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 actually be 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 it’s 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.
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