“I’m an ex-fundamentalist who misses having faith in God”

Got this in; thought I’d answer it.

Dear John,

I grew up in a evangelical church that did not condone questions. Questioning was of the devil, and we were to simply believe what we were taught.

I bought this hook line and sinker until, at sixteen, I had an epiphany.

While sitting in a service where my cousin was made to stand in front of the congregation and apologize for embarrassing them for getting pregnant out of wedlock, it struck me: How could this be the wishes of a loving God? If this is truly what God wanted, then God could only be petty and unkind.

Sitting there, I realized all the cruel and judgmental things I had been taught to say to my LGBT brothers and sisters, Catholics and basically anyone who wasn’t just like us. That was the moment I lost my faith. And that was the moment I walked away from Christianity entirely. From that time forward I prided myself on being a student of reason, logic and rationality.

Now, fifteen years later, I am a social worker pursuing my Master’s degree, a wife and mother of an eight-month-old. And yet, I find myself missing God, missing a church community, and missing having faith in something. How do I intertwine the two? How do I trust the Bible as the word of God, and as the only image I have of Jesus, when I know it was written hundreds of years after Jesus’ life by some dead dudes—and then some other men got together and decided what got to be included in the Bible.

How do I have faith in something when faith itself is truly irrational?

Also, I cringe when I hear the word Christian. Fear, judgement, bigotry. These are the words that have come to be associated with Christianity, and I know the truthful pain in those things. I don’t ever want to go back to that.

So, I don’t know why I’m writing this letter. For some guidance, perhaps? Some words of reason from someone who also has no time for a God only interested in punishment? Perhaps some hope that for once my questions will not go unheard?

Where do I go from here? Thank for listening.

First, faith is not at all irrational. If faith is irrational hope is irrational. Hope is faith; it’s the belief that things can get better. Without faith there is no hope.

The truth is that your life is already informed by faith. If it wasn’t, you’d have already committed suicide. (Which is why “It Gets Better” is exactly the message emotionally desperate young people need to hear.)

Your concern isn’t really that faith is irrational. Your concern is that your faith in God is irrational. Which is to say that you fear that God does not exist.

Yet you miss God. Which means for you God does exist.

Youston, you have a problem. But one that’s easily fixed.

Here’s the thing: there’s nothing in the slightest irrational about believing that God exists. In my experience atheists are generally keen on passionately arguing this point, but the fact remains that it makes no more sense to posit that there is not a God than it does to posit that there is. You can believe in God and still be a rational person. Millions of people do it every day. I do. Copernicus did. Isaac Newton did. Galileo did. Rene Descartes did. That list is endless. Belief in God informs and sustains the vast majority of people, most of whom are perfectly rational. It’s always been that way, and always will be.

Your beef isn’t with God. Your beef is with people. People have trashed your relationship to God. You were raised in a terrible church led by a terrible pastor. But that church and pastor were no more representative of God than the Mafia is representative of justice. Beneath their respective veneers of honorableness, both are thug-based organizations whose true purpose is to instill and exploit the most elemental kinds of human fears. Both organizations are sustained by effective victimization and bullying.

But so what? Bad people are everywhere amongst us. There are always going to be bad pastors, bad preachers, bad teachers, cops, nurses, accountants, doctors, farmers, tinkers, tailors, spies. The world is, and always has been, lousy with bad, mean, stupid people. You were raised in church where too many such people had way too much power. But those people aren’t you. They got it wrong. They’re twisted it all up. They were mean-spirited. They were ignorant and lazy. They urinated all over the truth and dared to call it communal bread. But you didn’t do any of that that—and when you were old enough to think for yourself had the brains to stop falling for it.

Today you have a life. You have a career, aspirations, a husband and child. And like most parents you desire for your child to grow up amidst noble ideas and ideals, inspired by admirable role models, believing in the enduring value of altruism and charity, being part of a community that is decent, supportive, productive.

Nothing wrong with that, to say the least. And a good church, run on good principals and headed by good people, brings that to the members of its family. Anyone who says differently has never been part of the life of a good church.

“Questioning is of the devil.” Holy cow, man. What else do you need to know about how severely dysfunctional was the church in which you were raised? You teach a kid that it’s evil to question, and you might as well sign that kid up for a full frontal lobotomy. His brain will never be any good to him anyway.

You just need to find a good church, is all. That’s it. That’s your whole challenge. Find a church you like; start going; at some point start bringing your child. Boom. You’re good.

Don’t deny yourself the comfort and knowledge of God just because your parents chose to raise you in a bad church. I say let God back into your heart, and start again. Try it, if nothing else. See how it works for you. Why not?

Dare to be irrational! With God.

And yes, the New Testament was written and compiled after Christ died. The whole Bible is exceptionally dense, intensely complex, and informed by all sorts of stuff that is profoundly difficult if not outright impossible to grasp. But life is exceptionally dense, intensely complex, and informed by all sorts of stuff that is profoundly difficult if not outright impossible to grasp. So they go together really well.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thecolbymartin Colby Martin via Facebook

    Very nicely said, John. Thanks for caring.

  • http://www.facebook.com/denise.burke.357 Denise Burke via Facebook

    Our MCC church is full of just such people. We should get you to come share…really.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you so much for this. I’m in the same boat — I was hurt by bad people at a bad church, and my relationship with God is toast as a result. I have lately been wondering if I’ll ever get any of it back — it just seems like it’s not worth trying, because I am afraid, deep down, that all the good stuff about having a relationship with God must necessarily go hand in hand with the bad stuff that I experienced. Thank you for saying it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe someday I’ll have the courage to try again.

    • Lymis

      With absolutely no snark or sarcasm, have you ever tried yelling at God about it? Letting him have it? All the pain, all the fear, all the “How dare you let your people do this to people? All the “You’ve ticked me off because now I’m not even sure I can believe in you?” stuff?

      One of the things we get taught is that we aren’t allowed to be mad at God, and that’s ludicrous. I think it’s toxic to stay mad at God, but sometimes the only way out is through.

      One of the hugest spiritual breakthroughs in my life came when I just let God have it, both barrels, including, “You did this. I had no way of seeing this coming, and that makes it all your fault. So YOU fix it.” It’s amazing what can happen when you open up doors like that. Rarely what you expect, but amazing nonetheless.

      • Marlene Lund

        I totally agree! God is big enough to take all our anger and return love. I have had many “frank discussions” with God over the years, and it has helped to deepen my sense of closeness with him. Hateful people who claim to speak with the voice of God cause so much damage. But there are so many people who speak with the voice of God’s love and seek to live out that love for others. When you feel ready to “test the waters,” try on several different churches and find one that radiates God’s love and welcomes questioning as part of the spiritual journey. That is how we grow.

      • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

        My greatest breakthrough in life happened just the same way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.rogers.56 Bob Rogers via Facebook

    “And yes, the New Testament was written and compiled after Christ died. The whole Bible is exceptionally dense, intensely complex, and informed by all sorts of stuff that is profoundly difficult if not outright impossible to grasp. But life is exceptionally dense, intensely complex, and informed by all sorts of stuff that is profoundly difficult if not outright impossible to grasp. So they go together really well.” Amen and amen.

  • Jana Harrison Currier via Facebook

    Thank you, John!

  • SquirrelyGirl

    I think of how sad it must make God when he sees what those who would call themselves his servants do to others in his name. I think about how many hearts have been broken and about those cold and dark days when I hid from a God of love because I was afraid of a God someone else tried to convince me existed. But somewhere deep down inside where God dwells he kept speaking softly and gently, “Come back, I miss you.” And that’s how you know. That is what led you to write the letter. You don’t miss something you never had. So you not only “had it” …you still do. That type of unconditional everlasting love is why God will never be completely destroyed in our hearts by those who think they have all the answers. God will just go around them to get to you, that is just how important you are. And that is why He is worthy of our worship and our love. As simple as that little song you probably sang just like me years ago..”Oh how I love Jesus, because he first loved me. Blessing to you and welcome back!!!

    • Dillon

      I love your post. And you are right it’s as simple as Jesus. Lol i’ve spent years overcomplicating it. And when you get it then other things make since like oh that’s what Jesus meant about the religious people back then weighing people down with stones but not willing to do anything to remove them.

  • Kajikit

    If you are unfortunate enough to eat an apple and it has a worm in it, do you swear off all fruit forever and say ‘I’d rather starve than risk that ever happening again.’? A bad church is a horrible wormy apple, and it poisons your faith so that you believe all churches must be the same. But that is just not true. There are loving compassionate caring churches out there too. You just have to be prepared to discard a few bad apples before you find the good one that’s really worth eating.

    Yes, the bible was written by a whole bunch of people over a whole bunch of years and there isn’t any way to truly confirm what it was originally meant to say because it’s just soooooo old… but it doesn’t all have to be the literal and exact-to-the-letter word-of-God for there to be valuable stuff in it. If you want your children to grow up knowing a loving God instead of the hateful one you had inflicted on you, find a loving church to take them to. They DO exist.

    • Brian W

      I like the saying that “The Bible is literally God’s Word, but it’s not God’s Word literally”. If you took it word for word literal, the earth revolves around the sun and the world is a cube. The Bible must be interpreted using a proven systematic hermeneutic methodology .

      • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

        “Proven”?

        • Brian W

          Perhaps “reliable” may have been a better choice of words.

    • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

      I don’t know. If 90% of apples were well and truly wormy, it would make more sense just to eat something else.

      • Don Rappe

        And yet many Japanese people love to have a trained professional cut the deadly poisonous parts away from some fish and seafood so they can enjoy the good parts.

  • Barbara Rice

    I love the fact that you’re saying these things, things that many, many ex-fundies (and a few fundies still in the closet, so to speak) are thinking but don’t have the words for.

    Any relationship with God that doesn’t include questioning, anger, pain, and some form of rejection at some point is a relationship that’s stagnant, in the same way that any friendship or marriage would be. It makes me shake my head in pity and revulsion when I hear about some Christian who crows that they never, ever doubt or question God. That’s not faith, that’s blind adherence mixed with fear that they might be wrong.

    Sitting back and proclaiming that you know exactly what God has in mind in every situation is laziness and self-congratulation; forcing a young girl to get up in front of a congregation to apologize for getting pregnant (but not the guy, of course) is appointing oneself and God’s judge, jury, and executioner. You are further along on your spiritual journey than fundies ever will be, because you are searching and questioning and longing.

    I have no doubt that you will find faith and the peace you are searching for.

  • Christine McQueen

    What angers me at times are the ones who claim I’m not a Christian because I haven’t attended any church for the last 30 years. They refuse to acknowledge that I do believe in and attempt to always follow the teachings of Christ. Why do some people (most people) think one “needs” to be a member of a church just because they believe in God?

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      The world hates introverts? *Shrug*

      • http://kellythinkstoomuch.wordpress.com KellyK

        Maybe not “hates” so much as “completely fails to comprehend.” Most extroverts don’t seem to be able to wrap their heads around how legitimately hard social situations can be for introverts. To someone who’s extroverted, they can’t picture attending church being hard or scary. And if it’s easy, then you can’t be a real Christian if you don’t even love God enough to do that little thing, right? And heaven help you if you’re introverted *and* shy.

        I realized recently that part of the reason I sometimes dread going to church is the crowd. Too much noise, too many people. I”m hoping that I’ll figure out how to meet that need without tripping every one of my anxiety triggers.

    • Lymis

      They think you are having more fun than they are and that if they admit you didn’t need to be attending church they’d have to question whether the time they spent there served them in any meaningful way?

      Seems to me that it is the difference between “However you find God, and I find attending church to be important to me for me to do so” and “You can only find God in church, and I’m afraid to try any other way.”

    • Marcelo

      Am I a Christian if I believe that Jesus is the Son of God but don’t believe he is God? I’m not a Trinitarian Christian. Is it essential to Christianity that Jesus is God? For many Christians, I’m not one. And I also don’t feel comfortable with Unitarian Universalism (although I hold many of the same tenets) partly for the reason enumerated above: UU churches are an amalgam of many different beliefs, and don’t seem much of a church to me. I don’t look down on them but don’t feel comfortable being part of that community.

      I confess I’m totally confused by this topic, but I also find myself shying away from “Christians” mostly because what I get from them is that I’m not one, not to mention that the essential part of being part of a church means making judgments. After all, “I’m a member of Church X because it believes in X, and I believe X to be true. If you don’t believe in X you can’t be in my Church and although I don’t hold it against you for believing in something that isn’t X, you also can’t be part of my Church. After all, X is true. What isn’t X can’t be.”

      Consequently, I can’t seem to bring myself to “belong” to a church.

      • Diana A.

        This is a tough one. I know that there are churches that use the “Christian” label, but don’t subscribe to the Trinitarian viewpoint. The problem is, they tend to be rigid in their own ways. Mormons, JW’s, some Pentecostals, possibly some Messianic (Jews for Jesus)–I’d look into those. That’s one option.

        Option 2: Hold your nose and go to a Unitarian Universalist church, with the understanding that no church community is going to be perfect because no community is perfect, because communities are composed of people and people aren’t perfect. You might also check into Churches of Religious Science and Christian Scientists. You may find yourself feeling as uncomfortable in those communities as you feel in the Unitarian Universalist church–but it’s worth a shot.

        Option 3: Take a deep breath and start exploring the mainline Christian churches in your area. Yes, these will likely be Trinitarian in approach. But some communities are more welcoming than others. At my church (United Methodist), we have a fringe group within the church (The Heart of Christianity) where they study a lot of Spong and Borg and all questions and questioners are welcome–and there’s at least one guy I met there who is borderline atheist/agnostic. You may be able to find a similar community within a mainline church in your area.

        Option 4: Start your own church. As Jesus said “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am,” or something like that.

        • Marcelo

          Diana:

          Thank you very much for your kind and thoughtful response.

          As to option 4, and to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I’m not sure I’d want to be part of a church that would have me as a member.

          Kidding aside, I may explore the UU community more, as well as the more open mainline churches. Quakerism is another possibility. I attended a Quaker meeting for a time in my youth and I might want to try again.

          John certainly has a wonderful forum to be able to discuss these topics without being jumped on. You rock, John.

          Well, enough of hijacking this forum thread, I return you to your regularly scheduled topic.

          Blessings.

    • Dillon

      Yep we are already member of a church and it isn’t of this world. Like you I’m not convinced I have to go on Sunday to a building with a pointy thing on top, stand up and sit down a bunch, put money in a plate, etc.

  • Shekel

    God bless you! I read your article till the end with terrible strain on my eyes on my nokia mobile. Do you know why?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Is this a trick question? :-)

  • Lisa

    I too have been in the exceptionally good, and exceptionally bad churches. I love God, and want to be as close to him again. However, many things have happened. Basically, I quit church, and while living among those that judged me and my family, have spent the past 10+ years avoiding them.

    I want our 5 year old to be close to God, and to show her the love that is possible. The negative keeps weighing on my mind. I don’t want her to see the horrible ways people treat each other, especially how we are treated like 3rd class citizens. Living in a small community, where most of the pastors get together at the local coffee shop, and discuss their parishioners, makes it hard to find a church, where you can start with a fair/clean slate.

    I just want to go to church, to hear the word of God; to be close to Him. To love and be loved. To not have to prove that I am there for any reason, other than for God. I do not want my 5 year old to feel any of the negatives…

  • Soulmentor

    Many years ago a former partner and I on a weekend in Minneapolis attended an MCC service. We weren’t sure what to expect but were pleasantly surprised at how wonderfully free to be we felt. We sat there feeling safe and totally comfortable with my arm around his shoulder and his head on mine, nearly weeping together at how warm and safe we felt. There were families with children, elderly singles and couples, str8 and gay, young and old….and NO ONE paying furtive attention to us with disapproving expressions.

    I haven’t been to church for many years because I can’t find one like that where I live, not even gay-friendly UCC where we once attended and even sat on the council. Maybe if there had been one, my partner would not have succumbed to his Catholic guilt complex and left me for the “glories of denial and suffering” in the dark hole of Catholic Orthodoxy he crawled back into.

    Too many religious experiences wound instead of heal.

    • Diana A.

      This is how church should be.

  • Tim

    Largely been there, done that. Maybe worse. Maybe not. However, my first recommendation would be to start reading the Bible–and to do it fairly uncritically. Start with the gospels, especially John, and the wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiasties, Song of Songs, Lamentations). That will paint a wonderful picture for you.

    and yes, find a church, if that is what you want. Churches come in all stripes, shapes, and forms. There are very evangelical-right churches that are still nurturing and open to questioning and mainline protestant ones that were formed for that purpose hundreds of years ago and the old, classic Catholic and Orthodox churches that have changed little since the 400′s. There are contemporary and traditional and service-oriented worship services. If you like it after a couple of times, quiz the senior pastor. If the highest-up doesn’t have time for you, bad sign. If he/she reacts badly to your questioning and inspection of his/her faith, bad sign.

    Best of luck to you, my sister.

  • Jennifer C. Martin via Facebook

    Thanks for posting this, John. <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/KittyMama Jill Jacobs via Facebook

    You write that like finding the right “good church” is an easy task, which it isn’t.

    • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

      Indeed. Good luck, letter writer. People here seemed to know a few though, if you want to let people know where you live.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KittyMama Jill Jacobs via Facebook

    Depending on where you live, good churches are hard to come by, here in the midwest it’s really hard.

    • Michael M

      Hard, but not impossible. Since returning to Christianity (after being a self-proclaimed agnostic/atheist), I have lived in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. I have always been able to find progressive churches that have made me feel welcome. I will admit it is not always been easy–after moving to Wisconsin I spent several months trying churches before finding one I wanted to join, and I have to drive 45 minutes to Madison to get there.

  • Pam Oldenburger Larson via Facebook

    Love it! Thanks, John!

  • Rob

    As a “logical” Christian myself, take comfort in the fact that the key books of the Bible–the gospels–weren’t all written “hundreds and hundreds of years” after the life of Christ. The Gospel of Mark is dated to around 70 A.D. and relied on eye-witness accounts (which would have been around 40-50 years old at the time). Hey, the American Revolution happened in the late 1700′s (nearly 300 years ago), but I trust the written accounts I’ve read. Heck, how often do we read accounts of the early Roman emperors and the Greeks, the Aztecs and the Egyptians and take it at face value? Granted, the Gospels are purporting a MUCH “bigger” story, but don’t let the length of time after the death of Christ that the Gospels were written be a big reason your faith suffers. It really isn’t that great a span of time–especially when you compare it to the other historical accounts we’ve grown up with that we rarely–if ever–question.

    • http://wilkinsonweb.com Dan Wilkinson

      Plus the Pauline Epistles date to around 20 years after Jesus’ death.

    • Lymis

      That would work so much better for me if anyone was actually discussing the Gospels as though they were history and were being treated they way people treat historical accounts of early Roman Emperors and Greeks.

      When was the last time you saw a Constitutional Amendment severely restricting the civil rights of citizens based on a few lines taken out of context in an English translation of Herodotus? People bullying because they don’t follow the proscriptions in Aztec histories?

      It isn’t so much the historical validity or literary reliability that is at issue. It’s what the documents are being used to justify, and why.

      • Brian W

        Lymis

        Excellent point

      • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

        Yes!

      • Allie

        True in general, but in this specific case the writer believes something in error and the error should be corrected. There’s good reason to believe that the Gospels were written down at about the time someone said, “Whoa, all those old dudes who knew Jesus personally are dying off, someone needs to interview them and get this stuff on paper!” They weren’t written much, much later, and they weren’t written at third hand.

  • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

    If “Youston, you have a problem” was a deliberate turn of phrase, it’s a clever one. If it’s just a typo,don’t let anyone know!

  • Ashley

    I really appreciate this as an ex-fundie myself. I have had all the same feelings, but I agree with John. People can be irrational and fail you, the Bible can have flaws, but God exists outside of all that. For me, faith in religion and in the perfection of the Bible has waned, but my faith in God has remained intact.

  • mike moore

    thank you, John.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nwbuckeye Pat Hux via Facebook

    why not forget church and hang out in a group on FB? It’s not the same, and I’m still looking for face to face fellowship. I have actually found ppl near vie FB, too. I even went to NZ to hang out with some FB friends. we had a total blast.

    • Kate

      Or you could do something completely out in left field, and join the virtual world, Second Life! There are lots of communities there. I belong to the Anglican Cathedral community, and have met wonderful, thoughtful Christians from around the world! You can check out their website here… http://slangcath.wordpress.com/about/ But do find a community where you will be nurtured as you ask questions and explore these exciting issues!

  • charles m

    fantastic post John….

  • Pat William

    You had a bad experience with a bad church, and not all churches are like that. However, I think there’s a fundamental question you need to ask yourself before you continue, because they effect what you should be looking for. Do you want to believe what makes you happy, or what you know to be true?

    You say you miss God in your life. I can understand that. There are wonderful reasons to believe in God. It brings purpose to people’s lives, gives them comfort in some of the darkest and saddest moments in their lives, gives people a sense of togetherness, etc. Those are all lovely. You can believe in a God that isn’t the hate-filled God you were raised with. Reject the hate you were taught and accept the love. View God as a benevolent figure instead of the tyrannical one some fundamentalists seem so fond of shoving down our throats.

    If you’re looking for truth, however, the answer’s a bit more complicated. If you feel that faith is irrational, then start to look for rational reasons to believe in God. Look for evidence-based / logic-based arguments for God’s existence, and see what you find. They are definitely out there. Apologetics have been around for a long time. If truth is your goal, however, I would say you’re obligated to look up criticisms of these arguments as well. Personally, I have found no reason or agument to believe God actually exists that withstood scrutiny. Maybe you will. If so, please share it. I’m always open to having my mind changed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leigh.kelly Leigh Pinkston Kelly via Facebook

    There’s a difference between being a fundamentalist and a literalist. Most so-called “fundamentalists” are really Biblical literalists. I consider myself to be a true fundamentalist because I believe in the fundamentals: YHWH was the first cause of the Big Bang, YHWH set up the Laws of Physics to direct the development of the universe & YHWH used evolution to guide the creation of life from inanimate matter. There is no conflict between belief in YHWH & belief in science if one looks at the fundamentals instead of reading the Creation story literally.

  • Wendy Harrington

    My entire life with Christ, and I mean from just before I believed until and including now, has been a battle over exactly what I believe. When I get overwhelmed by all the confusing messages out there, I just ‘turn my eyes upon Jesus’. HE is whom I first believed, and HE is still the touchstone for everything that came after. Questioning stuff from the pulpit? Look at Jesus, feel his love and test the words. Controversial scriptures (gays, divorce, women’s place, etc.)? Look at Jesus, see HIS love for the world, HIS compassion, HIS example. I experience HIM in others around me, so I don’t lack for fellowship, even though I no longer attend church. I’m attempting to make my life worship to HIM, and to cultivate a servant’s heart.

    Church is good if you can find one that doesn’t kill your faith. Meanwhile, invite Christ into your home and your family, talk to your children about Him and with Him so they can come to know him as well. Pray for those around you.

    I think that all of these comments here, and most of John Shore’s blog, is a living example of ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling’. God bless!

    • Dillon

      What Wendy wrote is the truth. Only Jesus has the answers and the comfort, and the peace. Not a religious structure.

  • Deanna Rendel

    United Church of Christ…check it out :)

  • Deanna Lynne Rendel via Facebook

    good post…I recommend United Church of Christ

  • SquirrelyGirl

    Would it be completely against the rules to yank out ONLY the words written in red? And who decided which words should be written in red? I think I love him/her!

    • Allie

      One theory is that one of the earliest written documents about Christ, which no longer exists, was a collection of just the words of Christ written down. Scholars refer to this work as “Q” which stands for (as I recall) some word in German, but it is easy to remember in English if you think of it as “Quotations.” This collection of Jesus’s writings was then used as reference material by the Gospel writers, which helps explain a couple of things, first, why sometimes the same quotation is used in different gospels in a slightly different context, and second, why the words of Jesus in particular seem to be more truthful and immediate than anything else in the Bible.

  • Christy

    “And yet, I find myself missing God, missing a church community, and missing having faith in something.”

    If I can make a suggestions – you can believe in God without being a Christian, and you can have a faith community without being a Christian. I don’t know if you want to return to Christianity or if you just want to connect with the Divine in some way. You may not know yourself, which is perfectly fine.

    If you don’t want to call yourself a Christian, don’t. There are ways of finding community and ways of having faith without being one. It takes a lot more work – particularly if you live outside a bigger city – but it is possible. My advice would be to explore a bit and take it slow and take the pressure off yourself – you don’t have to know what you think about the Bible or Jesus or any of it. You don’t have to join a church right now. You can go to a church once and never go back – or you can join up if that is what works for you. Maybe you will come back to a place of wanting to be a Christian again. Maybe you’ll find yourself with Zen Buddhists or UU’s….

    Try some different things and that may help you sort out if you object to specific Christians or Christianity as a whole. For me, it was both, but that’s not the case with everyone. It’s okay not to have it all figured out. Keep listening to that bit of you that wants to find the Divine, and you will gradually find your path, whatever it is. It takes time – sometimes a very long time – but I bet you figure it out (whatever “it” is) eventually.

  • Sarah Strong via Facebook

    good call. whew.

    • Sara

      Here’s my advice; don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Live in faith in what God tells you, not necessarily what man tells you. We’ve all only got part of the answer, if not a complete misunderstanding. It’s not God that’s the problem. God is beyond our understainding most of the time. Keep the faith. God’s all about love.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robin.cliver Robin Cliver via Facebook

    You do NOT need a church or people to be with every sunday morning, evening or wednesday. the best gift you have is Eternal life through Jesus and if you accepted him into your heart and life…he is yours forever. So, be at peace with that and just live each day knowing Christ loves you and he lives in you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robin.cliver Robin Cliver via Facebook

    You do NOT need a church or people to be with every sunday morning, evening or wednesday. the best gift you have is Eternal life through Jesus and if you accepted him into your heart and life…he is yours forever. So, be at peace with that and just live each day knowing Christ loves you and he lives in you.

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust via Facebook

    Good piece.

  • Dianne Rizzo via Facebook

    Solid advice, well written. I am so glad she used her God given intellect to deduce God’s true nature. God is missing her also! (If I may be so bold as to speak for God! ).

    • Sarita Brown

      god can’t miss her. God is in her. That’s what mainstream Christianity misses :

      God is WITH us.

      • Sarita Brown

        now missing a faith community (or more difficultly, finding one -) yes, sisters and brothers, THAT is hard.

        • Jill

          Sarita, yes and yes to both of your responses.

          A faith community based on respect of–even the love of–differences is what seems to be coming up slowly in pockets and blogspaces. I’m only just finding out where my faith journey is leading me now. And I like to believe that community no longer is constrained by four walls and a church placard. It’s where you make it.

  • Jackson Hearn via Facebook

    I am glad you reposted this, because in my opinion, there is more light and life and hope in her letter and your response than in the strikingly terrible video of that ‘preacher’ in North Carolina. Yes, people need to see and hear his misinformed rantings, but we need to focus more on faith, and those who are looking for it. Thanks.

  • Nicole

    John, thanks for just being you. You encourage a lot of us. Thank you! *hug*

  • Linnea

    Another denomination well worth checking out is the Unitarian Universalist Church. Each church is independent, therefore slightly different. However, they all adhere to the same basic principles. The philosophy draws on all major faiths, as well as the humanist tradition and earth-based spirtualities. The best part is, they don’t try to tell anyone what to believe. In fact, they encourage questioning and helping you to figure out what works for *you*. Some UU’s define themselves as liberal Christians, some come from a Jewish background, some are agnostic or even atheist.

    A word of caution, though. Don’t jump into a tradition just to believe *something*. Give yourself time to work through some of your pain and fear, and whatever tradition you choose, go slowly. It may also help to talk to the pastor of whatever church you do settle on. Let him or her know that you are coming out of a hurtful, abusive religious experience, and see what he or she recommends. Good pastors are used to hearing this sort of thing, and will be glad to help. I can tell you that there are plenty like you out here… I’m one of them. My experience wasn’t as bad as yours, but it was hurtful enough.

  • Don Rappe

    There is a part of this woman’s story that reminds me of my own. Toward the middle of my “rational only” years a friend who was listening to my past biography of belief, asked me if I didn’t now feel much better and free-er. He couldn’t understand that I felt the change as one of darkness and gloom. While I still reject every superstitious interpretation of the faith that was once delivered to the saints, the coming again of my faith has lightened many dark corners. Much of the meaning of life for me is based on the symbols I learned as a child, including God, Christ, Angels and the coming of the Day of the Lord as the end of history. I realize now that all reality is mediated to my conscious and unconscious soul by symbols which I choose because of their power of expression. This includes also mathematical symbols and mythical beings such as photons, electrons and quarks which help me to understand whatever aspect of reality on which I focus my attention .

    • Don Rappe

      Please pardon my closing non-sentence.

  • Shelly Dunham Griswold via Facebook

    I felt very much like this until I found a wonderful UCC congregation I now call home!

  • Shelly Dunham Griswold via Facebook

    I felt very much like this until I found a wonderful UCC congregation I now call home!

  • http://www.examiner.com/user-naiomigonzalez02 nai

    I too used to be raised in a “fundamentalist” church. I was Pentecostal and although the services were always interesting (the loud singing, praising God) I ultimately rejected the hate filled messages. I have yet to find a comfortable church-either the theology is kind of off (I am extremely progressive) or the worship service is geared towards older, anglo-saxons. But honestly, right now I am finding my community via those passionate in social justice whether they are christians, atheists, etc.

    And as a religious studies major (historical-critical understanding of the Bible, which views it more as a human construct rather than as a divine product) I find that the Christianity I have embraced is much more richer, and complex than the one espoused by my fundamentalist church. I don’t believe Jesus is the only way to God, nor do I think that the majority of what is written in the Bible is historical fact, however, I do find a lot in the Bible that speaks to “truth.” The truth of human nature (both the good, the ugly, etc). I especially hold tight to the social justice components of the bible. I no longer care about whether or not “god” as an external force exists. For me, “god” or the divine is love and I embrace any action, thought or person (regardless of their religious beliefs or lack therefore) who embraces love. For me, Jesus passion for others is what draws me to him and why I consider myself a “christian” even if in the traditional sense I am more of a heretic…

  • Valerie

    My own epiphany didn’t happen until I was out of the church. In fact I felt the church I grew up in was wonderful! But the last 15 years I have watched as the people I went to church with for so many years have changed to the kind of fundamental scariness that so many have reported witnessing. I don’t remember my church being that way and I have not been in its doors for quite some time and now I don’t think I can. I still hold to my faith and I share it with my children but I don’t want them exposed to the hate and fear mongering that the modern Christian church has started spouting. I remember growing up and being saddened when I heard of a church that had taken things too far but now it is so mainstream and frightening! We need to take back our faith and our churches from the zealots who make everything sound so black and white.

  • Amy Mitchell via Facebook

    No time to post a longer comment, but this made my day. It really resonated.

  • Mark

    To whom it may concern

    Love can be an addiction, just like any drug. I had an ex-girlfriend who cheated on me and dumped me via e-mail. And guess what. I still think about her everyday and dream about getting back together. I hope if I were to ever meet her again, I do to the rational thing and walk away.

    So please realize you are dealing with an addiction and pathology. It might be best to seek professional help.

    Don’t get back into an unhealthy relationship.

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=524217229 CDR Charles Franklin, US Navy (retired)

    I don’t know if the author of the letter will read this, but I hope so. I went to a fundamentalist Baptist church as a teenager, then to a Christian college. After graduation I decided to become a missionary. While traveling around the country speaking at different (fundamentalist) churches, I discovered how callous, cruel, indifferent, bigoted, and many other things about these kind of Christians. In spite of the fact I had wonderful experiences growing up and in college, I could not stay in a system that was as warped as I discovered it to be. I left the church and everything associated with it at age 26. I joined the Navy and had a great career with them as a public affairs officer until retirement, followed by several years working as a civilian public relations professional. I am now fully retired and disabled. I moved back to the home I grew up in and now have many many friends here. However, at times I too have missed the SOCIAL aspects of being in a church. It is an easy place to meet people of kindred souls (sometimes) and develop close relationships with others. There are only a few secular organizations which provide the same opportunities. I also miss the music. I have gone to a few LGBT-accepting churches, but found that my lack of faith made it sort of an empty experience, in spite of great music and social life. So, where am I now? I am fully comfortable knowing that NONE of the religions in the world have it right. It is simply impossible. That so many co-exist points to their fallability. I am a humble admirer of the cosmos however. If anything gives me solace, it is that for a very very brief slice of time, I have been a conscious part of the enormous universe which consists of so many wondrous and unexplainable (so far) entities and characteristics. Here at my country home, I can go out at night and look at the stars and feely truly blessed that I can understand to some degree where I fit in. I know where my home planet is located, I know my sun and the solar system we are in, I know which galaxy my solar system is in, and I know a little about where our galaxy is relative to others. I also know how old the universe is. I know some about the history of humans on earth–most of it not very pretty. We seem to be one of the worst species on the planet. We fight with and kill each other off in amazing numbers. In some respects, it is a miracle we sitll exist. But in spite of the fact I am one of these humans, I know where I “fit” in the universe and I know also that I DON’T know if there is a spiritual entity called God behind it all. If there is, then this God is nothing like the mean-spirited, jealous, wrathful God preached by so many Christians, Muslims, and others. In spite of the fact Jesus said God is love, this point has eluded most Christians. I am content simply to try to love others as best I can, to fight against the human impulses I have of anger, getting even, jealousy, and so forth. After so many years of trying to figure out which religion is the right one, and then which congregation within that religion is the right one, and which person to believe, which not to believe, I have peace knowing that most likely, in all probability, none of them are right. Religion does not hold the answer for me and never will again. This makes me content to explore other aspects and msyteries of the universe.

    • Jill

      Is it true then that organizations, assuming ones with hierarchies, destroy the bigger message of unity with the grasping for power or control? I see so many people saying nearly the exact same thing (as I do)– about holding a solitary faith and an unrealized desire for community.

      I’ve come to see in myself that a toxic community is no longer worth the damage, but a community of one is no longer fulfilling enough. Wow I’m not strong enough just yet to try again, only to fall flat. I’m on guard, and that’s no way to earn and reciprocate trust. I still expect the worst, and that’s my biggest downfall right now for starting over. IDK thinking out loud.

  • yaknow

    ooooooohhh

  • Dennis Gilbert

    John, I really appreciate your giving folks like this a place to pour out their thoughts, their fears, and their questions on faith. I also left the Catholic faith as a teenager, having reached a point where I could not reconcile the Jesus I knew in my heart with the way women in particular are treated by the church. 20 yrs. later, I started attending a United Church of Christ congregation, my wife’s home church. I found a home with a group of people who lived out their faith in the way I always thought was the way “Christians” should, with compassion, with an extravagant welcome to all who come to the table of reconciliation, of hope, and of peace.

    For the last 2 1/2 years I have been the pastor of a small UCC country church in Illinois, so I also know that God has a delightful sense of humor. I can’t promise this writer that every UCC will offer what she is looking for, but it would be a great place to start. We have been called on occasion the “church of bleeding-heart liberals”, and I’m cool with that. All of our churches have their own polity, and I would urge her to try visiting one of our churches to experience the joy and the hope I found. We say in the UCC “Never place a period where God has placed a COMMA! God is STILL speaking”. I think God is not finished…that he has plenty to tell us, and to guide us. I pray she is able to find what she is looking for.

    Thank you once again for this forum.

    PS- Love the T-Shirt! Thanks!

  • Jill

    Argghhh…wrestle wrestle wrestle. Holding out hope that this does get easier, even if the faith part is still uncertain. It’s finding the trust within that we’re all in the same boat together, but that most of us are not trying to shove anyone overboard.

  • Dana

    Hi John,

    I love your response to this woman! In a couple of your articles I’ve disagreed with you on several points. But, I think you answered this letter brilliantly. I too was raised in a fundamentalist church that taught some ridiculous concepts. In my child-mind I accepted these, but as I grew older, and, thankfully, my parents changed churches, I learned about the grace of God, His mercy and His overwhelming love for mankind. I just think that your response to tell her to give it another try is an excellent response. The right church can make all the difference! I hope she finds everything she needs from God. And also to give back. I’ve found that my faith is so much fuller since I’ve started finding places to help others.