9/11/2016 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Tangible Word ~
In the cacophony of voices already ringing out, I suppose it would do no harm to add my own.
Grab something to drink, something to eat, and if you’re in for the long haul, then I strongly suggest at least getting comfortable. For while this story may be brief, I cannot say the same for its re-telling.
The year is 2013. I’m on the cusp of graduating from grade school. Though I should say that this isn’t any normal Canadian grade school. No, this is a private Christian school, which contains all the grades from Kindergarten to grade 12. I’ll stay away from any naming and shaming, and instead call this school WCS (Wacky Christian School). WCS, like many Christian schools, is supported by an adjoining church. This church was of the Protestant variety, and of the many Protestant versions to choose from, it dug its root all the way down to Azusa Street. If asked, they would either call themselves Pentecostals or Charismatics. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to them as Pentecostal.
Despite graduating from a Pentecostal Christian school, I was raised Baptist, which would eventually morph into non-denominationalism, which is still a denomination ironically enough. Not only was I raised in a very different denomination from Pentecostalism, but my father was a pastor of a Baptist church. Although, in later years, he bounced to a few house church movements, before establishing himself as an evangelical, non-denominational Christian. He would say, a Bible-believing Christian, but then most Christians would call themselves that. I bring up denominations because my journey out of the faith began when my Baptist views clashed with the Pentecostal views around me. This doctrinal conflict would later mirror the coming conflict between Christianity and Atheism that came to life within me.
It was in grade 9 that I switched schools and found myself in WCS. In my first year at the school our entire class went to stay at the National House of Prayer in Ottawa. We stayed there for a week, visiting with politicians sympathetic to Christianity and working at missions in the downtown area. The NHOP (unlike the American National House of Pancakes) was a mansion-like building, which I found myself wandering the halls of on our penultimate night of the trip. I came upon a balcony, where most of my classmates had gathered under the cool night sky. Instead of sitting around and talking, my classmates were clustered in small circles, while some of them were screaming and laughing. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was seeing, so as not to interrupt, I stuck to the side of the balcony and leaned against the railing. From this vantage point, I could make out that some of my classmates were on the ground convulsing and shaking, others were staring heavenward as they lifted up their hands in prayer, and then there were those speaking in tongues or prophesying over other students loudly. I saw one of my friends laughing on the ground as his body shook wildly, while a typically quiet girl was crying her eyes out and shivering uncontrollably.
I’d seen this kind of behavior before, especially during bible class, when the atmosphere became vibrant with people shouting in tongues and the worship band played their loudest. However, this was more than my fragile Baptist mind could take. I stormed off the balcony, feeling as though I were the only sane person left in the world. Afterwards I would speak negatively of what I saw and drew plenty of scorn for doing so. I was accused of demonic possession or influence; but most people just thought I was being contrarian for the sake of being so. Instead, I was deeply shaken by what I saw – it frightened me. More than that, it looked downright sacrilegious, perhaps they were the ones being demonically influenced! In all previous Church experience, I had witnessed nothing like this before. Even clapping during church services was usually frowned upon. I built up in my mind a fortress of indignation and thought of such happenings as wrong. Though I remained friends with many of them, I still considered myself far above such actions like speaking in tongues, prophesying, or being baptised in the spirit. I concluded that they simply had the wrong idea about God and the Bible. Their Christianity was the wrong Christianity. I was a Christian that followed the Bible, not the false teachers who continued to twist the pureness of Christianity in their Charismatic and Pentecostal ways. This, I concluded, long before I ever saw Catholics, which would’ve looked as foreign to me as Buddhists, Taoists, Hinduists, or Islamists.
However, it was what happened outside of my Christian world that really shook my faith. I was in my sophomore year of high school and still a rather shy kid. After classes, I would usually find myself working at a discount grocery store in my neighborhood. While I had good relations with most of my coworkers, I wasn’t one to speak up or rock the boat. Unlike in my Christian school where I felt I was among peers, hardly anyone I worked with was Christian. I was very quiet about my Christian faith. However I was feeling the need to take my Christian faith more seriously, so I decided that I would talk to my co-worker about Christianity. As we went up and down the aisles of food, facing the items, I started to ask him what he knew about Christianity. He humored me, but told me he didn’t know a whole lot. So I decided I would evangelize. I told him about Jesus, the Garden of Eden, and salvation from sin. He did a good job of listening, but didn’t ask too many question. Instead, as I heard what I believed pour out of my mouth, I began to wonder just how believable it all really was. I talked of the virgin birth, of resurrection, of global floods, and of original sin. Saying it aloud, to someone who wasn’t already a part of the club, I felt a strange sensation of foolishness. What was I really saying? At home I proudly told my family of what I’d done, but inside I couldn’t help but think over and over the little uncertainties raised by my evangelizing. Instead of planting the seeds of belief in my co-worker, I had planted the seeds of doubt in myself. When an opportunity to step out in faith presented itself at work again, I couldn’t pass it up. I needed to know what I was believing was real.
Growing up in my home, if ever something became lost (which was a guarantee for remotes, phones, and library books), we would pray that it would be found. Usually, a few minutes after prayer, the item would turn up. There were a few other times where the lost item remained hidden for many weeks or months. Sometimes we never found what we were looking for, despite our insistent prayers. So, at work, only a couple months after first sharing my faith with my co-worker, my manager approached a group of us with an anxious look in his eyes. He’d lost his set of keys for the building. My co-workers set off to hunt down the set of keys, but I stayed with my manager as a thought entered my mind – why not pray for the keys to be found? I figured that I could pray silently by myself, or I could make this an opportunity to share my faith with my non-believing manager. So I turned to him and reluctantly asked if he’d mind if I prayed for the keys to be found. He shrugged, and told me that would be alright. I uttered a short prayer aloud and began searching for the keys as we split ways.
While I prowled the back warehouse for the missing keys, I expected to be interrupted any moment by my manager holding the set of lost keys. Only, as the hours went by and we all returned back to our normal job routines, they weren’t found. It wasn’t until the next day that I found my manager in his office, and asked him if he’d recovered the keys. It turned out that he’d gone home after work and they’d been in his apartment, right on the counter. He didn’t thank me for praying, for it was as though my prayer had no effect on the situation. There was no miraculous appearing of keys, instead he’d had to go the entire day without keys he really needed, and had simply found them at home. I shared this story dejectedly with other Christians and they suggested that perhaps God had prolonged the finding of keys for some reason unknown that would later bring more glory to God. Perhaps. However, all I could feel was slight embarrassment and frustration that my prayers hadn’t had any miraculous effect.
Back to the year 2013, the six months leading up to graduation saw the greatest deterioration of my faith. In memory of these stories I wrote above, I felt my faith become somewhat burdensome. However there was no singular moment where I denied Christ, burnt my Bible, and dropped my cross. This is hardly the case. Perhaps there was a quiet moment in which my faith was fully lost, but if that’s so, then the moment is lost in time. All I know is that eventually I found that I could no longer believe fully that Christianity was true. I was reluctant to pick up the term ‘Atheist’ and opted instead for Agnostic, even though the two aren’t mutually exclusive terms. So I swam in the limbo of not knowing for sure what was true about Christianity. To those who asked, I told them I was in search of what was true and that I would very likely one day become a Christian again.
As time went by I stopped attending church, told my friends of my disbelief, and started to explore the world of apologetics and counter-apologetics. It was at this point that I began to realize just how much I’d been ignorant of in my time as a Christian. Certainly I’d been shown some of the world of apologetics, mostly in two independent lessons by both my school and the church I attended. These two lessons didn’t delve too deeply, indeed one of them was by the infamous Kent Hovind, who taught YEC (young earth creationism). While the other lesson only gave a cursory glance at apologetics and presented an open and shut case for the veracity of Intelligent Design. However, I didn’t realize that most of the questions I’d been asking had numerous sets of answers from a long history of skeptics and Christians alike. Instead of easy answers, all I found was a deep sense of uncertainty. I hadn’t been expecting a consensus on the validity of Christianity, but to find such staunch disagreement on nearly every tenet of the faith – even between Christians – was incredibly perplexing. To make matters worse, there were seemingly good arguments presented for nearly every way of thinking. If one wanted to seek affirmation for the most fundamental, literal view of the Bible, there were numerous websites, books, and experts readily available.
Christians and non-Christians can both be kind, rude, angry, horrible, mean, deceitful, loving, caring, well-wishing, and so on. I found myself reeling. Those first two years outside of the faith, which coincided with my first two years out of high school, saw a young man floundering. I went from job to job, relationship to relationship, and eventually found myself living in the Kentish countryside in the university town of Canterbury. A month before I left my Canadian town for a year’s time in England, I decided that I needed to go back to Christianity. Now to illustrate the falsity of such a conversion, I must illuminate my own desperate need for some foundation in my life. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself when I say - whether due to my Christian origins or not - that I needed something to ground me. Better put, I needed something to better myself. Perhaps we all feel this way, perhaps we don’t, but I’ve certainly felt all my life this deep sense of inadequacy. What some might call a ‘god-shaped hole.’ I won’t try to psychoanalyze, but I will say this inadequacy and desire for self-betterment was the basis for my coming back to Christianity after a year of being outside the faith. I saw Christianity as a way to stabilize myself, to feel better, and to have the answers to the questions that raged inside me. I feel as though this is often the unspoken reason for why many come to the faith or stay in it.
So I battled with feelings of existentialism. After my first re-conversion, I saw that it lacked substance and once again lost my faith, this time in the countryside of England. Upon returning to Canada, I started in university and faced again the same emotional crisis that had brought me to my first re-conversion. This time, it was even more half-hearted. Although I had a lot of questions and doubts regarding my faith, many of them foundational, I soothed myself by saying I’d figure them out later. Whatever doubts I harbored, couldn’t overcome what I had gained in coming back to Christianity. I now had my ‘Christian family’ and a strong sense of purpose, even if it was difficult to reconcile my faith with the day-to-day happenings of everyday life. The questions and doubts continued to plague me. The joy I had initially felt upon re-conversion was replaced by exhaustion. Was it really worth it to go back? I couldn’t placate myself with superficial answers to major problems within Christianity, nor could I adopt a conspiracy theorists level of mental gymnastics to account for them. Over time, this eroded my little sandcastle of faith I built and I was once more faced with the prospect of losing my faith.
I remember well those first few days after making a firm decision to move away from the faith for good. It could no longer be about what felt good and what I wanted to be true, I had to go with what I knew to be true. I couldn’t be one of those Christians who stationed their faith in the strongholds of ambiguity, instead I admitted that there was simply no good reason to believe in God and continue a pretend relationship with Jesus Christ. Those initial days were quite difficult. Indeed, even the weeks following, and I would suppose, even until today, I sometimes look back at Christianity with fondness.
There is one major problem with Christianity that keeps me far away from the faith. I’ll conclude my story on this.
The unseen god. This, for me, has always been the fundamental flaw in Christianity. Where is God? Even the most fundamental of Christians will openly admit that they do not speak with God in the same manner that you or I might speak to one another. Instead, they’ll likely rely on impressions made on their ‘heart’, the words of the Bible, or God speaking through others or circumstances. This isn’t to say unquestioningly that God isn’t real, for it’s entirely plausible that God might choose to communicate with his creation through indirect means. This is well within the realm of possibility. However, while a Christian might say God doesn’t speak audibly because he speaks through other indirect means, a nonbeliever might propose that God doesn’t speak audibly because he doesn’t exist at all. Surely an all-knowing god would’ve foreseen this conclusion when thinking about how best to communicate with his creation. What better way than to confirm His existence, than to speak audibly to those who believe, and why not to those who don’t?
The problem runs deeper than this, however. For many Christians might object and say that God did speak audibly when he came in human form two thousand years ago. Jesus Christ. I must object to this objection, as the very nature of Christ is hardly agreed upon – in fact most of the early church arguments revolved around the puzzling nature of Christ. Nowadays we might have solidified, more or less, a theological tenet, but this early confusion is fairly indicative of God’s poor communication skills. These hypothetical Christians might further say that the Spirit lives within them and communicates itself thusly. To this, I would speak to my own experiences with the Holy Spirit. Back when I was in high school, there came a point in time when I grew tired of disagreeing with my Christian friends over their Pentecostal leanings, and during a school-wide retreat, did my best to be receptive to the workings of the Holy Spirit. I got into a line of fellow students leading up to one of our pastors, who was speaking a blessing over us, after which the receiving student crumpled to the ground and sometimes began shouting in tongues. I was ready for what seemed to be an incredible experience. When it came time for me to stand before the pastor, he rested his hand on my forehead and said some vague blessing about my life – I cannot recall it. What I can recall, however, was him pushing on my forehead causing me to take a step back. Clearly, this was some kind of signal to crumple to the ground in Holy Spiritual orgasm, but alas this was my first time. So instead I stumbled back awkwardly and walked away, incredibly disappointed that nothing had occurred.
This gets to the heart of the hiddenness of God. The difference between a Christian and an Atheist is often only a nominal one. One might be led to think that there are immense differences between a non-Christian and a Christian. Indeed, from my own experience, I’ve seen such little differences, and those are usually of the superficial variety. Christians and non-Christians can both be kind, rude, angry, horrible, mean, deceitful, loving, caring, well-wishing, and so on. The Holy Spirit can be likened to the very conscience that nearly all of us possess. When people speak of ‘God working’ it’s often in the form of trivial day-to-day occurrences. God’s work, in their lives, often amounts to which parking spot they get, or if their favorite team won, or even the weather! Now I understand how one might see God in these circumstances, but forgive me if I’m not impressed by natural occurrences being interpreted as supernatural.
Now these aren’t tried and true arguments that I would take up to bat with me if I ever faced a theological giant. I’m quite certain that the esoteric language and ostentatious wording found in many arguments, both for and against Christianity, isn’t what convinces a person one way or another. It might factor in, but I’d be surprised if it was what really convinced a convert or de-convert. That’s not to toss away such reasoning and argument as elitist rhetoric, but to get to the heart of why a lot of people stick with their religion, or abandon it. Oftentimes, I find the mental gymnastics required to explain away the problems within Christian doctrine as both admirable and exhausting. The continuation of theology in our current societies is a monument to the human intellect and the ability of some to make even the most implausible sound plausible. This is why I would also champion a heavy study into the topics that surround Christianity, so that one might be able to see what lies beyond the curtain.
I must also stress that the search for truth, and what that heavy word contains, is not for the fainthearted. Too often do I see Christians carry on in their religion without knowing even the most basic tenets of their faith. This is disheartening because of what I perceive as the false hope surrounding Christian promises of afterlife. This life is important, and not in any way validated by some hopes for another, greater life.
What if I’m wrong? This question, while some may see as demonstrably trivial because of how flippant I may be in the face of other religious wagers, no less haunts me. We cannot know everything. There is much mystery and wonder in the universe, and discovery might likely lead to a complete reversal of all that we’ve so far understood about reality. It is in this mystery that we find God, and so I cannot firmly state that there is no God - not because of a lack of intellectual hunt on my part - but is due instead to my upbringing and life for nearly two decades in the faith. This is a parasitic belief that is not so easily dislodged from myself. Worse still is the damnable doctrine of Hell. Despite being outrageous to many of us, I still know and care about many people who hold to its veracity. Yes, today I can live out my life as though I’m quite far from death and hardly give a single thought to Hell. Only when I ponder on my imminent demise, do I toy with the merciless perils of an eternal afterlife.
I’ll end with this paragraph. Despite growing up religious and being surrounded by religion all of my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christianity is man-made. Some Christians might not care about the problems inherent in their faith and continue to believe, while others might admit the problems and strive to find solutions. Most, however, are unaware of these problems. Is it alright to believe in something false? I wouldn’t think so, and I think that many would agree. So this motivates me to write what I wrote and to continue studying. I’m never going to prove a theistic or deistic being false, but the Judeo-Christian God? Despite what many might think, this is a falsifiable being. I imagine a study of history, philosophy, science, and even Christianity itself rewards the intellectually honest with the answers regarding Christian validity. While I strongly lean towards God not being real and Christianity being entirely man-made, I’m still not completely sure. If I can die knowing one way or another and show it conclusively to others, then I’ve completed my purpose in this life.
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