“I’ve been where you are…..”

I was ranting to my brother tonight about religious people who say “Oh yes, I had questions like yours a few years ago, but I finally came to the point where I just had to say “God, I’m believing in you.  I know you’ll show me the truth.” and ever since then I’ve just KNOWN he’s real.”  Or something similar to that.  The other night I was chatting with an acquaintance and my unbelief came up.  He had wanted me to pray about playing violin on a worship team he was organizing for some event.  I said I wasn’t the kind of person he’d want on the team, so naturally he wanted to know why and I told him.  After sharing a few of the questions that lead me to where I am today in my current state of uncertainty and unbelief, he said something like the above-mentioned annoying anecdote.  To be fair, he was very nice about everything and the conversation remained congenial.

On Facebook, a friend posted a status about his recent deconversion, and I noticed a comment someone left that ran along the same lines as that of my acquaintance.  Again, the comment was far from harsh or condemning, just an “I’ve been where you are, but I still believe.”

I am not going to argue that the believers who say they’ve been where I am and have questioned the things I question are lying or mistaken.  I cannot say that they haven’t questioned things like I am.  It offends me when Christians claim I never really believed, because I know for almost my entire life I DID believe completely and passionately and based my identity in my belief in God and my faith in the Bible.  I have no intention of doing that in return.  The thing that bothers me is the suggestion or implication that I should stifle my questions, turn to this god I am not sure even exists and say “God, I have these questions, but I’m going to put them aside now and believe that you are real.”

Perhaps I am just too far gone now.

For twenty-odd years I believed whole-heartedly that the God of Abraham was real and good and that the Bible was absolute truth and infallible.  I believed Christianity was the one true religion.  That therein lay truth and any who seek for truth would eventually find their way there and to God.  I believed it unquestioningly.  But no more.

I owe it to myself to find answers to my questions.

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Your tragedy. My blessing.

I woke up early this morning and wasn’t ready to get out of bed yet, so I lay there listening to a podcast from A Christian and an Atheist (podcast #101 for any who are interested in checking it out).  The title to the podcast is The Problem of Suffering.  For all those who are not interested in listening to it, it’s safe for you to assume the question under discussion is “how can an all-loving and all-powerful god allow so much suffering?”

Only half listening, my mind meandered through different “happy” stories I’ve heard in which God gets the credit for making everything work out.  But what if you don’t know the whole story?

A Christian couple has tried for years to have a baby.  You know the story.  Prayer, tests, more prayer, more tests, and no baby.  It’s just not going to happen.  Finally, having given up all hope of having their own biological child, they decide to adopt.  At the same time, a pregnant woman has decided she doesn’t want her child but she’s too far along to abort it, so she decides to give the child up for adoption.  The Christian couple are the happy recipients of this baby, and obviously God worked it all out.  Right?  Right?

What the Christian couple doesn’t know is that while they’re praising God for being so good to them and blessing them with this “unwanted” little girl, the “unwanted” child’s father (a Christian and a good friend of mine) had very much wanted her.  His girlfriend left him because he didn’t want the abortion.  When she found she was too far along to have the abortion, she never told him.  Never gave him the chance to keep his baby and raise her himself like he’d always wanted to.  Instead, she let him believe she went ahead with the abortion, and then adopted the little girl out to the Christian couple.

Two and a half years after his daughter was born, my friend’s ex emailed him to say she’d had the baby and given her up for adoption.  Attached were a couple of pictures of a smiling blonde little girl.

If God really did bless that Christian couple with the daughter they have been loving and raising all these years, then how does my friend’s loss and heartbreak fit in?  He loved God too, after all.  Did God just not love him as much as the other couple?  Was he not deemed worthy enough to raise his own daughter?  And how many other “blessings from God” do people receive without looking deeper to see whose tragedy they are being blessed by?

(Note: This story was told with my friend’s permission)

“And remember, this is for posterity so be honest.”

About a month ago I joined ExChristian.Net and have enjoyed reading people’s stories.  Some of them have been out of Christianity for years and years, and some have only recently left in the last few weeks or months.  Most seem to leave because of the same unsatisfying answers given to their questions regarding discrepancies in the Bible, the suspect goodness and love of God, the arrogance of religion

I don’t HATE Christianity, although I do get pretty heated sometimes when talking about church and the control that goes on there.  Perhaps I should be angry or something.  But I’m not.  At least, I don’t think I am.

Most of the ExChristian members seem to be atheists, with a smattering of agnostics and various kinds of theists.  This trend towards atheism interests me.    Why atheism instead of just switching to some other religion?  Sometimes it feels like “the thing to do”, and sometimes atheism seems like the smart/logical conclusion.  A few weeks ago I caught myself trying to talk myself into being an atheist for both those reasons.  It’s kind of odd that “the thing to do” would be one of my reasons considering how many times I’ve done or not done something just because nobody else was doing it or everyone was doing it.  Just to be different.

When I realized I was trying to talk myself into it, I discovered that is not who I am.  At least, not yet.  If I were, I wouldn’t have to persuade myself.  Maybe this is just  my periodic desire for a label.

Becoming an atheist or a theist or an agnostic or whatever is not my goal.  I just want to be honest with myself.  Live honestly.

I am not an atheist.

Why the exception?

“[T]he impression I got was that religion in general, though utterly false, was a natural growth, a kind of endemic nonsense into which humanity tended to blunder.  In the midst of a thousand such religions stood [Christianity], the thousand and first, labeled True.  But on what grounds could I believe in this exception?  It obviously was in some general sense the same kind of things as all the rest.  Why was it so differently treated?” -C.S. Lewis “Surprised by Joy”

Campbell’s Tomato Soup

There are tens of thousands of denominations in Christianity.  There are an estimated twenty-odd major religions in the world, many of which have or likely have several (if not hundreds or thousands) of branches, break-offs, streams of thought, denominations, sub-groups, or whatever you want to call them.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ll just use sub-group here.

When it comes to non-religious groups, I only recently discovered that
a) there are more than just atheists and agnostics and
b) even atheists and agnostics have sub-groups.

I had always thought you either didn’t believe in any gods or you didn’t know if any really existed, and that was the extent of it.  How do you find the “right” label for yourself?  And are these labels even important?  They always kind of bugged me….maybe because I didn’t know how to label myself.  I always said I was a Christian.  “Yeah…but what kind?”

“Independent fundamental, Bible-believing, Bible-beggin’, foot-stompin’, soul-winnin’, door-knockin’, pew-jumpin’, sin-hatin’, devil-chasin’, King James Version ONLY Baptist!” —Mark Lowry (the only place on the net I could find this quote is here)

My family on both sides is several generation Pentecostal.  From the age of 10 until in my teens when my family stopped attending church, we went to a Baptist church.  So was I a Pentecostal?  Was I a Baptist?  I didn’t really know and figured it shouldn’t matter.  I was a Christian!  That’s all that mattered!  I remember catching a ride somewhere with my great-aunt and uncle and a couple of friends of theirs.  My aunt and uncle are, of course, Pentecostal, as were their friends.  Conversation revolved around God and church, and my aunt suddenly warned her friends “Be careful what you say!  We have a little Baptist in the car!”  I thought about that warning many times over the years, which lead to my belief that denominations don’t matter.  Or labels.

And yet…being label-less in regards to my belief system…I catch myself looking for one.  I feel more vulnerable and lost without one.  I think “If I had a label, I would know what I believe and I’d have an answer for people when they ask me.”  There’s comfort in that.  Security.  I don’t like not having an answer.

GOD I miss the days when I knew what I believed!

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

I am a rabbit-trail kind of person both in the literal and figurative sense of the term.  Give me the choice between a well-worn path in the woods and some narrow little animal trail that juts off into the brush, and I will go for the little one every time.

Mental and conversational rabbit-trails are also a lot of fun to follow.  Like many other students I’m sure, I had Facebook open while trying to study math today and I saw someone posted a very long devotional thingy on the wall of a group I’m a part of.  Yes, a Christian group…mostly for teens I think.  The guy who runs it was in youth group a few years ago when I was one of the youth leaders which is why he added me to the group.  Anyway, the guy who posted on the group’s wall this afternoon was obviously not one of the younger teens I usually noticed leaving messages.  So I snooped his profile.  I DO love open profiles!  LOL!  Reading through his favourite quotes, I found one that stood out to me as being incongruent with Christianity in general.

“What can’t be tested can’t be trusted.” -John Burns

I’m not an expert on…well…anything, let alone religion and testing and proof and stuff…but I really can’t see how one can like or believe a quote like that and still have faith.  Like my big brother continually tells me every time I look for proof that God is real or Christianity is right or hell exists as a place of eternal torment, “It’s belief because there is no proof.  If there was proof, it wouldn’t be belief.  It’d be fact.”  Not to say that belief or faith are bad, they just seem incompatible with only trusting what can be tested.  Especially in regards to Christianity’s version of God, I remember being told that while God tolerated being tested and people’s requests/demands of proof, he didn’t like it.  Sure God proved himself to Gideon and Thomas,  but Jesus himself told Thomas (after giving him the proof he asked for) “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.”  Therefore it was always better to just accept the things of God unquestioningly.

When “God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it.” seems to be the general mentality of Christians, how can anything be tested?

I guess that’s why this quote on the profile of a person who appears to be a very devout Christian confuses me.

“Isn’t it a little suspicious……..”

I started reading Evolving in Monkey Town the other day and was excited this afternoon to discover that Evans asks many of the same questions as I do.  I’m not quite half-way through the book so I don’t know if she gives any answers, but there is something affirming about finding someone else who wonders/wondered about the same things.

“Isn’t it a little suspicious that the only true religion is the one with which we happen to grow up?” -Rachel Held Evans

One of the first questions I began asking over a year ago when I finally allowed myself TO question things was “How can we Christians be so sure that we are right and everyone else is wrong?  How can we be absolutely positive that all the people around the world who don’t believe the same as us will spend eternity in hell for their mistakenness?”  I’ve wondered this for the last 10 years or so but, because I blindly accepted the things I grew up hearing from my parents and sunday school teachers and pastors, I kept shoving that question to the back of my mind hoping it would eventually go away.  But it hasn’t.

Why was I a Christian?  Really, I almost didn’t have a choice.  I was born in Canada in the 80’s to a young Christian couple whose parents and grandparents were also Christians.  I was raised in the church and grew up hearing all the Bible stories both at home and at Sunday School.  When I was about 3 I remember waking up in the middle of the night.  It was dark and I was alone and a little scared.  I don’t remember WHY I thought to do this (perhaps the bits about “Jesus is always with you and will protect you” popped into my mind.  I don’t know.) but I remember sitting up in bed and asking Jesus into my heart.

Evans talks in her book about how a person’s religion is at least influenced if not determined by when they are born and where they are raised.  Of course anyone can change their beliefs at any time, but many if not most people don’t.  And for the majority of the world past, present, and future who do not believe or have not heard that the creator of the universe came to earth in a human body, died on our behalf to save us from sin, rose from the dead three days later and now demands that we “believe in” him or else spend eternity in torment, the “gospel” (aka “good news”) is about the worst news they could ever receive.

I honestly find it incredibly difficult to believe that God can both love every human he has created AND condemn the majority of those loved creations to an eternity of torture.  I can’t think of any situation in which I could send someone I love to a place of torture for a month, let alone eternity.  And I can’t think of anyone I could in good conscience sentence to an eternity in hell.  Does that make me more loving than the God of the Bible?  Because seriously, if the Bible is telling the truth about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, most of the world’s people are going to hell simply because they were born in the wrong part of the world at the wrong time.  If he really truly loves them, he could do something about that.  He SHOULD do something about it.