The most significant holiday of the Christian calendar—Easter—will be upon us in a few days. My dear friend Gannet Girl has posted a poll on her blog today, asking readers to cast votes about whom or what has most significantly affected their religious lives. As a devout agnostic, how would I respond to such a question? I suppose I would have to explain how I ultimately arrived at the decision to “unbelieve.” Which I did write about, and rather articulately, if I do say so myself, around Thanksgiving of 2005—back in the pre-café days when I still had all my mental faculties.) You can find that post here: http://mlraminiakcomingtoterms.blogspot.com/2005/11/giving-thanks.html
There is more to the story, though. When I first came upon Gannet’s poll, two things—events rather than people—popped into my head. The first was the death of my sister in 1995. It is a very long story, too long to recount in detail here. Let me just say that there was a time in our lives—for several years after becoming “born again” Pentecostal Christians—that my husband and I were so intimately involved in our Church that it monopolized our existence outside of work. We had church functions—prayer meetings, board meetings, song committee meetings, Sunday school meetings—going on every night of the week. In 1984, we tearfully tore ourselves away from our Church Family in Illinois to emigrate to Oregon. But we never were able to recapture what we had known in our tiny church body back home. So we…fell away. Stopped going to church. Let “the cares of the world” take over our lives.
Then, in 1995, my sister became gravely ill. I went through a re-commitment of sorts. I suppose I thought that, yes, God was still there…and if I got back on track with him, he would be able to work miracles for my sister and her little family. When she died, and then her family fell apart, I just...lost my faith. It wasn’t that I was angry with God and turned my back on him because he didn't give me what I wanted. I simply could not reconcile the Pentecostal Christian representation of God with what was going on in the lives of the people I loved most. Why would a God, who had the ability to heal human suffering, NOT do it? Why would an All-knowing, all-loving God, supposedly intimately knowledgeable of every detail of our pain-wracked human lives, grant healing to some and not to others? It didn’t make sense to me. It was not God, but our human perception of "God," that was fatally flawed.
I existed in that confused state of questions with no answers, or rather, questions with answers I really did not want to face, for several years. I was raised believing in God. It did not feel good not to believe in God. And yet, I carried inside me the burden of those questions that no amount of “blessed is he who has not seen, yet believes…” was going to alleviate. As I looked back at my life as a born-again Christian, I remembered those fire and brimstone, bible-believing Christians with whom I had once shared a pew working themselves into a frenzy of desiring something so desperately—up to and including the permission to commit adultery—that they became convinced that it was God’s plan for them. They were faithful. They were saved. They had prayed and prayed. And if they wanted this (name your sin) so badly, it must be from God.
I began to suspect that the human constructs of God and religion were one huge exercise in self-deception.
But, I kept thinking, surely that could not be all there was to Jesus Christ. Surely if the religion based upon his ministry has endured for so many centuries, there must be something special, something real, about him. So I reserved my final judgment. I sat on the ledge, dangling my feet above the black hole of agnosticism, testing it out…but I did not jump.
Then George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth barreled up behind me and back-blocked me out into the void…
(…to be continued.)