Why I am Not a Christian (An Introduction of Sorts)
A couple of weeks ago, I was eating some breakfast at a Chik-Fil-A (of all places) when I caught myself bowing my head in a silent prayer of gratitude before I ate. The realization of what I was doing caused me to laugh out loud. It had been at least twelve years since I last prayed before a meal, but yet here I was, not only going through the motions of ritual, but really feeling a warm wave of gratitude towards God for the warm, soft light of morning, for the air in my lungs, for the fact that I was alive and about to experience the comfort of warm food.
What was happening? Was there some sort of chemical wafting through the Baptist owned fast foodery? Had the light piano stylings of John Tesh that were playing in the background stirred some long dormant part of my soul? Or was it worse? Had I become (gasp!) a Christian? My laughter stopped. I forgot about the book I was reading. I’ve been a little lost in contemplation ever since.
I am the son of a Pentecostal pastor. I was homeschooled with a Fundamentalist Christian curriculum. I was a Bible Quiz champion. I was a youth leader. I listened to Christian music, watched Christian films, read Christian books, and played Christian video games. I made a vow that my first kiss would be on my wedding day (and kept that vow until I was 23). Even as a teen, I was obsessed with theology and defending the faith. I preached my first sermon at 15. I enrolled at a three year intensive ministry training school at 17. I have preached on four continents. I was a church supported missionary in inner-city Dallas. I was, as the Apostle Paul said, a zealot of the zealots. Jesus was my everything. I could not have dreamed of a life without him.
But then a crisis of faith turned into a nervous breakdown and that led to a collapse of everything I knew and believed. Those of you who have experienced this (and I know there are many of you) know how devastating this can feel. I have spent the last thirteen years largely unmoored and spiraling in an ocean of existential doubt, poring over books on philosophy, church history, and sacred texts of other faiths. I saw the pendulum of my faith swing from one extreme to the other. I started identifying as an Atheist and wore that badge proudly. I have been angry at the church and hateful towards believers. I have had screaming matches with Christians over the concept of evolution inside a Starbucks. At the same time I have felt more welcomed and accepted by those that my church tradition used to demonize—Satanists, Pagans, Buddhists, Secular Humanists, and the whole LBGTQIA community—than I ever did in any of the youth groups or house churches that I was a part of. I have also met so many people who have experienced so much abuse and trauma at the hands of institutional dogmatic religion that I could never imagine even stepping foot into a house of faith again, let alone becoming a believer.
And this is why praying over a chicken biscuit and medium lemonade caught me with such surprise. Somehow without my knowing, there has been a small vine of faith crawling up the wall of my soul. I have yet to decide if it is a flower that I should cultivate or a weed I should kill.
I cannot call myself a Christian. I am not sure if this is something I will ever be able to do again. There are a handful of reasons why:
The first is because I don’t even know what calling myself a Christian would even mean. Like all religions, in truth, there is no such thing as “Christianity” only “Christianities.” The religion has become so segmented and ideologically fractured that I am not even sure the tenets in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity still covers them all. I am friends with people who profess Christianity that believe the Bible is perfect and without error and that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. I have other friends who profess Christianity that believe the Bible is a human construct and are not really sure if they believe that God actually exists, or that it matters if he does.
Beyond the ideological differences, there seems to be a wide spectrum of practice among the faithful. I grew up in a tradition that did not allow us to watch R rated movies or even go inside an establishment that served alcohol. You would know who a believer was, maybe not because of our love the way that the Bible commands, but because of how lame we were at parties.
But over the years I have drank, smoked pot, and even had sex with people who all profess to be active and devoted followers of Christ, often leaving me to wonder just what the difference between them and a non-believer, if there even is one. If this thing is true, shouldn’t there be some concrete foundations of belief and behavior? What does it actually mean to be a Christian? Can we get past human interpretation and cultural construction so as to even see if there is some divine influence at the core? How much would it matter if God wasn’t there at all? I don’t know. This blog will explore these questions.
I cannot call myself a Christian because I don’t believe it has a monopoly on Truth. If God exists, she is big. Bigger than anything humans can find words to describe. Perhaps we are like the three blind men that come across an elephant and try to describe what they are feeling. One feels the trunk, and says it’s a tree. Another feels the side and says it’s a wall. The third feels the tail and says it’s a vine. Maybe God is so big that even once we combine all of the world’s religions accounts of who or what God is, we still miss it. Maybe the Apostle Paul meant something like that when he said that we now only see through a glass darkly, but we will someday see face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). I don’t know. This blog will explore these possibilities.
I also cannot call myself a Christian because of what that word has come to mean. There is a stigma and a negative connotation to that word that in my opinion is frankly well deserved. Over the course of the last four decades, the word “Christian” has come to mean someone who is opposed to the civil and human rights of almost every minority group in this country. They have conflated Christianity with conservative politics to such a degree that one would almost expect to find Jesus give a tirade on state’s rights in the gospels (he didn’t). Anytime I hear someone make a racist or bigoted remark, I am willing to bet money which religion they identify as.
And I am definitely not saying that this is who all Christians are. I am grateful to know and be good friends with some wonderful, kind, generous, loving, believers. But we must acknowledge that when the non-believing world hears the word “Christian” what pops into their head first is not a positive thought. I have long likened Jesus to Dave Matthews in the sense that he himself might be alright, but his followers are annoying enough to kind of ruin the appeal. So if Jesus is real, is he the peace-loving, anti-establishment, champion of the marginalized and outcasts like me and my liberal friends want him to be? Or is he the sword-wielding, fiery eyed, defender of righteousness who cannot tolerate any kind of perversion in his presence and wants us to make America some sort of beacon of holiness? Is he both? Neither? I don’t know. This blog will explore these viewpoints.
I cannot call myself a Christian, but yet there is still this little vine of faith that is stubbornly refusing to die inside me. I cannot help but find myself engrossed with the stories that are told about Jesus (regardless if they are actually true) and have within me a strong desire to live with the character and grace and compassion that he did. I find myself yearning not just for a truth, but for The Truth, regardless of how uncomfortable that might make me or what sacrifices are required.
This is a blog that will explore all of this. I am making my home here in the shadowlands between faith and doubt and will report on what I find. I hope you visit me here. You who are confident that you know the Truth of God. You who are wandering and wondering like me. Join me here. Sit with me. Bring me your stories, your questions, your assurances and your fears. Help me see God the way you do and I will do my best to do the same. Maybe together we can cast a little more light on the infinite unseen. At the very least we won’t be staring into the void alone.