Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sometimes Community Can Suck

I wrote this for my own benefit months ago after seeing Dave Bazan in concert and heard him talk about the effect his switch to agnosticism from Christianity has had on his family relationships and friendships. I thought I'd share it here.

Faith can be such an integral part of one’s life that sharing the same beliefs with someone else seals you into a safe and comforting place like no other. When no one else can understand the decisions you make, where you put your time, etc. someone of the same faith can. If you’re really engrossed in your faith’s culture, the bonding becomes even easier. You and your friends are listening to the same music and reading the same books. You’re privy to the same jokes and you speak the same language. Normal bonds are even deeper because they will stretch into eternity.

When I was deeply involved in church I was attending a church related activity five days a week and generally spending time with people from my church the other two. My world was small, but I felt safe in it, extremely so. I knew everyone, they knew me. Discussing personal matters to the point of utterly exposing your heart was common and even easy most of the time because everyone would understand your struggles to be a better Christian. The community I experienced there felt completely safe, completely open, completely right.

From being on the inside of a community like that I can understand why it’s so hard for someone to hear that a member is leaving. Not physically leaving, that would be no problem -spiritually leaving. This is beyond losing a friend, it’s losing a comrade, an eternal family member. I think it’s the weight of the latter that really plagues Christians-  will you now be separated from someone you love forever?

It’s a horrible feeling, I can speak from experience. When my someone I love told me they didn’t know if they believed in God I agonized over the thought that we would be separated for all eternity. It was the chief thought in my mind, that I just had to be certain their salvation was secure. They could ask any questions they liked so long as I knew that when we died, we would end up in the same place. I can only imagine that would be one of the first thoughts to enter many of my friend’s minds were they to know some of the thoughts I’ve been having.

The only solution is to mount an offensive to get your friend back in the fold ASAP. This loss of faith is just a trick of the devil’s; Josh McDowell and Lee Stroble have proved to the entire Christian world that with the right argument you can reason someone back into belief. And thus, the arguing and reasoning begins- facts about the Bible’s accuracy, questions about good and evil and spiritual revelation.

I can appreciate this reaction, I really can. I had that precise reaction myself. But that’s because I didn’t know then what I know now. For every argument, there’s a counter-argument. For every spiritual revelation there’s a possible explanation. We don’t know anything, we can’t. And faith is defined as “belief that is not based on proof” for a reason. If you want to argue, you can, but it will likely not get you anywhere unless the person is seeking to debate. But if they are just seeking to share with you, their friend, what is on their heart and mind, debates will only serve to say, “you are wrong, I’m not listening.” So many times I wanted to cover my ears and say “lalala- I don’t hear you, I don’t hear you” when my friend was confessing their thoughts to me. I wish I hadn’t. All it did was serve to drive a wedge between us, making them unwilling to share their thoughts and feelings on God, religion, morality, etc for years to come.

So here’s my point, something for the Christian world to ponder. Yes, for those of you in the community it is grievous and terrible when a member leaves the fold. But remember, chances are, that person is much more frightened, confused and upset than you are. For many (for me), I don’t know if it’s true for all, this potential loss of their faith, their community, everything that centered their world is devastating. It’s terrifying. It’s nothing they came to lightly. It’s not easy or comfortable. And while they deal with the terror of losing their faith, ahead looms the very real possibility of losing friends and family as well. Maybe they’ll stay around to view them as a new project that needs to be accomplished. Maybe they’ll hold them at arms length. Maybe the polarization of faith will be too much and they will cut them out completely.

I’ve never felt fear like I feel the moments I let slip a belief that no longer adheres to that of the person I’m speaking to. Confessing these beliefs to someone from my old community terrifies me. Which is why I have rarely done it. I carefully avoid topics that I know I can’t lie about. Usually I’m safe. I know how to speak the language and I’ve always been adept at steering around topics I don’t want to discuss. But, at times, I’m backed into a corner and my heart will literally pound with fear. 

Afterward: I don't consider my faith lost. My fellow blogger made the point my brain has been dancing around for a long time- just because our thoughts are changing or growing, it does not mean God has changed. S.S., you are brilliant and I love you. 

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