How to Leave the Church: A 7-Step Guide to Saving Yourself—Step 4

Hello again, dear Readers!

Seeing as how it’s Monday, I figured I’d continue with the How to Leave the Church Series (first published on Medium) in anticipation of the book on which I’m currently that expands on the original essays.

Below you’ll find Step 4—we’re more than halfway there!

How to Leave the Church: A 7-Step Guide to Saving Yourself — Step 4

Study the Bible.

If you’re already in the church, if you’re already a believer, you may think you’ve done this, but there’s a good chance you haven’t. When I say “study” the Bible here I don’t mean the kind of studying you do for a test, reading a document over and over again with the intention of infusing your mind and body with the words on the page. I don’t mean make the Bible a part of you — in fact, I mean quite the opposite.

I mean study the text as a scientist, as a critic. Study it, if you can, like a non-believer. Learn about where it was written, when it was written, by whom it was written, and what else was written that a bunch of powerful dudes in a closed room decided should not be a part of the canon, for a number of predictable reasons. All of these things should make a difference to one’s faith, and realizing them can help open one’s eyes to all of the contingencies that go into Christianity supposedly being “the way”.

I was fortunate enough to go to a seminary in which historical criticism was a fundamental theory when approaching the Bible (much to the horror of many of my classmates’ more conservative family members) so I was shepherded into this practice naturally, barely aware that it was happening. We learned about how the times and places at which the different books were written affected the style of the writing, could explain more accurately the intention behind the writing, and thus should change one’s interpretations of the writing, which would, for us, otherwise be rooted in 21st century Western culture. Can you imagine how badly a bunch of people living 2,000 years from now would misinterpret your ideas if they made no effort to understand the culture from which you came?

Many fundamentalists think that any “interpretation” of the Biblical text is heresy, and we should instead simply take the words as they are, pure and holy, and let them speak to us ‘from the page.’ Well, that’s tricky. First, chances are you’re already reading a translation, so those aren’t the words in which it was written. And then, do you mean that we take the text literally? In that case I hope (1) you’re not eating shellfish, (2) that you don’t have more than one coat in your closet, and (3) that you can explain the straight up contradictions we see within the timelines of the four gospel accounts. Maybe you’re like, “Wellll, not that literally.” Then what do you do with the evidence that leans heavily in favor of the Revelation of John being about the fall of Jerusalem in 70CE and the subsequent persecution of Christians, as opposed to a future judgment day. Or, the fact that it’s pretty clear that Paul did not write all of the letters that have his name attached to him?

In other words, what do you do with the fact that the text isn’t what you’ve been taught?

When you study the Bible as a scholar, and as someone who is willing to trust firmly substantiated understandings about the culture(s) from which it comes, you start to see what a man-made (and I do mean man made) text it truly is. And then you start to think, this is our sacred text? And then you start to think, crap, I really do have to pick and choose what instructions I want to take from this book. And then you start to wonder if the very fact that you have to pick and choose is telling you something about the veracity of this religion overall. And then — you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Give it a try. Do some real studying of the Bible. Consider what you’re really putting your faith in, and why.

How to Leave the Church: A 7-Step Guide to Saving Yourself—Step 3

Welcome back!

As mentioned in the previous two posts, I’m putting up these “How to Leave the Church” essays (originally published on Medium) in anticipation of a book on which I’m currently working that expands on the series.

Below is one of my favorites—Step 3: Make Friends with the “Sinners”

Enjoy!

How to Leave the Church: A 7-Step Guide to Saving Yourself — Step 3

Make Friends with the “Sinners”. Hang out with the people Christianity says are wrong: people of other religions, or no religion at all; people who have sex without being married; people who are lesbian, gay, bi, trans, or queer and fine with it; people who get drunk or high now and then — maybe even often; people who curse regularly; people who watch raunchy television and listen to explicit music and LIKE IT.

Hang out with these people, not as a missionary or a potential debater but as a human enjoying other humans’ company. Maybe even do it as a friend. Then, after genuinely and non-judgmentally opening your heart to these other humans who simply think or feel differently than you, see if you can still abide what the church says about their lives.

It was being in a tight friend group with a number of out gay men that finally convinced me there was absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality — not because they argued me into it, but because I knew them and saw the truth. It was being close with passionate atheists who were so happy to be free of the burden of belief that planted in my mind the seed of a possibility of a life without God.

Yes, it’s cliche for people to say “I have ____ friends” when defending themselves against accusations of prejudice toward that particular group, but what I’m talking about here is actually tearing down your defenses, not using others as props to hold them up. Unfortunately, it’s the willingness to be a true friend that gets tricky. That work means genuinely opening your heart, which is not so easy when you’ve got a heart that’s been tightened and fenced off by years of messages that these people are less than you.

Growing up Evangelical, I was taught that unrepentant sinners were fundamentally unhappy. Don’t believe the act, I was told. Don’t believe the smiles and exuberance or even just contentment when they show it to you. It’s a mask. They’re hiding their sadness — deep deep down, but it’s there. And I really bought into it. I was told over and over and over again from the time I was a little girl that there was no true happiness outside of God. That joy was not possible without Jesus’ salvation. So it only made sense to me that people “living in sin” were literally incapable of sustaining love or peace of mind.

This meant that no matter what conversation I got into with a non-Christian, no matter who they were to me, I began with the assumption that they were wrong. About everything. Including their own preference for how to live their life. In light of that, take my advice and try to be really honest with yourself about whether you actually want to learn anything from non-Christians, or whether you just want to have a fight. (If the latter is true, you haven’t reached friend status yet.)

Are you willing to acknowledge that they know more than you when it comes to their own life? Are you willing to acknowledge that when they act happy, it might be because they actually are happy? And when they’re not, it has nothing to do with sin or salvation? It’s not like believers are full of joy all the time, either. Affect is not an indicator of righteousness, or lack there of.

I implore you, Evangelical, or recovering Evangelical, or non-denominational church kid who’s not quite sure if Christianity is the group you want to belong to into your adult life: go hang out with some sinners. Heck, sin a little bit yourself. Dip your toes in water that you can’t see the bottom of and find out if it’s actually as bad as they say.

My guess is that it won’t take long before you realize the church has some explaining to do.

How to Leave the Church: A 7-Step Guide to Saving Yourself--Step 2

Hello again!

As mentioned in my last post, I’m putting up these “How to Leave the Church” essays (originally published on Medium) in anticipation of a book on which I’m currently working that expands on the series. Also, just in case any of you regular blog readers never got a chance to see them on Medium.

Below is Step 2: Get Angry With God. That’s an important one.

Enjoy!

How to Leave the Church: A 7-Step Guide to Saving Yourself — Step 2

Get Angry With God.

Technically, this isn’t something the church frowns upon. In fact, many leaders encourage it, to a point. The go-to text for discussing anger with God in church is the book of Job. In that story, Satan bets God that Job, a dedicated worshipper of God, will renounce God if enough crappy things happen to him. God takes Satan up on the wager and allows Satan to: kill and steal of Job’s livestock and servants, kill all of Job’s children, and make Job ridiculously ill. I mean, we’re talking boils and sores. 

Job is tempted by his wife to curse God, but he refuses. He does, however, scream at God to explain God’s self until God does finally show up to say, “Hey, Job! I created everything around here. What the hell do you know?” Job, like a good boy, apologizes for being so presumptuous and gets back all of his stuff as a reward. The moral of the story is, you may have good reason to be mad about your life circumstances sometimes, but — no matter how tragic your situation — God owes you no answer and will reward you for finding that acceptable. 

I say screw that.

Which brings me to Step 2. For this step, I want you to be angry and stay angry. I want you to demand answers to the unfair things and not take silence as a sign that you should get over it. 

One of the most significant cracks in my faith came after a devastating break-up. I had experienced every signal imaginable that God meant for us to be together. And then, the guy just left. The absurdity of it all had me raging. What was the point of my belief was if signs could be so easily misinterpreted and devotion was rewarded with pain? What, exactly, did this omni-benevolent God mean by “love”?

This was all good, though. I mean, it was horrible, but it shook me into a more tangible reality. I was so mad that I was finally over trusting this religion for no good reason. Being so hurt and disoriented forced me to start accepting my circumstances as they really were instead of trying to decipher everything through the lens of ‘God’s will’ in order to make myself feel safer. Giving God the benefit of the doubt at all times was a hard habit to break, but letting that go made me stronger in the end.

So I turn it over to you. What do you have to be angry at God about? Maybe injustices in your own life, or maybe the many injustices we see happening around the world every day. If you want to say “Enough is enough” to God, then do it, and don’t feel bad about it. See if you get a response. See if you get an explanation as to why a God that is all-loving and all-powerful is so disturbingly laid back about the care of his people and planet. 

And if you’re feeling particularly brave, consider the possibility that He’s not there at all.