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Curse Your Branches?

 By Ken Hood Jr. ~

One of the things that I've had to deal with since losing my faith is my attitude towards both my "past life" (I can't draw too much of a sharp line here) and my Christian upbringing.

Past Life

How should I feel about the fact that I once taught people to believe what I now reject? I am not bragging here, just stating the facts. I was no "pew filler" or "Sunday Christian." I bought into the message wholeheartedly. I told others that the most important thing they could do in life was to get right with God and that failure to do so would earn his eternal wrath. I remember having a long conversation with my agnostic roommate. We walked down across the West Bank of the University of Minnesota as I tried to convince him that life without an afterlife was purposeless and void. "Why not just go crazy?" I really believed it. My pastor at the time, Steve Treichler, used to say that if you believed that this was the only life then you shouldn't be wasting your time in church, you should be out in the world, "sinning like crazy!" I had internalized this mindset and I simply could not see how others could choose to live their lives without concrete knowledge (or at least the feeling of concrete knowledge) of what comes next. There are days when I want to curse myself for what a fool I was. How blind could I be? I told one of my professors--a man who knows far more than I do about the Hebrew Bible--that what he was doing was "causing harm to God's Kingdom." The man was a Christian and yet because his Christianity was more flexible and less threatened by "secular history" I felt offended by his worldview and took it upon myself to correct him. I could go on and list more examples if I wanted.

It feels so good to be right though, doesn't it?

There's another song that relates to this feeling I now have about my past life as a would-be evangelist/teacher/missionary/apologist. The song-writer is speaking from his heart as a former believer and Christian band leader. The opening lyrics go like this:

We filled a book with what Jesus said, so we could all disagree on what he meant to say.
Do you know better than me?
Well, if there's a chance the divine exists,
I hope it can cure my soul of all of my sins,
and all the things I did
when I believed the myth.

I've thought a lot about those words in the past few months. The reality is that the past is the past. I can't go back and right all of my wrongs. I can't change who I was back then. The best that I can do is to acknowledge it, try to learn from it, and move on.

My Branches

There's another side to this coin. How do I deal with my feelings of resentment and bitterness about how I was raised? How do I move on and learn to accept the things that I didn't have any control over? I could just sweep it under the rug. Pretend that it never happened, or that it didn't really affect me. I could re-write my history to be more sanitary and saccharine. I could pretend that I would have made the same choices regardless of my childhood experiences. But, I know that would be a lie. On the other hand, I need to find peace with my religious upbringing. There was a lot of good in it. One of the good things it taught me was the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. I could close my heart off to others, I could burn down the bridges to my believing siblings and my parents. I could be angry that they don't understand me. I could be angry that I was taught things which I now recognize to be false and distorted views of reality. Or, I can acknowledge the past, be open about my experiences and learn to move on. Forgive, but not forget. There are lessons to be learned from back there, both positive and negative. I learned the power of fear and the terror of an overwhelming, omnipresent God. But, I also learned the importance of having principles, of showing love for others even when it was hard. I learned the importance of community in the growth of a family. I can't throw it all out so I will forgive and I will move on. I will mend the bridges that I can and I will strive to keep my own tongue in check (I think there's a few Bible verses on that ;) ).