blink when I told her I was done with the church for a while.
"I understand. We're taking a bit of a break right now too." I shared with her some very real feelings, like the fact that I felt like a fake and didn't fit in. That anytime I questioned anything, people looked at me like I had three heads. The fact that, for me, church was really about socializing and the fact that I went to my church for nearly 5 years and made 0 friends, was a bit troubling to me. And she got all of it, because she has been there.
I have no delusions about this mess though. I don't think she will be understanding about atheism or agnosticism. Being disillusioned with the church and even having doubts is acceptable. Not being a Christian anymore is not. I told her we were not church shopping at all. That at this point, the next church we will go to will be one chosen for our future teenager. That is true too. If my adopted teen wants to go to youth group, then by jove we will find a youth group.
Today I read this article in which a woman chronicles her faith journey after her husband declared himself to be an atheist. After reading it I had two thoughts. The first was how grateful I am that my husband doesn't think that my lack of faith is a divorceable offense (neither did the article writer btw) and that I do not see his believing in a God as a reason for divorce either. My second thought was that if my husband did use some of these passive aggressive (in her words: Godly love) techniques, we would be heading for divorce too.
Sharing the gospel with words ceased to be effective, but each time God helped me show patience instead of frustration, my husband saw. Each time I read my Bible in the living room, he knew. And each time I wrote about God’s goodness, he read it. He saw me cling to God when it would have been easier to give up and join him in unbelief. This is not a testament to me but to what God can do through sinners like me. Like you, too.
I can promise her that he was not seeing God every time she was being patient with him. He saw her. He saw this wonderful woman that he has spent five years with who was patient with him because she believes that a god would want this of her. Notice she isn't patient with him because she says she loves him or even respects him. It was because she loved God. I find that very interesting. What he did see was a woman who insisted that he know that she was a Christian, as if he didn't already. Perhaps she had always read her Bible in the living room or perhaps this was her way of stating, this is what I believe and I want you to see it. She did it through her blog, her articles, her Facbook posts. He saw her faith. There was probably no doubt about it. But she wanted to be sure that he understood that she was not going to be joining him.
And that bullshit sentence about how it would have been easier to give up and join him in his unbelief? Are you fucking kidding me? It took me years (and probably her husband too) to even begin to admit that there might be problems with the Bible. More to admit that I didn't believe it all. It was an agonizing decision to say I no longer believed in God. Telling my husband that I no longer believed was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. The fact that she thinks that such a decision was easy speaks volumes as to why their marriage couldn't work out.
What I see in this article is a woman so entrenched in the love of God, that she really didn't know how to extend that to a man who no longer believed in one. For one, love was conditional on his faith and her righteousness was of far more importance than trying to understand him, something that is obvious in this short article. I'm not saying they wouldn't have gotten divorced, because it takes two to tango and he may have said, I can't live with someone who is so committed to a god like this. I am saying that she didn't even try to understand.
And I am so grateful for a husband who may not agree, but does actually understand why I have doubts and doesn't feel the need to remind me that he is a Christian at every turn.
As I have mentioned before, my husband and I are currently in the midst of the adoption process to adopt teenagers from foster care. Other than on this blog, my foster care/adoption application is the first place that I have publicly stated my non-religion. Under religion, I wrote 'none'. My social media is free of anything incriminating. I haven't even joined any private atheist or agnostic groups because I am afraid someone, somehow, will see it. Basically, despite some of my closest friends knowing about my deconversion, it is still a secret.
The problem with being a none in the adoption community is that there are a lot of Christians in this community. It makes sense since many are anti-choice, champion the mandate to take care of orphans, and believe themselves to be adopted by God. This is one of the reasons why my husband wants to adopt. This does not bother me at all. What does bother me is how hard it is to find a parenting book that doesn't quote scripture. A book that doesn't imply that if you just raise your adopted son or daughter up in the Lord, everything will be all right. Books and websites that don't freak out over porn or sex.
We have signed up to attend a conference at a local church that is supposed to help teach attachment and connection with foster and adopted children. The presenters all have PhDs in psychology and have written a number of books. That sounds great. This doesn't: "designed to help adoptive and foster parents, ministry leaders and professionals better understand how to connect with “children from hard places” in order to help them heal and become all that God desires for them to be." I grew concerned about signing up. Is this going to be two days of listening to people tell me that God has all the answers and I should just pray? The material doesn't appear to be contingent on faith. After reading a number of faith-based books that were supposed to be psychologically sound and scientifically proven, but are Bible heavy, I think I have reason to be concerned.
So I started looking around on the internet for other non-religious adoptive parents. There aren't many out there, let me tell you. Even fewer with a mixed-faith household like mine. Now, to be clear, my husband also shies away from most of the religious bullshit. We made it three chapters into Parenting with Love & Logic and abandoned it because of the constant Bible-quoting. When we complained, our Christian friends were confused. Why don't you like this Christian parenting book? Because it quotes the Bible? What? I, of course, was ambiguous, but my Christian husband was a little more blunt. We aren't missionary adopting. We don't want to raise them up in the Lord. We want to provide them with a stable loving forever home that they won't be kicked out of on their 18th birthday.
So here is yet another thing that will forever tie me to religion. When we adopt, I must accept the fact that most of my foster care/adoption support system will be faith based. They will do what my mother does and encourage me to pray when I am having a bad day, rather than offering actual helpful advice. Or the people who say that I must be blessed for wanting to do this. I think I must decide now how I will handle this. I certainly won't lie and say that I will pray when I won't be. I don't want them to think telling me 'God is in control' is in any way an acceptable answer when I am struggling. And I don't want to lead them on. How long can I keep this secret? Will I be able to or will circumstances eventually force me to tell people that I don't pray and don't believe in a god.
Beyond my own petty concerns, I do wonder why there aren't more non-Christians adopting. After all, the number one reason for adoption is infertility, and infertility has no favorites when it comes to religion. Is it because Evangelicals have spent the past three decades pushing adoption on their parishioners as something akin to sainthood? Is it because we live in a predominantly religious nation in which people tick off the Christian box even if their faith is barely a part of their lives? Is it because they are part of religion that encourages the care of orphans? Is it because we live in such a rich nation that people can actually afford to drop $40,000-$100,000 adopting a baby from China? (foster care adoptions are nearly free by the way) I don't have answers to any of those questions.
Former megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll is in the news again. The allegations are still pretty much the same, but this time he is being taken to court for racketeering. I have never attended Mars Hill (Driscoll's former church) although I have watched a few of his sermons online. Back in his heyday, Driscoll was a big deal and many of my more devout friends were obsessed with him. They loved his books, quoted him often, and spoke of his religious opinions with high regard. Some still defend him stating that the devil is attacking him because he was doing good work.
I was skeptical, as I always am. Firstly, I am skeptical of any leader like Driscoll because they come across as snake oil salesmen. I also do not see the size of any church to be indicative of being blessed or that they are doing God's good work. There are over 7,000 people in the FLDS, but we aren't calling those people blessed. Bestselling books mean nothing, especially after you find out the author (in this case Driscoll) paid a marketing company to make it a best seller. Lastly, one of my issues with the Evangelical church in America is this idea that they are being silenced and so they must speak up, no matter what, in order to be heard. The problem with their speaking up is that they aren't speaking up for the poor or the orphans. They are speaking up about all the evil awful sin they see around them.
As our society has advanced, it has become almost taboo to openly tell someone they are going to hell. It is considered judgmental and rude and not something you do in polite company. Same goes for condemning a couple who lives together but isn't married, or single mothers, divorce, sex, etc. Those people are seen as prudes, intolerant and disregarding the people that stand before them. Many more moderate Christians have abandoned this line of thinking, allowing for a more calm and kind approach. Christians, like the Evangelical ones I know, do not like this. Not only do they believe they have the right to tell people they are going to hell and why, but they have the religious and moral obligation to do so. So they fawn over a man like Driscoll who openly says that he would not have married his wife if he had known she wasn't a virgin. A man who firmly and without question sees men as the leaders and women as "weaker vessels" to be subservient in every way. These Christians need someone like Driscoll to remind them that it is their Godly duty to condemn others and anyone who tries to silence that is the voice of the devil.
I know people like this. One friend told me once that not having babies if you could physically have them was a sin. That God told us to be fruitful and multiply and by not having children I was disobeying God. A couple I knew as a teen had a husband who was obsessed with the notion of being the man of the house. How this manifested was him being ultra-controlling over everything in their home. She once confided to my mom while visiting that she felt like a dirty piece of cloth, her only job was to clean the house and cover the children...although since all her kids were boys her husband told them to treat her as second class. I can't believe they are still married. An associate pastor in one of the churches I attended struggled desperately to get ordained as a minister because he had been divorced and remarried. Even though it was his wife who left him, she even wrote a note to the board telling them as much, but they didn't care. What mattered was the act of divorce, not the issues surrounding the event. And they wanted to be sure that this man of God knew that what he had done was a sin. God may have forgiven him, but they certainly weren't going to.
I am fascinated by this mindset. How can you read the words of Jesus and think that he would be okay with you shouting about weakling men, women as weaker vessels, and fags? Jesus was good friends with two women and at no point treated either with any kind of disdain or otherness. He doesn't appear to have been a gym rat or a macho man. His way of dealing with "sinners" was to have dinner with them and talk about religion. It is highly likely they talked about other stuff too, you know like politics, entertainment, and mutual friends. Not even Paul with all his women issues, went as far as Driscoll and other preachers who are like him have done.
Brimstone and fire preachers have been around forever. They have controlled the masses through fear and intimidation for so long that it is no surprise that people follow them. The major problem is that the religion itself lends to this mindset. Sure, Jesus spoke of love. The Bible is full of stuff about love. But it is also about a God who condemns people to hell, billions of people. A god who condones slavery, genocide, infanticide, and religious superiority. There are Christians who get the whole love thing right, and a whole bunch who...just like their holy book...can't seem to find the balance between love and damnation.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.