In attempt to explain my journey, I'll continue to put thoughts down in writing as I can find clarity. To tell the truth, I don't really have a lot of clarity. But, that's part of why I'm writing, to try and find some.
One might ask, why would anyone leave Christianity? Especially since you've been taught that 1. Jesus is the only way and 2. if you don't have his insurance coverage, you will burn in hell forever. Why would anyone who has been taught these things leave the religion? Leave that God?
Well, to try and answer... because I was tired. Tired of being afraid all the time, tired of being stressed. Tired of wondering, am I saved or not? Is God mad at me? I've still got so many sins, is he disgusted? What does he see when he looks at me? If he's a father, which the bible makes clear he is, it can't be very good.
I was tired of being confused. So many denominations, so many opposing points of view... sometimes, viciously opposed to one another. The Baptists think the Catholics are going to hell (hell, nearly all the denominations think the Catholics are going to hell, because the bible says yada yada). The Church of Christ thinks everyone but them is going to hell. So much division, so much strife, so much flaming each other. The fact that Christians can't agree with each other on the truth leaves me wondering if the truth they all claim to have can even be found.
Then there is the Bible itself. Why would a God who loves us give us such a book? Confusing, self-contradictory. Full of images of a god who approves homocide, genocide, bigotry, rape, and the killing of little children. Who got so disappointed with the people he put here on earth that one day he decided to drown them all. Then, something about Jesus came and "paid the price" for our sins so we don't have to. We've all heard the same stories over and over. In a number of different translations, none of which are accurate, except of course the King James, which coincidentally is the most difficult to understand and the most annoying to read.
Some people love reading the bible, I know. I tried, I really did. I used to sit there in tears trying to understand. One page of encouraging thoughts, then a page of "you're screwed, God is gonna kick your ass." Is God like a mafia godfather, or maybe seriously bi-polar? I just didn't have what it took to study it, understand it, be encouraged by it, or find a god of love in it. I tried and tried, but couldn't. Maybe a few moments here and there... but oh, so much pain and fear and stress overwhelmed what few good moments there were. I ended up deciding it wasn't worth it. If this god really loved us so much, why did he give us a book that was supposedly all-important but only some could understand and see the beauty in it? Of course, the bible is full of reasons why... because only the Elect would understand, because "only my sheep would hear my voice," as Jesus said. Well I tried and tried. Maybe I heard his voice a few times... maybe I got tired of trying... maybe I wasn't sure when it was really him... maybe I got frustrated beyond what I could bear at all the times I tried to hear him and didn't.
There was, of course, my Free Believer era. For a while, I found Wayne Jacobson, Jim Palmer, Jim Robbins and Darin Hufford's teachings to be really amazing and encouraging. Wow, there really was a loving god after all! There was better news! As DH so passionately taught, God had just been misunderstood, that's all! We just needed to get a right understanding of God and then everything would be headed in the right direction. Healing would take place, real spiritual growth would start. Sound good?
For a while, it seemed that finally, I would actually make it as a Christian. Maybe I wasn't a total failure after all. There was an absolutely wonderful season when I connected with other people who were also sick of institutional, traditional church and were looking for others to journey with, and discover this God of love. We had great talks about all sorts of spiritual topics. We connected. It was great. But, it didn't last. If this God of love is so powerful and real, and lives and breathes in and all around us, and is so big on us "loving one another," why doesn't connection with others ever last?
It seems that no matter how wonderful things start out, sooner or later, every single group is going to disintegrate because of people's personal ambition. It's the American way I guess, that personal ambition ALWAYS must take the lead and be the bottom line. And personal relationships are, in the end, only the means to an end... or jettisoned if they do not help the ambitious person get where they want to go.
In the end, despite my earnest efforts for things to stay true, I ended up watching nearly all of those relationships disintegrate or just disappear out of my life. I watched, once again, as the strong, the beautiful, the ambitious, climbed the backsides of the weak and the struggling, or shuffled over them unnoticed as they ran to get what they were after. A bigger ministry, more notoriety, more book sales, a bigger blog or facebook following, more subscribers to their website, more contacts that could get them somewhere. I watched this happen in more than one place. What are these stories anyway, about some guy named Jesus who lived 2000 years ago who supposedly loved the absolute skid-row losers and thought they were worth giving his life to?
At this point I have come to believe that Jesus must have been an impressive person, but I can't quite get a feel for what he might have really been like. I haven't experienced anything impressive, that ever lasted, in my lifetime here on earth, by those who claim to know Jesus. Maybe he was a really great guy but I fail to quite buy this story that he and he alone was God, and that Christians have some special edge on love, kindness and compassion that other people don't, because they and only they have some special download of the Holy Spirit living somewhere inside of their heart. Overall I have not seen or experienced evidence to support this claim.
Are Christians terrible people? Some are, but overall I don't see that they're better or worse than anyone who is atheist, agnostic, whatever. To be fair, I haven't known enough non-Christians in my lifetime to make a fair, objective numerical comparison. Here in the Bible belt nearly everyone at least claims to be a Christian. But with what exposure I've had to non-Christians, and yes online contacts count, I just don't see any real difference overall.
This is where the typical "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" excuses come in. It's true we're all human. And for the sake of argument I'll concede the point that, according to their religion, Christians are the only ones who are forgiven for being human. But, this still doesn't erase the fact that there is a glaring discrepancy between the patient, compassionate, abiding love that is taught and that which is actually practiced. Churches sometimes acknowledge this and push their flocks to try harder (run faster, do more for the church, get along with the difficult people around them better). But, is trying harder the answer? All I'm saying is I just don't think people are any more capable of being loving as Christians than they are as non-Christians.
Maybe I'd see things differently in a different culture. But in the western society I live in, Christian usually means ambitious rather than humble. It means aggressive rather than co-operative. It means self-actualization rather than community. I feel like there's nothing but Jesus-flavored everything. Like chicken flavored soup, it's a substitute. I know it's not real chicken, but I struggle to remember what real chicken tastes like because it's hard to find. I just know it's not in this soup.