And why I am coming out as agnostic.
I used to believe wholeheartedly in the Christian God. I fear that you may underestimate the weight of that first statement. By belief, I mean that my life was wholly devoted. There was not an aspect of my life that was not filtered through the lens of my religious beliefs. I was a leader within the church for a very long time. I was obsessed with religion and my beliefs. I was addicted to the high of knowledge. I didn’t know how little I didn’t know, and how restricted by my beliefs and religion I was. I was immersed, in love, and completely intertwined with an abusive image of a deity that I can no longer believe in.
I’m getting ahead of myself. My name is Miguel. I grew up in an evangelical Christian church. This, I now know, was a very unhealthy environment for me to grow up in. I was taught from a very young age about this deity. I was taught that this deity was a jealous god. This god wanted your complete undivided attention and devotion. To achieve this, one must empty themselves of all personal desire. To put this into context, the passage that was often taken out of context to portray this frame of mind was Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (NIV) Oddly, or maybe not so odd now that I think about it, many of these verses were taken from the convenient translations to mean exactly what the leaders wanted them to mean. This was a King James Version, the purest version kind of Christian church. But when it suited, the NIV fit.
I know this church meant well. I know this community meant well. Though they perpetrated the systems and lies that have become Evangelical Christianity. I’m not sure that ignorance, whether willful or not, can be considered blameless for countless acts of emotional, spiritual, and psychological abuse. I do, however, know the blame that I cast for the underhanded and manipulative practices used to harm myself and my family are fully earned. I will not name them, as they know who they are. I do not grant this as a measure of amnesty for what they’ve done. Rather it is more that I do not wish to repay abuse with more abuse. May their consciousness’s weigh heavy with the weight of what was done.
My childhood was filled with this programming of how to be the perfect unquestioning Christian. I emphasized the emptying of self, as it informs how this image of the Christian God was abusive. I was taught that to be a good Christian, you needed to care and love what god cared about and loved. What was god’s main care? Saving all the souls of man. Therefore, it was the job, nay, the supreme calling of all Christians to save every soul. This is too big of a weight to place on anyone. This was the weight placed on me. This along with the weight of being born “bad” and the only way of being “good” was to follow this directive. This jealous god required only that the “bad” people say this magic “prayer” to save their souls. They only needed to half mean it.
Looking back now, I see that the reliance on the one verse for the theological understanding of Evangelicals was a very shaky foundation at best. John chapter 3 verse 16 which has been displayed on billboards, shouted out at random passersby, and used as a weapon (because evangelicals) cannot be the whole basis of a hypothesis that is not possible to be tested by which you base the approach to whole life. “Whoever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Was written by a preacher at some point in the 2nd century. This preacher was very much basing his work on the previous three gospels and the existential understanding of ancient middle eastern civilizations. I won’t bore you with further discussion of the history and exegesis of this, that’s something that maybe I am the only one interested in. Suffice to say, it doesn’t mean what most people think it means.
That’s the funny thing about the man Jesus, he wasn’t what many people believed him to be either. Now I’m getting into a bit of speculation here, as the only official records we have of this man are that he existed. Judging from historical records on the other people who appeared in the gospel accounts, he was a radical. He was a man, plain and simple, who may or may not have been divine, but ultimately lived like a human. He was martyred due to his teachings which upset the status quo of the monoculture of the religion at the time. He stood for the inclusion of all people without a hierarchy, that didn’t make people very happy as they liked that they had unchecked power over the thoughts of people. Turns out the religion accidentally founded turned into the very thing he stood against.
Christianity became a monoculture itself. We can trace this back to the shift that Constantine “the great” caused when he named it the official state religion of the Roman Empire to win a battle. From that point, Christianity began amassing more and more power. Don’t worry, I’m getting to the point of how this affects me and my personal beliefs. Christianity proved what Lord Acton once wrote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” These systems and lies that the church I grew up in continued with me are ancient. They date back more than a millennium. Ironically, I am part of a generation that is named for the turn of a new millennium.
I believe that millennials are noticing these systems and cycles inherited in the cultures and communities we were brought up in. Millennials, I do believe, are the ones who will break these cycles and hopefully help all of humanity. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to recognize the cycles that I was a part of. It wasn’t until I was in university that I finally started to see these things. The first crack was having to admit that the Christian Bible was not inerrant. I know that many people believe that it is. I’m not going to argue that it isn’t. I just realized that it isn’t at that time.
The more I learned about the reality that I am in the more I found that these cycles and lies were there. Lies can be such a harsh word, but the problem is that the cycles persist because we do not call them what they are. We want to believe the beautiful lies about things because it’s much more comfortable than breaking the cycles we are a part of. For instance, if you come from a broken home, the chances are high that you will be involved in more broken relationships in your life. The beautiful lie you choose to believe is that you are not your parents. In some ways that is true, but ultimately you do have the same genetics and are prone to the same failings they are. If you acknowledge those failings and how you can be better, you can break the cycle. The same is true with health, both mental and physical, you can make changes and those changes will stay with you.
Since college where I studied to be ultimately another cog in the Christian religious machine, I’ve come to find that truth very much is relative. Facts are immutable. Facts and truth are not the same things, however. Truth, for example, can be found in fiction. What is true for one person is not true for another. I came to understand the Christian Bible like that. It’s not full of facts. It’s full of truth, though. Or at least it was for me. The Christian Bible is full of stories that were never meant to be a historical fact. They were meant to be true about a people, a deity, and a person. That’s what the writers understood. They understood the power of words, and that reality is shaped by the words that form the narrative. That first full chapter of the book of John portrays this. While working for the church, I tried to teach this as best I could. I believe this is how Jesus viewed the world as well. That we make our truth. I did this by presenting a vast range of thought on certain topics and letting people form their ideas.
Unfortunately, the ties to my past were much stronger than I ever gave them credit for. I found myself teaching things that helped to continue the cycle. I found that in my way I was just making the cycles stronger, rather than combating them. The problem was that the more I tried to break the cycles, the more the cycles fought back in the form of church politics. The church game is a highly political one. It is very much about who you know and how well they like you. I won’t go into depth into this experience, as I’ve already written a short book on this. The more I got hurt by these cycles in the church, the more I played into them so I wouldn’t be hurt again. I was hurt more times than I’d like to admit.
What I didn’t talk about in my book was how empty I felt. I thought it was from loneliness, which only part of it was. I was devoid of any personal ambition. I claimed that all I wanted was to help people, but I still held to the programming that I was steeped in for so long. I still wanted to save as many souls as I could. This was a deep belief that I couldn’t rid myself of. Underlying that I found that it was more because I enjoyed the limited power provided to me. As if I could be responsible for anyone’s soul. I developed some very self-destructive coping mechanisms. I kept my inner self locked away to follow that edict that I am filled “with the spirit”. No matter how much I emptied myself of self-identity, I never once felt that I was filled with anything else. I gave of myself so much without ever really wanting much in return. The unusual thing about my current place in the universe is that I understand that religion, the Christian Bible, and deity from the outside so much better than I ever did on the inside. The learning and understanding on the inside are very limited, by very definition. These small things that are hidden are holes at the seams of the fabric of the whole itself.
My rise from the ruin of this belief, life, took close to 2 years. It all started when I suffered my last abuse at the hands of the Church. I was let go for ‘not being a good fit’ when it was due to me being open and honest about my mental health. My mental health being off was a direct result of being empty for over 30 years. Any hint of something becoming more important than the religion or my goal within it would set my Generalized Anxiety Disorder spiraling. It led to internal Panic Attacks that I couldn’t share with a soul. I couldn’t even share this deeper struggle with my wife. I was afraid of losing her because I always felt she was better than me. I just shared that I had anxiety and what it felt like. The Church had me psychologically evaluated. After the evaluation, I was found to be coping reasonably well considering my past. A week later I was called into the director’s office to receive my severance and official notice of being let go.
Following this, I tried to figure out how to still be a part, a functioning member, of this body without my role of leadership. I tried for a long time. At first, going to worship services and discovering that I felt unwelcome. I wasn’t unwelcomed by the congregation. I felt unwelcomed by the deity itself. I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t true. But the overwhelming crushing feeling of denial at the table, the highest sacrament in the Christian religion, could not be denied. So, I stopped going. I could not continue to go and watch others be welcomed but I was a pariah. I struggled a lot with this. I tried, for a time, to study and go deeper into this faith. Maybe I could still be a leader in a different way. Maybe I could be a rogue leader from the inside. Maybe I could still fulfill this purpose
If you have ever been in a codependent relationship before you can almost imagine what I went through. My prayers suddenly felt unanswered and even blocked. I wanted so much for this deity to take me back. It was most important to me. I wanted to be taken seriously as a leader again. I wanted the deity to grant me an audience to plead my case. I was a good leader. It was what I had devoted my life to. I needed that. I was defined by that. I had emptied myself of all else. Maybe not codependent. Maybe a pathetically one-sided relationship.
I felt abandoned. I tried writing. I tried to be a leader through that. I thought that I could add my voice to the many many others out there. Turns out, there are way too many. I drowned among the sea of “Progressive” Christian writers. I had a blog with a small readership. To those who read my blog, I felt like I had become a leader again. This, of course, was my delusion of grandeur again. During this period I found a group of people who went through a similar move out of the Evangelical Christian cult of power. These people understood for the most part. They accepted me. I, unfortunately, found though, that we ended up replacing the acceptance and “fellowship” that we always wanted from church and this deity with each other. It led to a lot of unhealthy relationships as we still didn’t know how to let the inner self out of the cages we locked them in. This is the hardest thing about deconstruction as we came to call it. The hardest thing is to let ourselves out and recognize that the inner self has been so injured and abused for so long that we, in essence, need to re-evaluate our entire lives to find what was good, and what had been so much programming.
This two year transition period began in 2016. The year the Evangelical Church revealed its true colors. It had nothing to do with the man Jesus. It had very little to do with the deity described within the pages of the Christian Bible. It was an empty shell made pretty used to consolidate power for those who knew how to use it. It turns out the Republican political party in the United States of America wielded that power better than anyone else for a very long time. One man decided to con that party into using that power solely for himself. That man became the President of the United States. It revealed not only the party for what they were but the entire systems of government and religion that had been set to keep certain people in power.
As I was deconstructing from Christianity as a whole during this time, I was re-evaluating everything I learned. I looked back at the stories in the Christian Bible I found a flimsy cardboard cutout of a deity. One that looked real for most purposes, however, when people discovered this was just a two-dimensional representation they used it to control people. “Saint” Paul used it to direct the very beginnings of Christianity in the directions he felt proper. People would then use his name to nudge the rudder of the new religion in one direction or the other. The cutout was then used to destroy the gnostic Christians and any freethinkers who could discover that the representation was not real. I looked behind the curtain and found that The Great and Powerful Oz was just some dude playing at the controls of the universe. Had my deconstruction not come at such a time I may still be able to see what the representation was supposed to be.
With the refugees coming out of Syria, and with the turmoil along the southern border of the United States, my image of god was greatly challenged. As this was a just, kind, and loving god these issues would be helped right? There would be good god-fearing people who would step up and portray this justice, this kindness, this love right? There was none. Things have gotten worse. My suffering aside I saw the suffering of others in bulk. I saw families separated from each other. I saw children locked in cages. I saw children dead, washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean. I saw the rise of racial violence in a country that claimed to be post-racial. I saw these things as I was attempting to raise a child of my own and I could not claim there was a just, kind, and loving god. The breach had been opened and not a single person could stand and repair it. The damage done by those using the god cutout had been so great and so vast only the deity itself could repair what had been done. The one they claimed the deity sent only made the breach wider.
I am quite familiar with Pascal's wager. It is what drove my life for such a long time. I had lived in such a way that this deity existed. If this deity existed then it meant the emptiness was there for a reason. It meant that it was my responsibility to stand in the gap and repair the breach. It was my duty, nay, calling to ‘save the world’. As it turns out, it’s too much weight to bear. I am not a savior, nor am I meant to be. Neither is anyone of you. Yes, some can stand and repair parts of the breach but it doesn’t make you divine. If the name of the divinity was not invoked to create this mess, I may have been able to see things differently.
I now take the name of those who once thought differently about Jesus and the deity he spoke of. I am agnostic. Meaning I don’t believe that it is knowable if there is a deity or not. Most days I lean to there not being a deity. I have found freedom in letting go of those things I once knew to be facts. I found truth in the absence of fact. Maybe there is a god, maybe that god is just, kind, and loving. It can only be found in those actions that are just, kind, and loving. In a world that is increasingly devoid of these actions, I cannot say that it is there. Instead, there are a bunch of empty people running around yelling at other people telling them that unless they are empty like they are, they will continue to be unjust, unkind, and unloving. That makes absolutely no sense to me.
To me, the Christian church has become the very definition of what Dante’s vision of the bad afterlife was. The very weird thing is that this church has called those who aren’t empty like they are Satanists. However, the concept of Satan pretty aptly describes the church at this point. An entity that equated itself with god, that wanted to do a better job at creation, undoing all the messy things that they didn’t particularly like. An entity that was then somehow charged with the job of tormenting “bad” people. So to save people’s souls they torment them into emptying themselves to torment more?
I’m not saying that my entire childhood was trauma. I’m just trying to separate the good from the bad. The bad tends to outweigh the good where religion is concerned. In most of my adult life, I was deeply involved in the church. The majority of my adult life I encountered how messed up the church is. I saw the most racism I’d ever seen in comparative spheres of reality. I saw the most misogyny. I saw the worst treatment for children. I saw the complete and utter disregard for mental health. If you were not a white cis-gendered hetronormative male presenting human who made a certain amount of money, the church had no time for you. I say this knowing full well there are a few exceptions, however, those exceptions are very few and often rare in a community.
I had a/caused a bad experience about 2 years ago. At that moment the last vestiges of that religion were burned away. I could no longer hide my inner self in its cage any longer as there was no more cage to be found. It was demolished. Since that time I have been picking through the wreckage that was once me, this facade that I had erected in the place of an actual human being. I’ve been locating the good things. The things I enjoyed, and the things that I only claimed to enjoy so that people would listen to me and take me seriously. Writing is one of those things if you couldn’t tell from this very long essay that I doubt anyone would ever read. I found that I enjoy story, in all of its various forms. I feel that in essence, I was for the first time in my life, fully inhabiting my life. I was no longer empty, I was filled by myself. A feeling that I had never let myself feel before. Something that I prevented myself from so that I may be “used” by the deity.
As I look back now, having focused more on myself and my immediate life these past two years, I have found more peace, more calm, more kindness, more justice, more love than I ever thought imaginable. I started studying story structure. I read A LOT more than I had previously. I studied the things that made me happy, and it came easily. It came as something that I wanted and the knowledge that I was more than happy to take into myself. It wasn’t difficult like I once found school to be. After I let all of that stuff go I stopped being so concerned with the “afterlife” and became much more focused on this life. If this is all we have, how does that change how you are living? If it changes how you are living, then why do you live that way? For me to live my life for myself, my wife, and my son makes so much more sense to me than living my life for a deity that may not be there. I am no longer empty.
I discovered that the writers of the stories found in the Christian Bible were a lot smarter than people give them credit for. I discovered that their stories echoed other stories from the area, and they weren’t that original. Even the stories of Jesus, when separated from the grandiose claims and mythos that people reattributed to him, were amazing. Stories of a man who didn’t want people to “empty” themselves. A man who wanted his people to stop with the ritualistic dogma and see the religion for what it was, a way to make sense of the human experience. For that, he was martyred viciously and left to rot (probably) on a criminal’s cross. The resurrection, I know, for many is very important. But for me when I saw what the actual historical facts portray, I saw that it most likely was a story embellishment created at a time when the Jesus followers needed to believe in hopeful magical rescues. The original writer of Mark, for instance, did not include the resurrection. He included a scene where the women returned from an empty tomb as a symbol of how the story endures, and how the stories of this man could change lives.
A quote often possibly misattributed to Gandhi says, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” If I were to boil down this entire essay into one statement, that would be it. I can’t believe in the Christian god anymore because that god I know doesn’t exist. If it did it would be money hungry, ambivalent to the human condition, racist, uncaring, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, prudish in the weirdest way, unjust, meanspirited, and unloving. That is what the Christian church has become. Those are the things they worship. As their Christ put it, “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” You know what, instead of posting just that verse(s) reference, just go read the full chapter of Matthew 23. The Church as a whole has become the scribes and Pharisees spoken about there, blind guides and hypocrites. I like the man Jesus. He was brave and stood up for the underdog. I don’t like the religion he accidentally created. That is why I can no longer believe in that god. That is why I can’t rightly say that even the god the man Jesus pointed to exists because all I see are empty people struggling to make sense of the human experience. I’m agnostic at best because I have found that this life, this present moment, is all we have. We should make the most of it. Quit looking to the afterlife. Quit looking at what is behind. Tear down the cages you built for yourself and live your best life. That is all we have. Love like there is no tomorrow. Be kind like there is no tomorrow. Stand up for the underdog like there is no tomorrow. Because for all we know, there isn’t one.