I’ve mentioned “God” in several of my recent posts and I’ve noticed that as a result I’ve had several people ask me what my religious affiliation/history/understanding is. I’ve never really tried to capture my opinions on the matter fully so I figured it could be an interesting experience to try to lay my thoughts on the matter out plainly here on this blog. I encourage any of you readers to ask me additional questions or share your thoughts if you’d like (either privately or publicly).
I’ll start by laying out my history with religion. I was raised with Presbyterian Christian values (i.e., morals) but my family never formally practiced religion (until recently) nor did they take me to church, per say. I recall visiting a couple churches with my parents when I was really little. For a short while my parents tried to find a church that they liked but they could never find or agree on one. It wasn’t until my last year of high school that I had any particularly pertinent direct formal experience with religion.
During my senior year in high school I remember being faced with a dilemma: My girlfriend at the time (a devout Christian) struggled with a statement that I made: “I don’t really know much about any god and I don’t particularly feel that I have any need for that to change,” I told her. Her response was that she got very sad. Teary eyed, she told me that that was “one of the saddest things [she] could imagine.” She also told me that she wasn’t sure that she’d be able to continue being in a relationship with me if it truly was the case that I held no interest in God. For her, God was of number one importance in her life. She wanted to build her life around Him and needed all elements (including her boyfriend) to coincide. Either I would have to try to get to know God (the Christian God) or else I’d lose my girlfriend. I was really into my girlfriend at the time so I figured, “hey, what could it hurt trying to learn more about what it means to be a Christian? I’m not necessarily betraying my own faith or any of my own beliefs or anything.” And so it was… My glorious entry into Christianity began. It took an attractive girl, but hey -who am I to argue with God’s plan 😉
For about a year I got very involved with church. I went to youth group with my girlfriend and… to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it! Everyone was so friendly, caring, and supportive. We got together as a community and did wonderful things for people in need (sandwiches for the homeless, building houses for those in need, donating toys, etc). I had lots of questions to ask (as I always do) and I found that people were very obliged to answer as best they could. My youth minister, I recall, gave me a magnifying glass one day in honor and appreciation of how much I would search for answers in trying to bring myself closer to God. I learned to pray and I learned to recognize signs of God communicating with me -concepts with which, until Christianity, were completely unfamiliar. Prayer and interpreting signs from God are probably the two biggest components of Christianity that I continue to carry with me today.
Unfortunately, with all my searching and question asking, there were a few fundamental issues that I held with Christianity which I was never able to resolve. The first issue, which never felt quite right to me, is a core one which I’m sure might be upsetting for any Christian to hear (you’ve been warned). I have no problem believing in an all-powerful God, but I disagree that a man (Jesus) was ever the actual embodiment of God (Son of God, or whatever)(or, if he was an embodiment of God, then I don’t believe that he was the only true embodiment). I believe there was an actual man named Jesus -and no doubt he was a great spiritual leader who had a great many ideas that were before his time -but I was never able to get my heart to fully believe and accept that he, himself, was a part of God -the one and only. Trust me, I’ve allowed myself all manner of ways to try to believe and accept Jesus as being “the son of God” -but nothing ever stuck. This leads me to believe that -if it were really true for me that Jesus was the son of God -then God would have lead me to truly believe so in my heart. Yes: for me, having to truly believe something in your heart is a necessary condition for me to accept a religion as my own.
Then there was the time that I still to this day feel shame about, when I betrayed my own beliefs as a result of some unfortunate happenings with my involvement with the Christian club at my high school… As a senior and a relatively popular kid at my school (thanks to my involvement with theatre and improv) I held a fair amount of clout as an example of someone who was “saved” by Christianity. The Christian club organized a BIG rally in the campus gym with the offer of providing free pizza to anyone who would attend (apparently food is another acceptable way for God to entice others to follow his “plan.”) Since I held clout with lots of kids on campus, I was asked to give my testimony in front of everyone at the assembly. Honored, I accepted the request and began to think up what I would say. They day came for the assembly, hundreds of kids (of course) showed up for the free pizza. In a few minutes I was to take a microphone and explain to everyone how and why I became a Christian. This was all fine and good… but then I was told that I HAD to include in my testimony that Jesus is the only way to be saved. I did not believe this in my heart -but I was very clearly told that it was essential that I say it. Despite my reservations… I caved to the pressure and did the bidding of our club’s president. Disclosing my personal experience of “finding God” to a anyone felt awkward to me enough, but to do in front of the hundreds of peers that had gathered… -it was anxiety provoking to say the least. Giving my testimony was made even harder by a few students who began to shout out and protest that I was telling lies in the middle of my testimony. I remember distinctly, there was one kid who, after I said (as instructed) that “Jesus is the only road to salvation,” jumped up and yelled “that’s not true! That’s a lie!” (He must have been a follower of a different faith and he found my statement offensive.) I did my best to stutter through the rest of my testimony anyway (even though, apparently I had also gone way over the amount of time that I was supposed to spend and our club president was vehemently trying to flag me down to wrap up). Looking back on my testimony experience I still feel a significant amount of shame and regret. I allowed myself to betray my own heart in front of hundreds of people by spreading something that I, myself, felt was untrue. “LIES!!” still resonates in my head.
My struggles with accepting Christianity involved other insurmountable qualms: These qualms involve social issues -namely, outdated sexist, anti-homosexual, and other such sentiments. My heart refuses to accept that a God would create someone to be homosexual (and please tell me that I don’t have to explain that being gay is not a choice) and then expect them to forsake that core part of themselves. There is no logic to that sentiment and it just seems kinda cruel and unnecessary -something that doesn’t mesh with my idea of a “benevolent god.” A degree of logic is another prerequisite for me to accept a religion as being my own. But wait a minute! Logic and faith?! Aren’t those contradicting forces that are unable to coexist? I would argue “no” (I shall delve deeply into this concept in part 2 of this post).
And then there is the idea that all non-Christians are, however sad it may be, destined to go to Hell after they die. What an awful prejudiced idea that most certainly doesn’t bind with my own beliefs. In all my questioning, no one was ever able to answer me this dilemma: What happens to the souls of some remote tribal group of people that never even has the chance to come in contact with any information about Christianity? Do they just automatically go to Hell? That doesn’t seem right/fair. No one has ever been able to give me any plausible response to that dilemma. Maybe those tribal people are just savages and don’t have souls -I don’t know
Despite unresolved qualms that I held with Christianity, after graduating high school and moving on to college I still wanted to seek out a new place to go to church. The community and social support aspects of church continued to appeal to me greatly. In college I found a Bible study group -but upon further investigation it appeared that the group was largely focused on preaching to non-believers -something that did not appeal to me -particularly given my shameful testimony experience (recounted above). Also, in college, the Christians appeared to be more polarized then they did at my former youth group. That is to say, rather than questioning and exploring more -it appeared to me as though they were standing up and fighting for righteous convictions more -convictions that I had disagreements with (as I have outlined above.) My attempts to find a church that suited me failed, and as such, I was ushered into a time of creating my own variation of religion/spirituality. Today I carry this modified form of religion with myself and derive a great deal of happiness, satisfaction, and strength from it. I am very deeply grateful for how Christianity has shaped my life and shaped the concepts and ideas that I employ today. Stay tuned for part 2 where I will attempt to outline what, exactly, it is that I do believe.