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Spirituality after Christianity?

By Eva ~

I’ve been avidly reading through a lot of posts on this site since I found it about a week ago. I am a recent exChristian, and while I relate to many posts, I also find my heart going out to many of you who have been so hurt by religion, as I also have. I have a very long and complicated story, but a bit of it can be found on my blog at
http://alivetoreality.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/why-i-stopped-going-to-church/.

I say I’m a recent exChristian, because it’s only over the last few months that I stopped using the title Christian at all to refer to me, but leaving religion has been a process that has been going on for years. For the last three years since I stopped attending church, I’ve been popping into sites and listening to forums of others who’ve left church but still hold to certain aspects of Christianity or believe in God. My favorite is the Free Believers Network founded by expastor Darin Hufford. I love listening to his podcasts because he’s entertaining and says a lot of things that would have struck me as heretical years ago. I find consolation to my irreverent soul when I hear these “heretical” things. I mention that because I want to be honest about where I’m coming from, but please don’t assume that I believe everything the way Darin does, if you’re familiar with him. He’s just someone I’ve found helpful on my path, and I like to interact with things he says.

I have been in Christianity since before I was born as my parents were extremely active fundamentalists in the Church of Christ, a branch of Christianity that doesn’t recognize other branches as being saved and going to heaven. So I experienced one extreme and in my 20’s veered to another by joining Charismatic groups and seeking experience with God.

From reading posts and comments on this site, I realize that sometimes Christians come on here and try to insult you all by claiming that your Christianity was never valid. It seems that these are people who are trying to stay blind to the faults of their religion and so cannot admit that people who have had the kind of problems we all have had were actually Christians. I want to be clear that I disagree with these people. I’ve had many of the same problems with the Christian religion that you all have talked about, and I was about the most passionate committed Christian there could possibly be both in my teens in the fundie church and in my 20’s in the Charismatic ones. My whole life there has been nothing more important to me than my relationship with God or my spiritual journey, however I have chosen to phrase it.

I was just reading through a thread started by Oatmeal Panda in early December (“An Honest Question”), and in it she talks about her question with whether you experienced God in Christianity, a question many of you found somewhat offensive. I wanted to mention that I’ve read that thread because I have a somewhat similar conversation I’d like to start, but one that I feel differs significantly from hers because while she questions whether you’ve had genuine experiences with God in the past, I want to share my perspective that offers another way to interpret those experiences. I don’t know if my specific ideas have been discussed on this site because to find out would require many more hours of reading, but I do want to write about my thoughts on spirituality after Christianity.

I noticed that many of you have become atheist upon leaving Christianity. Others use the word “agnostic” to describe their current position. Initially I found it strange that people who leave Christianity would head straight to atheism, but the more I read your posts, the more that switch made sense.

The God Christianity introduces can come across as evil, especially if you believe the bible has the true revelation of God, which is my main problem with fundamental Christianity. The podcaster I mentioned earlier, Darin Hufford, has a book called The Misunderstood God: The Lies Religion Tells About God in which he mentions a bunch of characteristics of God taught by Christianity that completely oppose the idea that God is love.

I thought this comment by Renoliz in the post “Irreconcilable Differences” to be very insightful:
“Did he love me? I have thought about this. I can tell you this, it wasn't a true love or an agape love. It was a controlling, threatening love. God was never a love child. God never said, ‘I love you so much that I will set you free. If you return to me fine, if not I will miss you and wish you all the best.’ No, God said, ‘I will do whatever I will to you and if you leave me I will imprison you forever in Hell.’ What a scary guy. If this is love then I don't need it or want it.”

I wanted to post my perspective after reading things like that because I have a very different experience to share. Like most of you, I’ve been introduced to the God of the Bible, and shuddered at atrocities he commanded. But I also became aware of the spirit world. I have had numerous conversations with a being that seemed to be in the spirit world who I always assumed to be God. One conversation that brought me a lot of freedom was when I heard, “I’d rather have you be yourself than worship me.” The essence of that message seems to me to be what Renoliz was looking for God to say, and she never heard God say it to her. Ever since I heard that, I’ve given myself permission to try to be me, and not to worry about pleasing God anymore. I blogged about this at http://alivetoreality.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/how-to-attract-god-by-being-yourself-or-why-more-of-you-less-of-me-doesnt-work/.

Some of you have talked about spiritual experiences you’ve had that you now dismiss as emotionalism, based on your beliefs that there is no God. I want to point out that there are other perspectives that could possibly be real or true besides Christianity and atheism or even agnosticism, and that some of these may be helpful in explaining the spiritual experiences I have had and many of you have had.

I think it’s a mistake to assume there’s no spiritual world just because we can’t stand the way Christianity portrays God.

About two years ago I met a woman who was to become a best friend. The only problem I had with being friends with her was that she was not a Christian and instead was into new age ideas. I was scared of that, because I knew that I was drawn to new age ideas and feared that being friends with her would end in me leaving Christianity altogether. I chose to be friends with her despite my fear. I wanted to really see where she was coming from, and I saw a lot of love in her. She said she believes in God, but her idea of God is not a personality the way Christianity presents it. To me it seems more like an idea that there is a spiritual world she calls the Universe that runs through all living things, and we are a part of it. In other words, she believes in a spirit world that includes all humans, but not an intelligent being/creator who rules the world and makes things happen and keeps things from happening.

The first time I tried to put on her beliefs to see how it would feel, it made me sad and lonely to think there’s no distinct person/being who created everything and cares for the world and for me. I couldn’t handle it, so I put that idea aside for a time. Still, I have kept looking into other options. The book Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia really captured my attention because Elizabeth Gilbert experienced some of the same kinds of interactions that I did. But she described them differently due to her different background.

I think if there is truly a spiritual realm and even a being that can be called God, anyone who accesses the spiritual realm from any religion will report back some similar things. While the world of religion and beliefs is extremely divided, I believe spirituality at its core is extremely unifying. That’s why I hope to show through whatever comments I make on this website as well as in my own blog how fundamentally different spirituality is from religion.

Perhaps it would help to picture spirituality as a rope descending into a limitless well and religions as cords of different colors that run in various directions above the well. At some point or even a few points, these cords may touch the rope, but then they move away. Religions claim that they are the way (often the only way) to spirituality, and indeed they touch spirituality at various points. But they move away from spirituality at most points, because they aren’t really about that. They’re more about human control and power.

Say you’re a Christian fundamentalist teen who really wants to meet God, and you go to a camp meeting. At the service, the worship team plays, and you “enter in” to the song. You let yourself go in the music, seeking to worship with your whole heart. Maybe in that moment there is a part of you that opens to the spiritual world, and you get a glimpse into it. You immediately interpret that as God, the one you read about in the bible, and use the experience to bolster up your faith. That’s what happened to me a lot as a teen and young adult, and even more after I left the more fundamentalist group to look for experience of God in Charismatic settings. I interpreted spiritual experiences I had based on what I believed about God as taught by my religious leaders and the bible. But there are other possible ways to interpret those experiences.

Human beings are more complex than just mind and body. There’s a spiritual part of us that resonates with the rest of the spiritual world. There may or may not be a God as Christianity describes it, but there certainly is a force, an energy, there’s a spiritual world that when you enter it with your awareness, you feel truly alive. I think that’s what the Buddhists call enlightenment. The Hindus meditate their way there. Catholic monks and nuns contemplate and find the inner light. The testimonies I’ve heard from people who’ve experienced that sound similar. One day my new age friend told me about a problem she was having with a family member. Without even talking about it, I went into this realm, listening and hearing for her. I was still aware of her in the room, but I was also aware of the other world. And when I let my awareness slip fully back into the physical plane, I had encouragement for her. And it was normal for her and for me, because we knew what the other meant. It had nothing to do with religion.

There’s a spiritual world, and the only way to encounter it is through our spirits. Religion tries to categorize, codify, and control it. Enter the bible. While the spiritual realm/God cannot be controlled, the bible can be controlled, because it’s able to be interpreted. Now the text of it is pretty set, but back in the day, people could add and take away and even put out their own book, starting with the words, “I, Paul” just to make sure it got heard. But even today, people pick and choose and interpret what they want to from the bible, and they use it to control other people who haven’t studied it as well. (I pick and choose too, but I think of the whole thing as a work of man, so that’s not as hypocritical.)

Yesterday I showed a Christian friend a verse in 1 Timothy 2:15 that says women have to have children to get saved:
“But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” 
Christians don’t teach that because they know it’s ridiculous. What would Christianity look like if they said only women who bear children get to go to heaven? Too bad for the poor women that can’t find a husband. They’ll just have to have sex with anyone they can find so they can have a baby, but then they’ll go to hell for sexual immorality. Thank God for in vitro. Modern husbandless women still have a chance, but if they’re infertile, they deserve the punishment they’ll receive of burning in hell for all eternity. Sick. I say whoever wrote that verse was a sicko. And it was the same control freak who wrote a couple verses before that “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Maybe I better just shut up right now and go have some more babies so I can do my part in overpopulating the planet.

That paragraph has always troubled me, but it finally got to the point that I knew I could not accept the entire Bible as inspired if it meant I had to accept that passage as from God. My friend yesterday said we must just be interpreting the passage wrong. That’s the only sane thing to say if you want to stay a Christian. Thank God a lot of Christians are thinking enough to realize it’s wrong to tell women to shut up and get pregnant, despite what certain verses say about it.

So before that tangent, I was saying that the bible can be controlled, but God cannot. People can and have written and used the bible to say all kinds of horrible things about God. A few people in the religion of Christianity got quiet enough to hear God for themselves. I used to read their stories. Theresa of Avila, Therese of Liseaux, St. John of the Cross—they were Catholic mystics, but now I want to look into mystics of other religions.

I believe spirituality at its core is extremely unifying.I’m a mystic myself. For years I’ve had a practice where now and then I get really quiet with a pen or keyboard and listen, and write what I hear. It doesn’t always go that great, but often I’m met with a feeling of eternity, and often there’s some words to write, and they seem pretty profound to me. The encounter fills me with peace. It could just be my own spirit I’m becoming aware of, but I have a feeling that spirituality is complex and as limitless as the universe, and I think that’s why my friend refers to God as the universe.

I like how she prays too. Christian prayer for things or others always bugged me because it was so imaginary and seemed to take for granted that God is not good. Please help “so and so” get over “name that” sickness—I stopped praying those prayers years ago because there’s no life or connection with anything spiritual in them. What I would do is let my awareness come into my spirit where I sensed I am with God, whatever that means.

But I like my friend’s idea of prayer because it is setting your intentions out there. I intend to receive a job or contract that brings money writing or editing on topics I care about. I say that because I love myself and I believe that kind of work is for me. And it’s good for society when we do things for work that feel like something we were born to do.

So my question to this community is, do you think it’s possible that there is a spiritual world that has been badly represented and only hinted at within Christianity, and if so, would you find it interesting to investigate that?


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