Friday, August 10, 2012

Turning From My Faith: My Future

I’ve detailed some of my experiences as a Christian, and what it was like telling my loved ones that I was turning from the faith. So, what now? What has changed for me, and what will I believe in the future?

In some ways, I feel free. I feel free to have relationships with all kinds of people. I wasn't taught that I shouldn't have relationships with non-believers, but that people who weren’t truly devoted to Christ weren’t the best influences because they would draw my focus from Christ and then it would be easier for me to give in to sin. You know – if you start hanging out with the office gossip, you’re probably going to end up gossiping with them sooner or later. Well, now I hang out with the office gossip. And the office saint. And all the people in between.

I feel free to do things that I have been taught are sinful. Getting drunk. Lustful thoughts. Being selfish. Generally, not using the Bible as my guide through life. It’s not like I want to (or do) go out, get hammered, go to bed with strangers and ignore everyone all day in an effort to only fulfill my personal desires. I don't have tickets to Hedonism yet, dang! It’s just that before, those things were to be avoided completely and any indulgence was considered sinful. Now, I indulge a little. It’s not like I’ve lost all common sense – those prohibitions made sense to me because of how they impacted us practically. Being drunk all the time still has the same practical problems as it did when I was Christian, it just doesn’t also carry a set of spiritual consequences.

I feel free to explore the side of myself that I kept quiet, locked up, pushed down. I don’t have a great explanation for what this side looks like or is all about . . . just that I feel free to be completely ME without censure. Of course I still consider how my actions impact others, how they influence my future self. I do not, however, consider what God thinks of my actions. I feel free to explore friendships with people who live this way.

I feel free to admit things I didn’t want to admit, or believed couldn’t be possible, because those things didn’t fit into the worldview and set of beliefs I had chosen. An example – that a woman can have an abortion and feel loss, yes, but also believe it was the best thing for her, and not be haunted by it. For the record, I was never a You Whores Need To Stop Using Abortion As Birth Control type of pro-lifer, I wasn’t even really a Think Of The Millions Of Lives Lost type of pro-lifer. I was a Look At How It Damages The Women And Men And Families Left Behind After The Procedure And Why Can’t You See That This Is A Hugely Profitable Industry That Doesn’t Really Care About You type of pro-lifer. And I do still believe much of that. I just have a broader understanding of other after-the-procedure experiences, and believe that it should be legal. The legality thing is a huge change for me. I used to be a No Matter What, It’s Never Ok, Ever person. Not anymore.

I also feel loss. 

I feel the loss of certainty – who or what created us, why we’re here, where we’ll end up after death. I feel the loss of the Christian community. I feel the loss of friendships which have drifted or become shallow – at least in part because of this change. There were things I didn’t talk to my non-Christian friends about because I only wanted to discuss it with someone who would respond with a Christian point of view. I may be left out of those conversations, now, when others use that same reasoning. I feel the loss of a guidebook for life. I feel sadness when a friend who used to lean on me as the only Christian friend in her life still wants to lean on me for that. I don’t know how to tell her that this has changed.

I feel the loss of discussing theology – which still fascinates me. I feel the loss of being able to speak about problems within the Church. I have the same concerns about the Church today as I did when I was devout but now I feel like it’s not my place to discuss them any longer. Like I have to be a member of the club to discuss the club, even though leaving the club didn’t magically make me ignorant to how the club works.

There are parts of myself that have become softer and more inviting. There are parts that have become harsher and less forgiving. I miss the meditative aspects of prayer. I miss the beauty and complexity and comfort of scripture. I miss hymns that remind me of my childhood, hymns that are full of theology (modern Christian musicians you need to pick up your game like whoa in this respect, seriously). I miss having constant reminders to better myself (I think most of us could use some reminders), to focus on grace and forgiveness and mercy and love. I miss having a firm set of standards. Even when I was trying to figure out exactly what I believed, which interpretation of those standards seemed correct – there was still a set. Now I’m just out here, trying to untangle what I was taught, from what I really believe, from what is being told to me by my environment. Probably one of the strongest beliefs I held as a Christian was that our human understanding of the world is flawed and this is why we rely on God. Now I’m on my own and turning off the belief that my personal understanding and logic may not be enough is very hard.

Yet – even with all those things that make this tough – it’s where I am. I can’t go back and pretend to believe something that doesn’t seem believable anymore. That would be tough AND insincere.

I never, ever thought I would turn away from the Christian faith. Because it was such an impossibility to me – yet I did it – I think it’s possible that one day I will return. I don’t feel like I ever will, but since the “impossible” has happened once, why not again? And – let’s say that Christianity really *is* the truth, and the spiritual concepts of “once saved, always saved” and “once the Holy Spirit inhabits a person (i.e. once they’re saved), it never leaves them” are true. Either I was a great fake, even to myself, or I really did get saved, I really do have the Holy Spirit within me, and that can’t be taken away. So maybe that Holy Spirit will push me to return. Or maybe I have committed the unforgiveable sin of turning away, and maybe the Holy Spirit left me when I made that choice. I don’t know. I don’t know what my future has in store.

I think I will probably look for some positive things to meditate on – Biblical passages, meditations and scripture from other religions. Maybe some self-help stuff if I can find something that isn’t too cheesy. I have no intention of joining another religion. Any religion I choose will be problematic in the same way – I will have to depend on man’s interpretation of right and wrong, of their concept of God, on their fallible take on perfection. No thank you. If I could handle that, I’d just stay Christian.

There it is. I haven’t talked about all the things that have changed, or all the areas where I have doubt, but I think I said enough. I’ve struggled in finding accounts of people who were wholeheartedly Christian, very devout, and turned away. And when I find them, they usually have a huge axe to grind and went through terrible situations which caused them to lose faith. I don’t really identify with that. I don’t have hard feelings against the Church or Christians, at least not any that I didn’t have when I was a Christian myself. I just don’t believe it any longer. I hope that anyone reading this feels encouraged to discuss their own story – with me, with someone. It’s hard feeling like you have to hide this stuff.

The End . . . For Now.

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