A Hole In Your Heart?

I was taught that every human has a hole in his or her heart that only Jesus can fill. My parents told me that everyone who wasn’t a Christian – a true Christian, that is – leads a miserable, unfulfilled life. The only thing that could make a person happy, I learned, was Jesus. I looked forward to ministering to those who didn’t understand the gospel message. How hard could it be to convert people, I wondered, when they led miserable, unfulfilled lives and I could offer them happiness and fulfillment?
And then I went to a state college and started socializing with people who were not “true” Christians for the first time in my life.

I soon found that whether wishy-washy evangelical, episcopalian, Wiccan, or agnostic, these people appeared to be happy. They had friends, loving families, plans for their lives, goals and hopes and dreams. Where was the despair I had thought I would find? Where was the hopelessness and hedonism? One young man I had befriended – one of the most caring, loving, and happy people I had ever met – suddenly announced, much to my consternation, that he was gay. What was I to make of this?
I soon found I had two different options. I could conclude that those who weren’t “true” Christians were inwardly miserable but hid it really well and lied about what they felt, or I could conclude that those who weren’t “true” Christians could actually be just as happy as fulfilled as “true” Christians could be. But somehow I could not think of my new friends as liars. They all seemed perfectly sincere.
Over the years I have found that there is no distinction between Christians and non-Christians in measures of financial success or personal fulfillment. There is no difference in terms of health or happiness. I realized that if everyone who was not a “true” Christian was inwardly miserable, we should see a huge difference between Christian and non-Christian nations in terms of happiness levels and crime rates, but we don’t.
And so I concluded that humans don’t actually have a hole in their hearts that only Jesus can fill. At this point I became a universalist. After all, how could I believe that so many good, genuine, and sincere people were going to be tortured eternally in hell just because they didn’t have the correct beliefs about the supernatural world? And so I came to believe that everyone would be saved, except perhaps murderers and rapists.
Some years after this I left religion altogether. And you know what? I don’t feel any less fulfilled. In fact, I actually feel more happy and content now that I don’t have to maintain any sort of double think, now that the questions that plagued me for so long are resolved. I didn’t lose my sense of joy, happiness, or wonder at the world when I left Christianity. I don’t feel like there is anything empty inside of me, or a hole in my heart. In fact, I don’t sense a longing for God of any sort.
To me, religion now appears as a way that people try to answer big questions in life, questions like: Where did we come from? Why are we here? What happens after we die? Religion both answers these questions and provides people with a way to feel that they have control over things they can’t control. Prayer, for example, allows someone in a hopeless situation to feel that he or she is actually doing something. I can understand why religion is attractive. I also think that this is why there are so many different religions: religion developed differently in different societies as each sought to find answers to life’s big questions and obtain some feeling of control over the uncontrollable. Christianity is just one of many. So while I don’t believe that people have a “Jesus shaped whole” that only Christians can fill, I do believe that people have a predisposition toward wanting to find answers to big questions that simply don’t have answers and toward wanting to control the uncontrollable. I would argue that it is because of these predispositions that the vast, vast majority of the people in this world are religious.
It’s just that personally I’m okay with answering those big questions with “I don’t know.” I’m okay with not knowing where we came from (besides what answers science can give us), I’m okay with admitting that there is no “reason” we are here, and I’m okay with simply not existing after I die. From Christianity to Hinduism, from Islam to Judaism, humans have developed so many different answers to these questions over the years. I just don’t feel the need to make up answers. I also don’t feel the need to imagine I have control over things I simply don’t have control over. These things don’t scare me. And they don’t rob me of love, and joy, and purpose either.

Please don’t ever tell an atheist, or a Christian who disagrees with you, or Muslim, or a Hindu, or anyone, that he or she is inwardly miserable. I grew up thinking that everyone who wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian lived an empty, meaningless life, but when I ventured into the world, and when I left fundamentalist Christianity myself, I found that this was simply not true. People are just people. They answer life’s big questions in a variety of ways, often through one of any number of religions, and they live their lives out the best they can, seeking to create meaning and purpose for themselves. And so I have to ask, can’t we get past pointing fingers or claiming to be able to read others’ thoughts and instead focus on joining arms to make a better word for ourselves and children?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    "[...] I became a universalist." ~ L. AnneMe, too. I think Universalism is a natural step in the journey away from traditional Chrisitianity, especially where the doctrine of "hell" is concerned. It was the aforementioned concept that first raised an eyebrow with me, albeit, admittedly, I put it out of my mind at first. "Please don’t ever tell an atheist, or a Christian who disagrees with you, or Muslim, or a Hindu, or anyone, that he or she is inwardly miserable." ~ L. AnneYes, that, or tell a former Christian that they were never a "True Believer" to begin with, which, when you think about it, is nonsensical, since, that implies that there are then "false believers", and surely everyone would agree that no one is going to believe something that they know to be false. We believed; we changed our minds. "I grew up thinking that everyone who wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian lived an empty, meaningless life[...]"And now on the outside of the Christian bubble looking in, when it comes to "meaning" and "purpose" in life, it is clear to me that the latter can never be your own if your entire existence revolves around fulfilling the "Will" of someone else, in Christianity's case, "God". It's always "His Purpose".

  • Anonymous

    Like Libby Anne, I was devastated by hurtful comments that I was not a "real" Christian because I was not happy. While my husband was dying, I was worried and upset. A fundamentalist/patriarchial woman told me that if only I had faith, I would know true contentment and have "peace that passes all understanding." I was very devastated by the implication that I was not really a Christian because I was not happy. My husband and I were Catholic Christians and we did believe.Two days after his funeral, a woman came to look at a large rug we had advertised for sale. When I mistake of saying my husband had just died, she gave me a religious spiel. (I did not reveal that I was a believer.) The next day a Protestant friend asked, "Did she talk about the hole in your heart that only Jesus could fulfill?" I asked in astonishment how she knew and she replied that she went to "witnessing" classes and this is a standard line. These two fundamentalist women are distorting what St. Paul means by true contentment. Libby Anne rightly points out that Christians are not necessarily happier than people with different religious beliefs. I certainly was not happy while my husband was dying of pancreatic cancer. Nor did being a Christian alleviate the grief I felt after he died. I am still a Christian and while I felt awful after my husband died, I was comforted by knowing that he was in heaven because he believed in Jesus.

  • Final Anonymous

    "Yes, that, or tell a former Christian that they were never a "True Believer" to begin with…"Yep. At the same time, I would caution against a former Christian using the phrase "I used to be exactly like you" with a current Christian. It may be true, the beliefs may have been identical at some point, but it's at least equally likely they were different.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Final Anonymous – You are right that Christian belief is incredibly diverse. I would point out though that before leaving religion I did explore a great deal of this diversity, so that my experience is way wider than just fundamentalism or just evangelicalism or just Catholicism or just liberal Christianity. I read and explored every argument and belief I could get my hands on, and that was the point I was trying to make in the "I used to be you" post. I'm sorry if you read it "I used to be EXACTLY you," because I didn't mean that. I think what bugs Boomslang and I is simply the attitude of "you never really got it, if you could just hear what I believe / this one perfect argument you would see that you are wrong and be converted to True Christianity." Believe it or not, atheists who were once Christians get that a lot from Christians. The fact is that I didn't take leaving Christianity lightly, not in the slightest. How could I, after being raised like I was? I spent the first two decades of my life being defined by Christianity, the Bible, and my relationship with Jesus. You don't just walk away from that on a whim.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05755869501331386672 La Rêveuse

    If you'd like to hear a song that pretty much states all this, check out "Let the Mystery Be" by Iris Dement.

  • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com/ nonprophetmessage

    I was actually taught that the hole in your heart was physical and scientifically proven. Like, "Scientists don't know why there's a hole in the human heart, but we do!"But then again, I was also there were "sex glands" in human lips and that swimming with the opposite sex was an exchange of body fluids mediated by water (virtual sex) and effectively made you no longer a virgin.

  • http://foreverinhell.com Personal Failure

    Thank you so much for not having the arrogance to assume that you know other people better than they themselves do. It is beyond frustrating to be told that I was never a true Christian (I was), and that now that I am an atheist, I am miserable and fearful. I am not. I'm actually very happy.I think your story is why so many Christians don't want their children to go to state colleges. They know deep down that their beliefs are shallow, fragile things, and merely brushing up against a happy atheist or an open homosexual who loves Jesus will destroy their faith. Which is really sad when you think about it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12117442983915295489 Jesse

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12117442983915295489 Jesse
  • Final Anonymous

    Libby, I actually wasn't even thinking of your other post, although I realize that was silly, it was just a few days ago. I thought you very clearly explained who you meant, and I didn't think it related to me at all; in fact, as I said, I think our beliefs are probably similar.Maybe I was still mulling it over in my mind after your post though. I thought my remark here was probably sparked by other conversations with atheists, in which atheists seem to feel they are a step above those who believe in any religion, especially if they themselves were formerly religious. As in, "I used to believe in Santa Claus too, but then I grew up."Yet in speaking with them, our religious beliefs and experiences were rarely even similar, even if they fall under the umbrella of Christianity.I guess I feel it's different from the "True Believer" example because I am not trying to say my religious version is right and someone's atheist version is wrong.I'm googly-eyed with fatigue but I hope that helped clarify a little. ; )

  • Anothermous

    From where I sit, "I used to be you" is shorthand for, Regarding the apologetics arguments you are likely about to employ, I: * am aware of them; * have used them; * have thought them through;* have seen them used over and over and over;* have not seen any new ones for quite some time;* have concluded, on the basis of evidence and arguments to which I was not exposed as a believer, that they are wrong.It is therefore likely that you are not going to impart to me new information."This is kind of different than "You have a Jesus-shaped hole in your heart."(By the way, has anybody else ever had the inclination to make that a dirty joke?)

  • Anonymous

    I love this blog, even though I'm an evangelical. My fundamentalists Baptists told me the same thing…do people ever think before they say stuff? Especially when they make their followers miserable?-Jerusha Wheeler

  • Ro

    Thank you so much for posting this. My sister recently told me that I have a hole in my heart that only Jesus could fill. It was so weird, before she mentioned it – I was extremely happy and content with my life. Now I’m obsessing over this some what hole that I am believed to have. Thank you for giving a diverse opinion. You really made me feel better -