Since I have such a strong drive to not offend anyone (including my closest family and friends), I’m really scared to talk about this subject without holding back at all. It’s just that I have so many contradictory thoughts about this, and I don’t really feel free to say most of them outside a small number of closest family and friends. I just have to spill it all out here. Please listen to this with a true open mind.
Also, I don’t really know where I’m specifically going with this post, but I just have a lot of thoughts that I want to lay out. Mostly because I can see both sides (okay, probably more like all sides, because there are definitely more than two sides here), and I want to speak a voice to all the sides of this that I can see. I also feel a lot of internal struggle here because I hold a lot of strong opinions that really feel like they contradict each other. I guess this is mostly for me to pen my contradictory thoughts, and hopefully make some kind of sense out of it by doing that.
My personal experience and continuing journey through life
I grew up in a very typical American Christian church. I was raised to believe that having faith in Jesus was the the only “right” thing to do, or the only “one way”. I was also raised to believe that Christians are the only happy people, and that if anyone is doing something that was bad, a common remark I’d hear was “they really need Jesus in their lives”.
Like a lot of fellow American Millennials, I got pretty disenchanted with the church and contemporary church Culture by the time I was in my early 20s. I feel like that went a little differently for me than what I hear from other Millennials, though. While most of my peers left the church because they felt let down, mad at god, bitter, hurt, or any number of things like this, I didn’t really feel much of any of these. I mostly got to a point where I felt like it was just forcing myself to go along with it. Most of the hurt and bitterness for me was more directed at specific people, and not at the church or at God. Initially, I started to feel this hurt directed at the church, but then quickly noticed that I felt the same anger and bitterness towards an equal amount of people that weren’t churched at all. This led me to just be bitter at closed-mindedness in general, rather than at religion.
This put me in a very awkward position (and I still feel this awkwardness quite a bit). It kind of brought me to a position where I just didn’t resonate with what was going on in the Christian church anymore, but at the same time wasn’t angry or bitter at it. I’ve been involved in it long enough to understand and not be hung up on the common attacks that angry atheists usually usually throw at Christians, so that wasn’t an issue for me. It was more like I just connected with a different type of spirituality than what was being presented to me at the time. I just began to find way more internal peace and continuity through personal meditation and the willingness to embrace uncertainty (see my previous blog post for that topic). I found these things to have way more noticeable benefits to my life and my interactions with those around me than I ever found through trying to force things to work for me. I still feel very awkward when people ask me to explain this to them, or challenge its validity. Maybe someday I can find words to help explain this, but that’ll have to be a later time. Right now, all I can say is that I’m in the most genuine and true to myself place than I’ve ever been. I’m also in a place that is way more freeing and true to my own personal convictions. The other day, I found the statements below written on a piece of paper. I don’t remember exactly when I wrote them; I think it was a year ago or so, but I do know that they were written when I was in a place of sincerity, and probably written when I was feeling helpless about someone challenging the validity of myself.
I’m very comfortable in not having any certainty about anything religiously. I’m very comfortable, and kind of feel a drive to embrace the idea of anything, or accept the absence of anything. Frankly, the only reason I ever feel like I need to have a definitive stance on things, is the fear of judgement from other people, and that they’ll not understand how much the above statement means to me, or judge it as just a “cop out” or as “being spiritually immature” or something along those lines.
I’m very serious about my spirituality, and how it’s very much an internal thing. I’m really starved for people to just encourage me to have the journey that I feel I’m led to have, even though it’s a very internal one, and appears to be very simple.
People that are angry at the church or angry at religion all together
I really think that a lot of people’s anger at specific religions or religious practices is usually due to those religions or practices being abused, or mis-represented. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but I will say that it’s usually the “loudest” group of a specific religion that usually gives us the biggest impression, and that loud group usually doesn’t represent the majority. This is pretty sad, but I think it’s true. I’ve found that, at least for me, the only way to accurately get a view of something is to involve yourself in it. The more I’ve gotten to know people of various cultures the more I realize that all my previous perceptions of said culture were usually very inaccurate, and even my own personal views for that matter.
The part of this that I did want to talk about is dealing with people that really feel burnt out, or angry at whatever religion you grew up in (or had lots of experience with). This is also probably the topic that I have the most self-contradictory feelings on. Here’s what I’ve noticed. I’ve had a lot of friends that have left their religions, lots of friends that have left their religions and then returned to them, lots of friends that have left their religions and then returned to a different religion or different branch of the same religion. I want to address all of these at once because I don’t really think that there’s anything wrong with any of these scenarios. Really the only time I have a problem with any of these is when it’s done for the wrong reasons. I truly believe that doing something out of bitterness or rebellion will only cause further hurt and stuffed anger. I also believe that doing anything out of desperation or obligation will do the same. I really hope that anyone who is struggling with their current church or religion will hopefully see through whatever it is that’s causing this struggle and really just take a look at it from the outside. I believe this is the only way to not do something just out of bitterness, obligation, or desperation.
I do believe that there are legitimate times to leave your church or even your religious practice, and there are also legitimate times when you should stick with it and reconcile yourself to it instead. If you feel that your religion just isn’t coming through for you, or your God/Gods aren’t real because He/She/It/They aren’t manifesting in your life the way your religion teaches you that they will, I don’t think this is an honest reason to leave your faith practice. I totally understand how hurtful and hopeless this can be. I don’t want to undermine that at all. I just think that if you leave it because of this let down or failure, you’ll only be taking this hurt and bitterness with you to wherever you end up. It really appears to me that most religions are about something greater than yourself, or something that is beyond the human intellect. Something unexplainable by humans, so It can be really hard to sort through what you’re being taught vs human’s limited understanding of the universe. I think this is a cause for a lot of that tension, and you need to try to separate your anger at your religion from your anger at humans that have mis-represented what your religion is really trying to teach you. I know that’s difficult, but sometimes it just helps to realize that’s what’s going on. Just keep all this in mind next time you’re offended or let down by a person or a religious promise. I’m not saying you need to stick it out in every situation, or even need to reconcile every situation. I’m saying that it’s a great benefit for you to try to look at the specific situation from an outside view, and really try to see it for what’s really going on.
I guess, to conclude this, I just want to encourage everyone to be true to yourself. Here’s where I’ll sound contradictory, but I want everyone to try to embrace a little more uncertainty, and at the same time give your traditions a chance. Don’t direct your anger and bitterness at a religion that doesn’t work out the way you think it should. At the end of the day, how much does it really matter if we were completely accurate about our beliefs or not? I’ll say it again, I really think it’s more important to see what we can learn from our practice rather than whether it’s accurate or not. Seriously, think about it, there were lots of wonderful people that did amazingly wonderful things that had some pretty “wacky” beliefs. It’s okay for you to believe things that aren’t true. It’s also okay for you to not believe the same thing that your friends do. At the end of the day, it’s more about how you live your life, and how you connect with it.