Saturday, January 26, 2013

Doubts and Indecision

Recently, I've come across two great blog posts from two different bloggers on spiritual doubt. One blogger still considers herself a Christian, the other is well....I think he's not far from becoming an agnostic, though he hasn't declared quite yet what he believes.

Both of them in some  ways sound much like me several years ago. Making the decision to leave one's faith or even just doubt/question it is much harder than most people would think. Most religious people have wrapped their entire lives and their identity around their religion.

First there's blogger "Heretic Husband", writer of the blog Confessions of a Heretic Husband, a great blog that I have even wrote a guest post for, with his post Confessions of a Spiritual Wanderer.

He's a former fundamentalist, and he talks about trying many different branches of Christianity, with varying levels on the extremism scale, but it's not working. He blames himself to some degree.

I want you to know, I've tried. I've really tried. I've tried Catholicism. I've tried Evangelical. I've tried Episcopal. They don't work for me. It's not the people. The people are fine for the most part. There are some bad apples in every barrel, of course, but I'm beginning to think the problem is me. 
I'm like one of those people who is in failed relationship after failed relationship, desperate to find The One to spend the rest of their life with. One day, after another agonizing breakup, they realize that the only common denominator in every relationship is...them.
He talks about the guilt that often comes with questioning one's faith:
Except, of course, that's not true when you're talking about spirituality. There's another common denominator: God. The real analogy is this: You're in a relationship, and the other person refuses to communicate. So you read one relationship book after another, trying to get them to open up. But they won't.
That's the 800 pound gorilla in the room that you're not supposed to talk about, right? Whether you're Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon... you're not supposed to blame God. It's always your fault. 
That's been my experience. God is credited with everything good, but not blamed for what goes wrong in the world. Everything that goes wrong in the world is "god's will", and should be left at that, we should just trust him  Having doubts is sometimes seen a a lack of trust in god (which is considered a major sin to many fundamentalists).

Others see it seen as a temporary phase, a testing of faith that you'll get through, and your faith will be stronger for it. Just read your Bible more, pray more, read books/listen to sermons from great ministers and all your questions will be answered, and you'll start accepting Christianity just like you did before.
I'm tired of asking questions that have no answer. I'm tired of asking questions that other people don't seem interested in. I'm tired of people telling me I sound angry. 
I had a lot of confusion and frustration too,  I was finding the answers to my nagging questions, but I didn't like the answers, or where my searching was leading me too. I didn't want to believe that the truth was in fact the truth, going down that road felt extremely uncomfortable. After a while, I knew I had to get over those reservations, I knew the choice that I had to make, and I felt that I would be dishonest with myself if I tried to continue believing.

Read the full post, Confessions of a Spiritual Wanderer, on his blog.

Next, there's the post, Scandal of an Evangelical Heart, by blogger Rachel Held Evans. From this, and past posts of hers that I have read, she appears to be a moderate Christian. She opens the post with a line from famous Southern Baptist minister John Piper, and another from 17000's author and deist, Thomas Paine.

The quote from John Piper:
“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleasesGod gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.” 
That is so appalling that he would not only believe this, but say it publicly. This quote scares me. Then again, there's much about John Piper's beliefs and actions that are rather frightening from his support for complementarianism, (which is really nothing more than a slightly milder, more appealing version of Christian Patriarchy), to his support (along with John MacArthur), of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a cult that has been rather destructive to the people who were a part of it. It's strange looking back how my biggest spiritual mentor as a fundamentalist was a John Piper fan.

Really, his views in that quote aren't really all that surprising if you are familiar with Calvinism, a major school of thought in fundamentalism that Piper subscribes to, that essentially disregards free will for the most part, and sees people as merely pawns in the hands of god, all our thoughts, actions predetermined by him.

 It teaches that instead of accepting of rejected god being a choice of our own, which most other fundamentalist schools of thought do, that we really don't have a choice in the matter, god decided for us before we were born if we would reject him or not (and this determines who goes to heaven or hell). To me, it's a spiritual mentality that takes away all sense of human dignity and freedom.

Rachel talks about Calvinism in the post:

But the questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart. 
If you've read Evolving in Monkey Town, you know that the public execution of a woman named Zarmina in Afghanistan marked a turning point in my faith journey. The injustice of the situation was troublesome enough, but when my friends insisted that Zarmina went to hell because she was a Muslim, I began wrestling with some serious questions about heaven, hell, predestination, free will, God’s goodness, and religious pluralism.  
Evangelical apologists were quick to respond. And while their answers made enough sense in my head; they never sat right with my soul.  
Why would God fashion a person in her mother’ s womb, number the hairs on her head, and then leave her without any hope of salvation? Can salvation be boiled down to luck of the draw? How is that just? Shouldn't  God be more loving and compassionate than I? 
This is something that really got to me on a deep emotional level, especially the text I put in bold. If god isn't willing to stop the suffering that goes on in this world, but most people on earth would stop it if they could, doesn't that make us more compassionate and more moral than god? If so, then why is god worth worshiping?

She talks about the defenses of god that many of her fundamentalist friends tried to make:
Oh, the Calvinists could make perfect sense of it all with a wave of a hand and a swift, confident explanation about how Zarmina had been born in sin and likely predestined to spend eternity in hell to the glory of an angry God (they called her a “vessel of destruction”); about how I should just be thankful to be spared the same fate since it’s what I deserve anyway....
They said all of this without so much of a glimmer of a tear, and it scared me to death.  It nearly scared me out of the Church.   
For what makes the Church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority?  What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him? Did following Jesus mean becoming some shadow of myself, drained of empathy and compassion and revulsion to injustice?

This really hit me, though many of the people around me weren't quite this extreme in their Calvinism (and less blunt about it), the nature of god, and how he is depicted in the Bible (especially the Old Testament law) was disturbing.

After all of this, though, including more talk about how the genocides and barbarity of the Old Testament repulsed her, the post takes a swift turn.

I’m not sure he and I will ever understand one another, but I’ve decided to quit apologizing for my questions.  It’s not enough for me to maintain my intellectual integrity as a Christian; I also want to maintain my emotional integrity as a Christian. And I don’t need answers to all of my questions to do that.  
I need only the courage to be honest about my questions and doubts, and the patience to keep exploring and trusting in spite of them. 
The bravest decision I’ll ever make is the decision to follow Jesus with both my head and heart engaged—no checking out, no pretending.

What? The post gets confusing me to at this point. I'm going to try my hardest not to sound judgmental here, after all, someone's choices on spirituality is something that only they can decide, unless someone's almost at the tipping point, it's almost impossible at futile to try to change their minds anyway in a short amount of time (though sometimes it has a residual effect over time).

It sounds like she is in the same position I was before I left Christianity, but she won't yet bring herself to the point to let it all go like I did. I wonder why. What is holding her back? Why is it that she finds the god and the holy text that Christianity is based off of so disturbing and repulsive, yet she won't give it up?

Is there a fear of something? A fear of the unknown? Is she wanting to leave, but there's fear and doubts that she may be wrong in her decision to leave? (I had that in the beginning). Whatever her reasoning is, I hope she finds peace one way or another, even if she decides to stay. Having these kinds of internal conflicts aren't fun for anyone.


  1. Thank you for an extremely interesting post, Sheldon! Indeed, you ask some dangerous questions about God's compassion and morals!

    Those questions put me in mind of an episode in my life some years ago. I was raised more or less as an agnostic, and I pretty much stuck to that except for a brief episode in middle school when I converted wholeheartedly to Evangelical Christianity.

    It didn't last long -- only about a month -- but my devotion was feverish. I made every effort to live as I imagined Jesus lived. Towards the end, however, I realized that my family was going to hell.

    That I simply could not accept, so I de-converted one night. I recall praying to God, saying I did not want to be saved if it meant spending eternity apart from my family. Instead, I would prefer hell to heaven then, and thus I could no longer be a Christian. I ended up apologizing to Him while asking Him to make sure I ended up with my mother and brothers.

    1. I'm glad you gave it up much faster than most people. :)

      Most aren't so lucky.

  2. Very poignant. I reminds me of my struggle. I surrendered to Jesus in 1985, went through a long period of accommodation from creationist to a more moderate view of how God might work mysteriously in the world, and encountered a brick wall of sorts when my wife died in 2002. That's when I realized that God doesn't answer prayers, but it took me another ten years to abandon supernaturalism altogether. It was a tremendous relief.

    1. It was a relief for me too. Sometimes tragedies make us go even deeper into our beliefs, sometimes they make us question everything.


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