The Questioners’ Creed

I wrote about my own journey through deconstruction and leaving Church ministry last year. You can find that post here. Later on, I wrote a follow-up post titled “Faith Reconstructed“, where I tried to clear up some questions some of you had about where I was.

Since that post, I’ve had multiple people ask me more specific questions. You’ve asked me what I think about things beyond church, like the Bible, God, Jesus, The Trinity, and other questions that kind of felt like I was being lured into the “theology conversation” trap. What I’ve found is that usually when someone asks me these questions, they are looking for an opportunity to rebuke me, condemn my beliefs, or try to save me, because I am surely going to hell…or something.

So I’ve decided to elaborate more and get into the nitty-gritty regarding where I am currently for those who care about that sort of thing, and see where the conversation leads.

 

The Progression

I struggled for a while to identify exactly where I was landing spiritually. I wanted to feel some sort of fulfillment or security somewhere, but I was equally terrified/traumatized by just about every facet of it. So I decided to just let it lie for the time being and focus on healing emotionally from a very trying time I was just getting through in my life.

During this time I did not attend any church services, or engage much in conversations about God, christianity, the church, etc. because talking about it all in such a casual context was actually reactivating that trauma for me all over again.

This went on for a while and I didn’t think too much on how I felt about God and all things related. But something happened that I wasn’t expecting. Once the dust settled a bit, I realized that I had never been given the chance to ask the hard questions and sit with those questions for a while. Once I did, It didn’t take long for me to start forming new opinions. So here’s where I stand on the basics as of right now:

 

The Bible

the Bible is a tricky thing. These days people just decide what English translation is the best one, and then whole-heartedly believe every word in it (or the words they choose to read anyway). But have you ever read the whole thing? Have you ever thought “wait, this verse didn’t really line up with that other verse”. Or maybe thought that some parts of it seemed like it was straight out of a fantasy novel filled with magic and monsters?

The whole story begins with a man being created from the dust, and his counterpart being created from his rib, then moves to gigantic flaming angels guarding the entrance to an enchanted garden filled with magical vegetation. There are people with special abilities like seeing the future, a flood and an ark, pillars of fire, entire oceans splitting in half, talking serpents, multi-headed beasts, and that’s just the bigger highlights.

But let’s set those things aside for a second.

Over the last few months, I have been purposely and strategically posting content on my social media to try and entice those who follow me that might come from the conservative fundamentalist cloth to come out of the woodwork and hurl bible verses at me like grenades and try to tear me down for posting something that might challenge their view. Now, mind you, I didn’t actually add my own comments to these posts. I simply reposted something someone else had posted. I left my reasoning for posting it up for interpretation.

They did not disappoint.

What I gathered from this experiment was a fresh reminder of a very important reality. Church-going, Bible-believing christians generally believe their calling is to rebuke what is deemed to be a challenge to their belief system, while assuming the position of the superior presence in the conversation. What is their primary basis for this superiority?

The Bible. 

Their assumption is that I am wrong because what I posted doesn’t line up with their understanding of certain cherry-picked Bible verses.

I’ll be honest here. My instinctual reaction to people hurling Bible verses at me is something along the lines of “Wow! I had no idea you were an educated scholar who speaks fluent Classical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek.” Now I understand this is sarcastic and condescending, but my point is valid. How can one assume they know what a text says that was written in a dead language and translated numerous times through multiple different points in history with different cultural contexts to try to make sense of the original text, ultimately making its way to the English language and cutting out most of the cultural and historical context to create a more literal and straight-forward understanding of the words but wholly missing out on the meaning behind them.

An example of original texts might look something like this:

original bible text example

If you can read this,  and have a historical and cultural understanding of the context behind the words, then feel free to explain to me what the Bible says.

The truth is, even this image is a translation. We don’t even have the original texts anymore. Even if we did, there are very few people left in existence who could interpret them from the original context and meaning, and their interpretation would be just that; an interpretation.

So when someone tells me that something I believe is wrong based on a bible verse they found, I want to violently hurl a rock at their face. Yes, this is an overreaction, but it is equally as ridiculous.

Specifically, I believe that much of the Bible is made up of stories imagined by creative writers of poetry and allegory. They dreamed up beautiful ways to explain to their children and their children’s children how the world was created, how we came to be, how God is in control, and why there is evil in the world. I believe Genesis is that story. So no, I don’t believe Adam and Eve were real people. I believe they are fictitious illustrations of the beginning of humanity, written by a primitive people with a very simplistic and ignorant understanding of the universe. Just as the night sky is described as a “firmament”, so too was the beginning of all things known to be created in 6 days, through mystical means, set in an enchanted land. Humanity is always evolving. I’m sure humanity two thousand years from now will look back at us and consider our understanding to be quite primitive and ignorant (if humanity still exists!).

I also believe that the Bible is a collection of those kinds of poetic allegorical stories, with historical accounts the way the writers understood them, as well as a bunch of letters written to various congregations of people throughout the world that a bunch of politicians and leaders in a room in Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) in 325 A.D. decided were important enough to include and group together.

It is for this reason that I do not participate in debates of understanding regarding the Bible as we know it today. the Bible is one of the most difficult and complex pieces of literature that we possess in existence today. We should treat it as such and stop using it as our own personal means of judgment and condemnation of those with whom we disagree.

 

Prayer

This has been a tough one. For me to speak to the idea and concept of prayer, I must first break down my views on God and what God is to me these days. On my best days, I struggle to see God not so much as a “person”, but rather a force that holds all things together. God is a mystical, ever-expanding concept that is almost impossible to talk about in-depth without eventually just coming to the conclusion that anything I think or feel is meaningless in the grand scheme of it all,  and that ultimately I have no idea how anything has come to be. If your conversations on God don’t end the same way, then your version of God is self-created and you are not considering the full extent of the concept.

That being said, I believe that prayer to God as a means of making wishes about what you want to happen is a made-up system of manipulation by figures who have assumed authority in religious circles to evoke emotional responses in which they can seize opportunities to control our experiences and box us into neat safe spaces of spirituality, while ultimately setting us up for a gigantic emotional fallout to which countless have become a victim.

But I do believe prayer as a means of meditation is highly productive, and even a healthy practice. The mental and physical repercussions of prayer as an aspect of meditation has shown itself to be incredibly therapeutic and effective in dealing with anxiety, balancing our emotional response with our logical responses, and ultimately helping us become healthier in daily life and in our relationships. The interesting aspect of the studies I’ve read is that it was equally as effective whether people were praying to a God, or praying to nothing or themselves.

But prayer as a form of having a one-sided conversation with a being in which we ask or demand that certain things go our way, or in which we ask for gifts, or that a loved one not die, or use as a copout for not actually doing anything to help another person but helping to ease our guilt of not helping them is not just pointless, but also damaging and incredibly dangerous emotionally.

 

The Unspoken inequality Problem

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve had the conversation that it’s ironic in the worst way that Christians stereotypically are more likely to be misogynistic or sexist, generally racist, or primarily possess an underlying degree of white supremacist mentality, and are often times just generally driven by fear and anger. I understand that I am stereotyping and that there are many people who claim the Christian faith that would not consider themselves to be that way. But I would argue that it’s in the DNA of the Christian church as we know it today, and that even if you don’t think you are, you might be a little.

I speak from experience.

I would’ve never considered myself to be sexist. I love women and have always considered women to be strong, powerful, and deserving of the utmost respect. But I was also somewhat brainwashed into believing the man is still more important. “The man is the head of the household” is often a phrase uttered in Christian circles. “The man is the primary provider and authority in the home. The woman submits to the man as the man loves the woman”. The way I justified this thinking was that, if in the healthiest context, the man loved the woman as himself, and the woman submitted to the man as unto God, then it balances out and ultimately is the same behavior. But I was wrong about that and I didn’t see it until I had left the church.

The Church has a tendency to belittle women, segregate people based on income or race, and most certainly is not a place of equality and love, generally speaking. I have been a part of and worked in more churches than you would believe. I never saw a church that successfully embodied any of these traits.

“People are flawed and therefore there is no church that is perfect” you might say. I agree with you. But I have personally found far more love, acceptance, grace, and mercy given outside the church than inside. At some point, one has to acknowledge that maybe it’s not a few bad eggs in the bunch, but rather the institution as a whole that is flawed. And it should be rebuilt.

 

The Church

I’m going to close this post by addressing my general views and concerns with the Church as we know it today. I worked in various different denominations of churches for almost a decade. I spent my life dedicated to the Church and serving members of congregations from all different backgrounds. I committed my life to learning how to assemble and organize multiple types of worship services with different styles. I learned creeds and prayers and other ancient liturgical elements. To this day, I am still haunted by the four chord pattern that embodies EVERY. SINGLE. WORSHIP. SONG.

So why would someone like me decide to not go to church anymore?

Well…That is more complicated than one post can hold. I’ve been mentally, emotionally, and verbally abused, yes. I was overworked, underappreciated, and bore witness to some of the most ridiculous, unethical, and sometimes illegal behavior I’ve seen. But my trauma only partially fuels my desire to not be a part of the church anymore. The rest lies more with the reality that I got tired of seeing people in churches acting a certain way, thinking their way was the correct way to do things, and building their ways and their faith on a foundation of pagan practices, meaningless traditions, and false manipulations of experience.

For this last point, I’ll break it down into a few sub-sections:

Worship

For over a decade I would’ve identified as a “Worship Leader”. I held various titles, but ultimately this is the most common and most well-known one, so we’ll go with that. So I of all people have fought to bring the truest, deepest, most authentic version of worship to the table for the people and for God. But what I got tired of was how churches seem to think certain acts or practices are holier than others. People deeply and genuinely believe there is a right way and a wrong way to worship God. They would fight and fight and fight over styles, prayers, how to take communion, how to give your tithe, what the lighting might look like, what it should feel like or look like. Some of the most heated, confrontational, and aggressive conversations I’ve ever had with people have been over worship services.

One time, someone came up to me and very aggressively told me that he hated that I had moved the chairs because his chair was no longer in the spot that it always has been. I responded the way any rational and straightforward person might. I told him that it was just a chair and that there were over a hundred other chairs to choose from. He happened to be on staff at that church, and the next day he quit in protest of what I had done. HE QUIT OVER A CHAIR. A CHAIR. The pastoral staff came to me and wanted me to apologize so he would continue to work for them. I was quite understandably shocked. Shocked they would ask me to apologize for simply informing the gentleman that there are plenty of other places to sit. What was I supposed to apologize for? “I’m sorry that I took your favorite spot away.”

I share this story to make a greater point; A person can make anything holy. Get enough people together that agree with you and…BOOM… it’s untouchable. That is literally how everything people do and say in church services have been created. There is only one act that could be considered truly rooted in tradition, and that is the act of communion. But even the way we practice that ritual is far removed from its original context.

People don’t realize that everything from the stage, to how more “traditional” churches have seats on a stage for the pastoral staff to sit before and during the service, to the giving of orations at a podium for an hour is all “pagan”. (I outline this all much more in detail here for those who are interested. Albeit a far more “christian” perspective as it was written almost two years ago.)

Service

I’m no longer speaking of worship services, but of actual service. I know. It’s confusing. The church began using the word “service” to describe the ritual they exclusively participate in once a week, only further blurring the lines between what service truly is.

The Church has a service problem. As a whole, my experience with the church in a nutshell was that no matter what they said or did, they never really cared about those in need. The homeless was an opportunity to market their church brand to the city and let everyone see how helpful and giving they were, in order to attract more members. Addicts were mostly shunned, save for a few churches participating in their own brand of AA that was allowed to be held on church property.

If someone was sick, a specific church might have a designated “ministry” or department that took care of that sort of thing. Taking meals to the family or something. But it had to be arranged. There had to be a budget for it. And there had to be volunteers. Often times one, or all of those things were not present, therefore the church wouldn’t participate in such acts.

Theology

Theology is something I was very passionate about for a very long time. I fell victim to the lie that theology matters. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good philosophical conversation in which people can ponder the mysteries of existence and the universe and what not, but ultimately the study of God is nothing more than that. We should all treat it as such, and not get so bent out of shape when someone disagrees with us. But there’s a greater issue at stake here. Obviously people can’t see, hear, or touch God, so they are forced to build a faith-based relationship with their beliefs about God. I’d equate this to building a fortress out of twigs. You end up worrying more about something or someone coming along and breathing a little too hard and knocking it all over, thus destroying your way of life. It forces one to be more concerned with defense than with love, acceptance, and selflessness. Self-absorption, piety, and superiority becomes the facade that one might construct, the light that one might project on their house of twigs and make it appear as a castle. But shadows can be deceiving.

It was when I let go of all my presuppositions about God and whatever brand of theology I had chosen to subscribe to over the years that I began to see people for what they are: beautiful.

It is diversity that makes us truly and uniquely amazing. But the Church can’t handle diversity. It can’t handle someone coming in and saying “well I don’t believe that’s how it works”. It doesn’t know how to react or respond to diversity of thought. Maybe it never has. Or maybe this is an evolved trait. Either way, it will be the downfall of the Church and the death of Christianity. I, for one, welcome such a death openly and warmly. Christianity is on life support culturally. It continues to remove itself from the world so much that it no longer can relate to it. It’s hard to love something you can’t relate to. Without love, the Church becomes obsolete. It will dwindle down to small groups of old, hateful, intolerant curmudgeons. If given the opportunity, I would gladly pull the plug on that life support. Death brings new life. Maybe starting over would be a good thing.

C.S. Lewis foresaw the trajectory of Christianity and depicted this type of people in his book “The Great Divorce”. If you haven’t read it, I definitely suggest you do so. It’s a good read, but a painful one. I even wrote about it years ago, still in the trenches of faith and religion and trying persistently to make sense of my beliefs, which you can check out here.

 

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it is all of these thoughts and more, but the bottom line is this: Why would I want to go to a place that forces people to feel, believe, and act on things that aren’t natural to them, all while condemning any line of questions, differing opinions, or freedom of thought and self. Why would I want to go to a place that is quite stereotypically filled with the most closed-minded, hateful, dishonest, delusional people I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve been hurt more by people in the Church than I have by anyone else. Since leaving, my life has become more peaceful. I feel the freedom to be authentic.

I have more meaningful relationships with people who truly care about me and are actively involved in my life. For the first time in my entire life, I feel that if I was in trouble, I’d have people jumping to be there for me as I would be there for them.

The biggest difference I’ve noticed in my character since leaving the church is that I am quick to defend or stand up for those who are oppressed. I feel quite passionate about the rights of those who have had them taken away or suppressed for decades. I no longer see women as lesser than men. I feel an incredible amount of empathy for those in the black community, and I genuinely feel love towards the Muslim communities I have encountered, as well as other religious sects.

It would have been very difficult for me to overcome my prejudices before. The funny thing is I would have never said or believed I even had those predjudices, just as I’m sure many of you think of yourselves as well. But the Church is like a bubble, an echo chamber that sort of brainwashes you into believing certain things about the world subtly and quietly. It isn’t until that bubble bursts that you see that there is a whole other world out there and you’ve been molded into something you never intended.

Maybe one day I’ll change my mind about some things. But I don’t think I will be going back to Church anytime soon. I’ve found my peace with that. It is for this reason that you won’t get me to have debates or arguments about beliefs. I won’t attack your beliefs, even if I think you are batshit crazy and despise everything you stand for. I genuinely try to understand why someone believes what they believe. I want to know where someone is coming from. Attacking your beliefs would be no better than the Church. I deeply long to be better than I’ve been, as I always have, and hopefully as this blog reflects as a whole. I want my exit from Church and religion to be meaningful. I don’t want my experiences to be in vain. I’ve always wanted to have a life of purpose that is bigger than myself. It’s probably why I lasted as long as I did in the Church. But now I believe it’s all up to me.

If I want to live a life of meaning that impacts others and leaves a mark in the world that causes it to be better than when I left it, then it’s all in my hands. At the end of the day, I think that’s a better way to live.

The interesting part of the whole thing is that, based on evidence in studies by neuroscientists, when we actually decide to even contemplate a concept as vast or complex as “God”, our brain begins to rewire itself. After longterm exposure to a belief in God, the human brain actually restructures around the belief, thereby defining existence on said belief. So I may always desire to have a belief in a higher power. It is because of this desire that my mind is always at war with itself. The thing to take away from the results of those studies, however, is that we create the reality around us. We choose with every day decisions what kind of life we will live, what world we will live in, and what person we will be.

I’ve never had a “God moment”. I’ve never had an experience where I felt like God somehow interacted with me in any real or tangible way. I’ve always been skeptical of such experiences. But if there is a God out there that actually communicates with creation in even partially tangible ways, I’d welcome the experience. Until then, I’ll press on.

There will be those of you who will read this post and consider me a lost soul. You might think I’m going to hell. That’s fine. I don’t really believe such a place exists anyway. You might fear for my life, based on your own baggage of an irrational fear of God. That’s alright. I understand where you’re coming from. You might feel the need to pity me. Don’t.

The truth is, I’ve never been happier. I’ve never felt more at peace. I’ve never felt more connected with the people around me and the world in which I live in and exist. I have a new and reignited drive and passion to accomplish great things and see my dreams become a reality because of the realization that nothing will happen unless I make it happen. I choose my life. I make my destiny. And whether it’s all just a machine that was planned to unfold from beginning to end before I was ever here doesn’t really matter to me. Maybe I was always supposed to get to this point. Or maybe it’s been me all along. But I’m tired of waiting on a silent, distant being to put all the pieces back together. It never happened that way for me.

It wasn’t until I realized that I’m the only one I can rely on to put the pieces back together that I began to move forward, to heal, and see the beauty of life again. I guess that kinda makes it all worth it in the end.

 

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