Tag Archives: Personal Power

Deals with personal power and the lack of it

Stop Telling Women to Get Married

Not every woman aspires to be a wife and mother, and these days, women are being increasingly bolder about saying so. A lot of women are waiting longer and longer to get married, and some women in committed relationships are eschewing marriage altogether. Financial reasons are often cited, with women wanting to focus on their education and careers before diving into debt for a house with their partner or being forced to drop out of the workforce to mother kids. Women are now fighting for their personal autonomy and sense of self by challenging the previous mandate to sacrifice their individual identities for the sake of husbands and children.

Women are now redefining what success in life looks like. These resurgences of female independence have occurred throughout the history of our country, sometimes dying out in favor of the 1950s housewife mentality before emerging again. Really, there isn’t anything wrong with being a housewife; my mother was a housewife, and probably some of your mothers, too, or mothers who are friends of yours. The problem is when women are consistently urged to follow one specific lifestyle or path to happiness and fulfillment, at the exclusion of all others.

Maybe the insistence on housewifery has abated somewhat, but the insistence still that a woman should find “the One” and settle down, children or not, into some sort of stable heteronormative relationship is one that simply won’t die. Never mind that this concept excludes the needs and desires of queer women, polyamorous women, asexual and aromantic women or other groups of women who may be marginalized for some other reason. Women may not want “the man of their dreams” to sweep them off their feet, they may want “the woman of their dreams”, multiple partners, or no partner whatsoever. None of these women should be made to feel as though their lifestyles are less legitimate than those of women who choose the hypermasculine “One.”

Let’s explore more deeply the concept of “the One.” From a young age we have been expected to believe that romantic love should last forever; we are taught that even though people change over time, their love can be expected to remain the same “’til death do us part.” We are expected to remain loyal to the same person “in sickness and in health”, but this is sometimes not the reality that men and women face. Men are more likely to leave their female partners in the case of a serious illness than the other way around. No one prepares women for the possibility that their “knight in shining armor” might just bail on them in the middle of a health crisis, or even that the illness of their loved one might be more than they themselves can bear.

Never mind the effects that other changes can have on the relationship, such as the introduction of children or pets, financial woes or the care of aging parents. Sometimes the love that is good right now, is not the love that will sustain you throughout the rest of your life, and maybe that should be okay. Maybe we should stop telling people to live together for “richer or for poorer” and allow them the freedom leave the partner that may be running their finances into the ground. Maybe we shouldn’t tell women- or men­­­- to stay “for better or for worse” without establishing boundaries on how much “worse” things can be allowed to get before they’re allowed to reconsider their own wellbeing. Maybe we shouldn’t consider the end of a relationship as a personal failure, but rather as a chance for a new beginning.

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the cradle.” At least that is what the nursery song says. I just watched- with fascinated disgust- a Ted Talk that was about an issue I was already familiar with: the struggle which young women who express a desire to be sterilized face when approaching their health care providers for help. Christen Reighter was the presenter of that Ted Talk. She was fortunately able to receive her surgery at age 22, but unfortunately some women are forced to wait until their 30s or beyond. This is obviously a gendered issue, because men who go in for vasectomies are not forced to undergo the same scrutiny and disapproval. They are not rudely told, “You will change your mind” or asked, “What happens if your future partner wants children?” as if they were incapable of making an informed decision for themselves. If you have a womb and healthy ovaries, you are treated as a pariah for expressing a desire to never use them.

I am writing this as a woman in a happy, committed- albeit long distance- relationship. It would be excellent if our relationship could weather the storms of life, if it could last until we are old and gray, but I must be prepared for the possibility that this isn’t the case. Giving up on what I have with him doesn’t mean that I’ve “missed out on true love”, whatever that means. As it stands now, marriage and kids are something that I am not even sure that I want to be a part of our future together, but that uncertainty doesn’t make what we have any less legitimate. We love each other and share our hopes, fears and dreams with one another. If this were to end, I won’t have regretted the time spent together, and I won’t be in a terrible hurry to “get back out there”. There is no “expiration date” on my ability to be happy.

That all being said, whenever you enter in to any kind of relationship, there must be some ability to compromise. Someone might have to move, someone might have to stay home with the kids if you can’t afford day care, someone might have to change jobs. The problem arises when the burden is unfairly placed on women to shoulder alone. Nowadays, even women (in heterosexual relationships) who work outside the home still find themselves doing 70%- or more- of the household chores, be that cleaning, child care, or making appointments. They carry an unfair percentage of what can be termed “mental load” or “invisible labor” (see You Should Have Asked by Emma). As a result of this, many women who get married find themselves less happy than before, and less happy in marriage than their male counterparts.

One reason that heterosexual marriage continues to be an unequal partnership for many women, is because of the influences of the patriarchy, which is tied in some ways to the Christian doctrine of complementarianism. This is a doctrine that teaches that because Biblical Eve was originally formed as a “helpmeet” for Adam, it is a woman’s duty to “complement” her male partner as his helper. Combine this with the teachings of Paul in the New Testament, urging women to “submit to your husband as unto the Lord” it is unsurprising that these beliefs and ideals bled into the culture of all nations that had Christianity as a founding religion. Even now in the “modern” era, ideas about female submission, and that women should be “chaste” as well as quiet and agreeable have had a lasting effect on our society. Women are told that we should work harder for less rewards and never complain while doing it.

Men might be harassed by their parents a little about when they’re going to get married or have kids, but if they are in a fulfilling career the pressure for them to find these things is a lot less. Getting married and/or having children are not considered to be the primary goal of their lives. Men get to be a lot more multifaceted, and if they’re ambitious with regards to their job or career, they are praised for it. There is no male equivalent of an “old cat lady”, and the term “spinster” has never applied to men. Slut-shaming of men is virtually nonexistent; instead he is “sowing his wild oats”, and even in Christian purity circles if a man has had sex before getting married he isn’t “corrupted.”

Of course, men have problems of their own (i.e. toxic masculinity) but that is not the focus of this article. I am instead focusing on dismantling the harmful idea that if a woman doesn’t settle down with a man with the intent to remain with him and him alone for the rest of her adult life, that she can never truly be happy or complete. I am here to challenge the idea that if you’re above the age of 30 and you still haven’t “found love” then you are out of luck. Of course, if you want a traditional marriage and a family, you should feel free to pursue that, but you also shouldn’t feel like damaged goods if that doesn’t happen for you right away- or at all. It is statistically impossible for every woman who wants a long-lasting romantic relationship to find it. Don’t let someone relegate you to the corner and throws words like “spinster” at you. You are valued as a woman, and you are under no obligation to allow society’s toxic ideals to stop you from enjoying your life.

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Still Getting Used to It

It has been a few months since I fully admitted to myself that my belief in God has all but totally vanished. It has been even longer since I began first questioning the core tenets of Evangelical Christianity. It has been longer still since I first expressed my chagrin at predestination theory. Despite all that time that has passed, I still find that some old habits are hard to break.

For one, I still find myself “darkening the door of a church”- specifically, my home church, which I had developed a great fondness for. I still harbor that fondness, honestly, otherwise I would see no reason to continue my visits. The visits are getting fewer and farther between, though, and even though I keep thinking that maybe the feeling of disharmony I feel when I hear the sermons will somehow magically dissipate, it never does. I still have a sharp sense of being out of place. The memory of me lifting my hands, singing, and swaying in worship with everyone else stands in sharp contrast to the way I stand now, either with my arms folded across my chest or hanging stiffly at my sides.

Each time the pastor talks about the benefits of tithing, or the amazing, wonderful life you can have in Jesus, I am reminded that you must always give up something in the present to secure this bountiful future. When cheers rise from the crowd as “testimonies” are given, my mind immediately goes to the idea of confirmation bias and the role it must play in these miracle stories. I cannot rejoice when they proclaim “He is risen! Jesus is alive!” because I do not picture the Son of God seated on a heavenly throne next to His Father. I see in my mind the vast, star-speckled blackness of space- an “empty heaven.”

I started my Tumblr account in January of 2016 and transferred most of my religious-themed posts over here in March of this year. My public transition from theism to atheism has been over three years long, even though as I said before, my questioning started long before then. I remember being 15 years old and being disturbed by the possibility that my non-Christian friends might be destined to hell. That is also when I began to feel unbearably unsettled with the concept that everything we do as humans has already been predetermined, including our choice to believe in Jesus as our savior. I questioned a god that would test the faith of Abraham by asking him to offer his son Isaac, even if he knew what the results would be.

Despite these serious cracks in the foundation of my faith, I was able to cover up the cracks for years. There are many Christians whose faith survives these doubts. They might switch denominations, become “non-practicing”, or become Christian apologists when they dig deep and find the answers to their questions. Other times, they simply swallow truths that may be bitter and stay out of tradition or loyalty. I could do none of these things. I was determined to either embrace faith wholeheartedly, or not at all. I did not desire to believe in a god who did not possess power, but my god’s power was rapidly diminishing in my view. The omnipotence of the God of the Bible did not seem to be in agreement with His unfathomable love; I could not embrace a god who claimed to have complete power over everything and repeatedly refused to solve the problem of human suffering, no matter how wise he seemed to be.

Further evidence still against the existence of the Christian God has been His repeatedly failing promise to send His Son back to earth. I know, “no one knows the day or the hour”, “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” and “the Lord is not slack concerning his promises…he is longsuffering…”. There is a redundancy built into the promises, a “keep waiting, because you never know” kind of aspect to them. I will decline to go into detail about all that, but I know that I have personally waited long enough. The Second Coming of Christ has been predicted incorrectly more times than I would even dare to quantify. In fact, Christians have been predicting Christ’s arrival since the beginning of the faith. To date, none of these predictions have been correct. Truly, it only has to happen once for it to be right, but with God intervening so little in human life now, I am skeptical that He will one day open the clouds and let His righteousness and judgment rain down on the earth.

Even so, “I’m still getting used to it.” When good things happen, I still want to open my mouth and praise God. Humorously, I said “thank God” to my boyfriend, and quickly qualified it by saying, “I mean, I’m thanking all the gods I don’t believe in.” He said, “We get it. You don’t have to qualify it. It’s a saying.” (In other words, he was telling me to get over myself.) I similarly find myself wanting to say a prayer, and sometimes I do. “God, I know you’re not real but if you are, please help.” Even though I look at the date, realize that it is 2018 and all that hoopla about the Jesus coming back in Y2K is now almost two decades in the past, I am still tempted to think, “He is coming soon.” I do not think that I will ever unlearn Christian jargon, or fully forget scriptures that I labored to memorize. Evangelical Christian culture is in my blood. My entire early life is defined by it. I still love “Oceans”, “Ever Be”, “Brave” and various other Contemporary Christian tunes that may come across the radio (and in secret I still sing them). I sit with my family for Bible study when I visit, even though I know it is not mandatory anymore.

Deconversion has been a process for me. Some people are able to make a quick, clean break from their Christian culture, but for a lot of us it is an ongoing journey. There is always something that brings back a memory. People think that we stopped believing because we are angry, that we went, “Screw you God, I don’t believe in you anymore” and that was how simple that it was. They neglect to realize that when we go home for the holidays- or even just for a casual visit- there it is in our faces again, and there we are reminded by the people we love the most that we are different. Some of us are children of pastors. Many of us have served in the church, and some have even had leadership positions. Some, but not all of us, are queer. Whatever the circumstances and whatever the reason, we share this same burden of being “ex-fill-in-the-blank”.

Sometimes we get so concerned with who we are not that we forget who we are. I know that I do, sometimes. I forget that I am more than just an “ex”, that I am a woman of extraordinary character and even more impressive resolve. I know that despite it being a time-intensive process, I will some day feel comfortable in this new skin of mine. God is dead to me, but I have been reborn. I have a whole new life to live, and I plan to live it with everything that I have.

 

 

God is Not Dead?

It is said that God can speak aloud. According to the Biblical account, His voice thundered from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, proclaiming, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It was said that he guided the Israelites by way of a visible cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He rained bread from heaven, parted the Red Sea, and made the earth open its mouth and swallow transgressors. Sin was dealt with in a swift and visible way.

Of course, God’s lack of intervention in certain events- like the martyring of Stephen in the New Testament- does not in and of itself prove that the Judeo-Christian God does not exist. Revelations speaks of Christians who have been martyred achieving a glorious resurrection in the future. Paul says that, “If in this life alone we have hope in Christ, then we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) He too held out the promise of one day living again in God’s kingdom as a reason to endure persecution and ridicule.

In this post I want to address the problem of those who claim to speak for God and Christ and have done unspeakable evil. The Ku Klux Klan claimed to be a Christian organization. Their leaders never came to a sudden realization of their wrongness or died suddenly- in fact, the group persists today, albeit with reduced power and influence. The Bible was used as an excuse to justify the slavery and mistreatment of millions of people. Thousands of Catholic priests, supposedly holy men who were tasked with helping people connect with God, were found guilty of child molestation. Some Evangelical Christian men abuse their wives without remorse, holding Paul’s controversial “Wives, submit to your husbands in all things” teachings over their wives’ heads like a weapon. Cult leaders seek to use the scripture to subjugate and control the lives of their followers. Parents eschew medical help in favor of trusting God, and God lets their children die.

In all the above cases, God never appeared to any of these people in a vision and admonished them for their wrongness. He never shouted from heaven and rebuked them for any of their misdeeds. No, people instead are allowed to kill, steal, and destroy in His name, with seemingly no response from heaven. I understand that you may say that God uses the wickedness of humanity for His greater purpose, but in doing so you then admit that God is responsible for evil actions. Whether this makes or breaks your theology is up to you.

If you say “Evil came into the world because of man’s rebellion against God, and because of the wiles of Satan” then you ignore the point of what I am saying. These aren’t people who are rebelling outside the paradigm of Christianity. These are people who take the name of Christ on their lips, and yet do the exact opposite of what He has commanded. You would think that a God who is dedicated to the salvation of all mankind, would make sure that no one was confused about whether or not he was behind certain unfortunate actions. We are talking about a god who killed people for disrespecting the ark of the covenant (see the Old Testament). You would think that He would have some sort of response for people who brazenly and unabashedly disrespected the “better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6) that comes through Jesus.

Can you see where I’m coming from?

Either you must admit that God doesn’t particularly care that people are besmirching Him, or that He has limited power to act in this world. Neither of those conclusions fit into the Judeo-Christian concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God.

I know you have one last tool in your toolbox, and that is to say that in the end of days, everything will be made right. In Jesus’ parables, He talked about people who disobeyed his instructions. He talked about the parable of the people left in charge of their master’s household, and how in the master’s absence they beat the servants and engaged in drunken and destructive behavior. He talks about the people who didn’t feed, clothe, and visit his brethren in prison, and what their fate will be. According to Jesus, their fate will be most unpleasant.

This brings me to my next point- how Christianity often explains away the problems of the modern age by moving the solutions for them forward into the future. Remember how I talked about Apostle Paul and the author of Revelations talking about the promise of resurrection as an incentive to suffer through the difficulties of life? This is a theme that exists throughout the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. He asks his disciples to forsake all in following him, and when they ask him about it, he says this;

“Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.” -Mark 10:29-31

The problem is, not everyone seems to receive that hundredfold. As for “eternal life”, that is not guaranteed. No one truly knows what will happen to us after death. All we have to go on is what we know about life now and the people who have passed on. We know that NDEs (near death experiences) have been explained scientifically, at least in part, and that people who have near death experiences often see images related to whatever their religious beliefs are at the time. A Hindu person isn’t going to have the same NDE as a Christian. Does this mean that both Hinduism and Christianity are correct about the afterlife? In other words, do you really want to sacrifice this physical life in order to gain an uncertain eternity?

In addition to providing these tantalizing promises for the future as a reason to explain away the inconsistencies of the present, the Bible also gives us a very stylized view of the past. As I pointed out earlier, God is displayed as being powerful and influential in the world, in a way that He is not expected to be today. Christians have fixed in their mind the image of a god who crafted the universe from mere words, turned the sea into blood, stopped the sun in the sky, and rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrha. They stand in awe of this god. He has high moral authority and cannot be questioned.

Even today, however, some of them do argue that He never stopped doing these mighty feats. They tell tales of food stretching to feed many more than it was intended to, of people speaking in languages they don’t know, of sick being healed and dead being raised. These stories, however, are often told from the perspective of Western privilege. We have medical advancements to “help” God along. We have wealth, so we can afford to pay tithes and then use confirmation bias to say that that’s the reason we got a promotion at work or some other financial boost. We can’t honestly take our prosperity gospel with us into places of extreme poverty and abject suffering. We can’t say that the reason we experience miracles is because we have more faith than these suffering people do.

Of course, Christian missionaries to these impoverished places don’t often say that. They often get down in the dirt and help. They consider themselves ambassadors of God. The truth is, God would never do anything if they weren’t there. God, despite having absolute power, has never used His power to help even one human being, without the intervention of other human beings. Whether we say God is using us for good or not, the point of the matter is that God can’t do anything without us. God cannot materialize food out of nothing. He can’t send rain on drought-blasted lands. If you think that these things happened, you’re looking through the “veil of time”, as described by Oh No Ross and Carrie host, Ross Blocher. The veil of time is what allows people to believe that incredible events are more likely to have happened if it was at some point thousands of years in the past.

God’s lack of intervention today points to only one thing, in my opinion- that God never intervened in the first place. Is it not possible that maybe those Old Testament stories were never meant to be taken literally, and that instead they teach us moral lessons and give us a glimpse into the mentality of the God we are said to worship? Does the ability of the Bible to be given to abuse and misinterpretation provide some inkling as to the darker nature of the text?

People sully God’s name without recourse, because God is either unwilling or unable to defend His reputation. Even though I could just as easily believe in an evil god as not believe in any sort of deity at all, I am leaning towards the “unable” category. I don’t think that God is capable of doing anything other than what we see happening already. People are going to besmirch His name, because humans have agency and that’s what they’re choosing to do. People can do good and exalt Him, because humans have agency and that’s what they’re choosing to do. I believe we are acting under our own influence, as misguided as that may sometimes be. I am also not convinced that there is any sort of second life after this one. This is all we have. We can either spend it being victims, or we can rise up and save ourselves.

God is dead.

 

Why I Left

The look is always the same. It starts off as mostly disbelief, then morphs gently into a pity that is tinged with disapproval. The face ultimately settles on to a look of kind resolve, and the mouth opens to express a variation of the same theme; if only you knew God like I do, you would never have left. If only you realized that God transcends the laws of nature, cannot be explained properly by science, and is infinitely wiser and more loving than we could ever comprehend. If only you understood the power of prayer, if only you could see the miraculous happenings that only the existence of God could explain, and if only you understood “But for the grace of God, there go I.” If only you could see that He is “as near as the next breath” and He holds that very breath of yours in His hands.

“What you need is a personal relationship with God.”

This implies that the reason I left Christianity was because my “relationship with God” was strained. God must have done something to offend me, and that must’ve been because I just didn’t really know or understand Him. I can safely assume that they are talking about the God of the Bible, and in that case maybe there is a degree of truth to their statements. Maybe I didn’t “know” him that well, despite those times when I thought I felt his presence, but now, I think I know him too well.

Evangelical Christians like to use a play on words regarding Jesus Christ’s atonement; they call it “at-one-ment.” They say that through Christ’s suffering, death, and subsequent resurrection, he broke the power of sin in the world and brought us back into oneness with God the Father. One of my biggest unanswered questions in Christianity is why exactly this would all be necessary.

To explain my disquiet, I will break this down into the three parts.

1)     His Suffering

Jesus suffered incredibly prior to his crucifixion. He was beaten, spit upon, and flogged. He was so wounded by his assault that he was unable to carry his own cross. The night that he was betrayed by Judas, he knelt and begged God, “If possible, remove this cup from me.”

My question is “Was it possible?” and no Christian can safely deny that it wasn’t. God, as they assert, could- and still can- do anything. The Judeo-Christian God was said to be a God of love. Jesus was identified as the “first begotten Son of God.” Is it incorrect to assume, that an all-powerful, loving god, could have come up with a less excruciating way for his firstborn son to redeem the world?

Even as Jesus begged his father to keep him from suffering, he said “Not my will, but yours be done.” Apparently, God “willed” for his son to die a gruesome death before he could deem it possible to forgive mankind and redeem them from the power of sin. I think that says a lot about the kind of god Christians worship, and it doesn’t fit into the paradigm of a loving god.

2)     His death

Jesus died by crucifixion. Crucifixion was considered so painful, that it is partly from where we get the word “excruciating.” I have already outlined Jesus suffering in the earlier point and have sought to bring attention to the fact that this was ostensibly done to him by his own father. There is even more lying below the surface of this Biblical account.

Christians seem to take it for granted that Jesus dying somehow saves us all from the power of sin. The biblical book of Hebrews makes references to the animal sacrifices performed under early Judaism, pointing out how they could only remove sin temporarily. Jesus was said to have removed sin permanently.

“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” -Hebrews 9:12

Jesus was said to have become a substitution for the animal sacrifices of the old testament. The question that we need to ask, though, is why should an innocent animal- or an innocent man- need to be killed to atone for the wrongdoings of a guilty person? How or why does a divine being find it necessary to seek retribution in this way? Remember, this is a god that is said to be able to do absolutely anything. Why this ineffective and risky way of dealing with things?

3)     His resurrection

“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” -1 Corinthians 15:16-17

According to Biblical legend, it was not enough that Jesus suffer and die. He also had to live again, so that he could reign in heaven with the Father and be the head of his Holy Church. By rising from the dead, he showed that even death could be conquered by the power of God.

The problem with this account, is that no one- outside of religious myth- has ever been recorded to come back to life after being dead for any substantial amount of time. Christians might use this to argue that this makes Jesus even more unique, that this proves that he was God’s first son, that this proves that he had power over sin and death. My issue is just that I can no longer bring myself to accept this account just because it appears in the Bible. There is no precedent for it or evidence of it.

Of course, Christians would argue that everyday answers to prayer are the result of a powerful God and living Jesus, but in my previous post I explained how most perceived answers to prayer can be explained as being the result of confirmation bias.

4)     Final Thoughts

Points 1-3 give a few reasons as to why I left. They stem more from a disagreement with the most basic tenets of Christianity, as opposed to some sort of personal dispute that I have with “the Creator”. I came to my conclusions very slowly and with a lot of consideration. I do not feel betrayed or jilted, I have simply moved away from faith in the god of Christianity to faith in other things. This isn’t about some unanswered prayer or a lack of feeling God’s love, it’s from a new hesitation to believe in any sort of god at all.

At this point, I have moved far beyond, “I’m really not sure what I believe anymore” into “These are the things that I know that I don’t believe.” I haven’t closed my mind to all religion, but I am also not on the fence either. Quoting scriptures to me won’t help your case, when I no longer believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We are viewing the world through totally different lenses. It may never make sense to you why I left, even though I can understand why you stay.

You may say I “never had a personal relationship with God”, but now I know that I never will.

“You’re Pretty”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

Today I was riding to work with my Uber driver. He was an elderly gentlemen with a mild manner and a nice sense of humor. He had joked the day before that it was “destiny” that I was riding in his car again, and somehow I ended up riding in his car today as well. The day before he had asked if I had a boyfriend (Note: he is happily married and was not hitting on me) and I told him no, and he commented that it made sense because I needed to focus on school and work.

Today, though, he brought up the subject again.

Him: “It’s strange that you don’t have a boyfriend.”
Me: “Oh, really?”
Him: “Yes- you’re pretty.”

All I could do was what I usually do, which was laugh and say “thank you” instead of saying how I really felt. Usually, I’m only slightly offended, but today, his words stung, because I think for the first time I saw the hidden implications behind them. The unspoken idea is that if you’re a pretty woman, then you’re desirable, and if you’re desirable, you must be willing to be the object of someone else’s desires. That someone else is almost always assumed to be a man. Men always ask me if I have a boyfriend, and sometimes if I say no, then they do ask if I’m interested in women, or the ever-irritating, “So do you like men?” The implication there is that if I’m not interested in them, it must be because I don’t like men, which is pretty much saying they think they’re the best thing that could ever happen to me (betraying a high level of conceit).

In asking about my sexual preferences either way, they’re showing a pretty marked lack of concern for my privacy. Maybe the fact is that I don’t have a boyfriend could mean that I just don’t want to be involved with anyone, regardless of gender. Or that I’d just rather be alone than be with the wrong person. It is inconceivable to a lot of people- in this world that leans so heavily towards heteroromanticism and amatonormativity- that anyone could simply want to be unattached, but especially a woman. If a man is a bachelor, he’s said to be just “sowing his wild oats” or thought of as unlucky. If a woman- especially one who is considered attractive- is alone then she’s the object of confusion and pity (or she’s thought to be stuck up).

The other implication is that prettiness is valued above other traits- that a woman who is “unattractive” cannot be expected to have a partner. This makes all sorts of assumptions on what is considered beautiful, and the importance of said beauty in the world. It also puts women under obligation to “put out” if they’re thought to be attractive. So it sends two messages: “If you’re not pretty, no one wants you” and “If you are pretty, you should share it with someone”.

Pretty or not, you do not owe anyone anything. You are under no obligation to anyone to be a part of a relationship if that’s not what you truly desire. You also don’t have to do the things that are expected to follow, such as getting married or having children. You can be as involved or uninvolved with other human beings as you like. It’s your life. When strangers probe you about your relationship status, it might seem harmless on the surface, but what they’re really saying is, “You’re not normal. I don’t know you, but here’s what I think you should do to fit in”. Well, I’m here to say that you don’t have to put up with any of it. You do not have to answer questions about your sexuality if you’re not comfortable.

I really didn’t expect to make a post like this, but I’m becoming pretty convinced that asking a woman why she’s not married or doesn’t have a boyfriend should be on a list of “things not to ask women.” It’s even worst if you’re not asking, but you’re actually telling her that she should just magic up a relationship. Even if she does want to be in a relationship for herself, putting pressure on her to do things is not going to help the process. Society at large subtly and overtly sends women the message that we are not our own- that our lives and bodies belong to other people. I’m fighting to take back my autonomy, and not internalizing these mass-marketed, harmful messages is a part of that.

The Colored Glass Lens

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

It can be pretty hard to convey some of the things that I believe in when trying to talk to relatives. Sometimes it feels like we have two completely separate ways of dealing with reality. In my reality, I just want to see Biblical stories of old viewed with the same type of skeptical scrutiny that we give myths and legends of other cultures and religions. If you heard about a talking snake tempting God’s children out of garden paradise anywhere other than the Bible, you probably wouldn’t take it very literally. If time and time again, predictions were made about the return of say a Hindu or Greek savior, and these predictions continually failed to come to pass, you might venture to say that the worshipers were mistaken in their convictions. You might even become frustrated if the worshipers said, “Everyday with God is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” as a reason for their continued devotion.

Last time I visited my older brother, he was telling me about why as Christians we might be tempted to have interfaith, but in the end other faiths were not compatible with Christianity. Of Islam, he said, “You might even think that they [the Muslims] were better off [than the Jews, who don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah] because they believe that Jesus is a prophet but they’re not…I understand that you might want to go [to the Moors] to be polite, but especially with where you are now struggling, they have nothing to offer you.”

I got pretty quiet at that point, but part of me had wanted to say something, because in the end his statements were Islamophobic. He was willing to say that the Christians and Jews worshiped the same God, but not the Muslims, even though Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all Abrahamic religions. He also pretty much stated that Muslims were “worst off” despite their religion being more inclusive of Jesus than even Judaism, without giving a real reason for saying so. More than once he has described Muslims as “dangerous.” If asked about these he would probably say that because Islam appeared to embrace Jesus in some capacity it could be deceptively alluring- and it would be bad because in the end it denied the deity and Sonship of Jesus, and his sacrifice for sin, which are crucial to Christian doctrine.

That again brings me to one of the problems I have with Christianity (especially Western Christianity)- its argument that Christianity = good/pure and non-Christian religions/cultures = bad. There seems to be a complete rejection of the idea that God could be present in multiple religions and cultures. The idea that a God who is supposed to be all love, could not embrace people who were honestly seeking to be devout worshipers, regardless of whether they all saw Him in the same way, is one that has been bothering me for some time. Time and time again I ask myself, if Jesus was really the only way to be saved from sin and secure a comfortable place in the Afterlife, why did God wait so long to send him? Furthermore, if angels really visited shepherds in Jerusalem to announce his birth, why didn’t they also visit the Americas, or Asia, and proclaim this happy news? If God was really concerned about saving the world through his son, why did he seem to keep it so secret?

So-called “Christian morality” preceded Christianity. The ancient Egyptians had their own ten commandments. The Assyrians had the Laws of Hammurabi. Morality is present in various ways across multiple continents and cultures. Fundamental Christianity asserts that people are trapped in a state of depravity until they accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but as I pointed out previously, the Gospel of Matthew presents a Jesus that taught that “doing the will of My Father” consisted of being humble, generous, kind, and respectful. I haven’t decided yet how we can reconcile this with the account of the Gospel of John, or the Epistles, of a Jesus that made bold claims about his own deity and presented himself as a savior for sinners. What I do know, though, is that seeing an entire world as condemned for not believing in an unprovable story about a man’s death and resurrection seems grossly unfair. This is without even addressing why God would require a violent human sacrifice to forgive us at all. Christians accept this fact of a human sacrifice being necessary without thought or question.

I am aware that there are “politically Christian” answers to most of my questions. God waited thousands of years to send Jesus because he wanted us to truly be aware of how depraved we were without him. A human sacrifice is necessary because it was written, “Without shedding of blood there is no remission”– this is simply God’s rule and it is immutable. All humanity is depraved because “all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. It is impossible to disentangle yourself from sin, because “he who sins is a slave of sin.” Only Jesus, who was sinless, could really save people from sin. “He who was without sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.”

These are all acceptable answers if you’re comfortable with accepting things just because they’re written in the Bible, and aren’t willing to think critically and ask yourself why these things have to be this way. People don’t seem to understand that if I don’t think the Bible is inspired, quoting Bible verses doesn’t help their argument. When it comes to my relatives, I’m very hesitant about revealing the depth of my skepticism. I often even become apologetic if I bring science into a discussion. I very tentatively say, “Well I know you don’t believe in it” as if science were subjective in the same way religion is. The scientific method basically states that for something to become an accepted theory it has to be something that can be tested. We mainly can test repeatable phenomenon. Of course, just because something only happened once doesn’t mean that it never happened, but if we’re talking about some miraculous phenomenon like water turning into blood, there’s no precedent for that. In all of our testing and experiments, water has never been able to be turned into blood- we’ve broken down the components of each and it would seem that such a thing is impossible. Also, we’ve found no evidence of a change in the ecosystem of the Nile at that time in history- no huge fossilized remains of dead fish, etc.

When a person reads the Bible they’re expected to take certain things on faith, and I can’t say that’s entirely wrong. Having faith in something that can’t be proven- like an optimism that things will turn out well- can be a very healthy thing. I just don’t think it’s healthy when it blinds you to very real possibilities, and causes you to isolate yourself from other human beings. My childhood was extremely isolating, and I missed out on a lot of things. That’s why, when people tell me about Pascal’s Wager- that you’ve lost nothing if you just act like God is real/the Bible is true, that’s all well and good until it’s taken to extremes. Some women, including my mother, have lost relationships with friends and family members, have lost their freedom, and even in some cases their entire sense of self because of being a part of an oppressive religious sect. If this is the only life we have, then, they’re never going to be rewarded for all of the sacrifices they’ve made. If this is the only life that there is, not living it to the fullest is a tragedy. So no matter how you look at it you could lose your eternity either way- but I would rather do what I want right now, in the life I can feel and see, then to sacrifice this life for a distant possibility.

So what color are the lenses in my glasses today? I’m not really sure about the answer to that question; I just know that they’re different from the ones my family has. I know that we probably won’t see eye to eye ever again. The more I go through the motions of life, and navigate work, school, and relationships, the more I see myself moving away from traditional Christianity. My parents and my older brother are waiting for me to return to “the truth” but their truth is not the one I subscribe to anymore. I don’t believe that Jesus is waiting in heaven for God to give him permission to return to earth and wreak havoc on God’s enemies. I don’t believe that this planet is going to get burned up and magically replaced by a new one. I don’t believe that there’s a hell for all the sinners and a heavenly city for all the “believers.” I don’t believe God specifically punishes wrongdoers and rewards the righteous. I don’t believe that Christians are holy, while “the whole world lies in wickedness.” In fact, I don’t believe that holding religious beliefs- on its own- makes you a better person.

So what does that make me? Not very Christian. I’m starting to accept that that’s okay, though. I’m starting to get over some of the guilt I have for supposedly “letting my family down.” Faith has to be genuine, or it isn’t a real faith at all. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t fake believing if I really didn’t- and even if I could, I would make myself miserable and I have to ask myself it that would really be worth it. In fact, not so long ago, I was laboring under the terrible fear of “what if my parents find out I don’t believe?” Well now they know, and they’re predictably not talking to me, but the sky hasn’t fallen. I’m still going through life.

Also, for someone who is supposed to be under a curse now, I’m actually doing alright. Like I said, I don’t believe that God’s this heavenly judge that gives people exactly what they deserve. Let’s face it- some really horrible people are in powerful positions in this world, and there seems to be little to no resistance against their oppression. In the mean time, earnest men literally work themselves to death in coal mines, just so that their families can have a better life. A God that could do anything should surely protect them from black lung- that’s the least that he could do. We see though, just from casual observation, that this isn’t true. Good people don’t always get protected. Bad people don’t always get their comeuppance. We have songs like “Only the Good Die Young” being hits because often very good people do die young. Doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee you anything- but you should still be good because you care about other people and that’s what you want to do. Also, sometimes, good things do happen because you choose kindness over tyranny.

So I tell you- but myself, mostly- keep being kind. Live your life. Do what you want to do, avoiding hurting others whenever possible, but also not putting yourself in a box because of them. It doesn’t matter what color your glasses are, as long as you’re willing to deal with the consequences of wearing them- whatever those may be. I believe, at least, that you only live once. So make it worth something. Don’t spend your whole life being afraid about what other people are going to think or do.

Wear your glasses with pride.

Now are You the Sons of God

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

Christianity differs from the Moorish tradition, and other traditions, because of how it approaches how you connect to your Creator. Jesus, in the book of John, told Nicodemus that in order to experience the Kingdom of God, that he must be “born again.” He said that unless one is born of “water and the Spirit” he could not inherit the Kingdom of God. He connected this born-again experience to a belief on him.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16

The Apostle John, who is responsible for sharing with us this particular account of Jesus’ life, emphasized this in the opening statements of the Gospel.

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” -John 1:12-13

This idea that you enter the family of God through belief in Jesus is a recurrent theme throughout the Gospels and the Epistles. The Apostle John in particular emphasized this connection, as can be seen in one of his letters to the churches.

“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:15-16

The main doctrines of Fundamental Christianity are as follows,

-Believe that Jesus is the Son of God

-Believe that he died for your sins, was resurrected, and ascended to be with the Father in Heaven

-Believe that one day he will return and establish his kingdom on the earth

Now I am beginning to understand what C.S. Lewis meant when he said that if we separate Jesus from all of his divine attributes, he can’t simply be accepted as a great moral teacher. He made statements that seem to portray him as a bit self-important: “I am the bread of life” “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and “No one comes to the Father except through me.” He was unabashedly proclaiming himself as the savior of the world, the giver of everlasting life, the carrier of humanity’s sins. He said, “He who rejects the Son has not the Father also”. He placed himself as a bridge between Mankind and God.

He was said to be the “first-begotten Son of God”, the only way that the rest of us would become children of God. In this way, Christianity states that we are not children of God just because we are “made in his image.” This is where Christianity and other religions differ. In Moorish tradition, you don’t “become” a child of God- you already are, it’s just something that you have to grow in and realize. We are all said to have a “seed” that has all of the divine attributes of God inside it, but we are also said to have a “lower self” that we have to deal with.

In Christianity, the “lower self” is called “the flesh” or “the carnal mind.” Again, in order to deal with these fleshly impulses, we are said to need to “mortify (kill) the deeds of the body” and this is said to only be possible through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). The catch is that the only way to get the power of the Spirit to work in you is to believe the facts and statements about Jesus.

“In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” -Ephesians 1:13

Even knowing all that I know about different denominations, and about Bishop John Shelby Spong’s interpretation of Christianity in particular, I do not know if there is a way back to Christianity for me, without me believing what are considered by many to be its fundamental truths. Without believing in a virgin birth, Christ’s deity, his physical death and resurrection, and the promise of his Second Coming, I am not sure if there is much left for me there.

Yes, Jesus was a great moral teacher. When asked what was the “greatest commandment” he said, “The LORD our God is One” and that we should love him with “all of your soul, mind and strength” and also “to love your neighbor as yourself”. I think people of many religions keep these commandments, regardless of the fact that they do not accept Jesus as divine or as the Only Son of God. He also said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone”. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He was generous and kind, but unashamedly ripped into the religious leaders of his day, whom he described as “leaving off mercy and justice.”

That being said, if you ignore everything else that Jesus was recorded as saying, you only have part of the picture. It’s pretty obvious to me that we can’t take literally everything that was said, about how he raised the dead, walked on water, or multiplied food. I think these stories grew out of simply an awe or reverence of the man that he was. It’s similar to how St. Nicholas, the inspiration for “Santa Claus” was said to have resurrected a boy who was cut into pieces with an axe and cured illnesses. As time goes by history becomes stretched into legend.

That being said, just like there was a real St. Nicholas, there was a real man named Jesus. The gospels aren’t even unified about what exactly it was that he taught, but we can know from the way he was said to have been killed that his teachings were controversial. According to the Gospel of John, the Jewish authorities were infuriated- above all else- by his claims to be “the Son of God.” If he was simply trying to expound more on the Jewish law and was just teaching morality, I don’t think that they would’ve found it necessary to kill him. No, he stood for something greater- he stood in direct opposition to their understanding of God, and he openly challenged them. It was too much for them to take.

Today, I don’t believe that I have to believe in all the statements about Jesus in order to be a child of God. I too believe that we are all children of God, just by being human. I don’t believe that “no good thing exists in my flesh” but rather than I am a vessel with a capacity for evil and good. I might not have a Holy Book or religious text to support my beliefs, but I’m not sure that I need one. Even though I share some beliefs with Moors and Yoruba people, I am not eager to convert to a new religion.

I was just telling a friend that my primary mode of devotion is through my studying and writing. I may not fast, build altars, or light candles. I may not find it necessary to bow or kneel when I pray. Prayer to me is an open communication with God; it’s a conversation. Jesus said “The kingdom of God is within you.” I might not feel that I have to enter the kingdom of God in exactly the way that he said, but I can still believe that my body is a temple that houses the presence of God.

Our Adversary, the Devil

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: / Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” -1 Peter 5:8-9

We have an enemy- or at least, that’s what I’m always being told. It is the Devil, or Satan, that “serpent of old” who “deceives the whole world” (Revelations 12:9). He was present back in the garden of Eden, tempting Mankind with the forbidden fruit in an effort to get them to turn away from God. He was said to have accused God’s faithful servant, Job, and convinced God to give him permission to completely wreck Job’s life, ostensibly as an attempt to test Job’s faithfulness.

Paul also talks about him, calling him “the Prince of the Power of the Air” who “now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Jesus said that if someone doesn’t understand the Word of God, then “the devil comes and takes it away from him.” Just as he accused Job, the Devil is said to “accuse the brethren before God day and night.” He is said to be our enemy, our adversary, a threat to the very foundations of our faith and a bane of society.

Revelations tells us that in the end he, and all of his “angels” will be cast into the lake of fire, or, hell. In the mean time, according to many an Evangelical preacher, he is seeking to round up as many of God’s children as possible so that they will be forced to join him there. This is said to be a last ditch effort of his to grieve God’s heart. He cannot get to God directly, so he has to hurt him by going after his children.

Many of these preachers also teach what Bob Larson said in his interview with Nicholas and Zeena Schreck, that all pagan religions are “an attempt of Satan to deter people from the truth.” This is a statement that I have a lot of problems with, for two main reasons. Firstly, Christianity is not the world’s oldest religion. If Christianity is the only true way to get to God, why did God wait so long to have it revealed to the world? Why did he allow the world to sit in darkness for so long? Secondly, there are many principles in Christianity that are shared by other practices such as Confucianism, things like honoring and respecting one’s elders, being humble, and being charitable. Also, in ancient Egypt, there was a set of ten “rules” that was almost identical to the ten commandments that were said to have been given to Moses by God on the mountain. No matter how you look at it, Christianity did not originate what we now think of as “Christian morality.”

So where does the Devil enter into all of this? There are some religions that do not consider him to be an entity with a personality. The Moorish Science Temple of America, for example, considers the Devil to just be your “lower self” and representative of your basal, fleshly urges. Your “higher self” is said to be the part of yourself that wants to connect with Allah. Even the Church of Satan’s official stance on Satan also states that he isn’t a definable entity, but rather representative of Mankind’s carnal nature, which they teach is something that you should embrace instead of fight. I don’t know a lot about polytheistic religions, but from what I understand there is no one character analogous to Satan, but rather some “trickster” types of characters that are usually causing some sort of mischief.

To believe in Evangelical Christianity’s assertions on Satan is to believe something that goes along with it- that we are in a constant battle, fighting to keep God’s “truth” in our minds. This is the main verse used to support this argument.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh. /  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) / Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

And here’s another one for free;

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. /  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” -Ephesians 6:12-13

“Principalities and powers” are said to refer to some of the “lesser demons” that are employed by Satan as part of his deceptive work. If Christians seem like they are on the defensive, maybe it’s because they believe that they are in a war. The implication is that other religions are looked at with fear and suspicion. The world is “the enemy’s territory” waiting to be conquered. Instead of looking for what they have in common with other faiths, they become hyper-focused on the things that separate them. Emphasis is placed on being “in the world, but not of the world”, which “lies in wickedness.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses these groupish mindsets in his book, “Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence”. He emphasizes that whenever we see the world as Us. vs. Them, we are at risk of demonizing the Other. I can hate you, persecute you, and even kill you because you are not like me. He says this behavior can extend to all groups of people, whether they be religious or nonreligious.

So is Satan real? I cannot answer “yes” or “no” definitively, but if he is, I do not see him as being the main influence on secular society. I do not feel like I am in a constant battle with a supernatural being, or that human lives are caught in a tug of war between God and the Adversary. I see far more good, far more “God” in the world’s religions than I see evil. I know that Jesus was recorded as saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life- no one can come to the Father except through me” but how we can interpret that in the modern age is another subject entirely. When he said that did he really mean that all people who didn’t believe in Him were hell-bound, or are we adding something to His words?

Jesus said, “He who commits sin is a slave of sin” and that He came to set slaves free. But when he was asked what was the greatest commandment, he said “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind- for this is the greatest commandment.” Then he went on to say, “The second is like it- love your neighbor as yourself.” These are commands that can be followed by almost any person, regardless of their religious affiliation. I don’t believe that the Devil is behind peoples’ lack of faith, their sin, or their wicked actions. I believe that we all have a capacity for good and evil and we have to make a choice of which to follow.

On Being Present

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

I briefly mentioned the book “Presence” by Amy Cuddy in my last blog post. I know that in that one I focused on the fact that I felt bad for “needing” to read a book like this to feel better about myself, but that wasn’t fair because it overlooked all of the great insights in the book. I learned a lot, and actually enjoyed it so much that I finished it off in less than a week.

In the notes that I wrote after I was finished, I summarized presence as “bringing your authentic self to a a situation”. In the first chapter Cuddy describes the struggles she endured after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, and how afterwards her difficulty with learning undermined her self-confidence. She talks about the times when she was so afraid about presenting her research that she clammed up and wasn’t able to express herself effectively. That is because, she said, that negative emotions like fear and anxiety cause us to become inward focused- we are not longer able to “be present” and really be focused on the ideas or message that we are trying to convey. Instead, we become hyper-focused on our own nervousness and sense of discomfort.

She also shares about how important authenticity is to people who are hiring other people or negotiating various business deals. People who are making decisions on whether to invest in a particular project stated that it was important for them to feel as though the person presenting the project really believed in what they were putting forth. In other words, they needed to show genuine enthusiasm for the idea. They also didn’t like to see people who seemed to be “trying too hard” or were pushy or aggressive. Interestingly enough, they said they didn’t mind if the person was a little nervous because “they’re doing something big, something that matters to them” so it makes sense if they feel a little nervous.

Throughout the rest of the book, Amy Cuddy expresses how we can reclaim our personal power and “bring your boldest self to your biggest challenges”. We can do things like practicing yoga and “power posing”, which is scientifically proven to increase testosterone (the hormone associated with greater risk taking and initiative) and decrease cortisol (the “stress hormone”). Even doing simple things like sitting up straighter and using more open, relaxed posture can increase our sense of confidence and feelings of being grounded. We can also use imagery techniques like picturing ourselves flying or just imagining ourselves performing difficult tasks with pride and enthusiasm before we go out and actually do them.

With this year coming to a close, it is common for people to be considering what kinds of “New Years’ Resolutions” that they will be making. Miss Cuddy explains why this doesn’t actually work too well for us. The goals we set are too lofty and ambitious. For example if we plan to “exercise three days a week” and we aren’t able to fully meet this goal (we only go once or twice) it tends to lead to us abandoning the goal altogether. She says that instead- and she uses herself with running as an example- that we should give ourselves small “nudges”. We should say, “Today, I’ll eat healthy” or “I’ll stretch for 15 minutes”. Those incremental changes can in the end lead to big results, without us feeling like we have resolutions hanging over our heads like a threat.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve been reading the book and trying to implement some of the principles, I’ve been experiencing less depression and more confidence. There’s a chapter in there that’s titled “I Don’t Deserve to Be Here” that goes over “imposter syndrome”. It explains how people in all sorts of careers and fields often have a pervasive feeling that they are “fake”, or that their positions in life have more to do with “luck” than with their own talents. These feelings of “being an imposter” tend to increase- rather than decrease- with every new achievement. I can definitely relate to having these feelings. Even though objectively I’m doing well in school and I’m handling my life well, the sense of “wrongness” persists. I find myself asking myself “what now?” every time that I achieve something good. The better the grade, the more I think that the teacher may have given it to me in error. Knowing that other people are struggling with these emotions- and that they have nothing to do with objective reality- I can reject these feelings and instead begin to celebrate my accomplishments. I can tell myself, “Actually, you do deserve to be here.

No Regrets?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote at the end of my last entry that I “have no regrets” about moving away from Christianity, and I realize that that isn’t totally true. I don’t actually feel like I’ve made the wrong choice, but there are some unfortunate things that have come into my life from making this choice.

#1: Isolation

I’ll be the first to say that the sense of alienation is probably mainly caused by me. My family and Christians in my life who know about my situation haven’t tried to push me away, but I’ve found myself feeling somewhat distant from them. The most typical reactions from my Christian friends who’ve found out about my doubts, is to offer to pray for me or just to imply that this is simply something that I’m “going through” and I will come out on the other side with renewed faith and a better relationship with God. There is no denying that there is a certain dismissiveness- and in some cases condescension- in these statements, but I understand that they do not at all come from a place of malice or judgement.

Anyway, despite everyone being relatively welcoming- and as supportive as they can be- I’ve chosen not to attend any more Christian groups and to limit my attendance at Sunday service. This has been really hard, because church has always been a safe, comfortable environment for me to socialize with people. I’ve tried looking into other groups but I haven’t been able to make a lot of progress with my search so far. Trying to find a new social circle to be involved with is really hard, especially for me as a relatively introverted person who has a lot of anxiety about driving to new places.

#2: Self-doubt/anxiety

Even as a I grow more comfortable in my “state of disbelief”, there are still moments when I wonder if I’m really wrong. I wonder if there’s a loving, all-powerful Creator-God of heaven whose kind embrace I am withholding myself from, or if alternatively, there is an omnipotent tyrant in the sky whose wrath I am inciting by my actions. Often the benevolent and fearful God are described as being one and the same, and at any rate, I feel that I must be displeasing Him. In doing so, I am also displeasing his followers- and that includes close members of my family.

At best I feel like a disappointment- at worst I feel that I may be in peril of “gaining the whole world and losing my soul” as Jesus was said to have said. I have to often remind myself that the idea of being cast into a burning lake of fire for eternity on the basis of mere belief or disbelief, is frankly absurd. If there is an afterlife, surely, our lives would be judged on the basis of our actions, and even if our actions were truly reprehensible they could not merit eternal punishment.

In some religions, being a truly horrible person just means that at some point your soul would be destroyed and you would no longer be reincarnated. Even though this is also a permanent punishment, the one punished does not in effect suffer for all eternity- they simply cease to be. That may be frightening as well, but, in the end, it’s all speculation. No one really knows what happens to us after this life- and that means that any number of things could be true, or none of them. Basing my entire life on any one assumption by itself sounds a lot like putting my eggs into one basket.

That being said, even though I’ve reasoned this all out quite neatly, hearing sermons about “losing this life” or even just offhand comments from Christians about hell and eternity can trigger all sorts of low-key nervous feelings in me. Sometimes, even without hearing these statements, the feelings can be triggered indirectly by random flashbacks to messages that have been drilled into my head for years. Even after separating oneself from the religion, one can still feel lingering feelings of guilt, shame, or “wrongness” that don’t seem to have any specific point of origin.

#3: Feeling lost

I used to pray a lot for strength and guidance, and sometimes, I still do. Now, though, I don’t have a very specific idea of who I’m praying to, and what it all means. In the past, praying to God for help with something also meant “putting it in His hands” which meant willfully choosing not to worry or be concerned with it. It meant quoting scriptures that detailed his “promises”, “meditating on the word” and choosing to praise, worship, and trust Him for the desired result. There was a certain element of “spiritual warfare” which included praying together with other people, and speaking out against any thoughts of doubt that might enter my mind.

If that sounds like a lot of work, in some cases it was. The draw of it all was that I felt that someone was listening- I felt that a Higher power was going to intervene on my behalf. Sometimes I felt literally refreshed and felt a sense of inner peace when praying. Even though I would still experience indecision, I used to believe that God was going to “work everything together for good.”

Now, I still believe in a higher power, but I believe that his/her/its role in human life is somewhat limited. I feel that I can seek guidance from this Force, but in the end a lot of the forward motion in my life is left up to me. This is both empowering and sobering. I now believe that I can’t just pray for things to be better, but I have to be the change that I want to see in the world. I believe that the Divine works through frail human lives to bring about good on this earth. I don’t believe that God has any sort of physical form, but rather is the life-giving force that exists in all of us. So in that sense, he/she/it isn’t really a “person” that we can implore to do this or that.

Another thing I now believe is in my own insignificance. I am not better or more deserving than anyone in this world, and being extremely devout isn’t going to stop bad things from happening to me. I also don’t believe that good or bad events are being orchestrated by some Divine Being. God was silent during the massacres in Sudan and Rwanda, the Holocaust, and havoc that occurred from the “Holy Wars” of the medieval times. There were- and are- times when peoples’ faith/religious convictions implored them to help others. Many Christians helped to hide Jews, but on the other hand, after it was over, the Catholic church was hiding Nazis and aiding in their escape. Religion is neither good nor bad, but good or bad people alike use it to justify their actions. What does that really say about it all?

It’s easy to get lost in this world. It’s easy for me to wonder if anything I do in life really matters. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibility that this life really is the only one that we have- that there’s no do-overs, that there’s no heaven for the righteous, no hell for the sinners, that we all simply get put in the ground and then we’re either remembered or forgotten. When I think about it like that, I have to ask myself if I’m really living the life that I want to live. It’s easy to wonder- “what are they going to say about me after I’ve died?” What legacy am I going to leave?

Not having any idea about any of it, or any romantic paradigm in which to frame things, is really hard. This is my reality, though, and I have to face it. So yes, there have been some regrets- but there’s no turning back now. I feel like I’ve seen a glimpse at the truth, and I don’t want fairy tales anymore. I’ve had some incredible good fortune in my life, and as great as it would be to think that that was due to my personally assigned guardian angel, I don’t know if I can tell myself that I’m that special.

I’m not special. I’m just me.