Wednesday, April 8, 2009

On Becoming an Unbeliever

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.)

8 comments:

sunflowerkat321 said...

Lisa, your posts on the evolution of the role of religion in your life always fascinate me. So much of what you say resonates with me, but we've come by completely different paths to a similar (though not the same)place. I'm looking forward to the follow up post.

Cynthia said...

I want the rest of this, and I want it now! Excellent reading, and you know, the story of the evolution of belief and unbelief is always of interest to me.

JACKIE said...

I understand where you are only too well. Out of place believing and yet unable to not believe. A foot on each side of the San Andreus fault of faith. Hoping there won't be an earthquake.

emmapeelDallas said...

I'm looking forward to the follow up post too. I stopped believing when I was 6 years old.

Gannet Girl said...

I am still hoping for the follow-up post. I don't know much about Pentacostals and this was fascinating to me.

TJ said...

Keeping it short...people are so much more then ever thought to be.
That book [Bible] never reached our shores in tact. We as Americans have had that glory of growth and renew without the weight of faith from past years...I do understand faith.
Look deep within ones self...
Amen!
TJ

Christina K. Brown said...

darn it woman...this, this can not be the last essay, since it is not done.

Man go on vacation and one of your friends starts calling it quits all over the internet.

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