Losing My Religion

Things were normal. I attended youth group. I led praise and worship and played in a christian punk band. I helped my parents start a church. I was a conservative, evangelical, charismatic christian. There were signs that things would change, however, like in middle school when the biology teacher at my Christian school posited that God could have used the process of evolution to create life. And when I realized in high school that I wasn’t better than my homosexual classmates. And in college when I became friends with a Palestinian and learned that the Middle East was more complex than my limited, religious-republican worldview. The change was gradual, until I graduated college and started working. It was then that I discovered a world of christian thinkers who examined everything carefully (1 Thess 5:12), and for the first time my beliefs were challenged. The year was 1999, and I had an important question to answer. Does God exist?

It was the perfect time in my life for reflection. I was married, graduated from college, and working full-time. Our son was newly introduced to the world, and that tends to stimulate thoughts about purpose and meaning. Plus, the fledgling Internet was bursting with new perspectives and new knowledge. I was exposed to political, philosophical, and religious ideas that awakened the nonconformist skeptic that had always lived inside of me. The turning point that I remember most stems from a map of the world’s religions. That map illustrates the fact that people tend to keep the religion of their culture and family, and it also shows the overwhelming acceptance of Christianity in the world. Those two points formed the loose piece of tape that I started slowly pulling. The tape secured the package that contained my beliefs. My parents told me what was inside of that package, but I had never really looked for myself. Now, as I ripped away the tape and opened the package I realized that I didn’t recognize what was inside. I had a salvation experience at 6 years old, and numerous other encounters with God throughout my childhood, but I didn’t truly understand what I believed. In fact, I didn’t really believe what I believed. My faith was based on my parents’ tutelage and instruction. Now, at 25 years old, that was suddenly a poor foundation for the philosophy that shaped my life and the way I viewed the world. The overwhelming popularity of my religion caused me to question it even more because I always questioned the majority. The whims of the crowd is often an indicator of the wrong, not the right. Now what? What do I believe?

I started my quest by researching other religions, but I soon found that I needed to go deeper. To build my belief system I had to go all the way to the bottom, or maybe the top, depending on the perspective. Why do I think that God exists at all? How do I KNOW that God is real? When I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old, I used to have a hard time going to sleep because I was scared of dying. Those fears came back as I stared over the precipice of the universe and wondered. It was a steep and foreboding view. I experienced something akin to vertigo whenever I quieted my mind enough to reflect on the possibility of life without God. It was a feeling of disconnectedness, like I was adrift, and the entire universe was the sea. I don’t know how long that lasted, but for a period of time, maybe a few months to a year, I was agnostic.

I gradually became comfortable with this new equilibrium .. this balance between belief and doubt. I found A Christian Thinktank and other online resources, including mailing lists and forums, and continued to work out what I believed. The paralyzing fear and uncertainty were replaced with a comfortable acceptance of the idea that I didn’t know everything, and couldn’t know everything. I tried on atheism, like a new dinner jacket draped over the contours of my mind. I’d go out on the town with this fancy jacket on, but it wasn’t me. It didn’t quite fit. I couldn’t reconcile atheism with creation, the universe, and the birth of my son. Maybe it is conceptual bias, but in my experience, everything created has a creator. For me, to say definitively, “There is no God,” took more faith than to say, “There is a God, but I don’t understand God.” So now, the question remained. Who is this God?

I circled back to my study of other religions. It didn’t take long for me to find easily refutable or objectionable areas in every major religion, including Christianity. I found many things to like in Buddhist teachings, but as an overall worldview it lacked the rational depth that I needed. Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, and all the other religions I researched had major logical flaws. The New Testament on the other hand, despite its focus on the supernatural, really spoke to me. The life of Jesus was compelling. I read the Book of John with new eyes and the narrative appealed (as in a request) to me as both true and True. The Old Testament was problematic, so I ignored it.

I still wasn’t confident in my beliefs. There were numerous, classic arguments against the existence of God that I couldn’t answer. The most vexing for me was the Problem of Evil. Not only that, but some of the most basic tenets of Christianity seemed implausible. Still, the life of Jesus was a story I could not ignore. As trite as it sounds, the idea of the power of love as a tangible force for good in the world, drew me to God. (1 John 4:8) The self sacrificial servanthood of Jesus, the depth of love I felt for my family, the selflessness and good I observed in others, were all evidence of a Power working in the world that I couldn’t understand. This is God, and I wanted to know more.

At that point I called myself a Christian-agnostic. (Don’t we all love labels?) In other words, nothing could be “known” with certainty about the nature and existence of God, but I still believed that the New Testament worldview was the most likely to be true. I guess we call that “faith.” This was hardly the stout evangelicalism of my youth, but it was a starting point.

In the nearly 20 years since, I’ve built upon that meager foundation, and the walls are still unfinished. Oftentimes bricks and plaster get knocked off or peeled away, and then rebuilt in a new shape and structure. I continually lose my religion in the process of finding the truth. This building process is both challenging and fulfilling, and I am making progress. I am learning more about God’s nature and purpose, and about our calling to care for the Earth and everything on it. I’ve received profound revelation about the need to love and serve others as Jesus did, but more often than not I fail to do this in my own life. I’ve learned about the joy and connectedness that comes from embracing an “Eastern” understanding of Christianity, but I don’t meditate and pray regularly in accordance with that understanding.

My growth and my failings persist, but I am at peace. I don’t fear the afterlife, focusing instead on the presentlife. I don’t get worked up over theological questions, or the things that I don’t understand, focusing instead on what I do understand. Jesus showed me how to live. My goal is to live like Him.

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