***The podcast episode is available at the bottom of this post if you would prefer to listen instead.
There’s a gap in between
There’s a gap where we meet
Where I end and you begin
And I’m sorry for us
The dinosaurs roam the earth
The sky turns green
Where I end and you begin
~ Radiohead, “Where I End and You Begin”
Until around 2013, the church had always been a part of my life. I had some very memorable experiences, both good and bad, from over 40 years of life with various Christian communities. I’ve known and still know some wonderful people who I’ve worked alongside in the church, plus most of my extended family are Christians. My decision to leave the church and all organized religion has been a slow-evolving one and wasn’t prompted by any one particular event. I do not feel any significant personal injury by anyone I’ve known from the churches I’ve been a part of. So why would I leave?
The short answer is that most of what I have been taught doesn’t sound true to me anymore (though I’m not one for short answers). It’s fairly easy to talk about what you no longer believe; it’s like recognizing the contrast when looking at two different colors. The more difficult venture is to describe that contrast to better understand how my color of belief is different from the colors of Christian belief, which is what I have been wrestling with over the past few years.
I’ve always been captivated by big ideas, and my fascination with theology over the years is evidence of that. In some sense, theology is about the biggest idea: that there is a larger-than-life deity whose existence can explain our existence. But as we know, theology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Throughout history, it has often been politicized and weaponized by those who believe and hold power in religious communities. This happens so easily because theology naturally creates cohesion between the believers, so the thought of leaving “the camp” can stir up primal fears about being alone and vulnerable.
I’ll never forget the days of sitting in youth group meetings at church listening to my over-confident youth minister outline the bullet points from various Christian apologists. We were being trained in how to respond to the typical arguments against the existence of God, and to protect ourselves against the “attacks” from people who had a different viewpoint in theological matters. To vilify those who thought differently was simply a way of strengthening the cohesion in the group. Who would want to leave the tribe if they are convinced that “the others” are the bad guys?
Because of this cohesion within the evangelical church world I grew up in, it has been no simple thing to pack my bags and move away. Not only was I immersed in the stories of Christianity since I was a tot, I also earned a Masters degree at a Baptist seminary and spent almost 10 years in some form of youth ministry. A quick glance at my blog posts here since 2005 will show the allegiance to Christian theology that I’ve held for my whole life, even though I have often critiqued those beliefs. So yes, I was deeply entrenched.
The best descriptor for what my spiritual views are now is theistic agnosticism. In other words, I remain open to the idea that there is something beyond what we can sense, but I also don’t think we can know that. I cannot remain committed to Christian theology (or any formal theology) when it most of it doesn’t register to me as true and I can no longer find enough reasons to believe.
A part of me wants to avoid talking too openly about my personal journey away from religion so as to avoid upsetting family or friends, old and new. However, to start exploring my thoughts publicly here might just lead some conversations that are worth having. At the very least, this gives me a chance to present these thoughts to myself for ongoing consideration, and perhaps there are others who may read this with a similar journey and it will offer some kind of encouragement.
Read Part Two here.