7/26/2011 | Share this article: View CommentsBy R. Martinez-Stone ~
I was recently asked by a friend who is a born-again Christian if I think my life is better since I’ve left Christian fundamentalism. My answer was a simple yes, but since responding, I’ve given the question more thought. I felt like I needed to elaborate and more clearly define why I am happier now as a non-Christian. I guess I have never put into words why I instinctively and impulsively responded as I did. I’ve never had any regrets, leaving the church; but now I wondered why.
Image by River Beach via FlickrThe first reason that came to mind is that, since leaving Fundamentalism, I have been set free from their narrowly defined definition of god and have since had the freedom to have a more individual, personal relationship with god. It is ironic because fundamentalism speaks frequently about the importance of having a “personal relationship” with god, but in my experience, once one becomes a fundamentalist, god is defined by the pulpit and the relationship is so clearly defined that all church members share the exact same beliefs. So I guess I could say that I am happier defining god based on my own personal experiences, intelligence, rationale, and intuition than when I was told what and how to believe and that I am happier now because only since leaving fundamentalism have I been able to have a truly personal relationship with god.
Another reason I am happier since leaving fundamentalism is that I am able to be more fully myself, whereas when I was a believer, I had to monitor who I was and re-create myself according to church-based standards. Everything from the clothes we wore to the music we listened to was insidiously dictated from the pastor and among believers. Even who we would ultimately vote for was assumed and prescribed; variations were not welcome. Being able to be more fully and authentically Me was especially powerful as a female because I felt so restricted as a born-again believer; my role as a woman was narrowly defined by the pulpit’s interpretation of biblical scriptures.
Once leaving, my marriage relationship improved because I was no longer bound to be submissive; I was free to express myself, to stand up for myself and my children, and to put my foot down if necessary. Therefore, I am happier now because I am no longer subservient to men and can revel in the unique strengths of being female. Leaving the church and redefining god resulted in a less judgmental me. I was no longer self-righteous. I was a human being, just like everyone else and therefore subject to the same strengths and weaknesses as the rest of the population; I was no better or worse than anyone else. I no longer viewed the world in an “us vs. them” mentality.
Walking away from fundamentalism allowed me to see all of humankind as a whole, realizing that we are all united by our humanness. So I guess I could say that I am happier now because as a non-fundamentalist, I have more respect and appreciation for human beings – for both our diversity AND commonalities. I continued to think about and compare my life both as a Christian and as a former-fundamentalist. Some things have not changed: I still experience both the good and the bad in life, just like everyone else. Both as a Christian and as a non-Christian, I have experienced joy, happiness, love, peace of mind and satisfaction; but
I have also experienced pain, loss, sadness, and unhappiness in both realms. As both a believer and non-believer, I have experienced the supernatural experience of that-which-is-holy and continue to be a deeply spiritual and religious person – though my methods and rationale have changed. One of the first things to change, however, upon leaving fundamentalism was my parenting techniques. I returned to my former, pre-saved belief that it is generally wrong to hit a child. I no longer viewed my children as inherently sinful creatures in need of repentance. Upon doing so, the relationship between me and my children greatly improved. So I can say with confidence that I am happier as a non-Christian because it made me a better, more loving and nurturing parent who was more respectful of my children’s individual identities and developmental strengths, weaknesses and needs. I saw a lot of child abuse in the church and regrettably that includes my own behavior as a “Christian” parent, for which I will forever be remorseful.
There is one more reason why I am happier now. I am happier now because I am free to be a skeptical, independent thinker. I am no longer bound to accept only what is preached, but can seek the answers I need on my own, consulting a variety of sources instead of just a single, limited interpretation of a collection of books written thousands of years ago in a far-away land by a male-dominant culture vastly different and by far less enlightened than our own. Since learning more about the history of the world and its people, I have a broader context of biblical history and more fully understand how Judaism, and eventually Christianity, developed.
I have come to realize, much to my surprise initially, that much of what the bible teaches is not unique; many cultures prior to the Israelites believed in savior-gods, saviors who were born from a virgin, saviors referred to as a “shepherd” or who promised deliverance from sin and evil. I came to learn that much of the Old Testament records a history of a people who were devoted to a male god and who worked hard to eliminate the predominant believe in both a mother-goddess and a father-god and that this continued well into New Testament times and beyond.
Learning about the history of Neolithic religions helped me understand the context of monotheism and the newer religions that incorporated only the male gods and eliminated the female representation of the divine. Now, I am free to bring the female aspect of god into my own perception of the Divine, for as one author put it, “if you cannot see the female in God, you will never see God in the female.” Finally, I think I am happier now because I can freely admit that no one’s faith – including my own – can be proved nor disproved.
I can readily admit that the things I believe are not provable, without fear or anxiety, because I believe that if there IS a god, and if that Supreme Being wanted us to know, without a doubt, of its existence, it would be clear to us all. There would be no need for the multitude of religious paths that we, as humans, have created. Perhaps we would all come into this world with the Truth attached to our umbilical cords!
I do, however, believe that every one of our world’s religions have some Truth within them. Each path offers inspired insights. But each religion runs the risk of becoming dysfunctional if it claims to possess Absolute Truth because absolute truth requires no faith at all; it is inarguable. So in answer to my friend’s question: Yes, I am happier now as a former Christian fundamentalist than I was as a born-again believer who believed that the Bible was the word of God and should be interpreted literally and without question. In fact, I am much happier.
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