Monday, April 25, 2011

Not a Christian

I was raised to be a Christian. I was taught that, to be a Christian, one has to believe that Jesus was God on Earth, manifested in human form, and that because the human Jesus was killed and then rose from the dead, humanity would be allowed to go to Heaven when the Day of Judgment comes. And that meant that the kindest, most loving, most compassionate person would be denied Heaven if he or she didn't believe in Jesus' divinity, while a person who had committed horrible acts against humanity and the environment would be welcomed into Heaven. What Jesus's activities may or may not have meant wasn't the point - that he was miraculous, and that I believe that he was supernatural - that's all that was needed to be called a Christian.

You know that poster in Mulder's office of the flying saucer and the words "I Want to Believe"? That's how I felt growing up, about Jesus. I wanted to believe. I wanted to feel The Presence. So I did everything I was supposed to do in order to believe: read the Bible, went to Sunday school, went to church, went to Vacation Bible School, and on and on. I even got baptized, thinking that that action would, at last, give me The Feeling, the one I kept hearing about. Because, you know, I wanted to believe. I wanted to be like everyone else.

But everything about the definition of a Christian felt wrong to me, wrong to my core. Since what was supposed to give me comfort made my profoundly disturbed, I would literally ask, out loud, "Jesus, come into my heart. Save me." And absolutely nothing would happen. I would stand in churches and have all these people around me saying they were feeling something that I wasn't feeling, and had never felt. I felt profoundly left out.

That's why I say I was born an Atheist. It wasn't like one day I believed in an invisible, all-knowing friend and one day I didn't. I never believed. I wanted to believe, and for the first 14 years of my life, I did everything I could so that I would believe. But I finally decided to embrace my lack of belief. And with that embrace came a feeling like a hood being taken off my head.

So.... here's what I've wondered since then: what do you call a person who believes a man called Jesus may have existed, that he was not God, not supernatural, but merely a human, a radical Jew, that he had a lot of suggestions for how people should live, and that his teachings about loving other people as yourself, not being judgmental, not being materialistic , etc., were not only radical ideas for the time but also are ideas modern people should consider in thinking about current ethics and values? What do you call a person who doesn't believe the Bible is a literal history, who doesn't believe it is a collection of factual statements, but rather, believes it is a collection of narratives that document the human authors' beliefs and feelings at the time of the writing (and rewriting... and rewriting), and that reading it can give insights into how people long ago thought and lived? What do you call a person who thinks that, amid all of the racism, sexism, violence and promotion of these vices in the Bible there are also some advice for living and some universal truths that people should consider in thinking about their current ethics and values? What do you call a person that dismisses all of the supernatural elements of the Bible but not the wisdom it offers?

A thinker. But not a Christian.

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