We don't agree about everything and that's OK. What we do agree on is the need to carry on the discussion in a civil way.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why I no longer believe.

I "came out" as a non-Christian on Facebook last week and stirred quite a controversy. People I don’t even know found the conversation through the Facebook news ticker (you stay creepy, Facebook!) and were quick to throw in their two cents about how mistaken I am to abandon my Christian faith of yore.

My reasons for leaving the faith are varied, the path to get here was a long one. I don’t expect anyone to read this and suddenly declare “ah ha, the truth! I too shall leave the faith” it’s such a big decision. Admitting to myself that I’m not a Christian was really, really hard. I still haven’t worked up the courage to say it in person to my parents! (Yes, I know some of you are already going to tell me that it was so hard for me because the truth was written on my heart by God so I have no excuse to deny him. Romans 1:20)

All of my life, Christianity was the foundation of my identity. It was why I was a Republican, it was why I honored my parents, it was why I took communion with a grateful and thankful heart on Sundays. Jesus was more than “just all right by me” he was my reason for being.

That said, however, I feel like this was an inevitable consequence of the person I am. I’ve always been fascinated by faiths of all kinds. While I considered myself immensely lucky to have been born into a family and culture that recognized the real truth (Christianity) I was very curious why there were so many divisions within Christianity. My first foray into religious studies was understanding the differences in denominations. By the time I was a sophomore in high school I could lay out the main differences between the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians, and why they were wrong and we Pentecostal’s had it right.

My entire life my favorite church sermons and Pastors took the time to explain the original meaning of the Greek words in a specific verse and how it was commonly used in its time. I loved having the historical context to guide my understanding, rather than relying on a translation and interpretation. I thought about becoming a Biblical scholar specifically for this reason, I imagined hearing the words of God come to life in the original Hebrew and Greek languages.

When I went off to college I joined the Christian’s In Action group and made some great friends who later became my roommates.  These two ladies helped me understand that I was not in fact loved less by God simply because I was unable to speak in tongues. This had been a huge problem for me for years – I tried faking it, but I was never able to speak in tongues. I really, genuinely wanted to, I wanted the spirit of the Lord to move through my soul and speak in a language I had never heard, after all it was a sign that you were worshiping right, that God was moving through you. I never managed to accomplish that and it was a source of great guilt in my life. My roommates helped me see that the gift of tongues was a temporary tool the disciples needed because they were sharing the good news in a metropolitan area, where the people spoke many languages. The holy spirit empowered them to speak languages they had never learned on this specific occasion. It wasn’t a requirement or a result of whole hearted worship.

Huah, my understanding of scripture was wrong. How about that.

In college I took a class called The Bible as Literature. I actually thought we were going to discuss the beautiful prose of Psalms and the love poetry of Song of Solomon.  I nearly burst out of the class the first time the professor spoke of the story of Noah as the “flood myth.” But I stuck it out, learned a lot more about the history behind how we got the Bible. The Council of Nicea, I had never heard of it. The Apocrypha  - there was such a thing? This gave me considerable pause. I had always assumed that the Bible we had today was handed down in that form since the first draft of Genesis. I was blindsided by the idea that this could've been in any way a political devise. I believed in the infallibility of the scriptures; that God inspired every word of the Bible, not just the thoughts and ideas, so how on earth could there have been a council of men to decide which books were actually inspired? That was my first big stumbling block in my faith – realizing how changed our Bible today is from what the earliest Christians had, used and loved.

I also studied logic and critical thinking in college. Some of the hardest, yet most interesting courses I ever took. I learned all about logical fallacies and immediately saw how frequently I used them to justify my religious and political viewpoints …I resolved to work on that.

But, despite my liberal education I came out committed to Christ and carried on with my life. I’m sure by now you’re all expecting to hear that I asked God for something and he failed to deliver and thus I became an apostate. Or that I shacked up with my boyfriend and couldn’t justify the whole pre-martial sex thing with my beliefs so I “changed my creeds to match my deeds.” Sorry to disappoint you, that’s not what happened.
Yes, I had prayers that went unanswered but I had always firmly believed that sometimes the answer is just “no” and that I must have faith and “know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Yes, I stumbled and sinned. I repented and thanked God for His grace and forgiveness. I did not walk away from my faith just because I was disappointed with how God was running my life.

It was gradual after that. I became friends with a Jewish person. I helped her out at her synagogues youth group and starting poking around Judaism. I flirted with it in college; after all we often forget that Jesus was Jew. He said “Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law until all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18-10). So I started seriously toying with the idea of being a “Jew of Jesus.”

My first step was to understand why the Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah. Turns out, there are some pretty good reasons to do that. Jesus didn’t gather all the Jews back to Israel (Isaiah 6:23) he did not unite all humanity into worshiping one God (Isaiah 2:17) and weapons of war were not wiped from humanity (Ezekiel  39:9). There are plenty more unfulfilled prophecies and I know the Christian response is that Jesus will fulfill the rest of them when he returns. 

But Jesus was an apocalyptic Jew who thought that world was ending really soon.  He told his disciples “But I tell you the truth, there be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” Well, all of them tasted death and we’re still waiting for Jesus.

I have so much more to add but have run out of time for now! Stay tuned for part two tonight.


  1. If there were a "like" button I would have clicked it by now. :)
    I commend you for "coming out" it takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe. And even more courage when it goes against what most people believe to be true.

  2. Thanks Ashley! It was hard for me to admit it to myself and I went round and round about "coming out" but I just had to. So many people just assume I'm still a Christian and hold the same beliefs as them, I felt I needed to make the truth know.

  3. I have been struggling with the confines of organized religion for several years now, in my attempt to determine what my true belief actually is. Julia Sweeney (formerly of SNL fame) did a wonderful monologue/film called "Letting Go of God" that I found gave me some additional introspection. Having been raised Catholic as she was, I found several significant areas of relatability in the film. You may not be able to to draw as many parallels with her experiences, but I definitely recommend that you watch it if you have not already.

    I'm also glad you discussed the idea that the words in the Bible are only words. They were not placed directly there by God. Old Testament stories (that's right, I said stories) were passed down verbally for generations until written language was established. Then they were translated from one language to the next. Remember playing "telephone" in grade school to see how different the message would be when it got to the end of the chain of kids? It's a pretty accurate analogy.

  4. Thanks for reading Jill.

    The "telephone" analogy has been long used in describing the oral tradition of passing down the Biblical stories but seems to fall on deaf ears of many believers.

    At times we all suffer from cognitive dissonance (the mental discomfort of holding conflicting views) and conduct mental gymnastics to make the two ideas fit (my favorite example is that when volunteers were asked to do miserable tasks they enjoyed them MORE if they did not get paid -- rationalizing to themselves that they get paid to do things they don't want to do, so without a financial incentive they must be enjoying the task).

    I have seen Julia Sweeney's monologue and identified with many of the things she had to say.

    Good luck as you continue to search for the truth. As for me I think I'll be searching for the rest of my life, but I enjoy seeking the truth!