As I wrote about at the beginning of this series, one of the reasons I started Weird Name--the main reason, actually--is that I so rarely meet or even hear about another formerly devout, conservative Protestant who has not only moved into a more liberal version of her faith but has then also taken the ultimate plunge into disbelief. It’s the primary assumption of Christianity--belief in a specific single God and Jesus being a physical manifestation of/avenue to said God--that most worshippers can't, for one reason or another, seem to seriously question. Given that I have been through such a process and done such a thing, and that it’s been a wonderful experience, I feel it’s a story that needs to be made more public.
To be clear, when I say “question” in reference to one's doctrine I mean something beyond “doubt”. The topic of doubt is one that comes up all the time in Evangelical circles, and it is usually referring to an emotional experience of uncertainty or insecurity. From what I’ve seen, it’s usually not frowned upon, which is good, but neither are people actually talking about the much more difficult process of calmly and rationally determining whether the fundamental story of Christianity is objectively true and worthy of belief. As a Christian, I had my seasons of “doubt”, but they were nothing compared to the moment I was ready to entertain the possibility that I might actually be totally wrong.
I was sitting by myself on the front porch of the house I was sharing with some lovely people who were, certainly unbeknownst to them, helping to build my own trust in myself, which included taking seriously the questions around religion I had been entertaining for some time. At this point I was finally over “the” breakup, and I had finished seminary. I had grown more indignant about the state of women in the church, I had changed my mind about homosexuality, and I had realized that to think Jesus was the only true revelation of God was totally ludicrous. It was a beautiful day.
Staring at the large oak tree that hovered over our lawn and enjoying the warm, quiet afternoon, a certain phrase popped into my mind--one that I had heard repeated probably hundreds of times in church over the years, one I knew by heart: “liar, lunatic, or Lord”. This phrase is used in Christian culture to represent what’s known officially as Lewis’ Trilemma; yes, that’s “Lewis” as in C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and (in)famous Christian apologist. Lewis’ Trilemma--which Lewis made famous but did not make up--basically states that, logically (take that word with a grain of salt), if Jesus claimed to be God (pro tip: he didn’t) then he was either a straight-up liar, an insane man, or actually divine.
Now, anyone who’s been trained in logic or critical thinking at any level should be able to find the holes in this idea immediately (for example, why is it acceptable that there are only those three choices?) but for the sake of this story, those fallacies are beside the point. In that moment, there on the porch, I finally said to myself, “Oh my god, what if he was crazy?” And, I meant it. I wasn't just engaging in a flippant game of hypotheticals; I was seriously considering the possibility. In doing so, it dawned on me that, if I was being honest with myself, his mental instability was just as likely a possibility as his being the Lord. The con-artist thing was a real option too, I suppose, but I tend to have more faith in people's good intentions than that.
Right then and there I knew that nothing, ever again, would be the same. I had crossed the threshhold into disbelief. You see, whenever I heard Lewis’ proposal spoken of in church, the “liar” and “lunatic” options were never seriously considered. No one actually gave them any thought, so it was never really a trilemma, because nothing was ever at stake. Rather, it was another corner-cutting way for us believers to feel like we had reasoned our way into our faith and made our own logical decisions when in reality most of us were either quietly indoctrinated or explicitly wooed based on emotional satisfaction. And there’s nothing wrong, necessarily, with emotional satisfaction. But what happens when the religion becomes emotionally dissatisfying? That’s where I was, and the moment I let go--like, really let go--of the idea I had been choosing to identify with for so many years, I felt amazingly free.
I felt so much freer than I ever had within Christianity. I felt so much relief. The pressure was off--the pressure to make it work, logically, in my mind, as an educated person; the pressure to deem certain things wrong that I felt were perfectly fine; the pressure to hold myself back because I was sinful and feeble and maybe a little bit because I’m a girl. I looked at that big tree out in the yard and saw the late-day sunlight yellow the deep green leaves and I saw it all as a non-Christian for the first time.
Yes, it was a beautiful day.