Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I left my church.

I am going to attempt to explain the journey that has brought me to this place. However, I offer my thoughts to those who choose to read –– not as an persuasive essay meant to convert or as a document whose merits are up for debate. This is my personal story and I invite all persons to share in my experience so as to illustrate such journeys to those who may or may not be familiar with paths.

Months ago I left my church and my family chose to come with me.

The church did nothing wrong, changed nothing. The congregation did not anger or damage me and I, as far as I know, did them no wrong either. I have journeyed to a place where I could no longer pray and worship as I have in the past. To do so further would constitute a fraud on the church, the friends, society, my family and myself. I chose not to live a dishonest existence and I refuse to fool myself any longer.

I have never been able to pray in earnest in the same ways others do it. It has felt contrived and unnatural to me from the beginning despite my attempts to find it an authentic experience. When I was a child, I went with my grandmother to her Church of Christ church. During the many prayer times there the men flowed from the pew, kneeling and crying and amen-ing while a man lead them in a talk with God, as only men can truly do. I kept my head bowed, but my eyes always crept under my brow for a glimpse of those men. I observed them and wondered: “What are they doing and why are they doing it?” I still have the same questions. The difference between then and now is that I am no longer forced to keep my head bowed and I can look around at those prayer-kneelers square on and ask the question openly.

In only one short period of my life has prayer ever felt self-compulsory. I took a religious notion during my late tweens and early teens. Not because God gave me peace, answers or understanding. I was scared of sin, mostly of masturbation and sexual feelings, which I was told lead me on a hell-bound train of suffering and disappointment. I could hear the whistle blow in my heart and head and I lived in circular pattern of feelings > thoughts > guilt > clemency > redemption and then back to those pesky feelings of sin again.

Women’s breasts were sinful satchels of gyrating trickery meant to lead me to an eternity of weeping, wailing and teeth-gnashing. To give in to my own right-handed desires was a thing of evil. Natural thoughts of sexuality were a disappointment to God. Questioning our beliefs led to Satanism and death.

I prayed, my friends, many times daily to make it all go away. It did not. I started each prayer with an eloquent beginning letting God know how awesome he was and ended each prayer with “in Jesus’ name”. It still did not. Nothing worked. The cycle continued until I could stand the constant feelings of inadequacy and remorse no longer.

I think the more it did not work and the more I questioned the more traditional I became in my beliefs, as if I was the problem and my beliefs were just not powerful or hungry enough. The more evangelical I became the more it did not work.

In my late teens I gave up the practice of prayer. I felt compelled to go to church, if for no other reason but for my parents and other adults (and perhaps myself) charged with my raising to continue thinking I was a good Christian boy. And so I smoked and drank and screwed around a bit, but I could not shake the guilt of it, especially the sexual activity.

Come college, I was done with church, but I still held onto many of my church-going ideals. I think I somehow thought that no matter what I did, if I still said I believed in the old time religion I would be okay. At the same time, I was exploring with some different views of religion, although they were all within the Christian realm. I was too scared of hell to venture too far or to openly ask too many questions. I kept myself tied to my dogma.

As is pretty consistent with many American homes, it was my wife that pushed me towards finding a church. We were married and she sought out that connection to God for us and for our future daughter. The funny thing is that I wanted a church much like what I grew up with. I find that unbelievably perplexing, as I hated everything my Baptist church taught me. However, I was still fearful and that fear drove my decisions. Even if I didn’t really buy into it, if I went and pretended, then all would work out in the end. I suspect this is the case for most Christians. The wife talked me into looking at other churches, some which might have other beliefs. I went along and we found a church that fit my changing viewpoints and even influenced some beliefs, to which I am grateful. It took a while. I did my duty for many years –– contributing to the church, tithing, volunteering. Prayer was out because it’s never worked for me.

Despite my church duty, there has been a nagging all these years, a voice of reason that has questioned everything since I asked my Baptist preacher why it was so sinful for us teens to go to the school dance. To which he retorted with the sinful gyration bit. That boy who knew then that Brother Bud was wrong about women’s bodies being intrinsically sinful has been clamoring at me for years, but I feared that voice too much –– too much. What would happen if that boy was right? What would I have then?

Turns out, nothing happens. For years now I have not prayed and yet I continue to be blessed, to use a Christian term. I don’t think God blesses me any more than I think he blesses the greedy, corrupt, corporate moguls or the atheists. Somehow, God-fearing or not, people continue to reap rewards in this life. It has nothing to do with the Christianity or God, although it makes followers feel better. I don’t begrudge anyone their good feelings.

The squabbles between a one-cup communion or mini-cups, unleavened bread versus hot dog buns, church on Sunday or Saturday, one being or a trinity, or what constitutes appropriate dress at church is now lost on me. In fact, many of those arguments have wounded me and have kept plenty of folks out of the pew. I have a friend whose church requires members and frequent attendees to wear a jacket and tie. Members who cannot afford it will be supplied one. For those like me who have an inner questioner, we receive the message –– usually unintended but sent all the same –– that we are not holy enough, good enough, righteous enough to hear their version of God. The arguments that divide religions and denominations are nothing but man-created dogma and actually have nothing to do with God. I have to fix myself to be accepted into their church fold. Some require you to be one of their own to take communion. Others reject if you are divorced or gay or are pregnant and unmarried. The message is all the same regardless of the circumstance and the wounds caused by it are deep and damaging. The atrocities and discrimination committed in the name of one God or another have devastated me profoundly. It’s all done because of fear of man’s misguided understanding of God.

I am no longer fearful. I do not believe that fear should be the foundation of any religious belief; however, I know that fear is the fuel for most Americans even if they refuse to acknowledge it as I have done for years. I have chosen to rid myself of the shackles of the traditional view of the Christian God in search of a better spiritual quest.

I am down with Jesus. He was a great leader and reformer. I dig his teachings, as I understand them. But I can no longer accept the perfection of a book most of which was written more than 100 years after Jesus’ death. A human was not really swallowed up by a whale and spat out later; a woman did not spontaneously conceive. All of humanity was not spawned from two humans who had boys as offspring. Such stories predate Jesus by millennia or more; they are simply old stories retold and repackaged for a different people.

We have such stories because humans looked at the world around them and tried to explain it. A Native American tribe in California did not have science to rely upon when they tried to explain earthquakes. They could only explain such occurrences through their own experiences thus they conceived a great catfish under the earth caused the tremors. A real understanding of the world –– science –– did not come along until thousands of years later. There is no way the framers of the bible could explain life in any other way but through mythological stories. Mythology and oral stories are humanity’s traditions, but they are not reality.

So many of us have questions about whales and conception and lineage, but we are unable to release the dogma for fear. I have a friend who, when provided with biblical evidence contrary to his belief he said simply: “I cannot believe that because then I would have to change other beliefs.” I get it. I understand that fear-based retort all too well and have clung to such dogma the majority of my life. It’s scary to change your beliefs.

Interestingly enough, once I stripped my life of religious dogma, I found myself free of fear and able to look at religion and spirituality in a much broader and deeper way. I am able to make observations and discover my own truth based on experience, research, and even science.

While many religious persons claim to have the answers and know the one true path, I have only one certainty: I do not have the answers and neither do you. I do not believe there is one path to spirituality or a connection to a higher power. I am amazingly content to not know the answers, and to continue to search for my own path toward goodness, beauty and truth. 


Ian McGibboney said...

My favorite quote: "I have to fix myself to be accepted into their church fold." That, and "right-handed desires."

One of my other blogger friends yesterday linked an article written by an evangelist. It talked about how evangelical methods need to change, because people increasingly resent the attitude that they need to improve. Also, that people are wise to the bait-and-switch moves that promise interesting events but lead to the Jesus pitch. I'm sure it's been that way for a while, but kudos to someone for stating it. Though I am a bit concerned/curious to see where it leads.

One of my friends in college, the pretty sister of a good friend and devout Christian (more in practice than in outreach, which I respected), once told me with a smile that I was filled with demons. She told me this like she wanted to help. And even though by grad school I was pretty certain what I believed and didn't, I still wondered if other people thought that and weren't so direct about it. I had a lot of religious friends then. I was still Mr. Liberal, Agnostic Blogger just like today, and I suspect that to many of them, I was just going through a phase or needed intervention.

Well, I thought many of them were great people going to awful churches, but I never raised a fuss. That's their right, and I liked them for who they were. I never so much as asked any of them, "Hey, why do you go there?" And I certainly never told them they were full of demons or that I'd pray/send good vibes for them. Point being, the improvement deal wasn't a two-way street. I liked them as they were. Likewise, I just tried to be me and that wasn't good enough for some people.

I finally asked someone once why they felt such a fervor to convert. And they said something like, "Don't you want to feel the same comfort I have, the same assurance that everything will be OK because God is looking out for you?" And I said, but that isn't what gives me peace. Robotic rituals do not give me peace. Praying does not give me peace. It's a lot like a drug that you take not for the high, but because not taking it makes you shake.

Anyway, Jack, I enjoyed your blog. It takes courage to say this, but in a way you have to. May your days be filled the kind of peace that sectarian pursuit denied you for so long.

Busplunge said...

I sarcastically left a couple of comments on another site without really reading this post.

I just now finished reading it and McGibboney's comments.

My evolution started in 1960s with this song by Fr. Clarence Rivers: "God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him."

Now at age 61, after a couple of heart incidents and a cancer scare, Iris Dement pretty well describes where I am now.

Interspersed throughout the years were some Peggy Lee moments.

Busplunge said...

nice post.

admin said...

Ian: I posted that article on Facebook. Thanks for the feedback and the inspiration.

Bus: You can be sarcastic and smart ass with me any day, brother. I don't mind, if you don't mind me doing the same.

Anonymous said...

I can relate my friend. I too am on my own journey and perhaps our paths will cross again in the future. Dusty S. + HD=Freedom