My upbringing was entirely Protestant. My family were good Protestant “churchians” (people who go to church regularly "'cause that's what good folk do"). The faith, such as it was, was just cultural really. I did know some real Christians (all Protestant) and I admired them, but I wasn't one of them any more than the rest of my family was.
|English: The inside of an Orthodox church. Greek Orthodox Church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Sure enough, the man lived up to his reputation. In fact I was so interested that I went back a few times. Then my parents told me there was a youth group full of interesting, intelligent, lively guys and gals my age. So I went there too. And they lived up to their billing.
With time and study and being around Christians a lot, I began to learn about the faith and to grow in it and to like it. It wasn't all smooth sailing. I went to bars more than a few times. During my first college semester away from home I stopped going to church or studying the Bible entirely. Then I got into another group of dynamic, growing, dedicated, young people. This new group helped me learn to study the Bible systematically and to develop a full theology that affected all of my life. In essence I learned then that the faith had to be practiced every day, not just Sunday.
Leap ahead several years. I’d been a dedicated evangelical/ fundamentalist/ non-denominational type Christian for many years. I’d marry a woman of similar stripe, and we were raising kids in the faith. But the wife and I had began to see the bankruptcy of the evy/fundy way. The process happened over at least 7 or 8 years and involved great amounts of study. Perhaps the single, best starting point was the book "Evangelical Is Not Enough" by Thomas Howard. Reading that book brought into focus all the problems we were trying to identify and qualify. Rather than virtually reproduce it here, I'd suggest you just read it. It's actually a pretty short book. (A note that Howard ends the book as an Anglican but he went on soon afterward to become a very orthodox Catholic.) Some of the most notable things that chased us out of Protestantism were: shallow worship, the lack of standards or cohesiveness in the Church globally, the madhouse of interpretations, and to no small extent the widespread Calvinism amongst evy/fundy types.
Once we'd identified the problems with the evy/fundy Church - and by extension most of Protestantism - and started to grasp the significance of tradition and liturgy, we went to older, liturgical churches to learn more about liturgy first hand. It took us a bit over a year to really focus on the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC). Frankly they just seemed too much like the Alien Mother Ship. But once we did go there and get to know the people, it was like finding the home we didn't know existed.
The EOC has been growing a lot over the past couple decades. This stems from a lot of people learning that evy/fundyism really isn't enough. Some other old, traditional, liturgical churches have also received a growth boost from that; notably the Catholics.
In case it’s of interest to anyone, here are just a few of the books that were significant in our path out of evy/fundyism. All are fairly short, and would give a good idea of what path we followed.
- "Evangelical Is Not Enough" by Thomas Howard
- "For the Life of the World" by Alexander Schmemmann
- "Becoming Orthodox" by Peter Gilquist
We found our way to the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) because our study of history showed us that it was the church with the best claim to an historically consistent tie all the way back to the first century. We were also drawn because of its deep and ancient liturgical understanding.
All seemed well then. We loved the EOC and its services. And we loved the neat people in our parish. So what happened to make it all fall apart in less than 2 years? ... Heck it was still going well as of the summer of 2006, so it really all fell apart in a lot less than 6 months. It was such a whirlwind that I actually find it hard to recall it all now.
There was a lady in our church who developed a mental illness. She was a terrific gal and, of course, I prayed diligently for her. So did a lot of folks. However, she did not get better. For whatever reason, at the time this struck me hard. As a result, I began to carefully sift through 25 years of praying. Not just my praying, but prayers of others also. And I realized that, as far as I was aware, no prayer had ever been answered in a clear, unmistakable way. No cripple ever walked, no blind person gained sight, no deaf person started hearing, nothing. Oh sure, there were some folks who beat cancer and other things like that but nothing outside the realm of medical probability. There were other coincidences too but nothing one could put a finger on and say, “There! That was outside the realm of the natural or possible.”
It became obvious to me that I was talking to the air- no answers, no response of any kind. Initially I read several books on prayer, on the existence of God, and on struggling with unbelief. None of them dared to go where I was. They all pulled up short and scurried off into comforting, yet unsatisfactory answers.
Being a scientist, I dug into the literature for any studies on the efficacy of prayer. Lo and behold, there were actual, controlled studies that had been done. And the result? Drum roll, please..... nada, nil, zip, zilch, zero... no efficacy at all.
I started to look at the lives of Christians compared to the rest of the world. I looked at things that could be distinctly measured like comparisons of divorce rates, criminal activity, overall health, family feuds, you name it. No difference could be found between any group of Christians and any group of non-Christians. Wait. I am lying. Catholics did have a lower divorce rate- not hugely lower, but significant. However this is not surprising given their stance on divorce. I can’t think of any other differences that were notable.
In short, I couldn’t find anything to indicate any substantive reality behind the Faith. No changes in the lives of believers compared with non-believers, no miracles, no answers to prayer. Nothing.
[A short interlude to say something about the way I am deep down:
- I have an inability to lie to myself. If something seems wrong, or is wrong, I just can't ignore it or sweep it away or tell myself it’s really all right. It would stick in my mind and not go away. By and by, I'd have to deal with it, whatever it was.
- I always wanted to know what was true about everything and anything. I didn't care what the truth turned out to be, I just wanted to find the truth and then try to get on the right side of it.
- It seems I’m possessed of a strong streak of skepticism about almost everything. Mountains of evidence are often needed to convince me of just about anything. And once I adopt a position it’s no light task to dislodge me from it.]
Over a number of weeks, I slowly let go of the Faith. I “prayed” a bit. Those “prayers” all said, one way or another:
“God, if you’re real, do something. Anything. You ought to have no trouble showing me something that will convince me beyond doubt. Heck, I’ll gladly toss my mountains of evidence, my doubts, all that stuff, if you’ll just do anything.”
Even after letting go of the Faith, I continued saying that “prayer” from time to time. I still wanted there to be a supreme being who will, in the end, take care of us and deal with all the things too big for us. There was still a longing for something eternal, and of ultimate, universal significance. But since I'm now sure it's not there to be had, I find joy where I am and don't think so much for what another day has in store.
So here I am. I cannot believe anymore. Fortunately, once I accepted this new life, it was fairly easy to build a life without an “invisible friend”. The future isn’t frightening and life goes on.
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