Falling Out of Faith

A good friend recently suggested I write about where I’m at on my current journey with church, and more importantly, my current journey with God. As a forewarning I’d like to make it clear that this piece is in no way meant as an underhand dig at Christians, or a vent for my less than pleasant feelings towards church and some of the people in it. I don’t have any issue if you choose to take up the Christian faith (or any other faith for that matter); your particular life choices have no bearing on me and are entirely yours to make. So before you get your knickers in a twist reading my potentially ‘offensive’ opinions, hear me out. This is my personal take on life from where I happen to find myself right now. Brutal? Perhaps. Honest? Always.

Most of you who know me will know that up until recently, a huge part of my identity was my burning passion for Jesus. I wholeheartedly believed in the fundamental gospel, that I was inherently in need of saving, and that God had provided a convenient route via Jesus’ death and rising. Furthermore, I felt the need to share this truth with all I came across, to ensure they didn’t befall a fiery eternal death, and to ‘win’ people for the ‘kingdom.’

Even writing those words is difficult now. I cringe when I think of all the jargon and judgment I poured out on so many who were unlucky enough to cross my path. If that was you, I’m truly sorry. My arrogance was born out of a genuine concern for people, based on the ‘truth’ I built my life on, but looking back, I was a total numpty. It’s not all bad though. I made some incredible friends on my Christian journey. Perhaps it was the social glue of a common belief system, or the minimal group paradigm; whatever it was, some of those friends remain friends for life in the truest sense of the word. I also geared my life to helping others, by no means a bad thing.

The falling out of faith came slowly, then all at once. A bit like falling asleep, except this felt like waking up. The more I stepped away, the more clarity I had. It started with irritation at people offering to pray for us when B wasn’t sleeping. And by not sleeping, I mean not sleeping. At all. Ever. People prayed and nothing changed; and when they asked and I honestly told them nothing had changed, they would step up with some bullshit about God’s plan being bigger than we can understand. There was literally no good to be had from B not sleeping, so why couldn’t an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God just do something about it? Oh yes. There must be a bigger plan. One that God in his infinite wisdom had chosen to withhold from little old human me.

 This dissonance between what I was taught about God and what I actually experienced in my everyday began to grow. People would share about how God gave them a parking space, or how they suddenly had money during a period of financial difficulty, or how God had answered their prayer about the lady down the road accepting their invitation to a church event. All the while I was delving deeper and deeper into a world totally beyond my control. A child whose needs continued to become increasingly complex; who didn’t sleep, who had multiple medical issues, who became a danger to himself and others around him and whose future was entirely unknown. So God answered prayers about parking spaces but remained silent on things that actually mattered. Bigger picture stuff apparently. It didn’t sit right with me.

Being completely honest, working for the church has had its downsides and did nothing to reconcile the struggles I had. At best, the tactics used to ‘win people’ are misguided, at worst, manipulative. I’m talking as someone who has seen and experienced the inner workings of church. Granted, not all churches operate in the same way, but when the secular world offers better support to it’s employees than the Christian sector, something is out of whack. I have painfully watched my husband suffer completely unnecessarily as a direct result of decisions made by the very people meant to be supporting him, supporting us. The reason? The relentless pursuit of agenda and programme; the chase of masses over the minority.

At this point I chatted to some trusted friends about how I felt. Some were helpful, some repeated the bigger plan mantra like a broken record. Probably the best advice we had was not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, not to make big decisions about faith off the back of emotional hardship. Good advice. I went away and started to research the whole thing. Origins of Christianity, church history, anthropology in general. In truth, I was desperate to find some tiny thread of conviction to keep me in the faith. Letting go of something that has been your way of life for so long is not easy. It’s unsettling, and difficult, and shifts your entire outlook in so many areas. Equally, remaining part of something I could no longer truthfully conform to is not who I am. I’m hardwired personality-wise to be true to myself and true to others; naturally non-conformist, you might say.

Despite my desperation to find the anchor I needed in my adrift state, the more I read, and the more I observed, the less convinced I was. The horrific genocide in the Bible, justified by an all-loving God. The gruesome wars that continue to the present day based on faith. The controlling manner of an institution that expects people to conform to what it thinks or run the risk of being sidelined for expressing a different opinion. The disrespect and arrogance of pushing ‘truth’ on a world capable of making it’s own decisions. A creator God, who created us knowing we were inherently flawed and then punished us for it anyway. An overarching idea that we’re screwed from the start; worthless and destined for death without the intervention of the God who created us that way in the first place. A God who supposedly wants a friendship with his people, but remains intangible and mysterious when things go to shit, who could change things but chooses not to. The Bible, really? A collection of writings picked out by a committee back in AD 363, which Christians can’t even agree on.

The deal breaker though, came in repeatedly watching church services and meetings where the atmosphere and ambience is cleverly orchestrated by the set-up (music, persuasive language etc.) to facilitate an ‘experience with God.’ A kind of high, if you like. The same emotional feeling one might undergo at a particularly touching concert, or when reading a good book. Except when this happens, and is encouraged, in a Christian setting the person involved is informed that God is at work in them, and the emotionality of the situation is exploited to full gain of the church. I have unwittingly been part of that very set-up, setting the lighting just right, and putting on emotional music in the background to invoke an environment where essentially people are made vulnerable and their responses can be attributed to God being at work. This emotional component is a common thread throughout all faiths, meditation etc. and seems to fulfil a human need. That’s great. My issue comes when this is attributed solely to the God of Christianity, with all other parallel experiences being written off by the church as human or demonic based activity, in and of itself wrong and unhelpful.

I look back at what S and I did as youth pastors and for the most part feel a sense of pride at giving the young people fun experiences. We were pretty good at what we did! ;) Then I remember the teaching times and, as much as we always communicated to the kids to go away and weigh things up for themselves, we also told them what we believed to be God’s truth. Essentially, given their vulnerability as adolescents and their trust of us, we told them what to think. I hate that I did that. Looking at my own kids, I want to give them as broad an experience as possible. I want to teach them to be decent human beings, but aside from that they should be free to believe whatever they determine is the right path for them. To bring them up in the constraints of the Christian faith, with a fairly narrow mind-set, is unhelpful and confusing. I know of too many young people who have major issues because their thought processes conflict the teachings they have been brought up with. They go through their teen years, which are difficult enough, with a heavy burden of guilt and shame about what God, their parents and the church may think of them. I don’t want that for my kids.

Equally, I see all the awesome things the church does for society. Toddler groups, parenting courses, marriage courses; all brilliant community builders. My sticking point is the claim of the church that these things are building God’s kingdom. In their opinion that’s what is happening, but to someone no longer subscribed to Christian theology these things are just awesome community events. I guess my main issue is the Christian arrogance that their way is THE way. I cringe saying that, remembering the many times on an evangelistic rant telling people outright that God’s way was right and their way wasn’t. ARGH! Sorry people! How absolutely disrespectful. Prefaced with ‘I believe..’ or ‘My opinion on this is..’ I have no issue, but when ideas are communicated as fact we run into problems.

In conclusion, where I’m at is this. I can’t believe in the God of Christianity anymore because ultimately, it makes no sense to me. Trying to resolve the dissonance between what I have been taught and what I have experienced of God takes too much energy and emotional expenditure. Energy and effort I just don’t have to spare.

Am I the same person? Absolutely. I still maintain a positively altruistic take on life and make my decisions accordingly. I am still capable of doing good stuff without needing to put it down to God working through me. Equally I am still able to mess up and recognise the need to take full accountability for it. I no longer feel at odds with myself, a frequent feeling in my previous Christian journey. If I want things to change in my life, I am responsible for changing them with action, not a wing and a prayer. I’ve honestly never felt more empowered and liberated. Please don’t pity me, or pray for me, or make judgments on my angry and embittered soul. Not that I should even need to say this, but I’m not angry, or bitter, and I’m not temporarily absconding. I’ve not had a glitch in my faith due to circumstance. Right now, this is where I’m at.. And it’s an amazing place to be.

I don’t know what’s out there, but I do know this. I will continue to work towards making the world a better place to be through my actions and choices. I will keep loving, keep hoping, and keep on keeping on regardless of what life throws my way.  But personally for me no god is part of that picture. I’ve got it covered myself.

Peace, love and light friends, whatever your belief may be.







Comments

  1. I'm sorry the road has been, and continues to be, tough. I'm delighted you have come to a place of freedom and peace through so much considered thought, I hope that continues and you find strength from those around you. Would love to have a cuppa sometime...maybe one day. xx

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