Wednesday, November 23, 2005

So, what happened...

Well. How does one tackle the why and how of their spiritual lives? Some questions I'm constantly asking myself about my own are: How did I get here? How did I get so angry about my religious background? Why am I still angry at the Christian religion? How do I believe in anything after I've gleefully said "I don't believe" to almost all of the things I was taught as unshakeable truth?

I am happy where I am spiritually. Mostly. And where am I? I would say that at this moment (and I can be so mercurial that I may fall into wholly different categories a week from now, I'm sorry to say) I enjoy being undeclared in any religion. I'm a humanist, agnostic, slightly bitter, sometimes apathetic Gen X-er who cast off with joy the restrictive, superstitious, fear-based and prejudicial faith she was raised with and is now trying to decide where to turn for spiritual fulfillment. Restrictive, superstitious, fear-based and prejudicial are strong words to use in describing my childhood faith, I acknowledge.

[I'd like to add now that my parents are not to blame for my backlash against Fundamental Christianity. Though they did and still do have much more conservative views than I in terms of religion and politics and raised me according to those views, they typically do not let any of their beliefs keep them from treating those they encounter - however those strangers and friends may embody the very evils that make Fundies (Christian Fundamentalists) everywhere turn rather green - with respect, dignity, friendship and true love. For that example I thank them from my heart. They are much more compassionate than I, for all my posturing and self-congratulation about being more "liberal".]

So, like I said, strong words and not aimed at my parents. But I do harbor anger against Christian Fundamentalism in general - the leaders (especially of the political church. Focus on the Family, for example, or the Christian Coalition), schoolteachers, pastors and abetting congregants who all fashioned my world into a prison of rules that made no sense to me. I admit that I WAS allowed to question those beliefs. In the Fundie world doubting is encouraged - after a fashion. This kind of doubting (Exhibit A): "I struggle with the fact that we believe that homosexuals are destined for hell unless they cast off their wicked lifestyle. It seems cruel of God, but my ways are not His [HIS!] ways and I'll continue to live according to this rule and trust that God will reveal to me why it's just and fair in His own time." NOT this kind of doubting (Exhibit B): "I refuse to believe that a god who calls itself Love in its own scriptures would 1. have any problem with people of any sex finding love in their own way and according to their own preference, and 2. send anyone to eternal suffering [the existence of which I also question] because of an arbitrary rule against a lifestyle choice that harms no one. The burden of proof of the rightness of this rule lies with God. Not me." Or: "I don't believe that women should be silent in the church, abstain from spiritual leadership or live under the headship of their husbands simply because they are female. Either St. Paul is wrong in the Bible or our interpretation of what he said has long been skewed." Do you see the difference between the two kinds of questioning? One says "I don't understand and I don't like it, but I'm not able to fathom God's reasoning. I accept it as truth in spite of my misgivings". The other says "This rule goes agains my very heart and soul. I don't believe that it's truth simply because it's so alien to my own perception of love and goodness, which is presumably created in the image of God. Therefore I don't think God can possibly mean what we think God means."

Both kinds of doubting have their problems [I remind you that I'm no scholar of logic, philosophy or theology. So my examples and beliefs are most likely ignorant, one-dimensional and strewn with errors. But I can't wait to process this until I get smarter and apologize now for inevitable offenses.] Exhibit A is good in that it's a humble acceptance of things we don't understand, in contrast to the admitted arrogance of Exhibit B. Our minds are finite, undereducated (mine is, at least) and our sense of right and wrong is, although divine in origin (my opinion), still obviously faulty in execution. So we DO have to take things on faith sometimes and trust that greater minds than ours must make some moral (or whatever sort) decisions for us. However. The problem with Exhibit A is that it most importantly keeps people from using the brains god gave 'em. And if you think that isn't happening in the Fundie community here's a good smack upside the head. Not with ALL fundies, no. I'm talking about the seething masses here who jump when Dr. James Dobson (leader of Focus on the Family) says "boo!" and do his bidding - working to criminalize abortion and same-sex love relationships, render illegal the teaching of evolution, make our children listen to prayers to the Christian god in school, etc. When the only doubting allowed is of the former kind, license is given the masses to hate, name-call, shun and work against those they're supposed to love most in the name of Trusting in God. Responsibilty is laid solely on God, the Bible, and those who, often wrongly (my opinion again - oh, hell. This whole thing is my opinion. I'll stop saying it.), interpret both. That scares the bejabbers out of me. And my anger at the church is mostly borne of fear.

Casting off belief in the list of rules - that most Fundies swear doesn't exist but mysteriously still all manage to live by - was to date the most wonderful and scariest thing I've ever done. Wonderful because I could take a deep breath, look around and see things in a different light. No one was condemned, no one was sinful or unworthy or an abomination in god's eyes. I was no longer in trouble for hoping that Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or agnostics had as good a chance of reaping a pleasant afterlife as I. I could now fix my own soul on a morality that I could glean from my own feelings and thoughts, from the manifestos of nations and organizations, from other religions and other...people...instead of one source - The Bible. Wonderful! The world and the heavens were a kinder, happier place and love - real love - could come at you from anywhere. Scary because now I had to come up with an entirely new roadmap [thank you, M. Scott Peck] with which to view my world. The onus was on me to form what I believed and why. If I faced god at the end of my life and was required to give an account of myself Post-Liberation-From-Christianity, I'd need a good reason for casting off one set of beliefs and forming another.

Well, first off I borrowed the beliefs system of the Political Left. Easy to squirm into the wet folds of postmodern liberalist lip-service and be comfortably angry about lack of gay rights, the environment, censorship, America's current administration, racism. Feel "right". Liberal-minded. More accepting, more authentic, less prejudiced and accusatory. No need to do anything, mind you. It's so easy to watch the GOP screwing up the country and accept no blame. So easy to sit back and think that peace, love and understanding would solve the world's ills. But that hasn't been working. It felt like throwing away one kind of hate and adopting another.

More later...


Blogger Justin said...

Wow. Powerful thoughts.

Good finding you on I sent you a Y! IM request. Talk to you later.

11/23/2005 11:37 PM  
Blogger Aly H. said...

My loving and lovely friend:

If all truth is god's truth, you are shining with god all over. May the Eternal continue to bless your journey...


11/24/2005 10:58 PM  
Anonymous bananie said...

i would LOVE to talk with you too. i, too, found you via emergentno, and i think we've walked a similar path.

thank you for your raw honesty, and for engaging those like mr annon.

find me as anshed on ichat/aim, or over at my blog or via email. i hope your thanksgiving was lovely.

11/25/2005 4:46 PM  
Blogger Morphea said...

Justin, I enjoyed our conversation very much - thanks for reaching out, brotha.

Aly, ...really? You think I'm speaking truth? Geez, I was just calling it a highly subjective, ignorant and prejudiced rant, but thanks. Wow. I'll check with god later and find out if you're right.

Bananie, your blog is fascinating. And I had a great Thanksgiving - thank you! - though sadly dog-free. How lucky you are.


11/28/2005 1:11 PM  
Blogger Grey Owl said...

Great story. I'm glad that you are still close with your parents; too many people find themselves estranged after leaving behind the belief systems of their families.

It's good to see you commenting at E-What. Where and when did you become interested in Emergent? Not that you'd be the first ex-fundy to find your way there...

11/30/2005 10:51 AM  
Blogger Morphea said...

Warm welcome, Grey Owl! I was hoping to get to know you better - you're always a cool splash of reason and courtesy on E-What.

Er, I haven't told my parents. For something like 7 years. Not sure what to do about this yet...

I got interested in Emergent solely because a personal friend of mine introduced me to Addison Road, a blog she co-authors with HER personal friends. They're all (I believe) of an emergent mindset and all ex-fundies. And now they're all personal friends of mine. And the emergent discussion is SO interesting from an ex-fundie and a historical point of view that I'm just kind of hanging around. Awkward, since I've chosen the easy way out of the whole shebang, but I hope I can still contribute something, you know?


11/30/2005 2:32 PM  
Blogger Grey Owl said...

I think you're contributing alot. And you don't come across like many of the angry, disenfranchised fundamentalists I'm come to know and, er, love. I hope that perhaps you find in the EC what was lacking in your previous contexts.

Thanks for the compliment - I hope that there are others more reasonable and courteous than me, otherwise the EC is in for trouble!

BTW what do you mean, "the easy way out?"

11/30/2005 3:13 PM  
Blogger Morphea said...

Silly man. You'll be the best part of what EC stands for.

Thanks for the compliment, yourself (aren't we NICE??). Unfortunately it's easy not to sound angry in the blog world where I can have a good think about what I'm saying. But people I know still consider "angry" to be one of my defining characteristics, to my eternal sorrow. I'm working on it. Because I am a very angry woman a lot of the time.

Which brings me to the easy way out. Giving up Christianity as my own personal belief system altogether. I'm not questioning its validity, just that leaving it helped me to let go of some of the fear, repression, anger and painful recollections. Especially the anger. I can listen to a Fundie fume about stuff now and just lean back and say, "this is not about me. This does not threaten me. This person means no harm to me or anyone else. Now let's see about loving this cat and making them feel comfortable around me." Why I couldn't do that and keep faith with Jesus I can't tell you. It pains me to say it. Nothing meant anything anymore. Christians go through black periods like this and come out the other side renewed. But they keep the name, stay faithful. I didn't. That's what hurts the most - my repeated faithlessness. This is not the first time.


11/30/2005 3:35 PM  
Blogger Grey Owl said...

Cerise - I understand! When you have time to write out your thoughts you can stop and erase all the insults, profanity, etc., and wind up sounding much more wise than you actually are. In person, well... I sometimes let my better judgement take a holiday.

I'm not going to say that I know how or what you're feeling about giving up your faith - I think that people too often throw those phrases around. But I will say this: it sounds like you had a whole bunch of legitimate negative feelings and associations with the church/christianity, and that they were causing you much pain. It seems to me that in order to save yourself (and your sanity) you got rid of the baggage that was weighing you down. It also sounds (and forgive me if I'm wrong) like you let go of what was probably a close and true relationship with Jesus because once you got rid of all the structure that surrounded him there just wasn't enough left to support the weight of your life and questions. It would have been like losing someone you loved. That sounds to me like anything but an "easy way out" - it actually sounds very painful and difficult. Calling it "easy" seems to me like you're still beating yourself up about it.

I love that part in the Bible where a father comes and begs Jesus to heal his child. Jesus asks him, "Do you believe?" The man throws himself at Jesus' feet and cries, "Lord, I believe! But help my unbelief!" I have often felt like that man.

If I keep going for much longer I'll get accused of preaching, so I'll stop there. If anything I've said is out of line, I apologize. And I don't know how much (if anything) it means to you, but I'm praying for you.

12/01/2005 10:11 AM  
Blogger Morphea said...

My dear boy, how kind you are. Preach away. This is my blog and I say you're not even preaching, just understanding. I appreciate your words and prayers more than I can say.


12/01/2005 11:47 AM  
Blogger Grey Owl said...

I'm glad that my words are well-recieved. But feel free to shut me down should I cross any lines. I can have a tendancy to dig too deep on occasion...

I had a great deal of trouble dealing with the more fundamentalist groups of evangelicalism - and, to my shame, for most of my high school and early college years I was one of them. I was right in there threatening people with hell and the whole bit. I can't tell you how awful it is to look back in my mind and watch myself do those things. I've grieved for the the friendships I've lost and the people I alienated from God. When I started to get sick of what I was doing and ask questions (like your "exhibit B" questions), I was shunned as well. So I left to do some searching of my own, and found (to my surprise) that Jesus was among the liberals as well.

I like how open you are with everything you're writing. And I agree - much of our preconcived notions about God are a result of skewed interpretation. I think a good combination of "exhibits a&b" doubting (combining humility and reason) would do most christians a world of good.

Of course, now I'm labelled a worldly, liberal christian. Can't please everybody!

12/01/2005 1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brad here again. Just read this post. I can identify with many points you've written here. It goes without saying, but especially the part you left unwritten, growing up a missionary child of Free Methodist missionary parents in Zaire and baggage we carried from that on trips back to the U.S. in between. In terms, of my faith, perhaps I'm somewhere between my folks and your parents, and where you're at. I haven't attended church regularly in years and I'm thrilled with yesterday's election results. Whatever that indicates.


11/08/2006 1:13 PM  

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