About 10 months ago, I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Somewhere around the middle of that monster book, my world fell apart.
Most of my friends are Christians. A lot of them have been a part of the church their entire lives. Most of them, however, came to Jesus at some point during high school. I fell in the middle of that spectrum. I came to Jesus as a middle school student. I wasn’t born into the church, but I did a lot of growing up there.
In February of 2007, my family moved to Billings, MT. This was the third time I’d switched schools that year. Lockwood Middle School treated me well enough, I suppose, but middle school sucks for everyone. I’m not really sure throwing a bunch of early teenagers going through puberty together for 30 hours a week is that good of an idea. I made friends though. I was lucky enough to come across a group of really accepting guys. They were in that in-between stage between the uber-“popular” (which isn’t a realistic description, but it does get the point across), and the kids that stayed away from everyone. Basically, if you had a small amount of social skills and a little bit of decency, you were in.
However, 13-year-olds are not very good at teaching you about life. I needed the guidance sorely missing from my group of friends. Enter: my uncle.
My uncle Greg is a great man. He has been as long as I’ve known him. I honestly don’t know how this came about, but around that time I saw he was heavily involved in the church. It interested me, and I asked him to start taking me to church. Maybe I was just looking for someone to guide me through the turmoil of adolescence. Maybe it was God prompting something within me. I’m not sure right now.
My uncle said he would. The effort and dedication that this took is impressive and requires a bit of explaining to understand. My uncle lived near downtown Billings. I lived on the far end of Lockwood, a suburb, meaning I was about a 15-minute drive from his house. The church we went to was on the other end of town, about a 25-minute drive from my house. Twice a week, my uncle would pick me up, take me to church, then take me home. If you do the math, that’s a bit over 2 and half hours of driving each week just so I could go to church. This was extremely important to him. And for 13-year-old me, having someone show that much dedication to me was huge.
I went to a middle school youth group, which was full of games, pizza, candy, and enough Jesus to cause some serious changes in my outlook on life. I had friends at church as well, and these were Christian friends, meaning that they believed the same things I did, had the same standards on what was acceptable and what wasn’t, and I could talk about anything with, because since they were Christians, I knew the wouldn’t judge me.
I ate up everything I could relating to Jesus. I was doing devotionals as often as I could. I went to every church event possible. I discovered and ate up an entire new genre of books classified as Christian self-help. My mentors, pastor, and these books were right about everything.
This continued and intensified through high-school. I found it harder and harder to connect with non-Christians. Consciously or not, the church was telling me that being around these guys was dangerous, and that I might be led astray, so I’d better be careful around them. Extreme caution is not a good foundation for friendships. The same went for worldly things, which I interpreted to mean everything not labeled Christian. This led to an emphatic two-week fundamentalist stage for me, during which I threw away my Harry Potter books because they contained witchcraft. I quickly regretted that decision.
I think most of this was us looking for answers, me and the rest of the high-school students at youth group. We didn’t know or understand life, and it appeared these adults at youth group did. They said the way was Jesus, and that was done best when complemented with this way of living.
I need to be clear here. I still love and respect these people, and I thank them for everything they did for me. At youth group, I found guidance, knowledge, and some legitimate wisdom about life. It’s just now I’m not sure everything they taught meets that criteria.
During the second half of high school, I was beginning to find a more relational way of going about this Jesus thing. It wasn’t about doing things the right way; it was about having a relationship with Jesus.
Evangelical Christianity tends to emphasize emotion, which is like a drug to confused teenagers. These extreme emotions I was having were me experiencing God. At least the good ones were. And I was always looking for another high.
It was around the time I graduated high-school that I really began to examine things for myself. I moved out a few weeks after graduation, and being in charge of myself had me looking at the world through new eyes. I started digging into the Bible, and really examining it, to find answers and truth. I also discovered a lot of ideals and ideas that I believed in through secular (read: non-Christian) authors. And so the tension began.
Over the next couple of years, I continued to learn more about myself. I began to really look up to and be inspired by this people who weren’t Christians. I saw that these people were happy and were living good and meaningful lives. I also began to notice all the Christians that weren’t. The tension builds.
All of this was happening subconciously without me really being aware of it. And then last summer, I read Atlas Shrugged. Something about that book broke my inner world. Or at least made me think it did. I’m still not sure really why it happened with that book. Maybe is was that there were pieces of the beliefs presented I found myself possibly agreeing with that definitely went against what Christianity taught. Maybe it was just the first time I really saw a belief system without God that made sense. I don’t know. Either way, I was free-falling.
For a couple of weeks, everything was horrible and depressing and nothing mattered anymore because I didn’t believe in anything anymore. After freaking out for a while, and then talking to a couple of friends, I realized things were going to be okay, and that my world wasn’t falling apart. I committed myself to begin figuring out what I did believe, and if those beliefs held up in the face of life. I comforted myself with the idea that the God I believed in welcomed questioning, and as long as I was doing this honestly and not taking easy answers, or answers convenient to me, I’d end up in the right place either way. Even if that meant I wouldn’t be a Christian anymore.
And so, over the last 10 months, I’ve done a lot thinking, examining, and have been questioning everything a bit at a time. I don’t have any solid, unalterable answers, but that’s okay. I don’t think that’s what I’m looking for. Everything’s a bit vague, but here’s what I’ve come to think so far:
What I’m going through isn’t a unique process, but rather what everyone whose honest with themselves goes through at some point. Everybody has to figure the world out for themselves. It’s only within certain groups of people that doing so is discouraged. Doing this isn’t outright discouraged by those around me in the church, but it’s not exactly encouraged either. We should encourage everybody to really, really look at the world and their lives, and to figure things out for themselves. If God is real, he must welcome this. I wouldn’t want to follow a God who doesn’t.
And so, in the interest of telling you all where my head’s at, here’s what I think at the moment:
I’m not confident either way about the existence of God. I don’t think we can prove or disprove his existence. I do think there is something spiritual in this world. I’m not sure what that is yet, whether it’s a being, a state-of-mind, another dimension, etc. I do intend to search honestly and find out.
I may or may not have had experiences with God. This kind of goes along with the above thought. Most of what I would attribute to God comes along with extreme emotion, so I can’t necessarily give those to him. I definitely have had my share of transcendental experiences, and there is a distinct quality to those.
If the Bible does hold meaning, it’s not as a book with answers, but rather a collection of stories and poems we find meaning in, just like we do with movies, books, and art in general.
I’m think evolution is probably how we came to be, rather than a 6-day creation process. What does that mean for the beginning of Genesis? I think that it means those stories are more allegorical and mythical than historical.
I’m not sure yet what the role sex plays in life. It’s obviously meaningful, and can have spiritual qualities. I find a lot of beauty in the way the romantics talk about sex. Not that it’s always life-changing, but that it’s a part of an extremely intimate connection with another human being. That being said, I’m not sure if the whole waiting till marriage thing is the way to go. I’m undecided on this.
Up to this point, my search has been a mixed bag of logic, philosophy, science, finding truth in stories and art, and winging it. I think this is probably how everyone figures out there beliefs, whether they admit or not. It’ll continue this way for a while.
About a month ago, I finally admitted to myself that I’m not a Christian anymore. I have no idea what that means for the future.
I also realized that I can look at this process two ways, and the difference between them is massive. I can see that I’m not sure what I believe and freak out because I don’t know where I am. Or, I can see that I’m not sure what I believe, and get excited, because I don’t know where I am. It’s the difference between viewing a swamp as an obstacle or an adventure. I’m going with adventure.
Seriously though, in reading this, I hope you all know that I’m still figuring it all out, probably will be for a long time, if not forever, and that’s okay. I’m wandering, but I don’t feel lost.