Losing Faith

A few years ago, I started on a journey I had no intention of taking.  I started asking questions.  Always a dangerous thing, because the answers can be scary.

I was raised in the South. For many southerners of a certain age, this means growing up in church. There’s an old joke about the three major religions in the south: Baptist, Methodist, and Football (many people say SEC football, but as an ACC fan, I’m taking license with it).

So I spent my Sunday mornings in Sunday School and Church. Sometimes we’d go on Sunday nights. Sometimes we’d also go on Wednesday nights.  Never one for it, I managed to avoid church camps, but I did the whole teen group thing.  It was always more about the socializing for me than the religious education, but I could spout the doctrines and Bible verses with the best of them.  We were supposed to believe, and as a big proponent of fake it til you make it, I played along.  I wanted to believe, because it seemed so much easier. I finally convinced myself that I did believe.

I even went to a religiously-affiliated college. Fortunately, a liberal one. We were not required to attend services, and our required religion class was from more of a historical perspective than a theological one.  When I was finally on my own, in my first job after grad school, I found a church in the metro area. You know, a good place to meet other hip, young singles and get some direction on the moral compass at the same time.   Except that for me, it was still more about the social aspect. The moral compass was nice, but nothing I didn’t already know, and a hell of a lot for me to feel guilty about.  I buried it, but even then there was a little voice in my head asking why I felt guilty about things I really didn’t think were wrong.  The seeds of discontent were sown, but I didn’t want to explore them yet.

Then my job took me on the road and I was only home for the weekends. Church became a lot less important than being around my friends. I didn’t miss it.  I didn’t find myself sliding into a life of debauchery and mayhem- at least not any more than when I was attending church.  So I let it go.  Then the travel stopped for a while and I started feeling like I should go back to church, because it was what all my friends were doing. I went back to the Single adult class, but found myself bored with their shenanigans. With a few exceptions, because I didn’t hang out with them all the time, it always felt to me more like a pick-up party and I wasn’t one of the cool kids so I looked for something else.

I thought I found it in a class called “Thinking Christians.”  And that class name was not an oxymoron. These were some of the smartest, most well-read people I’ve met.   A little subversive, this class challenged a lot of the status quo of mainstream protestant belief.  Most people in the class did not believe in a literal resurrection.  They were more about social justice and outreach than hellfire and damnation. It was a belief system I was much more comfortable with.  A lot more gray than black and white. A recognition that the god of the old testament comes across in many places as a misogynist, warmongering, petulant three-year-old. And that the Jesus of the new testament was much more concerned with how we treat the poor than what we do in our bedrooms. I felt like I had found my people.  For a while.  I stopped attending the church service, although I would attend the Thinking Christians class most every week. I made friends there that I still keep in touch with now, more than two years after I stopped attending even that.  But then, this deep intellectual discussion, this dismissal of a literal interpretation of the bible led to more and more questions for me.  I started feeling worse after class, not better.  Because the questions I was asking couldn’t be answered satisfactorily by anything in the bible, or in a large part of what the church said it believed.   Without me looking for it, my journey away from faith had begun.

Part 2 to be posted soon.