Confessions of a Questioning Christian

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

I’ve lived abroad for three years, and spent about half of that time questioning everything I grew up believing in.

At first it was scary, then it was frustrating, then I got mad, and I think I just passed through apathy.

Apathy may be where I stay for a while. Something about apathy appeals to me. I may not be much of a Christian anymore, and I may not be questioning much. I feel I would best be classified as an agnostic at this point.

Agnosticism is the view that the existence or non-existence of any deity is unknown and possibly unknowable. More specifically, agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, as well as other religious andmetaphysical claims—are unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable.[1][2][3] Agnosticism can be defined in various ways, and is sometimes used to indicate doubt or askeptical approach to questions. In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief andknowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief. In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively.[2] In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that humanity does not currently possess the requisite knowledge and/or reason to provide sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist.

Source: Wikipedia

The last time I was in the States visiting, my mom asked me if I still believed in God. I said that I did, but I didn’t know what else I could promise her as far as supernatural beliefs. Surprisingly, she took comfort in this response. She is comfortable in her belief in God and specifically in the Christian lifestyle. That’s fine – my mom is a good person. She stand behind some things that I find repugnant, but I assume she feels the same way about things I believe in. Even things I believed when I still called myself a Christian. And I’m sure she’d see some of those beliefs as the slippery slopes that sent me sliding into this valley. But I don’t feel like I’m in a valley, I think I climbed out of one.

If there was a god, and if that god was like the one I grew up learning about, then he’s too callous about the millions of people who will never get to “know him” (as if we could ever have a firm understanding of a supernatural entity). Good for missionaries, but why leave salvation up to a group of sinful humans to save? It’s not fair, and it’s not a doctrine I can throw myself into. I think there are a lot of beautiful Christians – I have met many, in fact, and their lives are beautiful and generous and committed to humanity. That’s awesome. If they like the way their lives are formed by Christian living, that’s cool – it’s working for them. But even discounting all the Christians that are just going through the motions and patting themselves on the back, it’s this idea that we are made faulty, and then depend upon other faulty people to prove something unprovable in order to be seen as worthy. It’s impossible.

I like the idea of a god who cares about all humans, but I don’t see that. I stopped believing in heaven and hell a long time before I stopped believing in everything else. So, why would I need religion? Morality and religion are not synonymous – and that idea in itself is laughable. I believe in many things that religious people do – love, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and other “fruits of the spirit.” If anything, religion was the fire that got my ass in gear to “bear” those fruits. That was a good thing. But I can’t cling to religion to do that for me; I need to take responsibility to do those things because they are intrinsically good and right.

I don’t care what people believe – if they are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, atheist, whatever – as long as they do good in this world. Maybe I think they are wasting their time with religion, but who cares, if they treat others with respect and try to make this world a better place? We all waste too much time – whether in bible study or on Reddit or watching too much TV or playing basketball. So those things don’t bother me. What can I say… I’m a secular humanist, which once meant I was one step away from a Satan-worshipper and surely damned. I didn’t walk away from Christianity lightly, but I can’t believe in something if I have lost faith in it, no matter what anyone else may want from me. So I will do as much good as possible, because that is right, and that’s what I believe I’m here on earth to do.

Maybe after I die, I’ll get an answer. But I doubt it.

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The Great Fundamentalist Hoax <– Why I don’t call myself a Christian. I don’t know what I am. But I am not this.

One of my dear friends, who is a Christian, encouraged me to listen to a sermon she recently heard about why church is important. Of course I’ve already known for a while that I can’t find a church (or even a like-minded Christian community) in the city I live in now, but when I get home I’d already decided that I would try to get back in to church. Do I believe there is God? I want to. Do I believe in Jesus? I want to. Do I follow his teachings? Jesus’s – yeah, I try. That’s the best I can do. But even if that sets me apart from every other person in the sanctuary, I like church because it’s a group of usually kind-hearted people who are good at encouraging you. That’s certainly not the worst thing in the world. And even though I absolutely hate when churches get political and I might not always agree with things that are even taken verbatim out of the bible (sorry, I just can’t swallow some things from the Bible, and I don’t think that’s bad or condemns me to hell for eternity), I still think there are a lot of valuable nuggets of truth and positive life lessons to take from it. Again – this is a good reason to go to church (as long as it’s not a bunch of super hypocritical people being “preached” at by someone with an agenda/small world view). The church I went back to met those requirements, with injections of social justice and serving the community. Just my style.

Anyway, I started to listen to the sermon (but it, as well as another one I tried to listen to, cut off about halfway through. Not sure why) per her request. And it made some similar points to those above, plus more traditional Christian ideology like “we need to surround ourselves with like-minded community to keep us disciplined.” Agreed, agreed. The thing is, this only seems to work out best for those who believe that the bible is 100% God-breathed. I can’t say I believe that because of the history of how the bible was collected, translated, and influenced. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not so cynical as to believe that means you can’t glean any of the author’s intentions or inspirations. It just means that I can’t just take verses at face value. And if I don’t take them at face value – and actively toss some things out (go ahead – call me Thomas Jefferson), where does that leave me with the community. If the goal of church is to keep people disciplined in their pursuit of knowledge for God, but that pursuit doesn’t question or ever consider ignoring (or at least interpreting things in non-traditional ways), then what good does it do  – especially for someone like me?

I guess it means I can sit quietly, like the polite, well-mannered, church-raised girl I was taught to be. And I can take what I can, and let the rest go. Is it still worth it then? I guess… I guess I’ll find out next time I live in America again.

Growing up, I always understood exactly what the pastor was saying. Seriously, I got it. I remember explaining things to my sunday school teacher once. She was like, Whoa kid, you’re freaking me out.

My mom told me that the moment she first held me, God told her I was made for something special.

I was awarded “Camper of the Week” twice at the Christian summer camp I went to, and I was asked by the Camp to come back in college to teach a week of lessons (although I admit that I don’t think I did very well at that – or at least, what I said wasn’t what people wanted me to say, and I’m pretty sure I would have said things differently if I could go back).

I’ve always strove to give myself back to the church, keep myself involved, know people and be known by others at church. In college, I changed churches three times, more and more frustrated by the way churches were trying to control me and not accept me. I finally found a church that I truly love – Harvest Vineyard in Ames, Iowa. Since moving abroad, I have not been able to find churches that aren’t really strange to me. So I’ve stopped going to church. I also don’t have m/any Christian friends here. I married  a man who identified as a Christian up until about a year ago. I have become liberal, which finds me at odds with (and often mercilessly judged by) the Christian friends I have from back home.

I keep thinking of a quotation I heard a while back: “She’s a whore, but she’s my mother.” (St. Augustine) He was talking about church. She is a whore, but I try not to slut-shame in regular life so I need to remember that with the church. I get so angry with stupid people who are so hurtful and cutting and using the church and Christianity to do and say things, and judge and push people away. I’d rather not call the church a whore – I’d prefer the words “Mean Girl.” She’s the Queen Bee, Regina George. She manipulates and rules, she’s a bitch and a cheater, and she acts like a victim when actually she’s the one telling everyone how to act and live and be. But I have to remember that she’s just a person, too. A person who can get hit by a bus and has to wear a neck brace to the Spring Fling Ball. (Sorry, I watched Mean Girls recently).

When my friends and I start talking (complaining) about Christianity, what we’re really doing is complaining about the Church. Just because PEOPLE are terrible humans doesn’t mean that the teachings of Christ are. At least, the teachings of Christ – whoever and whatever he was – have never been disputed in my heart. I may not understand who or what God is, what he wants with me, or if the person called Jesus said and did what the bible says he said and did… but the things written about him are still how I want to live my life. But I know that for most Christians, it all comes down to believing Jesus was what the bible says he was. To be honest, I do believe – or at least, genuinely want to believe, and do not disbelieve – that he was. That’s my choice. I don’t care what others think, whether they disagree with me or if they think that my belief isn’t strong enough. It’s all I have.

I know that you can’t make someone believe something, because faith is all in each person’s own capacity.

But I am having such a hard time relating to the sermons I hear, the Christian-styled words and phrases people say, and how they apply to current life on Earth.

And I’m sick of feeling judged for not being able to say what people want me to say.

I just read this blog post about a former pastor and former Christian.

I sat here wondering to myself, if someone asked me right now, what do you believe in, what would my answer be?

  • I believe there is a God.
  • I believe there was a man named Jesus, and some people wrote things about him.
  • I believe that the philosophy created by (or attributed to) Jesus is good and worth forming a lifestyle around.
  • I believe that love is the strongest of human emotions and unconditional love could fix all social problems. Maybe all the problems in the world.
  • I believe I am being as faithful as I possibly can without turning off my brain.

Okay… now what don’t I believe?

  • I don’t believe that anyone can know anything about God. The bible gives us an idea, and even that idea is difficult to pinpoint, predict, or praise. The God of the old testament is scary, rash, and wrathful.
  • I don’t believe that anyone can know anything about whether Jesus was who the bible makes him out to be. There isn’t enough historical evidence. As with the existence of God, what type of God he is, and who and what Jesus was and wanted with me and my life or soul… it boils down to a matter of faith.
  • I don’t believe that believing in heaven or hell is necessary. The afterlife is a foggy subject even within the bible, and many verses are irresponsibly used to scare people about the afterlife. My afterlife should have no bearing on my life now, and I think Christians especially should understand that. I don’t care about what comes after this life… and I hope that I’m not wrong about that, but I can’t live my life forcing myself to believe something simply out of fear of what may or may not come later.
  • I don’t believe in the power of prayer – at least, not usually. If God is out there and if he enjoys our prayers, then I think that on occasion perhaps his ear can be bent and persuaded to indulge us – but for the most part, I have not seen God intervene. I don’t mind that – I actually appreciate it – but I am bothered by prayer because for the most part I don’t understand what good it does. When I do pray, and it isn’t me pathetically begging for something on my wishlist, it is simply an act of quick and quiet supplication for wisdom and humility and more love than I feel capable of producing on my own. Even if God doesn’t exist or he doesn’t listen or doesn’t care, prayer is a fine way to meditate on what I need/want/who I want to be.

So I guess people wouldn’t call that a Christian. A Christian friend of mine recently asked me how I could possibly believe in Jesus’ philosophy but throw out the rest of the bible (she cited the verses in Revelations that said we can’t add or subtract anything from the bible). I replied that the bible was only chosen and bound within the last few hundred years, and that different types of Christians have various books of the Bible that I have never had in a version of the Bibles I’ve been given or bought. Besides, if I believe in Jesus but don’t necessarily want to study or follow Paul’s teaching, how can that mean I am not a Christian? There are many people in remote places who only hear of Jesus and choose to follow him but never read or learn about many other parts of the bible. Are they not saved? Not that I care about that right now, anyway.

And why don’t I care about being saved? Because I believe that there are real problems in this world, and this is the world I have been given. Some problems – like political, governmental, or large scale financial corruption are beyond my realm of influence. But making waves and taking action on the majority of social evils – homelessness, prejudice, hunger, thirst, enslavement, etc. – is something I can and will do with my life. I am not going to try to convince anyone that I am good enough, nor will I act in a way only to “earn” my way onto some list. God knows my heart, and he knows that I am earnestly seeking truth and faithfully loving his people, even if I don’t go to church and even if I disagree with most Christians on lots of issues. If God looks at me and thinks I don’t measure up, what can I do? I will not stop questioning, processing, or critically thinking about my world or my place in it. I want to love God and I want Jesus to have been real because that story is beautiful and I believe that people are worth dying for. I cannot prove it, and I won’t spend my life trying. I will love based on the love that Jesus of the bible has exemplified; at least, I will die trying.

A lot of weird things have happened in my life in the last month, and without meaning to I’ve started praying again. I think it might be my brain’s strange old habit – of jumping into a prayer of pleading when I feel like there is nothing I can naturally do on my own. Or is it something else? I can’t short change myself – I do still believe in God. I don’t presume to understand him in any way, but I do hope that if he’s out there and he does care about me, that prayers still work. I also know that in the bible, it says we need to really have faith in our prayers for them to work… that kind of hurts my feelings. Ha! But it does, a little. I have as much faith as is honestly possible. Why can’t that be enough? It’s like I have to shut off my brain in order for my faith to work?

But anyway, I’ve been praying a bit lately. I’ve been praying for some family members who are going through a tough time – what else am I supposed to do for them? They are so far away, and they asked for prayer, too. Usually when people ask me for prayer anymore I just inwardly roll my heart and try to be there for them and hope for the best – mostly because people are always asking me to pray for them for the most trivial things. Like, dude, if you want to do well on that test, STUDY FOR IT. And then, when you studied for it, you can thank God, but you should also give yourself some credit, too! You want that house? MAKE THE BEST OFFER. Come on, now.

But I get it, in certain circumstances. When life is really difficult – when people have pushed you to the brink and then they push more. When you are  homeless and your spouse is abusive. When you’re in the ICU. I get it. There’s nothing you can do anymore. And while I doubt that God intervenes on our behalves that often, it’s never going to hurt to ask for some divine intercession – or at least some divine wisdom.

Maybe it’s just a waste of my time if nobody is listening, though. Or if he is, but my faith isn’t strong enough. Is questioning an absolute faith damager?

Matthew 28

Posted on: April 12, 2012

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, andhis clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

I guess it’s fitting that I get to this chapter the week after Easter. I don’t have a church here in the country I live in. There ARE some English speaking churches, but their doctrine is so stale, and at times so far from what I believe is the heart of the religion (i.e. more prosperity, less social justice). Anyway, this is also the crux of Christianity, isn’t it? Did or didn’t he come back to life? Did or didn’t he save all of us from our sins (and if he did, what, then, do we have to do to “earn” that from him)?

If this chapter is true, which I choose to believe it was, then goddamn, right? Oh, is that blasphemy? Anyway, holy cow! Wait… more blasphemy? Let’s try this: alleluia!

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

Perhaps this is the reason that nobody but the bible can corroborate the story? Or can they?

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him theyworshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 As a child I felt these dudes were so stupid – they DOUBTED him? How could they call themselves his disciples? But I do understand. I would want to touch his holes, too, just so I could tell others, hey, don’t believe it? I put my hand through his holes…
His beautiful, sweet, loving holes.