Cultural Appropriations · General Ramblings

Nothing Without You (But I Don’t Know Who You Are): Loss of Religion & Faith

I’m usually a happy Agnostic with Christian leanings. I celebrate Christmas, I celebrate Easter. I listen to Palestrina’s and Bach’s sacred masses on my iTunes and I am a sucker for Gregorian chant. I pray sometimes. I love old churches and cathedrals, especially getting to sit inside something so majestic and massive. And sometimes I hate the entire thing.

It’s not even that I came from a bad religious background. Nothing about my indoctrination into the Church was in any way traumatic. My parents baptized me Anglican, but I was mostly raised in the United Church of Canada, an extremely liberal sect of the Protestant Church. Though at the time they were quite a bit more traditional, the United Church’s present mandate is that they are welcoming AND affirming. I have found it interesting over the years that in the face of the Catholic and Southern Evangelical Churches strongly resisting welcoming people from all walks of life and orientations to worship, the United Church has been the one church that has maintained a strong and clear stance. You are welcome here. God welcomes you here.

So what reason at all would I have to hate the entire thing? It’s not the United Church. It’s not my parents, who raised me to be open, strong, and accepting in my faith. It’s the fact that while I was raised in a loving environment, I was not raised to handle the open hatred of many within the Christian sect. Together, though they shouldn’t have been able to pierce my faith-forged armour, they contrived to take me down and grind me under their heel. And they very nearly succeeded.

First of all: the “they” I refer to are people who would tell you that they don’t have any specific denomination they belong to. They are God’s children and that’s all that matters. And really, it doesn’t matter what denomination they belong to, or what they really believe. One of the main tenets Jesus taught was to love thy neighbour as thyself. And they don’t. They still don’t, to this day.

I’ve said before that if you need to “love the sinner, but hate the sin”, you’re actually just being hateful. At the time, I had not come out as bisexual, but I knew there was something different about me, something that I perceived as dark and shameful, mostly from hanging around these people. But because they didn’t know it, they couldn’t drive me away using the “sin” of being gay. Instead, they decided to attack my knowledge of religion, my clear and innocent (at the time) faith, and through much twisting of Scripture and “Jesus-speak”, the special vocabulary some churches must go out of their way to teach their members from infancy, they told me I wasn’t good enough. Would NEVER be good enough.

And that’s where I started to hate the great and powerful institution of the Church.

One little pinprick feels like nothing at all. But days of pinpricks, of twits and laughter at your clothes and jewellery, of the sharp intake of breath when you walk into a room, of little knots of people standing in hallways, waiting for you to come closer – it starts to pierce through any self-preservation you might have. It starts to hurt and sting. Eventually, you start to bleed. And they slowly wear you down.

“You’re standing on the fence between heaven and hell. I think you’re probably going to fall straight into hell.”

“That’s a demonic symbol you’re wearing. God sure isn’t looking down kindly on you.”

“Why are you talking to that gay kid? Being gay is a sin. You need to witness to him and tell him where he’s going wrong. A good Christian would . . . aren’t you a good Christian?”

They would line up, lie in wait, start to carefully turn the conversation around to their agenda of trying to convert me – or because I wasn’t good enough, and never would be good enough for their perfect society, maybe they were trying to just put me in my place. I eventually decided that a God of a religion like this was not a God I wanted to believe in. I didn’t want any part of their religious bullying. I didn’t want to call myself a Christian.

I struggled for years with this. I had such a clear, pure faith in God. I genuinely loved going to church. I spent a retreat right before Confirmation completely communing with the Holy Spirit, or so I thought. And then this happened.

I tried to convince myself that God was testing my faith. Surely, He didn’t really want his followers to be like this. He wanted me to ignore their poison and strengthen myself. And I tried – I really tried. I would pray, hours lying in bed in my room, asking Him why. I would ask for help, for strength. And in the end, I would ask, in barely a whisper, for Him to renew my faith in Him because I was losing it.

I did lose it. I lost it completely.

Because it didn’t stop. I stood in front of the entire group one day and “witnessed” to them. Witnessed my pain, my shame, my uncertainty. I told them that I didn’t understand this kind of Christianity. There were tears and there were hugs. How could they have done this to one of their own? And then the next day, it began again.

It took me years to accept that what had been done to me was bullying. It wasn’t couched that way and it certainly didn’t start out that way. Those people were friends . . . right? Fellow Christians, people who believed in God, people who wanted to love their neighbours as they loved themselves. Right?

No. Wrong.

I flirted with the Catholic Church after I turned 18 and had made a fairly thorough study of the main world religions over about three years. With my knowledge, my hatred grew and hardened. Soon, the armour of faith I though I had was replaced with a thick skin of hatred. In response to their bullying, I would taunt them back. The disappointed looks became like candy to me – who could I make cry today? I took great pleasure in my hatred – and then walked into one of the most majestic, beautiful, and restrictive Churches on the planet and decided to make my faith home there.

It’s now eleven years later. I am no longer part of any church. I don’t want to be. I don’t know what I believe, and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with believing in a faceless higher power, for now. I’m okay with celebrating traditional Christian festivals and holidays, because I grew up with them and I love tradition. I’m okay with people believing what they want, no matter what, without fear, shame, or hatred.

Here’s what I’m not okay with. I’m not okay with excluding people because they have a different colour of skin, sexual orientation, or faith than you. I’m also not okay with my residual hatred – or the pain that I caused the people who caused me pain. An eye for an eye leaves the entire world blind. And what I did was as bad as what they did to me. What I did was not more honourable or right. And my thoughts – almost automatic now – towards ultra- Conservative people, or highly religious people, or people who offer hatred to me first are not okay either. It’s not okay for me to hate because I was hated. It’s not okay for me to oppress back.

This is the hardest part of being okay with my faith journey so far. I am still hurt. I’m hurt every time someone states that the way that I was born is sinful and worth going to hell. I detest the phrase “hate the sin, not the sinner”. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around taking away people’s human rights in the name of God. It’s hard for me to imagine killing someone because they don’t believe the same thing as you. It’s hard. And the hurt I carry in my heart rears up and wants to overwhelm it all like a spreading fire. I want to scream and bully and take pleasure in it, the way I did when I was 17 years old and trying to make sense of why someone would do that to me.

But hating them doesn’t change the institution. It doesn’t change the oppression – it just makes it more widespread. Jesus may have had a table-flipping moment of righteousness, but that wasn’t His usual MO, and I know it.

I’m not looking to be a good Christian. I’m looking to be a good person. In order to repair what has been done to me, I need to start within and look at where I’m going blind. That’s been the hardest part of all of this – because what I miss most about the religion I grew up in was the tenet to love thy neighbour as thyself.

I’m just not capable of that anymore . . . and I want to change it.

(Thanks to Shannon at Truthfully.ca for inspiring this post and further conversation from us “refugees of religion”.)

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11 thoughts on “Nothing Without You (But I Don’t Know Who You Are): Loss of Religion & Faith

  1. This was beautiful to read and so amazingly written. I’m sorry all of this happened to you. It’s amazing that you’re reflecting on it and trying to unpack your parts. I don’t think I’m there yet.

    Refugees of religion. Love it. T-shirts? ❤

  2. I think your situation must be shared by many people. Organised religion can be so damaging, because people feel safe in a group to bully otehrs and not live out what they clai to believe. I’m fortunate that I have a very nice church community at the moment, but I am about to move – if my new church doesn’t treat me with love and respect, and doesn’t treat everyone else that way, then I will have no qualms in doing as you’ve done and saying “I give up on this religion”. My faith in God is strong; my faith in the Christian Church itself is not so strong. And that’s fine. Just yesterday I was shouted at by someone I call a friend, because I mentioned that I was interested in a different branch of Christianity and was reading about their beliefs. He told me it was heresy and that I was committing sin by even reading their scriptures. I was very hurt, and very worried about the people that he will be ministering to in future. Fortunately our senior priest was there and I suspect he might have a quiet word, because that sort of attitude is alienating and cruel, and doesn’t achieve anything other than division and hatred.

    1. Yes, I agree totally, May. It’s hard to make a home in a very hostile place. I think that there are good people in the church, though, and I think that your story about your senior priest gently correcting the younger priest is what will change it – at least I hope so. We need to make these places welcoming, not exclusive.

      1. I hope so too. I just noticed all the typos in my comment – sorry! Obviously I was too caught up in your post to proofread 😉

  3. I left the church about the time I started high school, more because it wasn’t ‘cool’ than anything else, I think. But I can still relate to a lot of what you wrote about as I’ve come across similar experiences in my adult years. Even if I’ve rarely directly experienced the hatred, reading about other people who are treated that way makes it hard for me to not automatically negatively judge those who consider themselves Christian. And it was others’ experiences with Christians that made me scared of publicly coming out as bisexual, because I didn’t want to be treated like that by the Christians in my family.

    My dad is especially keen on talking about “hate the sin, not the sinner,” and it doesn’t matter how much I tell him that for the “sinner” it basically feels like the same thing — you’re hating a part of who I am. “But it’s only if you act on it!” he might say… so we’re denying rights to people just because of their sexuality? Thankfully I wasn’t treated any differently by my family when I came out, but I still avoid talking about it too much with them, because I don’t want to hear those sorts of things.

    1. Yeah. All of this are reasons I just can’t throw myself back into Christianity. It doesn’t matter if your hatred is “righteous” to you, it still hurts the people you’re supposed to be loving and caring for, like your religion states you should.

  4. Hello there miss Elizabeth! 🙂

    I found your post very touching being a 17 year-old Muslim who’s holding on to my religion.
    I truly hate being controlled by being told what to do and being forced to take in what is right and what is wrong without being given reasons
    .
    However, Islam taught and is still teaching me that behind every little thing that is forbidden by God lies a benefit and a reason.

    Every while I strengthen my faith by reciting the Qur’an (our holy book) and receive the messages from God which inspire me to love Him and all of the prophets as well as prophet Muhammad and Jesus (peace be upon them). Also, praying 5 times a day which may seem hard gives me a break from everything and offers me a time to speak to God, and therefore more energy to go on with my life.

    I am mentioning this to you because I have tasted the sweetness of Islam and I want to share it with you.
    My last advice to you is to never give up on connecting with God and asking Him for guidance and to look for the religion that you can easily embrace without being forced to do so.

    Best wishes!

    1. Thank you for your comment! I envy people who can take peace in religion this way. Islam is a beautiful religion that I have found interesting to learn more about. Thank you for sharing some of your feelings about it with me!

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