Healthy and loving respect for everyone's journey is probably the most significant thing I contemplate week in and week out. It can be a tricky thing. I can respect my Christian friends more easily because I have been a Christian, but even when I was a Christian I wasn't the kind of Christian who believed everyone had to be a Christian. Does that make sense? I never wanted to put pressure on someone to be something they weren't, though inadvertently it would happen. Just by being you, you will piss somebody off, I promise. It still happens to me, but less often now. When you say, "I do this because God's word says to do this," you imply that since God is the God over everyone, everyone should be doing things God's way and are in sin if they don't. It takes a heap of pressure off others when you can say, "Oh, it's just what we decided we wanted for our family." What's funny is I thought that maybe I was a bad Christian somehow because I wasn't out trying to convert people.
It appears to me now that religion backs people into a corner, making them choose sides, drawing lines... so little love and acceptance. A friend told me this morning, "There is a way of love and kindness that transcends religion." Maybe some find it in Christianity, maybe some find it outside. Some Christians never find it, some non-believers never find it. I'm trying to come to terms with the world and my place in it. I guess I've always been doing this, I just feel more free to do it now. I guess that's what my this blog is about; exploring these kinds of things. It hurts to see people trapped in certain patterns of thought. I don't want to tell anyone what to think, though I can't help but want to help people learn how to think. Damn this teacher's curse! I had a run-in with a very conservative Christian homeschooling mom who is very threatened by our local astronomy club (of which I'm a member). When I asked the homeschool group if we would be interested in having one of the guys from the club bring the telescope and do some teaching, she finally spoke up and basically said she just didn't want to hear any "evolution, millions of years mumbo jumbo. I'm tired of it being touted as fact." I can roll my eyes all day long at her ignorance, but... I've been there. I was there just a few months ago. Well, I was in agreement with creationism, but I never remember feeling so threatened by differing beliefs. This I cannot wrap my brain around. How then should we learn? And how can you shut out all new ideas when the ideas you hold now were once new to you? Wouldn't anyone agree this is a recipe for stagnation, an end of learning? This particular mom and her family are very involved politically and I'm horrified when I stop to think that not only is she herself is not comfortable with new ideas, but she will do everything in her power to prevent access to them by others. Holy cow. I don't even know where I stand or what I believe about evolution anymore, but I'm willing to consider what scientists have to say. Yes, I think little of the Bible God these days myself, but I respect the right of others to hold their beliefs. Teach creation alongside evolution if you must, I'm not afraid, but be prepared to be embarrassed. Oh, wait... Christians don't get embarrassed by reasonable arguments against their faith. They resume an air of condescension or martyrdom. Or both. I generally am careful what I say about Christians (or anyone), but I take the full weight of this upon myself--I wasthat person. I thought I knew something the unbelievers didn't know. Gawd, when I think about the conversations I had when I was so new to the faith and so puffed up with "knowledge"... I blush. I really do. I recently wrote a letter to a former boyfriend, an Australian atheist, apologizing for my many ignorant arguments, telling him what I have learned about the Bible, giving him the chance to gloat. He didn't. He was kind and sincerely happy to hear my news. I said all that to say... what, exactly? I dunno. Just writing today. Just roaming. But, people like the homeschooling mom I mentioned drove me crazy when I was a Bible believer, too. I grew up scoffing at mainstream Christianity. Honestly, it is a very easy target. (I didn't realize until a few months ago that I lived on one of the outer rings of the same target!) As I matured and began my own family I realized I didn't want to be a scoffer, I just wanted to be a good person. I wanted to say positive things and encourage people. I don't want to this blog to be the scoffing sort, but sometimes I can't help myself. I will try to dig deeper and get past the knee-jerk and into the heart of the issues. Here's a heart issue. There's another Christian gal in our homeschool group whom I've grown pretty close to over the last two years, who has been patient with me in my journey, who made the decision to love me and be my friend even when I walked away from the Bible. I only briefly told her why I did when she asked and we don't talk about it anymore, we just have an understanding and acceptance of each other. We talk about the sort of things I'm writing now, talk about how love transcends. Together we share motherhood, homesteading, wifehood, friendship. She called yesterday to tell me she is growing uncomfortable in our friendship. She wasn't really clear about what she hoped to accomplish by telling me this, she usually gets right to the point. She seemed to imply she still wanted to be my friend, but did not suggest or request any changes. She mentioned feeling like a fraud; whether before me or God, I don't know. It seems to me she was feeling guilty for not speaking of her faith enough and wanted to get it off her chest. Maybe she was afraid that I thought that since we agree on so many things besides faith that I was winning her over to "my side?" She wanted me to understand that her faith is her life, her everything. I understand. I told her so. I also understand how not having that in common with me is hard for her. I told her that also. I tried to reassure her, but... of what? That I love her for who she is. That I understand she believes her faith is who she is, that she doesn't have to tell me, wear a cross on her neck or put a bumper sticker on her car. She shines and everyone sees it. After we talked I thought about this a lot. I felt a tiny bit fraudulent myself because I allowed her to credit her wonderful self to her faith in God when I believe that stripped of her faith she would probably have all the same qualities that she credits her faith with now. She would still be kind, modest, loving, dependable, honest. She would still try her hardest to be a good mother and wife, she would still love sitting in the shade by a creek chatting with a friend, she would still open her home to friends, family and strangers and be thankful for the food on her table. I found this out about myself a few months ago. My faith vanished and everything I thought was related to it remained. She and I will always have these things, these life things in common, but she credits her faith and I say it's just who we are... and somehow this should make our friendship awkward? Semantics. Do the words matter if the meaning is the same? We value the same things. I wonder if I will ever have the courage to ask her why it matters? If I can live the same beautiful life she lives but I can do it without Christ then why should I accept Christ? Because she is concerned for my eternal soul? What if I am content with this life and don't care what comes after? (I am and I don't.) Maybe, just maybe, my beautiful life is a threat. That I can enjoy the ups and fight my way through the downs and be a decent person without God... maybe that's scary to someone who thinks they can only do it with God's help. If we each have one broken leg but I'm walking on my own and they're using a crutch, they might start to feel pretty stupid and begin to wonder why they need that crutch after all. Or maybe they'll begin to think I'm stupid or unreal or who knows what. Maybe it just is confusing to them. My friend definitely sounded confused. Interestingly, if our friendship fails it will be because she cannot accept where I am, not that I cannot accept where she is. I think she knows that. I think she faced that when I first told her I left the faith. She said she really had to examine herself at that point and that she decided loving me and being my friend was the right thing to do (and was what Jesus would have her do. Glad she read those particular passages of his and not the others). I am not sure Cindy's phone call accomplished anything helpful. Now there is an awkwardness. We will be on eggshells, trying to be nice to each other. The open honesty and quality will slowly drain from our relationship. It know it will. This is not my first pony ride. When I met Cindy, when I first started attending this weekly homeschool playgroup, I was gun-shy. I had been burned by the best friend I'd ever had and was still licking my wounds when I walked into the room and began meeting these sweet Christian homeschooling mamas. A couple years before I'd had my heart broken by a Christian sister who knew my weirdo Biblical beliefs and loved and accepted me anyway, for a couple years, until religion and pride reared their ugly heads. I like to think I was innocent, but I was not. I was religious (probably more so than she) and the religious are never innocent. (Okay, I don't know if that's true, but it sounds good.) Even though I was the one who was willing to accept our differences and she was the one to pull away, I know now that she had little choice. Religion divides. But it hurt like the very devil. I'd never suffered so at the hands of another.
I immediately recognized Cindy as my kind of person, a kindred spirit, "of the race that knows Joseph," and I was nearly terrified. I think I threw my weirdo beliefs right out in the open so everyone would know up front what they were dealing with and I couldn't be blamed later. This actually went over rather well (I suspect because it wasn't a Christian group, like a church group, it just happened to be a group of mostly Christians). I was accepted. Mostly. Cindy and I became friends in spite of my fears and she will never know of the times I bent my own religious convictions to avoid making her uncomfortable. I had learned it was more loving to do this than to stand so rigidly on my beliefs. I had scars to remind me where my dogma had bitten me. And when, the following year (last fall), I told her I no longer believed the Bible, she confessed her shock and sadness and told me she needed some time to digest it. She kept her distance for a couple weeks then told me her decision. She has been perfectly open with me. I am going to miss her. Okay, I really must try to not be so dramatic. Things have gone remarkably well and I will not give up just because I've been hurt before. I expected her to be like my other friend and instead she showed grace and maturity and love. Maybe she will rise above her discomfort. I'm a different person, too. Hopefully more graceful, maturing, and loving. Hopefully my new understanding regarding religion will help. I will meditate on these things and I will love without holding back. I will try to remain true to myself. I will try to accept that people change and sometimes things don't work out like you want them to or thought they would and that blame needn't always be placed. The last few days, though, I have had this interesting tidbit bouncing around in my head: I have been rejected by more Christians than I could ever hope to be by atheists or agnostics. I suspect mine is not an isolated case. Now, doesn't that speak volumes?
I'll spare you too much history because if you're reading this it's probably because I invited you here and you already know about my Great Escape from religion. I intend to continue blogging over at Make It Do Farm, but wanted a place I could speak a little more freely my thoughts on Christianity. Okay, in truth I just need a place I can vent sometimes. Do I need an audience for this? No. No, I don't. I have a journal full of anti-religion rants to prove it. (Hey... there's an idea! I can post some of my journal entries. Ha! Like you want to read all that.) But I would like one because I'm human and that's what humans want, right? I could toss out some psycho-babble about our need for intimacy, our need to connect with others of our species... Yeah. Or maybe we just want someone to read our stuff because we are full of ourselves. You'll notice a counter at the bottom of this page. I guessed at the hour part, but I do remember the exact day I looked at the Bible in my hand and realized it was entirely man-made. Of course, all my years of study (I make myself sound so ancient and self-important!) had revealed twisted words here and there, verses with misleading punctuation ("verily verily I say unto you, this day you will be with me in paradise," or "verily verily I say unto you this day, you will be with me in paradise"?), entire passages in error, and gradually whole books, and the whole New Testament (plunging us into Judaism for a few weeks), always considering the entire Bible, comparing it with itself, but then one day my husband and I saw through the Tanach (Old Testament), too. I closed the book. There was nothing left in it for me. I thought I might someday open it again to read some teachings of this Jesus character who may or may not have ever existed, but I haven't felt inclined. There are better sources for moral teaching. If you haven't already, you may read the overly long and drawn-out details of my spiritual journey and my escape from religion on my other blog. This link will take you to my Deism category, though I rather transitioned into Agnosticism, so you might want to check out that category, too. I try not to let the fact that I am a recovering Christian define me, just wanting to move on and figure out who I am, but as I move along I find that it really is a significant, defining factor in my life. Especially since I am surrounded by Christians in this little rural town. Especially since most of the people in my life knew me when I was a Bible believer. It's not such a terrible defining factor if you acknowledge it and work with it. I reckon I'm doing a fairly good job of moving on, but I also like to consider things. It seems every time I turn around I'm discovering something new about myself and about religion and how we both affect this world. I like to contemplate these things. Maybe I will hit on some way to affect significant change in the world, in the people around me. At the very least I hope my observations will better equip me to better equip my children for their own journeys.