I was raised a Pentecostal Christian.
For most of my life, I really connected with my faith; I found solace in prayer, genuine joy in worship and felt very connected to God.
Luckily, my parents raised me well enough that I never tried to force my beliefs on anybody else. But as a Christian, I quietly held my own views about people who did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. There was only one place they were bound, and it sure as hell wasn’t glory.
It never sat well with me, the idea that you could be the most loving, altruistic, self-sacrificing being of beauty and still rot in hell with the worst of them just because you’d rejected the idea that Jesus died for your sins and came to save you.
It never sat well with me that adherents of other religions were denied access to the Pearly Gates because they didn’t believe what I believed.
It never sat well with me that I always felt so bound by a set of beliefs – if the Son of God sets me free, shouldn’t I be free indeed?
Yet I ploughed on, relying on that trusty companion of the Christian, Blind Faith, to see me through.
But as the gap between Christian belief and real life widened for me, I began to question in earnest the idea of faith. If God had created me then He’d understand how my inquisitive mind demanded answers from life and the world around me; not just from an ancient text, which could not – will not – progress as the world progresses. The only thing about Christianity that does seem to progress is the varying interpretations of the Bible, and how we apply the text to our modern life. And if the bible is so open to interpretation…well, what is there really to rely upon, at the end of the day? Where are the real answers?
I found them in science and quantum physics (this interview with Russell Brand and John Hagelin may be interesting to some) and the basic human capacity to love.
My transition to non-Christian took years and countless tears, constantly battling with the self-abuse which comes from believing I was fighting against the Lord in Heaven, the all-loving, all-knowing creator of the universe. I felt like a traitor, a fraud, a sinner, a child.
But transition I did, thanks to some key people, some key books, and an insatiable hunger for the truth.
I’m by no means an atheist, and can actually thank Christianity for leading me to my understanding of god, so in no way do I set out to demean, mock or rail against Christians. Some of the smartest, most loving people I know are Christians and I have all the time in the world for them.
I’d been sitting comfortably in my newfound freedom for a couple of years, learning that, with the glass ceiling of Christianity removed, my love for people was even more real. I could openly listen and accept any point of view or belief and hold it as valid, without the nagging concern for their salvation. What a relief! I could live without the restrictions on my own life, which, counter to what I would have expected, made me an even more responsible human – because I was not accountable to God first and foremost, but to myself and other people. For the first time I could say I really was free, indeed.
Free in all areas except one: this naughty little backslider had not told her mother.
Now, for a 34-year-old woman with a family of her own, you may think that this would be a simple – if not necessarily easy – process.
It was not. I sat on it for a long time, knowing my news would crush her. I’d provided hints over the years, but realized after a while that only the full confession of my heresy would do. I told her not too long ago, maybe a couple of months. Her reaction was worse than I’d expected (and I’d expected a pretty bad reaction).
What really struck me was that here was I, explaining my truth with love and openness, and the only response she could offer was one of fear and condemnation. She tried to talk me out of it, argued with my ‘lack of logic’ (awks) and laughed at me for thinking I knew better than God. She accused me of calling Jesus a liar or a fool or a madman (thanks, C.S. Lewis). I said I couldn’t presume to call Jesus any of those things – he lived 2000 years ago and I don’t know him; by all accounts he seemed like a very beautiful man.
While this was all very hurtful, we made up the next morning, but I doubt things will be the same again.
Yesterday, Easter Sunday, Mum bought us presents, with messages from the bible she’d written on them. Mine read ‘Dear Lisa, even though you are unfaithful to God, he is never unfaithful to you’. I grit my teeth, said ‘thanks Mum’ (with just the slightest sarcastic undertone), and gave her a hug. Her heart is in the right place, but because of her specific beliefs regarding righteousness, she cannot accept me anymore.
In spite of the awkwardness and tension surrounding Easter this year, the freedom that has come from being liberated from the constraints of religion will always be worth it for me. Mine is not a rebellious freedom, not a wild and crazy freedom, not a ‘sinful’ freedom – it’s a quiet, calm, peaceful, restful freedom.
I saw a bumper sticker a couple of years back that read ‘Believing is Good, Thinking is Better’. Primarily, this is the reason I can’t identify with Christianity anymore. The more thinking I did, the less Christianity made sense for me.
I’ve never had a problem with any Christian personally, or even with god, but my conclusion stems from a brutally honest search for the truth, and a dissatisfaction with the idea of blind faith.
Clearly, the idea of loving everybody without judgment, or showing kindness to one another in spite of differences is too hard for we humans to manage. Just imagine if we could. What would that world look like?
I have not met any ex-Pentecostal Christians. Clearly, the ties that bind are awfully tight in this camp. Do you know any? Are you an ex-Christian? What’s your story?