“Real” Faith

I’ve been told more than once now, that my current lack of belief/ faith indicates that I never really believed in the first place. This baffles me.

What about my life before agnosticism illustrates non-belief?

Is it the skirts I wore? Or the way I obeyed my parents and sought to please them? Do the worn out binding and highlighted pages of my Old King James Bible I received when I was eight years old reveal my lack of faith? Is it all the bible verses and hymns that I have memorized and stored in my head to this day? Is it how I filled my journals with prayers for redemption and anointing of the holy spirit, how I wrote about my sins and begged for forgiveness? Or maybe the prayer journal I kept especially for my future husband, before I ever met him. That is a sure clear indicator of godlessness.

Is it how I kept myself a virgin until marriage? Never even holding hands or kissing until I was with my future husband? Maybe my lack of true Christianity is revealed in my efforts to be a submissive wife to my husband, how I read book after evangelical book to try and discover what it was he wanted me to do (until the day I gave up on that and just asked him instead) surely those things show the true evil in my heart.

Oh wait, I bet it’s how I parented my kids, how I held my first baby and swore I would never spank her, and then I read all the Christian parenting books that I could get my hands on, including the ones I grew up with, and found that if I truly loved God, and I really wanted my kids to be Christians, I would HAVE to spank them, there was no other way. So I did, because I wanted them to know the God I was sure that I knew. That must be where people are seeing how I wasn’t truly a believer.

I forgot, what about all the times I told other people how to live? Like, how they shouldn’t have sex before marriage, or how they shouldn’t use birth control. That’s sure a tell-tale sign of lack of faith, you know, when you try to spread it around and convert other people.

How could I have done all those things, read the Bible every day for years on end, prayed to know God’s will before I did anything… if I was only pretending that entire time? Could I really have spent that much effort, refused to get the help I needed and cried that many tears… if it was only a game to me? Even my early blog posts show my understanding of God at that time, how much I wanted to know who He was and how to relate to Him. How can anyone who knew me then, claim that I was just pretending to be a Christian?

How does one even answer a statement like this?

This line of thinking only ever works after the fact, something people of faith throw at those whose faith has changed. If I was never really a Christian, then what exactly makes one a Christian? And if you are someone who believes that a person who loses their faith never really believed in the first place, than how can you be sure that you have understood and believed Christianity correctly?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02614822971755761394 Rebecca

    Yes, that comment is a bit reductionistic. Could it be that you did believe but your faith was more works-based than grace-based? Still, you believed to the best of your ability. You believed what you had been taught. Unfortunately, you had been taught some pretty destructive things.

    I too was disturbed how prevalent spanking is in parenting books. I have never felt this is something I should do with my daughter. Your blog has been one helpful avenue for me in this and I have found other good resources through you. Thank you! I'm a Christian but it bugs me how many Christians spank their kids or consider it a given. I struggled with certain passages of Scripture. A blog called, "To parent as one who has received mercy" was also very helpful. It was a Christian couple who felt very disturbed about the idea of spanking their kids and so did a big study of Scripture on spanking…What they found convinced them it was FAR from the only way to parent. They found assurance in their decision and have lots of great insights. I'm very uncomfortable with spanking. I frequently tell me daughter, "We don't hit in our house. I don't hit you and you don't hit me." Dr. Sears was also helpful to me in articulating this as a Christian viewpoint.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Thanks Rebecca, I'm glad to have found out since then that there are christians out there who do not believe that spanking is necessary for raising their kids in faith. Many of them have been very encouraging to me as well.

    And oh yeah. I forgot that angle, the whole works-based vs. grace-based argument. So basically, I was never elect. Never chosen by God and given the grace needed to “truly” believe. What type of God refuses to give grace to a completely honest and sincere seeker? All of that time and effort spent in trying to know and serve God was pointless because he had never chosen me to receive his grace? I have trouble with a God who from that vantage point failed to extend grace to a person who earnestly desired it for many years.

  • http://workingtobeworthy.blogspot.com CatholicMommy

    I think people are scared. We want to know that we are going to Heaven, know that we are saved. So when someone who apparently was doing everything "right" turns from faith, people get scared. They have to convince themselves that it wasn't real to you so they can be reassured that you are different from them. You're faith must have been fake, but theirs is genuine and so they are assured of salvation.

    In truth, it's not that simple. "Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead" raises an interesting contrast to Paul's assertion that he is "working out his salvation in fear and trembling." Jesus himself tells us that there are those who called him Lord, Lord, who will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. God is too huge for us to know his ways or put his plan of salvation in a neat little box!

    I'm sorry that people have been so cruel. Knowing they do so out of fear does not excuse them, but maybe it can help lessen your pain. I hope so. Peace.

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

    "Could it be that you did believe but your faith was more works-based than grace-based?"

    Aaaannndd, this is EXACTLY the sort of thing Melissa is talking about. All that "you weren't doing it right, you thought you were saved but you weren't" jazz. Can Christians just loosen up and admit that yes, people who were "true Christians" in everything that can possibly entail DO sometimes become atheists or agnostics? In my case, we took works v. faith very seriously, and we definitely believed that it was all about faith and not works, and I'm pretty sure Melissa and her family believed the same. The things that may look like "works" to you, whether its skirts only or not kissing till marriage, was not about earning our way to heaven in any way shape or form; those things were not our "works" but rather the "fruits" of our salvation. If we walked by faith and trusted Christ, we would live like Christians through the Bible and the Holy Spirit. So enough of that "you were confused, you thought it was about works, so you weren't doing it right" stuff!

  • Anonymous

    Better to be a Good Person than A Good Christian,Jew,Muslim ect.ect.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Catholic Mommy- Thanks for you thoughtful comment. I also feel that it can't be as simple as I once thought, and your reflection of fear is one of those thoughts that deepens my understanding, thank you.

    Libby Anne- Thanks for making that point! My family also took works vs. faith seriously. Everything that I did in my christian faith walk was out of a place of deep faith and conviction and effort to try to do what I firmly believed God wanted from me. NOT an effort to rack up brownie points to gain salvation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17825458003284098965 Scott Morizot

    I hope you read my post on spanking kids. Mostly it just captured comments I left on EE's blog.

    Hmmm. Does the fact that I no longer believe Brahman best describes the ultimate reality mean I was never *really* Hindu in my outlook?

    Does the fact that I no longer practice tarot mean I was never serious about it? (My Mom was reading tarot when I was in elementary. I recall sitting by her as she did readings. And rubbing her feet while reading "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" to her. Is it odd for kids to read to their parents?)

    The list goes on, of course. The things I believe now about reality say nothing about the validity of my past beliefs.

    Things change.

    Of course, I was really thinking, "Things fall apart. The center cannot hold."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15802215026321893191 B.

    I love your blog! Really. I think you have become much freer and happier in the last few years. I would not say to know you, that would be presumptuous of me. I am here on the Rhine and you are in Canada, two worlds that do not have much in common and we have never met in person. But, I think you unfold your talents and discover new ones. This is fantastic. You did stop spanking. To me that is no big deal. Here it is common sense that parents who spank their children are undisciplined or hillbilly, or both. The one who spanks has no arguments, is unable to explain his or her child, why somethings are right and others wrong. Has his own emotions not under control or is even socially disturbed, because everyone knows that there is a natural inhibitions to hurt children. Everyone knows about the puppy-effect. No mammal intentionally hurt his children.It would be biological non-sense to do so. Someone who loses this natural mechanism is in needed of psychological care and social training. In my country it is against the law to slap a child. The educational experts, who recommend spanking as a "Christian education" method to you would be in jail for child abuse here. And I really think they belong there.
    That said, I appreciate your courage to stand up against a widespread nuisance. Your doubts are not to worry. You use your God-given intellect. Anyone who does that will eventually arrive at the truth. And Christ is the truth. Christianity has come out in 1500 without slogans such as "Once saved, always saved." Calvin is not the brightest light of Christianity and he was definitely wrong. So why worry about the theses of a theologian whose reform failed?
    Doubts are often the way in which God reveals himself. Faith is a dialogue with a person, or better three infinite persons. In dialogues, there are misunderstandings, pregnant pauses, strange moments. At least on our side. Nothing really threatening. I think you're more joyfull than in 2009, and joy is one of the safest sign that the God of love is in your life. Let the God your parents created quietly gathering dust in the attic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    I have never understood the line of thinking that faith is something to be controlled and manipulated. It seems you come from a background that prizes these two things (control and manipulation). I have often been amazed at your experiences. I know of such the same fundamentalist tendencies even in Catholocism. Your posts helped me process and understand that fundamentalism masked in Catholocism can be a scary situation.

    I am with you, Melissa…a sincere and honest seeker eventually discovers truth. Maybe If/when you discover truth in a belief system that differs from that which you grew up in (even or especially if it is Christian) it might make other people cringe mostly out of fear that perhaps their manipulative faith is shallow or empty. However that is not your concern in the end…that is something they must work out. Peace to you as you continue this journey.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    I have to agree that Libby nailed it too. But I have more to add.

    I have people telling ME I am not a true believer because my sincere, intelligent, devoted search of scripture leads me to a gospel of inclusion. So even though I DO believe, I've been told I'm going to hell because my sincere faith has led me to conclude that pretty much since Constantine the church has been heading in the wrong direction.

    St. Augustine was an adulterous patriarchal a** when he posited the doctrine of "original sin"- and in spite of all the warning about the fruit of false prophets, he is an exalted "church father". Why? Because fear of hell gets people opening their wallets and willing to go to literal war at the say-so of religious leaders.

    The recorded words and actions of Jesus Christ support neither. Jesus clearly taught that moral financial responsibility to the weak (elderly parents) trumped perceived financial obligations to the religious hierarchy, and his clear non-violent approach to all, including enemies, could never support a holy war.

    So the established social powers co-opted Christianity and reinterpreted it for the ignorant masses.

    The real mystery to me is, how hundreds of years after the Reformation, the "church" is still doing business as set up by Constantine.

    But whatever. It is what it is.

    *I* believe you were as sincere as a Christian can ever possibly be, and that you are equally sincere in your doubt, and kudos to you for honesty.

    Anon 10:21 is probably right. In the parable of the sheep and goats, one of the passages that stalwarts use to support the heresy of an eternal hell, the criteria for God honoring a person wasn't doctrine or faith. It was how they treated the "least of these my brethren".

    Doing one's best to live a life of love is probably the most God-honoring thing a person can possibly do. And anyone of any faith or no faith can put that into practice.

    Peace and good will, SS

  • Servetus

    I love your blog.

    Delurking to say that it is always astounding to me that everyday sinful humans have the arrogance to claim that they have knowledge about information that is only in the mind of G-d.

    I went through a similar faith journey to yours, though not exact in the all the details. What you outline today is precisely the issue that drove me from Christianity. In all the years of piety I never felt the Holy Spirit working in me. In the end, I decided in response to people who told me I was doing it wrong, that only I and G-d know the answer to this question (whether I had faith). In the end I throw myself back on the refuge of the conviction that if Christians are right and G-d foreknows all things, G-d will use me and my experiences — including that of unbelief — for G-d's glory. That conclusion should be sufficient for Xians, as in fact we are all sinful and our lives are in G-d's hands. If there is no Xian G-d or no G-d at all and no afterlife defined by G-d, then the question of whether we had faith itself doesn't matter, and the main thing that we should be doing is seeking a way to live with ourselves as you are on earth, since that is all there is. Wearing ourselves into fragments over whether we had faith, whether it was sufficient, and whether our efforts to discern the answer to this question were fruitful is counterproductive to that end.

    I wish you well. When I read your writings I feel like you are a sister. Try to trust that if there is a G-d, that G-d is big enough to love you even when you "don't know" — for that G-d created you the way you are. If the Xian G-d exists, that G-d is much bigger than all of our theologies can say.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02979828437531268794 Rebecca in ID

    I agree with CatholicMommy–they say that to you in self-defense, to protect their idea that they are saved/elect. I was raised Protestant (and yes, I did believe), later became agnostic, and finally became Catholic. That scenario is actually impossible in the minds of the "once-saved-always-saved" Protestants. They have two articles of faith: first, you must believe that Jesus is your savior in order to be saved. Second, once you have been saved (by believing, saying the Jesus prayer, or however they define that 'moment'), you can't lose that salvation, you can't fall from grace. The major practical problem is, as you mention, since clearly many people seem to go from believing to not-believing, how can you know that you truly truly believe, utterly sincerely? This theology poses as giving true assurance, but in practice it gives no more assurance than the assurance those of us who have, who are fully aware that we are capable of finally rejecting God and heaven. So anyway. Don't let those claims about your belief bother you; they are patently untrue and people are just trying to protect their bad theology with those statements. Carry on, keep knocking, keep asking, and my prayers are with you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10254315970336710941 CM

    Why is it that we don't want to give credibility to people who, through a lot of thought, studying, prayer, etc, have changed their minds about what they do or don't believe? I have read other blogs by folks who used to be Christian and who are now atheist or agnostic, and they get the same thing from Christians. They never "really believed" and that's the only reason they could have left. I've also read blogs of former atheists who are now Christian. Not surprisingly, they get similar comments from atheists, that they must not have ever been "true atheists".

    My only guess is that CatholicMommy is right, and it's the fear factor. For what it's worth, having followed your blog through some of your different thoughts on all this, I have only seen sincerity and honesty throughout all of your very thoughtful posts.

  • Anonymous

    I am a huge fan of, well…YOU! I love the way uou think and then so brilliantly articulate/write your thoughts.

    It has taken me many years to come to a place where what "they" say no longer affects me. I believe the things they say come from a place of fear and ignorance. I choose to love the "sayer" and ignore the things said. – Nancy

  • http://mollymakesdo.wordpress.com/ mollymakesdo

    Just throwing out a humble opinion, but I think it's good when our beliefs and theologies are tested. I think it's away of signaling God that we're ready for something deeper in our relationship with him. It's like how many relationships whether husband/wife, friends or family often go thru their roughest patches and end up the better for it.

    I'd hazard a guess that most of us who call ourselves Christians don't sit around feeling extra warm because of our belief; most of us don't have a little voice talking clearly to us or even clearly guiding us. Perhaps your upbringing taught you expect a great moment where you could tell that God was clearly with you or guiding you, but I really don't think this is how things work (IMHO)

  • Emily W

    How do you answer that? Well, in your mind, you can pat them on the head and think, "It's so interesting that you think that. What a strange, nonsensical idea…and you actually think that. Fascinating." You know, kind of turn it into an anthropological study. That's what I do, anyway :) I mean, it doesn't bother me at all that the Kombai of Papua think that sex doesn't make babies, it only opens up a woman to the possibility of being impregnated by jungle spirits in the night. It has no affect on how I think about sex. But it is interesting, right? At least I think so. Likewise what crazy Christians (who think they can understand the inner workings of your mind and soul and evaluate the authenticity of your belief) have to say about you has no bearing on reality. It's false. They don't know. They can't know. You're far more intricate and complicated than any blog post (or even a billion blog posts) can illustrate. So you can look at what the say as interesting and bizarre idea. And let them keep their troubled thoughts.

    Treat crazy Christian ideas just like you would treat other crazy ideas…like they're crazy. If someone came to me and said, "Em, little green are after me. I know it. They're following me." I think it would be cruel of me to argue with that. It could make their delusion worse. All I can really say is "I'm sorry" and offer them at least the mercy of letting them know I don't see these men they're speaking of.

    One of the most freeing experiences I've had in the past couple years is realizing that my thoughts are my own and other people's thoughts are theirs. I used to think that everyone had to think the same way, especially people close to me. It caused me great emotional pain when my husband had different thoughts than I did about religion, politics, philosophy, etc. I felt like I had to change my thoughts to be in agreement or had to force him to change. The truth of something is NOT dependent on what my husband or anyone else THINKS. All I can do is follow the truth and be in really good touch with my inner bullshit detector.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07103675451677755354 hreyenga

    A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell. C.S. Lewis

  • http://pathofthebeagle.com/ lspencer777

    Even if they're right, and you were never a Christian, they're still wrong. During all those years you were faking it, you fooled everyone including them, right? What does that say about the power of the Holy Spirit to give wisdom and discernment?

    Either your friends are wrong about eternal security or they're wrong about having a clue. Next time they try the "you never believed" line, tell them they can have their pick.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17871256362646081536 Amber

    Melissa, I've had people say the same things to me once I decided to leave religion.

    To further your line of thinking–how are you un-christian now? Yes you might consider yourself agnostic, however you live your life to help others, to care for your children, and to spread love instead of hate–how is THAT un-christian?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Scott- I always love your comments over at Elizabeth Esther’s blog! And yeah this idea of change was so foreign to me, but it is true. My understanding of many things has grown and changed.

    B- Thank you! I am definitely more joyful now than I was in 2009. Actually, this is the first time in many years I am not depressed. Apparently some people would rather I was still in that dark place as long as I believed in their God.

    Michelle- Thank you. Your faith in God and devotion to your family is always an inspiration to me.

    Shadowspring- Ah yes, I would have been one of those people a few years back, because anyone who didn’t have the same understanding of God could not have the Holy Spirit leading them. And I remember getting much of this same sort of reaction when I was seriously interested in the Catholic Church. Thanks for reminding me that this mentality applies to anyone who does not have the same exact understanding/ theology, not just non-believers.

    Servetus- I like what you said about God using our experiences for his glory. I’m still learning how to let the questions of how exactly I’m “supposed” to think completely run my life, and it has been good to embrace the now, and practice mindfulness instead of fretting over the past or obsessing over the future.

    Rebecca in ID- That is an interesting thought, protecting an idea of faith or salvation suggests the idea that faith is absolute, or the same for everyone. What if faith is more fluid and changing than that? I’m starting to feel that it is more a journey than an arrival.

    CM- True, I’ve also seen this mindset towards atheists turned Christian. The whole approach is so black and white. It makes me wonder, why does someone experience make another doubt their own experience, and why is that doubt so scary?

    Nancy- Yes! I feel like without that litmus test of “like-mindedness” I am better able to love people where they are at and not let what they say effect me.

    Molly- Yeah, I did grow up with a Pentecostal slant, but I no longer feel that faith is equal to/ tied to a charismatic encounter. So I agree with you, I don’t think that most religious people have their faith grounded in those warm fuzzy feelings.

    Emily W- Wow. Yes! I had so much mental anguish over differing views between my husband and myself or my parents or siblings and myself. I’m still figuring out that we are all individuals who can have our own experiences and beliefs and that’s OK!

    Hreyenga- Not sure what that has to do with the post, but interesting quote.

    Ispencer777- Haha! So true.

    Amber- I wonder that too. Other than what I understand to be true intellectually, nothing has really changed. I still love my spouse and children, I still try to serve others in our church and else ware, I’m still a stay-at-home mom even! Nothing about my life has really changed other than my beliefs, but apparently that is everything.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05598890631695015818 Pippi

    God looks on the heart. Enough said. That ought to shut up those who put such stock in appearances, but it doesn't because they aren't about helping you get closer to God. They're about making sure you don't offend them personally.

  • http://www.reyenga.net/?option=com_wordpress&Itemid=18 Christina

    Based from the post it looks as if you carried your faith out due to fear and rules rather than love of God and understanding that while on earth we will be flawed. I don't really know why people are saying your faith was fake, you truly did believe the stuff and did the stuff cause you thought that was what Christianity was and thought that if you didn't you'd end up in hell. I am a Christian, but a huge part of my faith in Christ is knowing that if I make mistakes the whole reason Christ died and rose again was for forgiveness and second chances rather than God striking me with lightening if I fall into temptation or make a mistake. :P (Ha! Puny human, you failed! ZAP!)

    I don't believe that spanking kids is biblical or that wearing skirts is biblical (although I love wearing skirts! Especially cute little sexy ones with high heeled boots! And I am a Christian and don't think there is anything wrong with THAT!), no use of birth control isn't a biblical thing either, sheesh, they didn't even have birth control (well, one type I guess, but certainly not a fool proof way :P ) back when the Bible was written anyway, and I wouldn't call myself a feminist, but I've never read ONE book on submissiveness (wait, I might have picked one up for a second, but then I put it back down after looking at the cover) and my husband and I still can't keep our hands off each other. ;)

    I think what you saw in the end is how you were living wasn't sustainable in the long run, you had faith in something that was too much for a human to accomplish without faltering. I know I wouldn't have kept "the faith" living like that at least. And I do know that you were very committed to it at one point because I still have a couple of the books you've given me a few years back on stuff you mentioned above. – Christina

  • Anonymous

    You go girl!!!

  • Caravelle

    I have never been a Christian the way these people are but "you were never a Christian !" makes some sense to me.

    If those people are defining "Christian" as having a relationship with God (which they usually are AFAICT), then someone who thinks God doesn't exist (or that the version of God they grew up with doesn't exist, or is different) must never have had a relationship with God in the first place. Indeed that's how an ex-Christian atheist would see it – their whole relationship with God hadn't been an actual relationship with an actual God, but a psychological effect generated by their brain.

    In that perspective listing one's actions as a Christian is only leaving oneself open to the accusation that one was into the "false" Christianity of salvation by works. (leaving aside the fact that they would probably doubt the salvation of anyone who didn't do those things…) (that's a neat gig by the way : the hatred of salvation by works and legalism is so ingrained in Evangelical Christianity that even the most rule-laden versions think they're all about "salvation by grace"… Which means that ANY Christian denomination can accuse any other of being "works-based" or "legalistic" if they feel like it. Because they all are. And most think it's bad. What?)

    The problem is that for that worldview, ex-Christians are impossible. If you have a relationship with God God certainly isn't going to let you go, and why would you give up on said relationship ?

    The only way one can explain ex-Christians is either that they purposefully turned their back on God (although apparently by certain theologies that's impossible too), or that they never had a relationship with God in the first place. In the case of atheists or agnostics who no longer believe in God the latter is an easy fit.

    Of course then the problem becomes, if it's possible for people to think they had a relationship with God but to not really have it, how do they know they have a relationship with God ?

    To be fair I think it's an issue everybody has. I know when I see someone who held a position I think is clearly right and switched to a position I think is clearly wrong, I feel a need to understand what it is that changed their minds so I can know how likely it is the same thing could happen to me. And I'm quite prone to picking out the ways in which they didn't hold the Right position in all the Right ways.

    But then, using this to call them "never really an atheist" or "never really a liberal" is denying the huge variety of atheists and liberals out there, not all of them right on every issue by any means.

    Of course that's an easy tack to take when we're talking about opinions, not a personal relationship with the ultimate ruler of the universe.

  • Caravelle

    B: "Has his own emotions not under control or is even socially disturbed, because everyone knows that there is a natural inhibitions to hurt children. Everyone knows about the puppy-effect. No mammal intentionally hurt his children.It would be biological non-sense to do so. Someone who loses this natural mechanism is in needed of psychological care and social training."

    Please don't back your arguments with scientific falsehoods. Biology isn't destiny; what is evolutionarily advantageous and what is moral aren't the same thing. Not that they aren't related – I certainly think understanding how our minds and social structures evolved can lead to a better understanding of morality – but a simplistic "this is biologically advantageous, therefore that is moral" is wrong on two levels. First level, it simply isn't true. But more importantly on the second level, if your claim about what's biologically advantageous turns out to be false, what does that say about the moral argument ?

    Case in point, plenty of mammals intentionally hurt their children. You must not have heard many stories of baby mammals born in zoos where the zookeepers had to take care of them because their mothers didn't. As a matter of fact it CAN be "biologically advantageous" to abandon or eat your children. For example, when resources are limited and animals who eat their current offspring are more likely to survive to have more later, while those who don't are more likely to die with their offspring, or even just have weaker offspring that can't compete.
    (a google search for "animal infanticide" yielded a rather creepy page of infanticide in Norway rats that was pretty exhaustive, if you want actual examples)
    (side-question for those who read the page : could quiverfull mothers be described as "stressed"?)

    The moral of this story is, don't look to evolution for your morals. Just don't. Or rather, only do it if you really, really, really know what you're talking about.

  • Beth B.

    I'm coming at this from a somewhat different place than a lot of your readers, I think. I'm someone who does consider herself to have been an agnostic all my life.

    Don't get me wrong — I grew up going to a Christian church, although my family was always fairly secular in lifestyle. But I basically skipped straight from being too young to understand what church was really about to being bored by it. Stories of the Bible never really resonated with me, or touched my heart. I'd complain to my mother that the Greek gods I read about in the library were more interesting.

    I've grown into an adult who's very interested in religion and in the ways people understand and interact with the world, and I absolutely respect those who have different faiths and attitudes than I do. And I don't consider myself an atheist. (I consider myself an agnostic, because I do feel that there's an underlying love in the universe, but I also think odds are excellent that I'm wrong about that. I'm human and limited, after all.) But I do still feel that the church community isn't one that feels relevant to my own life and needs.

    I say this because I look at your list of ways you felt and believed about God as a child, and I look at myself, and I feel pretty certain when I say that yes, you did believe in God. You're the only one who can make that judgment, of course, not me and not anyone trying to pin some "never really a Christian" label on you. But for what it's worth, that's my two cents.

    (And I'd guess that anyone trying to declare that you were never really a Christian is on some level trying to make themselves feel more secure. If you were really a Christian and then you lost your belief, what's to say it couldn't happen to them? But if they just decide that you never really believed the way they know they believe, then it's all simple: clearly they'll never have to struggle with doubt in their future like you have been! Somehow, I don't think the world is that simple.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15039712389445193435 Kate

    Oh, what a terrible, dismissive, diminutive comment.
    All deep understanding of the world evolves with time and life. My father lost his christian faith in war, but he is the most moral person I have ever met. He sticks to his beliefs of how to act in this world, and truly, I believe that is our best expression of who we are and what we believe about our world.
    I agree with the first anonymous comment, better a good person.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10329947206142706470 Peter and Nancy

    To B. –

    Your last paragraph, which describes faith as a dialogue with three persons sometimes filled with "misunderstandings, pregnant pauses, and strange moments. At least on our side." is wonderful! That's one of the best jargon-free descriptions of my experience as a Christian.

    Incidentally, I think that Christian lingo is responsible for many problems in communicating what exactly our faith in Christ is. The themes of control and manipulation pointed out by several commenters rely on people wanting to say and do the "right" things (often out of fear). So much of my experience of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is mysterious . . . I have an instinctive suspicion of those people who quickly package it in certain books, behaviors or phrases.
    Nancy

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02614822971755761394 Rebecca

    Melissa…sorry it took so long to reply to your reply. I didn't mean you weren't believer before. I just meant that due to the sinfully controlling environment you were surrounded with, you hadn't yet come to see as much of the kindness of God as the judgment.

    But I understand it can be a hard pill to swallow and one wonders, "Why didn't God just get through to me if He is real?" Sometimes I wonder too why God doesn't just get through to people with His grace.

  • http://foreverinhell.com Personal Failure

    All atheists and agnostics who were previously believers get this and it is SO frustrating.

    I was raised Catholic. Many would say that Catholics are not Christians, but I did, very sincerely, believe that Jesus was God, that His sacrifice saved me, that without Him, I would go to Hell, and that by believing in Him, I would go to Heaven.

    I sincerely and truly believed this, and when I realized that I no longer believed it, I was terrified. I tried so hard to get my belief back to no avail.

    Yet every believer feels free to tell me that they know better than I what I believed. They know that I did not believe, that I wasn't terrified to lose that belief, that I am a liar. I'm the only one who doesn't know that.

    I think they just don't want to acknowledge that no matter how sincere and deep your faith, it can vanish. That scares them, so they pretend it isn't true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02979828437531268794 Rebecca in ID

    It isn't a problem for Catholics that people lose their faith, though, PF, because we don't hold to the "once saved always saved" business. It's that model that really can't handle it.

  • Awakingsleep

    I want to cosign on Caravelle's first comment.
    If you really were a Christian, and you walk away, the response is "why would you do that? He's the sum total of all that is good in the universe! And he 'draws near to those who draw near to him.'"
    If you really can walk away from all that… maybe it doesn't exist? And suddenly your change in belief feels either like you negate the existence of God entirely (because he didn't draw near, or you didn't find his goodness compelling, either of which are not options in a lot of people's belief systems), or – escape hatch!- you were doing it wrong.
    And thus they prove it was all your fault. *sigh*

  • awakingsleep

    Moreover, even if you were experiencing doubts, you were doing EXACTLY what a Good Christian ™ is supposed to do – when one encounters doubts or dark periods in one's faith, the standard advice is to keep praying and "seeking God" and obeying whatever commands had been taught. They teach a Christianized version of "fake it till you make it," but then get angry if you actually follow that advice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15654013636892916062 Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    That's like someone telling me that I was never a real vegan even though I spent 7 years of my life not eating any animal products at all. Ugh.

  • C

    Actually, converts to Christianity get this too. I switched from Catholicism to atheism and immediately was told that I had never been a "real atheist" that I was a "crypto-Christian." a pretender to rationality, etc. I think it comes from a refusal to see people as *people* rather than a collection of abstract ideological positions, and recognize that one person's sincere journey does not invalidate your own.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15802215026321893191 B.

    Caravelle: These are not my arguments, there is a social perception that the spanking of children has to be abnormal. Just as most people here think that keeping animals in a zoo is somehow bad. Maybe b/c it gives the animals no species-environment and thus inevitably leads to abnormal behavior, but who knows…For most people it is only okay as long as the zoo is a kind of ark for endangered animals. The same applies to factory farming, so there are laws prohibiting to keep chickens in cages or to fatten calves in boxes. The majority of people believe that it is unnatural. Just as they believe that the scheme of childlike characteristics prevents adults from abusing children. I think there is point to it. The reasons for which animals kill their young shoun't play a role in a functioning human society. Reasons such as lack space or food are just falling because the government guarantees a minimum income. At least here. If you don't have a job that's okay. You get a apartment and the money for food and clothing from the state. And parents get – no matter if they are rich or poor – child benefits like parents money, parental leave etc. The only reason would be the stress in relationship and can be reduced by therapy. That one can discipline a child – or anyone – by spanking is not believed. And many people think that it is disproved by facts. We have tried it, it did not work. Instead of happy citizen it created subjects.
    And more importend for a welfare state: Children who have been spanked have more social problem as adults than people growing up without violents. At least some statistics do indicat that. And people with sozial problems are not as productive as they could be. That means they are more expensive for a welfare state.
    So for most people morality is rooted in it's function for the common good.
    And of course the laws here also reflect of the dark side of the closeness to nature. A mother who kills her child shortly after birth because she is under stress, will not end up in prison. We had some very exceptional cases of women who have repressed their pregnancies and killed the children after birth. They were consider to be of unsound mind.
    It may be confusing, but parents who spank their child because they want to train it get less sympathy from the public, than a woman who kills her child under stress.
    So, even though I often do not agree with the decision of the majority on moral issues, I can not accuse the majority of beeing inconsistent. Otherwise there would be no debate about late term abortion and euthanasia, right?

  • Caravelle

    @B: All I was reacting to was you saying that "no mammal intentionally hurts his children", which is false. And you seem to know it was false, given you now talk about animals killing their young. I don't see how your long and confusing response on spanking has anything to do with my comment, which was purely correcting you on a point of fact (mammals do intentionally hurt their children under certain circumstances) and a logical fallacy (what "mammals" do has very little bearing on human morality anyway).

    This bit is especially strange though:
    "It may be confusing, but parents who spank their child because they want to train it get less sympathy from the public, than a woman who kills her child under stress."
    What public are you talking about? I've certainly never encountered a "public" that reacts as you describe, outside of very specific self-selected groups. I wish I had.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01407878783882226996 KTElltt

    I wanted to read through all of the comments before putting in my own 2 cents, but I have some work to catch up on… So, I just wanted to say that I love that you are seeking, asking and pursuing. I had tons of other things I wanted to say but sometimes, I think less is more. I just wanted to encourage you that seekers always do find — as to what you will find, I do not know. But what I most hope that you find is rest for your soul. Peace.


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