Thursday, August 9, 2012

Turning From My Faith: The Fallout

In an earlier post in this series, I mentioned a group of friends I made through Livejournal, an online journaling/blogging site.  Over the years there I had many friends but a core group of 10-15 women that I became very close to. Most of them are Christian and this connection between us was strong. I leaned on them, they leaned on me. We encouraged each other, prayed for each other, discussed spiritual concepts, things going on in our families, our churches, at work, personal struggles.

A few years ago we all began spending less time online at Livejournal. Facebook took over (as did Twitter for some of us) or we just didn’t hang out online anywhere the way we used to. People were having kids, getting married, changing jobs, moving to new cities and states. Life got in the way of being online, you know? So we all drifted a bit. It wasn’t as though we liked each other less – we just didn’t spend as much “time” with each other. Most of us became friends on Facebook and ended up posting short things about our lives rather than writing long Livejournal entries.

Probably because of this space we’d all given each other, it wasn’t as obvious to others that I had been drifting with my spiritual beliefs. I wasn’t writing about it in Livejournal and I certainly wasn’t talking about it on Facebook. A few friends might have wondered, but my guess is they assumed I was just going through a period of stagnation, which happens to everyone of faith.

When I finally did make the announcement that I didn’t think I believed in Christianity any longer, that I wasn’t sure where this was leading – it was a big shock. It was very painful and concerning for my friends, and I understand why. Our Christian beliefs tell us that those without salvation will spend eternity separated from God. That’s how I always pictured it, at least. I never worried too much about burning in the fires of hell as I believed that imagery was used to scare people into belief, and that’s not what my faith was about. My faith was about love and service, grace and forgiveness, mercy and sacrifice. Not fear and threat of torment. For those who never believed in heaven or hell, it may be difficult to understand the concern of having a loved one spend eternity apart from God.

The way I was taught, everything good comes from God. Nothing impure, evil, wrong, bad, negative can reside in his presence – his presence is so holy that it cannot tolerate anything unholy. So spending eternity with God means spending an eternity in the presence of everything good. To be separated from God means to be separated from ANYTHING good. Hope, love, comfort, happiness, success, forgiveness, mercy, truth – none of that resides in the space that is separated from God. This is what’s scary about not being saved – never having any of those wonderful things around you, in your consciousness, in your life, in your existence – forever. Never even having hope that one day it might change.

It broke my heart all the time, thinking of people I loved who would never know this goodness, thinking of them spending eternity without hope. Separated from God, separated from me. This is what drives many Christians to spread the “good news”. Not concern over how many people they “led to the Lord”, like notches on a belt – concern over what that person, possibly a stranger, would endure for eternity if separated from God. A love for everyone, or at least an attempt to have love for everyone, and wanting the very best for them. Forever.

So yeah, I absolutely understand why it hurt my friends, why it shocked them, why they were worried.

Having said that, it was painful to hear them say they felt I needed to get back in church so I could be influenced by other Christians, by the Word. It was painful to hear them worry about how this would impact our relationship. It was painful to know that they thought (and hoped) this was just a stage of doubt I was experiencing.

I don’t think there was any way it could not be painful, though. No one was cruel, no one was thoughtless. It’s understandable that they were surprised and hurt and worried. I suppose if they had all said, “No big deal, Ashley. I have no questions or concerns.” I would have been the surprised one.

I haven’t told many other people. Mostly those who I’m not very close to, people who didn’t know me that way. A few Christians I know as acquaintances have offered suggestions of scripture or books to read. The thing is, I’m not a brand new Christian. I studied theology and ecclesiology for years, albeit informally. I used to be the person giving suggestions to others who were experiencing doubt. I know it’s an issue of pride with me, but it does seriously bug me when people assume I just haven’t read the right Bible verse, or heard the right sermon, or considered XYZ spiritual concept. I have. I have. All the months leading up to my “coming out”, and all the months since, I have gone over this in my head, I’ve talked about it with others. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve prayed. I’ve looked up articles and books on doubt. I KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS THAT WE ON EARTH HAVE TO OFFER AND THEY ARE STILL INSUFFICIENT TO ME.

I’ve met a few people who have similarly been devout and turned away from the faith, but most of the people I know who have turned away weren’t very devout in the first place. I’m scared for certain family members to find out – some because I know they’ll go through the same hurt and worry as my friends, some because I know they will never stop preaching to me once they find out, and they will blame any issues in my life on my lack of faith.

Telling people of faith that you have given up the faith is not easy.

Tomorrow: My Future In Faith

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