Saturday, February 20, 2016

Belief? Christianity, Upbringing, and Questioning. I just had to let it go.

"All of a sudden you are forced to look at a thing you believe more than anything and ask yourself when was the last time I actually took a step back from this and asked myself if this central truth is even true?"- Elizabeth Gilbert

Quite often in society, we like to think that we are stepping back from the crowd, when in actuality, deeper truths have not been assessed. We refuse to face those nitty gritty" truths" that feel integral to our being yet we pressure others to question theirs? When is the last time you have asked yourself the tough questions? When you have bravely faced your truths and dissected them from all angles? 

For instance- Belief. Belief is probably one of the most powerful forces on earth. Everyone believes in something. No one actually changes their mind from someone posting a sign that "Jesus Saves" on their front lawn, unless they were already on that journey. Belief is not an easy thing to dismantle. People often mistake that they are addressing their belief when they are simply surrounding themselves with like minded individuals and "stretching" themselves by occasionally listening to a person outside of their religious institution (like a baptist listening to evangelical. Stretching?)

I get it. I was there in my own way. It is mostly fear. No one wants to admit that their belief is wrong. It's everyone else that is wrong. "It's a relationship not a religion." "It's not a judgement - it's a truth." "I love you enough to negate your personal journey because I am willing to make you mad and not treat you as a human being because I care so you don't burn in hell. My instructions come from God so I am free to treat you the way I believe because I have that right from God." 

To think outside of the faith one has grown up in takes incredible guts and differing opportunities. Why is it that some Christians only want their kids to go to a christian college? Because they don't want them to be tempted or lose their faith. If that is the case, it was not a strong foundation to begin with. Why are the humanities and sciences looked down upon in religious circles? Growing up I was told it was because both these sectors were against God and will go to great lengths to disprove my God and make me feel less then others. I was allowed to listen to "christian scientists" in school or Creationists but the only time I was taught differing perspectives was when it was in the light of wrongdoing and how to argue with them. 

In reality, most Social Sciences and Sciences are simply relating years of study and research. Most are trying to better the world. Some believe in God, some don't. Most did not go into their fields to disprove God but to prove that the world can live up to it's potential if we simply pay attention. It is true, that most Christians who take a higher up position in this field, lose their faith, but not because it was a sinful environment, but because they finally were taught differences, the other side, and were respectfully left to hash belief out and think for themselves. They were no longer surrounded by the same people, who go to the same churches and schools and get taught the same things. I always find it funny that the outreach groups have the same social groups that go to their churches. They are preaching and validating their own belief to their own crowds. When they find someone who will listen it is usually from the same foundations or faith stances.

It is fine to believe. Humanity has a hard time functioning without some belief. However, belief has given us the biggest wars, judgement, poverty and terror. On the flip side, it has also given us aid, improvement, compassion, enrichment and peace. It depends on the version being served. 

Recently, we received an email speaking about a person we really liked. The letter said she was, "coming back to the Lord after 35 years of prayer from the family." It was stated she was asking for forgiveness for "turning her back from the Lord." If it can be said in a public email, I can share it here. This mentality is heartbreaking. We were surprised that this woman, who was so confident in her being and choices before, is now apologizing for 35 years of her existence and differences. The "pain" she caused by choosing differently. Before her turn about, she was one of the kindest and most compassionate, non judgmental family member. Now of course, she is on a mission. It is fine for her to embrace a new faith. We are celebrating that she seems genuinely happy. She has gone through massive changes and most people turn to some sort of faith if the incentives are right. The faith isn't the problem. What is the problem is the mentality behind them. That "prayer" is thought of as the  cause of this turn of events when in actuality it is human nature. She is going back to her roots after a traumatic experience and after finding euphoric new love with another believer.

My husband and I grew up immersed in varied versions of this form of faith. His was missional orientated and mine was evangelical. I went to a private K- 12 Christian School. I lived the documentary Jesus Camp. In fact, I could not finish Jesus Camp because it brought back the manipulative experiences I had. I wanted to throw up. It is mind control when you take a group of young kids and only teach them YOUR way, the Bible, how to argue against anyone who does not believe in the Bible and teach them that anyone else who is not Christian is wrong or sinful or wayward. This teaches them to dishonour people and dismiss integral differences. This bleeds into disrespect. Most of these children have a tough time accepting people who are different later...people who smoke, who swear, who have different brain wiring, or who embrace different religions. 

I find it interesting how often the complaint from Christians is that the world is against belief. Any difference or anger at forceful implications is thought to be "persecution" of Christians. My post could be thought of us persecution because I am presenting my story. I have actually found, in general, stepping out of my upbringing, that the world is actually quite compassionate, kind and generous of belief. It is not, however, tolerant of manipulative belief or intolerant stances. The Christianity I grew up with thought it was so loving while destroying the very essence of anyone who did not conform.

Luckily, not all forms of faith are like this. Many Christians are wonderful and compassionate. Part of the reason they are kind is not because they are naturally so, but because their code tells them they have to be kind to be a believer. The people who are genuine have questioned themselves, read differing literature, and decided what was right for them after other facts and differences have been presented in a non christian lens. I respect that. If one chooses Jesus after reading and studying other forms of belief and history and the human mind and science...that is a genuine choice. It is also a beautiful way of Being. However, there is only so far a relationship can go when a person believes they are right on everything and justified BY GOD and validated by their infallible bible to carry out their lives at the expense of others.

I was indoctrinated with it all. Luckily, my parents were pretty balanced Christians. I was taught some perspective away from my school. Truthfully, I loved my school. I loved being a Christian although some things were deeply questioned in my mind or ignored. I loved feeling safe and secure away from the maddening crowd. But I lived in fear of hell and in fear of people who could convince me to turn away from my God. Until one day, my blessed aunt (ironic choice of words, no?:) gave me a pretty tame book that was slightly different than what I was used to hearing. And it rang more true than anything I had read before. Slowly, I was exposed to more with even stronger differences. I found different people. I found the Internet. I found myself. And I found that I had become the type of person I had feared becoming...and I found freedom.

We are used as the bad example in some extended family and friend instances. We are the ones who will be prayed for a change of heart until we die. And if we don't change to a certain way of believing before some of our family go to their grave, they will grieve that we are going to hell. They will believe that we have turned away from the "light of the world" and have been swallowed into darkness. We will be accused of "causing deep hurt and grief" because we chose to be different.

I have some form of belief. Belief is part of me but my hope is that it always changes, grows and tries out new perspectives. I am not afraid. It is such a relief not to be in fear of hell. I know others fear it enough FOR me.

I don't want to fight for belief or against belief. While I want to tell my story to help others who may be held back, because they are not given opportunities to see life a little differently, I FIRMLY believe that everyone has a right to belief, religion and perspective. However, religion should not be an expectation to making a good, well adjusted human being. I accept the moral foundations I was given by caring people but I do not accept the moral implications behind them. I accept the beauty in hope but not the manipulative, sometimes abusive, condescending or self righteous platitudes that often are "speaking out of a place of love." I accept other's versions of truth as THEIR own, but I also accept mine.

I memorized the entire bible growing up.  Often christian songs will pop into my head. Jesus was oddly both my best friend, parent and counsellor...basically he/ she was the constant voice in my head and the creator of all that went well in my life and the comforter when it didn't. Basically Jesus was a form of mental health for me. It took a few years of adjustment to realize I could still have beautiful support without that form of belief...from my inner self and the world around me. I was so indoctrinated I can argue for Christianity and "win." I was recently told by a grateful mother that she will never forget that I led her daughter to the Lord. I cringed. This little girl was four when I asked her if she had accepted Jesus. When she said she had not, I spoke about the horrors of hell. She accepted Jesus on the spot and never looked back. I wish I did not receive credit for that moment of manipulation and fear mongering. That said, I was also innocent myself at six and copying the adults who taught me. I have to give myself grace. I also have to believe that she hopefully grew into her own choices and embraced her faith out of more than fear or lack of differing perspectives.

I believe in innocence. I know many people upon reading this, will think I am out to destroy innocent belief. First, it is not innocent if it has been indoctrinated and a child was infused into ONE aspect of believing in every facet of their lives. That is like a cult. Second, innocence can be belief, but it's not innocence when any instruction one takes and anything good "is from the Lord" and anything heartbreaking or bad is "of the devil." Innocence is a belief in love and goodwill untarnished by fear and it's a lack of wrongdoing. It is a form of wrong doing to dismantle a person, pressure them to conform, and give sanctions if a certain type of outward being is not met or inward acceptance of Christ.

I love my Christian friends. We do disagree on many things, but the friends I have kept, put our relationship before the issues. They do not force me to pray before my meals. But if I am at their house I will respectfully listen while they pray. They do not judge me for living a life that looks different from theirs and I do not judge them for staying in church or quoting bible verses. I quote authors who are christian and sometimes bible verses do influence my writing. It was my upbringing and I don't hate it. I do, however, see the flaws and some deep abuse tendencies covered by smothering kindness in some aspects of my experience and in those surrounding me. And believe me, we are surrounded. Most of our town, family and friend circles around us are differing in most life stances from us. We definitely get our exposure to differences and questioning. The only validation we have found in our own choices has come from the internet and a few friends. I admit, sometimes for sanity, it is nice to be validated in your choices and in whom you are. It's why I love blogs by autistics...I need to know I am not alone and hear experiences that are similar to mine when I am the minority in most other cases. It's fine to have people who believe the same in our circles...but exposure to differing states is stretching and crucial for growth too.

Our version of respect is to kindly but firmly express our boundaries. We do not expect people to abandon or even question their faith for us. But we ask that the same level of respect is given to us. That our lives are not expected to be abandoned to "come back to the faith." Each person should question themselves regularly, but it is not my job to impose my belief on others. However, I am allowed to talk about my own journey and my own questions on my own spaces. Sending this blog to people who write emails presenting their faith would be unjustified and petty. It would be doing what they do to us and it doesn't feel good. We don't write letters about our form of faith yet we receive them from others. It's ironic, the level at which we are sometimes disregarded, while being labelled as the selfish ones for living our own lives. We try not to engage in dialogues that may insult yet at the same time we are unafraid to be authentic in ourselves. It's messy, imperfect, and crazy. At the same time, it is full of life, love and freedom. "People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing. Well, they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin. When I say that I'm ok well, they look at me kindda strange. 'Surely, you're not happy now- you no longer play the game?' People say I'm lazy, dreaming my life away. Well, they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me. When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall, 'don't you miss the big time boy? you are no longer on the ball.' But I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry go round. I just had to let it go. Oh, people ask me questions, lost in confusion. Well, I tell them there's no problem, only solutions. Well, they shake their heads and look at me as if I lost my mind. I tell them there's no hurry, I'm just sitting here doing time. I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry go round. I just had to let it go."*

We have made mistakes. We will again. We have also made beautiful life giving moments. I am in debt to people who made me angry by challenging my version of Christianity. I am in debt to people who subtly asked me to question my stances. I condemned some of them to hell at the time and I didn't want to join them. Now I see how brave they were and authentic. Love is being yourself while allowing others to be their selves. It's respect. I felt respected by the people who made me so angry because while they asked me to consider, they also mentioned that if at the end of my considerations I choose the same path, they would respect that decision. Unbelief is still a form of belief...we all hold values or morals or stances we believe in. Some involve gods while others involve science or health or whatever, but belief is at the core of many good and horrid life moments.

I am not angry at my upbringing. There was a time I was angry. Anger is a legitimate stage when coming out of spiritual abuse and manipulation. Now I see the merit in many stances. I see the beauty but I also experienced the pain. It's bittersweet. I don't believe my way is the right way but I believe it is right for ME ( and only me) right now. I don't believe that our beliefs should be conformed to by  others or embraced. I question my beliefs regularly. Maybe this is part of being avid reader? I believe everyone has a right to question and should be exposed to differing perspectives. I believe because I am human. It's an inescapable fact, but belief can be questioned and balanced.

This is part of my story. I'm telling it for others who may need permission to tell their story. Yours WILL and has the right to be different. All I ask is that you acknowledge your own authenticity. I respect Christianity in its best form. I validate the choices of my friends who choose this stance even if I may disagree. I hope they also honour me the same way. 'I just had to let it go.'

'Belief is a beautiful armour that makes the heaviest sword'~ it can also be a bridge to compassion. Which one is it for you?
P.S. If my words have struck something in you - feel free to find resources in My Library page.

Song Choice: Belief~John Mayer (Love this song), Gimme Some Truth- John Lennon ("I'm sick and tired of hearing things from uptight , short sided, narrow minded hypo critics...all I want is the truth...Just gimme some truth."), *Watching the Wheels*(lyrics above)- John Lennon, Never Going Back Again- Fleetwood Mac ( I played this over and over after we decided church wasn't for us...LOL:)

Side Note: A great book about John Lennon is called "The Cynical Idealist." I could relate to many aspects even if some of his life was full of choices I may not make myself...there is still inspiration, wisdom and audacity there.


FlutistPride said...

Christ to a Christian is like free, healthy, and delicious ice cream. If someone found a way to generate an infinite supply of healthy, good-tasting, anti-allergenic and free ice cream, by all means I would tell people about the ice cream. However, this is just a human analogy. God, of course, is way better than ice cream.

Kmarie A. said...

Lol that is very sweet;) it's great that you feel that way about your faith;) also sounds you like love your ice cream;)

Philip CalledtoQuestion said...

I love this post! You have made some very important observations. They can dish it out but not many can take it. The funny thing is that many believers I know make condemning statements without actually having an authentic conversation with me, yet when I ask challenging questions they accuse me of being aggressive. Ha! We can only make conceptions about a God/deity, but these are only conceptions. Theologians try to say what God is but really the closest thing they could say is what God is not and even that is pretty impossible depending on ones perspective. I love these thoughts but even more I love those that can actually carry out a authentic dialogue about it.

nyssa said...

wonderful post xo I'm curious what book your "blessed aunt" ;) gave you. I'll read the post over again to see if I missed it. Anyway, I totally hear you on every point. I need to feel free. I can not be put into a box. I see the beauty in all of the moderate expressions of religions but I can not stand to be around the extremes.

Kmarie A. said...

My C2Q thank you love. Its so true on the dishing and not taking...and the authenticity being thought of as is impossible to be remotely real in most cases... Me too...they can definitely believe what is wanted or hoped for but the authentic dialogue I respect.

nyssa: She actually started out with some monastic books to ease us into- still spiritually outside the box to what we were used to ( and it was before the whole Blue Like Jazz movement- which we also enjoyed) but books by nuns which we thought at that time as irreverent...but now are a huge movement in the granola spirituality....Wisdom Distilled from the Daily by Joan Chittister is still one of my fav from that time...and then Brian Mclaren...his book a Generous Orthodoxy was stretching but still at least along the lines of what we grew up with in a way......also there was one with Jesus in the title... and Wendell Barry's sex freedom ect...then from there we somehow made it to sociology and psych which opened up an entirely different world...(a good one from that time - a tame one for people who still have belief but also is great for those that do not) is Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl....and then finally book like Why I am not A Christian by Bertrand Russell....We still read christian philosophy and theology to keep up with those around us, but we also enjoy the traditional philosophers of old and the edgy ones of today....and in sociology and psych and keeping up with the sciences also rounds it out for us:)

I need the same thing...and I agree with you...I can respect but any type of fundamentalism is very hard for me to respect close up...I need distance...

Ashe said...

Another post that hit home on so many levels. The manipulation, the anger, the guilt, the relief, the hiding, the coming out, the arguing, feeling dirty and used... Kind of a cringing and knowing nod of "been there!" all through this one.

I was raised "fire and brimstone" Southern Baptist. First church was nothing short of a cult and the second was more normal. I really enjoy being around those very rare true Christians -- the ones who just exude peace, humility, tolerance, and all that saintly good person stuff while still being able to be passionate about their faith. The pastor at my second church was one of those. I can get into a good study session with them and never feel pressured to convert to their particular way of thinking. I adore the romantic notion of church with the benevolence, charity, community, and fellowship. But those oppressive zealots full of fear, hate, guilt, aggression, and self-loathing and those churches that are possessive, jealous, and greedy... Makes me wanna smack 'em with a Bible until some of the words sink in. Particularly the New Testament section with all that "peace and love" talk. And also seek relevant happy texts of other beliefs because every faith out there has some really bitter and miserable people that revel in chaos and hatred. Takes all kinds, I reckon...

I've half-converted to Taoism. (A rather shoddy Taoist I be too!) And in the process it's made my Christian side more stable, and hopefully has reinforced all the good stuff. One of my favorite sayings in both of their books is the "each must seek their own path". I believe spirituality of some sort is crucial to the emotional well-being of most, if not all, people. And if they're forcing themselves into a belief that isn't right for them it's a bit like drinking poison or wearing ill-fitting clothes. Not that good for them. So I don't care if they end up picking Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Shamanism, temple of the flying spaghetti monster, some flavor of science, or being an odd little mutt like me, so long as what they pick is good for them. And hopefully they'll have enough sense, ethics, and morality not to condemn people who choose a different faith/belief/whatever. A world of only one faith would be out-of-balance, and also very boring. And would knock out a lot of my beloved cultural trivia I like to collect! =P

Kmarie A. said...

I am glad ( or not- lol) that it resonated...

Yes from person to person to church to church it can vary from cult experience to more genuine. It sounds like that pastor was very enlightened. Yea it takes all kinds:)

That sounds like an awesome journey for you to be on. I agree with the ethics and morality...and yes, one world faith would be a regime...and we really don't want that do we?:) Because whose version of each religion is the "right" away. Even among the Christians I know the crazy diversity of belief and what is right and wrong and what is argued over or not tolerated or tolerated is extreme at times...and that is one religion! So yea. I agree with you...

Lol I get your cultural trivia..I am a collector too:)

Thanks for the comments:)