“Life After Faith”
Putting it back together when reality goes topsy-turvy
I never relied on the mercy of God until I stopped believing He existed.
Before, if God had appeared before me, I would have pointed first to a prayer I said at an age young enough I don’t even remember it, then to my daily efforts to love Him, then to my volunteering and life dedicated to the mission he gave me as evidence of how worthy I was to be called ‘a friend of God’.
Now, if He turns out to exist, I will have nothing to point to except an integrity of heart. I would be actually totally laid bare before that higher power, completely lacking in anything He would consider valuable, except my full honesty. In fact, if anything, He would have good reason to consider me an enemy.
I would be, by the perfect definition, At His Mercy.
The image of me standing before Him with the circumstances of my life naked and shivering in His gaze, the decisions I’ve made… the things I’ve said… doesn’t fill me with dread, as it used to, or fear, as it apparently should for someone living as I do.
No, it brings a strange calm, a settling, like that moment your head finally lands on the shoulder of a long awaited hug.
Because God, if He exists, knows me. He knows me from the inside out. He knows how hard I searched for Him, how desperately I wanted to really, truly understand and have a rock solid faith that would never be shaken. He saw the tears of frustration, the hours spent reading books, the sleepless nights of sickening worry, the desperate attempts to lash the life I loved ‘in church’ with the honesty and clarity I was finding ‘outside the church’.
He will know how much it broke my heart to admit to myself what my subconscious had been pointing out for over a year… that it appeared as though He, after all, didn’t exist. He’d know of the grief that tried to split every muscle in my body as I pounded the steering wheel in childish refusal. He technically was there when I yelled at the sky to give me something, anything, that would stop the slide away from belief.
He’d know that He didn’t answer. And he’d know that I hung around for a year longer anyway, just in case I’d missed it, just in case it was something I hadn’t seen, just in case there was any chance I’d been wrong. He’d know that it would have been far easier to stay in belief, with my career, friends, family, house and husband all sorted.
When the Senior Pastor of my old church called me after I ‘came out’ as a non-believer, I told him the above, the rush of saying what I really thought for the first time pounding through my heart. I told I would be quite happy to meet God because I was confident He would know what I’d been through.
He said that sometimes God doesn’t reveal Himself to us for His own reasons.
I said, ‘Then its because of His own reasons that I don’t believe in Him anymore.’
“You know that if you get in the water without anything to hold onto but try to behave as you would on dry land, you will drown. But if, on the other hand, you trust yourself to the water, you will float. This is exactly the situation of faith.’
(- Alan Watts)
So this is the faith that I have.
If God does exist, He knows me.
I trust myself to the Water.Read More
There’s no doubt about it, if you leave Christianity – especially if you’re in a charismatic sort of evangelical brand of it – your life is going to change. Hugely.
Some of those changes will be good; you’ll start to think freer, you’ll be rid of cognitive dissonance currently making your stomach crawl and you’ll do all the things you thought were bad and discover they’re actually quite great.
Some of those changes though will be difficult to cope with; this is especially true if your family is super involved or if your, say, wage comes from the fact that you believe in God. While that bigger sort of stuff is better dealt with organisations like The Clergy Project there’s a few minor things that are worth mentioning for anyone considering heading out into the Great Unknown beyond church walls.
Here it goes, I’m giving it to you straight.
This is what you’ll miss about your Old Life if you leave Christianity and some of the stuff you definitely won’t miss!
Aka: feeling superior to pretty much everyone you meet. Having all the answers is a pretty sweet place to be in. You know what happens after you die. I mean – that’s huge. Also, you’re all sorted on the best way to live life. In fact, you’ve got it so sorted you’re one of the Chosen People who’s living life the right way, unlike the other 98% of people on the planet.
This sort of confidence booster just don’t exist in the real world unfortunately. You won’t know jack. It’d take you forty years and loads of reading to know half jack. No-one’s got the full jack sorted out. But don’t worry – not knowing actually becomes something quite exciting.
So… before when I was confused about what to do I would just go and pray. There was no chance I would make a mistake because God had already sorted out what I should do and when, I just had to hear what He thought. This is a really comforting sort of habit because, of course, hearing God is most often just confirmation of what you yourself think you should do. And if it seems like it wasn’t the right decision, you can always say It Was God Teaching You or it was Part of A Bigger Plan or something like that.
On the outside, you can stuff up. You can royally stuff up and nobody will be there to save you, unless you invent one / turn to the invisible, all powerful person you were taught about as a child (most people’s reactions it seems). The good news comes, when you realise that actually there’s no such thing as stuffing it up because you get to decide the goalposts. What’s a great life? You decide. Then live it.
I’m not surprised meditation is rising in popularity. There’s just no freakin’ silence anymore. In fact, silence is almost the new sound. Movies are using Silence to gain attention because it’s the only thing people will listen to anymore.
The thought of ‘needing to pray’ prioritises finding silent moments in the day, where you’re alone and reflective. This is possible to do outside of Christianity but it’s just so much easier to get railroaded by the urgent, burning need to check Facebook again.
Singing is freakin’ awesome. I know not all of us like it but there’s something to be said for the experience of a group of people singing together, even (or maybe especially) when you don’t have a good voice. Those church songs are written to make you feel good singing them, loads of crescendos and long aaaaaahhhhhh’s, simple words that mean you don’t have to think. There’s not really any substitute for this on the outside; a choir’s too formal and rigid, chanting is all easterny tones that are hard to follow and a couple of girlfriends bouncing around the lounge room leaves you exposed as a bad singer… I get my singing in in the shower these days.
All my ex-christian friends have noticed a marked difference in our confidence levels since not listening to a Pentacostal preacher every weekend. The reminder that you have a plan and a destiny set out just for you and the resources of an all-powerful being at your fingertips is… well, it’s a good one. On the outside, you have to dig in there and find the strength within. Or get it from Tony Robbins if that’s your thing.
Oh gawwwwd, it’s so good never having to see sickly sweet joy overflowing onto your Facebook wall.
It’s a dilemma; become the office pariah by offering to pray for a sick colleague or be a failure of a Christian by offering them an aspirin instead? These sorts of decisions are everywhere when you’re an evangelical Christian who believes in the Holy Spirit; speak to the person at the bus about God, offer to pray for a broken ankle, invite the neighbour to church etc. Their immediate dissipation on the realisation that You Don’t Have To Do That Anymore will make you feel so light, it’s a wonder you don’t just float right up off the floor.
I get a bit of a kick out of reading comments on any blog or article about Yonggi Cho’s recent conviction of embezzlement of millions of dollars. They’re usually stuffed with Christians arguing with each other about whether it’s okay to judge someone (though shalt not judge!) for stealing millions of dollars of congregation member’s money!!! *pant pant* </rant>.
Sometimes I look at Christian blogs / converted catholic blogs / c3watch blogs and my brain starts to twist around the problem of how to tell a false preacher from a real one and whether it’s okay to swear or not and if the bible really does teach grace over judgement… and then I blink, laugh and remember it’s ALL bullshit and get on with living. It’s a very freeing way to live.
Cos (as the thinking goes) if you don’t, then you’re not anointed for the day… and what if an opportunity comes along where you were supposed to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and now you’re not attuned the Holy Spirit’s voice and you miss bringing a new soul to heaven? I genuinely had these anxieties. It was my solid belief that if you’re going to have a big church / connect group / influence in your job / new house, you need to get your prayer and bible reading in.
This concept is such a staple of the charismatic church movement it’s sort of strange to realise it has absolutely no biblical foundation whatsoever. Without that pressure, you’re free to draw from any number of wonderfully inspirational and super intelligent people, living and dead, for your mojo, wherever and whenever you want. Or not. You could just live and be average. Go for it.
You don’t have to defend Christianity as ‘cool’ and ‘relevant’ anymore. You’re not part of a weird group of people who think Jesus Is Their Actual Homeboy. You don’t have to explain why you can’t go to Sunday arvo drinks… or anything on Sunday actually. You don’t have to get offended by Southpark. And you don’t have to invite anyone to church to ‘prove to them’ that God is not just Some Old Guy In The Sky.
You can just be yourself. With whatever you believe. And what’s better is that it is actually what you believe and not what you sort of have to believe cos it’s in the bible (“Well, we love Gays they just can’t be… gay… anymore…eerhhhh”).
If you’re a Christian Renegade come, share with the not-sure-about-it-readers… what do you miss about the Old Life? What don’t you miss? There’s a hundred more…Read More
I’m claiming a twitter hash tag thingy.
I know, I know, how PROGRESSIVE of me.
It’s because I get these moments every day (literally, every day) where I think, ‘Far out, I’m so happy I’m not a Christian anymore.’
Like this morning when I called my Granny. My Grandad recently passed away and she’s been lonely. We had a 20 minute conversation during which she kept asking me if I liked being a Police Officer and I kept reminding her that it’s my sister who’s a Police Officer and I’m actually… well, sort of nothing right now. Which is probably why she continues to think I’m a Police Officer.
When I hung up from that phone call, I remembered that my Dad’s Dad, my Grandpa, was also alone and lonely for two whole years after my Grandma passed away.
I managed to call him once. Once in the whole two years.
Because I was too busy being a Pastor instead.
While that memory made me sad, it also reminded how wonderful it is that I’m out. Just another small moment of gratefulness in my day…
So I am claiming a twitter hashtag to start cataloguing these moments that remind me that I’m so happy for the new freedom that I now live in. Humanism, atheism, rationalism, just-living-ism, whatever you want to call it just doesn’t get celebrated enough I think. The most popular tweet I’ve ever tweeted is below:
Positivity. More of that peoples. Put it out there.
The hashtag is #withoutgod.
I chose it because there’s a lot of Christians using that phrase to perpetuate that life #withoutgod is awful through such ridiculous statements like those below:
Of course life without God works. We’re not all breaking down out here. And plenty of people are ‘successful’ without God having anything to do with it.
When I used to think of those backsliders, those who were blinded, who fell away, I used to think of them as sad. As people who were lost and searching for something. Even if they were successful, they were searching for something. I used to think my life would be awful and a mess without God.
I didn’t realise I would feel like I do now. Free. Expanded. Whole.
So I want to take it back. I want to make the conversation about life without God about what Life Is Really Like Without God, not just what Christians think it’d be like.
If you’re enjoying life #withoutgod then let the twitter-sphere know by hash tagging your happiness would you?
“How to pursue the art of living has become the great quandary of our age… The future of the art of living can be found by gazing into the past.”
As a Christian, the answer to how to live life was clear; dedicate it to God’s mission aka: make other people Christians. Live your life according to His principals as closely as you could. If you got those two things right, you could *’tick!*’ say that you lived a successful life.
What makes a good or a bad life when it turns out there’s no big super-being with a mission just for you? Is there even such a thing as a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ life? There are so many different versions of ‘success’ – Mother Theresa, Richard Branson, Elizabeth Gilbert, The Guy Who Is An Awesome Dad, The Surfer Who Loves Every Second Of Life…
Roman Kznaric just released a new book drawing on three thousand years of philosophy in attempt to answer this question. I’ll post a review after reading it but wanted to share some of my own thoughts on this question after a year or so pondering it on the shores of Europe.Read More
Well I guess it had to happen eventually.
A Pastor who handles snakes during church services as part of God’s anointing coming over him, Jamie Coots got bitten by one for the second time. This time he died.
The first time he was bitten, his finger fell off. Literally fell off because he refuses to seek medical attention.
He’s not the first religious guy to die from a snake bite. This stuff happened when I was a Pentacostal. I would read about this crazy sort of stuff mid-week and then head to church on the weekend to speak gobbeldy-gook during prayer meetings when we were binding the devil and roll around on the floor when we were filled with the Holy Spirit. You know what I thought about people like Ps Jamie Coots and his band of merry snake-handlers?
Which is so ironic it almost hurts.
The funny thing is, all my Pentacostal friends are annoyed at how badly the Crazy Snake People are representing Pentacostalism. All my ex-Pentacostal but still religious friends are annoyed at how badly the Crazy Pentacostal People are representing Christianity. And I’m annoyed at how experience, tradition and perception can override what we instinctively know to be ridiculous.
Deep down we know it’s strange. Deep down we know that people fall over when prayed for because they were pushed or cos it’s what everyone else does. Deep down we know tongues is just something we make ourselves do. Deep down we know that prophecies are just people saying nice, generic stuff with ‘God says’ before it. Deep down we know there’s a lot of faking going on.
When we look at Ps Mark walking past in the prayer meeting literally saying ‘da da da da da da da da da’ while high-fiving his mates and smiling at everyone, and the first thought is, ‘He could put a bit more effort into his tongues.’, we know…
When we watch Ps Phil going through the lines touching people on the head and when we’re lying on the floor after our turn and battling between the thoughts of, ‘Oh this is nice, the Holy Spirit making me lie down and giving me so much PEACE…‘ and ‘I don’t feel any different, what on earth am I doing lying on the floor?‘ we know…
When we sit in an event planning meeting and decide whether to ban people from speaking tongues on stage at an Evangelical rally because it’s not ‘seeker sensitive’, everyone in the room is acknowledging that deep down we know…
We know that what we do on a week to week basis is just. plain. strange. It’s kooky.
We can dress it up in funky outfits or drown it out in drum beats. We can justify it with three verses from the new testament (that’s at least two more than the snake guy!) and years of religious tradition. We can remind ourselves that ‘no-one can argue with experience’ by waxing on about how amazing it feels but we still wouldn’t be any better than the kooks who handle snakes…
“It’s such a happiness and a joy. You can just feel the joy in your soul that you just don’t feel all the time every day.”
- Wife of kooky snake handling Pastor, explaining why she likes to handle snakes when the anointing comes on her to do so
“It was as much a commandment of God, when he said they shall take up serpents, as it was when he said, thou shalt not commit adultery.”
- Ps Jamie himself using a bible reference to back up his handling of snakes during church services.
If you’re a Pentacostal, have you said any or more of the below?
“When God comes in the room and the anointing falls, I just feel such peace. God fills me with joy.”
“On the Day of Pentacost, everyone was speaking in tongues. All the early church believers did it…”
So strange how we can think other people are religious, crazy nuts but never apply that same logic to ourselves.
It’s always crazy when it’s somebody else.Read More
God is not afraid of your brain.
I write this because I used to think he was. I would never have phrased it that way, of course, but that’s the reality of it.
When I was a Pastor, I picked up a little book in the library called ‘How To Know God Exists.’ About the size of a napkin, it had a cartoon on every page and no more than one sentence under the cartoon, aimed at the 5-8 year old market. It shocked me that a book of such clearly Christian persuasion would be in a Public Library and I wanted to find out how they managed to do that.
Turns out, they managed to do that because it wasn’t actually arguing for God’s existence. Quite the opposite actually. It’d be more aptly titled, ‘How To Know God Doesn’t Exist’. The book ended up in the boot of my car for a few weeks as the return reminders piled up. One afternoon, one of my staff members – a mum with 2 kids – saw it when we were collecting some items from my car and picked it up.Read More
It’s not books that change your life, it’s thinking. It’s coming face to face with something that is different to you. It’s working with thought as you would clay.
So are five sets of other people’s thoughts that have made me a better person this year. What are yours?Read More
It’s not often we get to experience that feeling of ‘finishing’. The sense that the chapter is closing, making way for the next one to open. The exhilaration of standing at the Summit – a mountain climbed beneath you, a challenge finally overcome, accomplishment mixed with relief as the last bead of sweat inches its way down the side of your cheek… a new perspective now yours to tuck away as a completed item… an experience that ‘was’.
I was lucky recently. I got this feeling twice in one day, about a metaphysical mountain and a very real, very high, physical one called Everest. Not the point of Everest, just the base, but let’s just all focus on that word ‘Everest’ for a second and think that I’m awesome.
Now sitting at Newark International Airport with 15 minutes until boarding time, relaxed on a long overdue glass of Sauvignon, I’m about to board a flight home to Australia for the first time in 18 months.
A part of me looks back and asks, ‘What exactly did I do with myself the past year and a half…?’ (*cue large sip of wine*)
The other part of me remembers two moments.Read More
Warning: Some Spoiler Alerts But Not The Most Important Stuff
For the first few hours of reading, I hated Paul Beaumont’s book, A Brief Eternity, so much I wanted to throw it out the window. When I was greeted in the first few paragraphs with a Korean speaking broken english to direct the traffic of new entrants through Heaven’s change rooms after they just finished floating through the sky, the fact that I was reading it on my iPhone at the beach was the only thing that stopped me from doing just that. Sometimes a book will make you squirm at every sentence because it’s bad. Other times, it will make you squirm at every sentence because it’s touching points of contention you didn’t even know you had.Read More
Andy flew back to Munich early Sunday morning after a three day visit, leaving me with a week of packing up my life here in Spain before flying out to London Friday morning. A goodbye dinner with some friends is scheduled in for Thursday night but bar that, nothing. Malaga is one of those cities where most people come for just 6-12 months. As a local for nearly 10 now it means I’ve been through an entire cycle of making new friends and saying goodbye to them and with leaving soon I can’t be bothered to make any more. The remaining crew have actual jobs and I have a lot to do before I leave. I’ll use the time of being alone, in my house, with my work, until Thursday night to be super productive.
I head to my favourite cafe where I sit all day. They don’t mind, they know me. People buzzing around is nice but the house is cold and quiet when I get back. I grab my second pizza of the year because the fridge is empty and curl up on the couch. It’s been a long time since I watched an episode of Californication…
Californication is seriously such a good show. I watch it while ‘eating lunch’ and then again after making a big dinner. I’ve emailed a couple of people today, done some serious work on an event I’m managing and now, maybe, will head to bed to do some reading…
I say all this to myself. Out loud. In the kitchen as I dump saucepans and plates into the sink. Before looking around my empty apartment to see if anyone heard me.
Crazy, tick.Read More