I gave it all up

Please note: The building in my post is one that’s easily recognizable to people from the area. I blurred out anything that explicitly identifies this building. And what I have to say is in now way an indictment on those who go to this building. I am merely reflecting on my experiences from when I went here. If you have something to discuss, please comment or contact me. I’m happy to have a mutually respectful conversation.

I grew up in a religious household. Well, mom was a “believer,” but I still have no idea what my step-dad believed. We went to a baptist church that wasn’t far from where we lived.

We started going almost immediately after moving to Corpus Christi when I was 8 years old. I still remember some of my first Sunday school lessons from this church. I remembered the first lesson from 4th grade. Jethro gives Moses advice. And, for a good part of 4th grade, our Sunday school teacher would ask us what we thought the lesson would be about. Me and a buddy would always interject, “Jethro gives Moses advice.” That teacher learned to stop asking us about the lesson beforehand.

I didn’t feel bad that we sort of trolled the Sunday school teacher because she had given me my most hated childhood nickname the year before. I bet if I saw her today, I’d be tempted to kick her in the shin.

By the way, if you are in the exclusive club of people who know that hated nickname, I will hunt you down and bad stuff might happen to you if you repeat it. Or I’ll just laugh and die a little more inside. Either way.

I believe I have a great reason for why I gave up on church. And I’ll defend it as best as I can. I expect people to disagree with me. And that’s OK. I’ve said it before, I won’t apologize for what I believe. And I don’t expect you do to so for what you believe, either (as long as it doesn’t interfere with my beliefs).

I’m gonna shamelessly pilfer from a Clint Eastwood flick to break up the next parts of my post. I hear Vanessa Jackson’s voice in my head right now, and yes, I feel like I’ve earned the right to use the following clichè.

The good

I have tons of great memories growing up in church. As a kid, being bored and poor, the church offered a lot of fun activities for us to do. Vacation Bible School. Youth retreats. Just meeting up on Sunday nights before the services started, hanging out with friends. I didn’t have a car or anything, so this was the only way I could spend time with some of my buddies outside school. And you know what? I wish I hadn’t spent so much time feeling guilty for finding pleasure in having fun with my friends.

I met some incredible people with hearts of gold. I remember one of the elderly ladies would make Cowboy Cookies and bring them to the church potlucks. I don’t remember exactly what was in those cookies, but holy crap, I’d eat them out of the garbage if I could.

There was one sweet old man who would come over to my house to talk about the Bible with my mom. They’d sit at the kitchen table for hours. Going over this and that. I don’t discount his intentions, or his beliefs. But I knew even then that I didn’t wholly agree with him. But he was a nice, gentle old man who would have done anything to help anyone in need. His actions proved that more than his words ever could. I’ll never forget him.

I had some pretty cool Sunday school teachers, too. Some that just made me feel like I mattered. I was just another dude, among a group of dudes, talking about dude stuff.

I never remembered the lessons, or the sermons. You know, the supposed reason we’re supposed to go to church is to hear instructive and inspiring words from a man of god. Even when I tried to pay attention, my mind would wander off. Satan’s work, I’m sure.

The bad

For me, the bad parts of my experience can be summed up into one word: doctrine. We were supposed to actively talk about, and convince people to believe, our faith. I never felt comfortable doing that. And, at the time, I felt guilty about that.

When I attended the young adults group (which still seems to be a condescending name), I was told the same things over again each week: don’t drink, don’t party, don’t have sex until marriage. Week in. Week out. Same old message. But there was this veil between the message and reality. Maybe if I had a teacher that would have been totally candid about their experiences of drinking, partying and premarital sex, I could have seen from a real person what the real consequences could have been. I know many of us partook in those three activities at that age. So, instead of hearing real experiences from people we knew, we got prepackaged horse shit from a pamphlet. Full of hypotheticals. Words bent toward doctrine, but poorly disguised as reality.

After I figured that out, and stopped being interested in any of the girls in the group, I gave up on the youth group.

Another doctrine I take exception to is that we can only be close to our god is through non-godly means. Now stay with me here. I think, if there was a god, we wouldn’t have to jump through hoops to be in communication with him/her/it/whatever. We commune through whatever way we see fit, as long as it’s not harming others. To sum it up, I think the churches have made it difficult for people to feel at peace with how they are close to god because it interferes with their financial and controlling interests.

And here’s a quick-fire roundup of some more of my issues with my old church: intolerance (of other religions, lifestyles); lack of actual spiritual discussion; explaining exactly why they believed the Bible was the sole word of god; churchgoers basing their beliefs and their interpretations of the Bible on whatever the pastor said; being made to feel guilty for natural urges (lust, among other things, is a natural urge for people. It just is.); not being open and candid about the real struggles in our lives (i.e. feeling embarrassed about being imperfect).

I could go on. But you get the point.

The ugly

Have you even seen a “church fight?” It would be cool if it was some kind of WWE wrestling match, at least that would be entertaining.

Nope. The two church fights I witnessed were horrible. And they were fought, to the best of recollection, over money or influence. What bullshit.

One such fight centered around the pastor trying to fundamentally change the church. He had some kind of idea of what he thought the church should be, so he just did what he wanted. And so, from what I remember, a power struggle between him and some of the families who’d been part of the church for decades began.

He ended up resigning. Half the churchgoers went with him. And for what? Because we all couldn’t agree on how to collectively worship our god? Wow.

I remember after he left, one of my former Sunday school teachers lamented to me, “I wonder how many people will go to hell because we were too busy bickering?” Of course, he meant that people would go to hell because we were spending time fighting amongst each other and not trying to convert others.

That fight showed me another ugly view of church: entrenched families. Some families are part of a church for so long, they feel like they have ownership over it. Maybe because of the time and money they’ve invested. I’ll never know.

The breaking point

I’ll tell you what made me decide to never return to church.

It was about March of 2009. I wasn’t having a spiritual crisis or anything. I was a young adult with a wife and son, and I wanted to see what I could get out of church since all the old reasons I used to attend were gone.

I had been through a few different Sunday school classes for adults. The college-aged class was basically like the boring youth group class, but with attendees even less interested than their younger counterparts. The young adults (i.e. the ones with families and jobs) class was a 30-minute gripe session from people about their lives for most of the class. Then they read from a prefabricated bullcrap publication to say that they learned something “spiritual.”

On that final day I set foot into a church service, I remember sitting near the back of the sanctuary. I was reading through Ecclesiastes, as other people were coming in and finding their seats. One man, someone who I thought had a heart of gold, a true believer, came up to me and nudged my shoulder. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was reading the Bible. He laughed and looked at me like I was crazy and walked off. What was so crazy to him about reading the Bible? Was it because I was on my own and not seeking attention?

The man could have meant absolutely nothing by it. But I realized I didn’t need to be around other people, whose beliefs were not consistent with my own, in order to figure out this whole god thing.

Embracing uncertainty

I don’t think I want to be certain of anything when it comes to spiritual matters. If such a thing exists. If you come to that point, where you are certain of everything, and all of it seems to make sense to you, how will you respond to those who believe differently? What if they too believe they have reached certainty? See how this leads to worse things than just polite disagreements?

All I really know from my experiences is one thing: don’t be an asshole.

Is there really anything else a reasonable god should expect from us?

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