The Path off the Boat

7 07 2007

I have become rather intolerant of the religious ideas I grew up with – let me say, before going on, that I realize now that there are Christians out there who are nothing like those of which I will speak. Therefore, clearly, I am not grouping those in here. I speak only of my own experience as a part of various Christian groups both online and in person.

A brief summary:
I grew up in Baptist or non-denominational churches, considering myself one of the latter. There was no tolerance or leniency in the churches I attended. My cousin, being quite gothic-looking as a teen, was treated as a heathen, and people would remark about her black clothes as though it was a sure sign she was going to Hell. Any other religious path was wrong – even other Christians! Catholicism was a cult, Mormons were just plan wacky, and don’t get them started on Jehovah’s Witnesses. I actually remember a time when a woman was asked not to sing by the pastor because she sang loudly and off-key. Even at the time, I knew that was sick and sad and very, very much against who Jesus was.

Still, I was adamantly Christian. Largely because it felt right to me – never once have I doubted that there is a Creator and that s/he is Good. (In fact to this day the very base of my beliefs have not changed – that the Creator is neither male nor female, s/he is infinitely good and forgiving and far beyond human comprehension. The rest are just details.) But I was also Christian because I was told otherwise I’d go to Hell. And I didn’t want that! I was terrified of ever “falling away”, knowing the Devil and his demons were lurking around every corner, waiting to tempt me.

It’s a horrible way to live.

Nearly 18 months ago, I read a book by John Shelby Spong. Oddly, it was this Episcopal Bishop which caused me to “lose my faith” (that is not entirely accurate, I did not lose anything, but gained everything). He says in his book (and I have since read in several other sources) that there was no written record of anything Jesus said or did until 30 years after his death. And that means that for 30 years there were a bunch of stories flying around, more likely than not becoming embellished and confused.

Christians will tell you that Jesus said he was the Son of God and thus there are only three possibilities here – either he was crazy, a liar or telling the truth. They will tell you that since he was not crazy or a liar, he must have been telling the truth. But, as far as I can tell, there is a fourth option: he never said such a thing.

This, of course, means all of Christianity can fall flat on its face.

Much like I did.

I am not clear how Bishop Spong remains a Christian in light of his knowledge, and I wish I could reconcile my own beliefs because never have I felt more spiritually alive as I have during services at the local Episcopal church.

Although, I think, I did not truly fall flat on my face. A few years ago, a friend of mine who had converted to Judaism as an adult told me it was a scary place to begin searching for answers within the Church – scary because she knew what I would someday learn. And I thought to myself that I wasn’t scared of The Truth because I knew that God was Truth and I knew that God’s Truth transcended whatever humans might believe of him (or her, or el – as Madeleine L’Engle says). Like I said earlier, my core beliefs have not changed – just the details.

Still, it was scarier than I thought. Only recently have my fears about my afterlife left me. Only recently have I fully jumped off the boat.

And a strange place it is to be here, off the boat now. I find that facts I used to take for granted now need to be reconsidered. Is there truly a Heaven? Is Creation really “good”? Is it actually dangerous to invoke spirits? I’m not sure I know the answers to these questions. I still answer them very much from a Christian point of view. And, really, I think that’s OK right now. I can change my mind later if I choose, or I can stick to these beliefs if that is what my heart says to do.

In recent months, I have been on a Da Vinci Code kick. While, apparently, there is very little actual fact in the novel, it has inspired me to read on and a book called Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code has taught me much about who Jesus actually was as a person based on historical documents. Why doesn’t the church teach this stuff? Why did I have to find out as an adult, shocked, that there was nothing written about Jesus until 30 or so years after his death? Why is it never discussed how the accounts of the Gospels disagree with each other? What about the books that did not make the cut into the Bible – why is no one taught about those books? (And I ask this question of the most basic of Christian teachings, I realize these books are not secrets by any means) Why did no one ever mention that God once had a wife, according to Jewish tradition? I imagine it is because there would be a lot more like me who would leave the church. But then I must ask: why not base the church on these facts, rather than setting people up to discover the truth and lose faith? I do not know.

In any case, I have taken the opportunity to adopt certain Pagan ideals. Not many and what there is are very simple, but I have created an altar on which we place things that remind us of the seasons, I have created moon-cycle candles which I have not yet found a use for but they sure are purdy, I have created a candle holder which represents – to me – the Goddess closest to my birth religion. We light a candle each mealtime to remind us to be tankful to the animals, plants, and farmers who have given us our food – not to mention how lucky we are to have such food in abundance. My family and I celebrate the Earth holidays – the solstices and equinoxes – and I have never been as aware of nature as I am now. And I cherish it. I feel so blessed to have this moment to get to know God’s feminine side, the Goddess.

I am still searching and have been talking a small bit with local Episcopal priests, but even if I choose to go back that path, I will never be who they once wanted me to be. I will forever be an Earthy woman. I have a friend who refers to herself as a “Jewitch” – perhaps I could be an “Episcopagan”? In any case, I am quite at peace with where my path is leading, although, I am antsy to find where I will someday end up.

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3 responses

8 07 2007
Elaine

Yep. Sounds about right to me. Seriously, the biggest reason I am not a Christian is that I don’t believe Jesus was the son of God. Other than that, I think he was a kick ass prophet and a mighty fine man who said a lot of lovely things about how we should treat each other.

That and I’ve met too many mean Christians to want to call myself one.

Sigh.

9 07 2007
*Jess*

I agree with so much of what you said. (hug)

11 07 2007
leng

Wow, I went to a school (Baptist missionary kids’ school) with people very much like the folks you grew up with. I always tell my parents it’s their (the intolerant Baptists’) fault I turned away from the church!! 😉

I love the Episcopagan term!!

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