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A Home for my Spirit

By Patricia A Ritchie ~

This is an essay I wrote to my daughters and husband about my current spiritual state.

Two decades ago, after a lifetime of Christianity and being busily “active” in church, I stopped pretending. I stopped trying to force myself to believe what I never had. It was an amazing relief to throw off the cloak of pretense and admit that, in spite of giving it my all for 50+ years, I am actually not a believer in Christianity. The inerrancy of scripture has always been a particular sticking point for me, along with the bizarre and appalling concept of a “loving” God sending his creation to burn in hell forever for not “asking Jesus into their hearts”. I have no use for religious dogma and doctrines that use fear to control what people think and feel.

Over the intervening years, my most common reaction to religious jargon and references has been visceral anger and deep regret that I raised my children in Christianity.

I am still very much a non-believer, but lately I’ve noticed an unexpected tugging at my heart. During my yoga practice, I often feel a yearning spirituality that I don’t have a home for. There is much common ground in world religions and philosophies but nothing speaks to me as clearly as the traditions of my childhood. However, the very idea of walking back toward Christianity, with its patronizing superiority and endless pretentious discussions of theology, makes me queasy and instantly anxious.

I doubt there is an argument for the inerrancy of scripture that I’ve not heard and discarded as naive and smug. In order to believe the Christian Bible is “inerrant,” one must forego critical thinking and ignore stunning inconsistencies as well as massive issues of provenance, translations of translations, politics, religious squabbles, etc. The Bible is a cobbled together collection of documents created over centuries, much written by primitive people trying to explain the natural world, with no knowledge of science. These many pieces were then judged by other men, years and years later. They debated and argued and made deals, and finally decided what would be accepted and called “holy” and what would be termed extra-Biblical.

The Christian belief in a loving, all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing God who cares which Little League team wins or that I pass my driving test is a figment of the imagination. (I mean, hello God – The Holocaust? Your Chosen People?) The common explanation, “He always answers prayers, but sometimes He says ‘no’”, is delusional and manipulative. There is no ego-driven being to judge where we go after death based on how correctly we worship him.

So where does all this leave me and my vague but persistent spiritual angst? I don’t believe in an actual personal-best-friend-God. I’m not sure a single person called “Jesus” existed and if he did that he was a god or part of God. The Christian Bible is extremely flawed and not to be believed as fact. But still – when I read The Sermon on the Mount, I feel a deep connection to something universal and profoundly holy.

My most common reaction to religious jargon and references has been visceral anger and deep regret that I raised my children in Christianity. So my idea is this – throw out the Bible, except for words attributed to Jesus or inspired by the radical love he taught. Get rid of the Old Testament, except for its history and poetry. Discard the periphery of the New Testament and hold onto words and concepts that encourage growing in love and peace in the world. Examine the Gospels and Epistles with new eyes and find words of wisdom that resonate, minus the outdated cultural biases and personality quirks of the authors. Myths and traditions can serve to illuminate truths, so why not use them to illuminate a personal path of spirituality?

Surely a mantra of “blessed are the merciful” would serve me better than something in Sanskrit that I struggle to remember, which pretty much destroys my efforts at meditation. Or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Or “Blessed are the peacemakers”.

Maybe here, in words and traditions familiar since childhood, is the proper place to start building a new home for my spiritual self. Not stepping backward toward the confining man-made constructs of Christianity, but forward into an openhearted acceptance of the ancient wisdom of love and courage and peace.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” - 1 Corinthians 13:13

P.S. My personal experience is just that - mine - and I understand that others, especially those who’ve suffered abuse from clergy or religious laypersons, may find this idea unfathomable. I wish you much love and healing as you navigate this life.