How I went to theology school and lost my faith

This is the post I mentioned in Lost that I didn’t feel confident enough to publish at the time. I feel so much better these days than I did when I first wrote this

Or not, not really. Sure, technically that’s the sequence of events, but it’s woefully incomplete.

My faith, such as it was, lasted the full length of the first year of school by sheer stubbornness, outlasting (and probably sapping) any sense of hope or drive or joy. By the end of that school year, I just didn’t care at all about the school or the work. And even most of a year later I have negative feelings toward the entire country. Sorry England.

I lost my faith. I always phrase it this way. I lost. I lost something significant, important, grounding, central to my identity and sense of purpose and being and morality. I didn’t become an atheist as some kind of grand self-created insight. I lost. Defeated and directionless and alone.

I lost my faith in humanity.

In 2014-15 I’d started paying more attention, especially those the stories and experiences of those in the not white-straight-able-cis-male demographic. Now to those of you who are variously members of minority groups this is going to be painfully obvious and a glaring example of privilege: I realised that not only is life not even remotely fair, injustices rarely even get acknowledged, let alone corrected, and usually injustice is only ever increased once any attention is drawn to individual cases, that calling attention to these individual cases is a personal sacrifice to gradually change the wider injustices.

I knew that of course life’s not fair, but I had never internalised how significantly not life’s fairness is, and I’m starting to understand that I will never really understand, I can only barely improve my dim understanding.

I lost my faith in specific humans and in general humanity, in governments, in the promise of democracy, in social systems and services and bureaucracies and charities, even in media and arts.

I’m slowly recovering some hope and joy. But it’s still a flighty, easily shaken thing.

I lost my faith in the Church

Theology school is much more directly responsible for this, my view of the Church now and historically. My definition of Christian and The Church necessarily grew to include people I don’t like, and people I disagreed with. Even if I just include those who sincerely believed, who followed what they thought God wanted to the best of their ability, excluding those who appeared to present and use Christianity solely for its political power, I am in the company of people who vociferously defended slavery, those that ran crusades that were not only horrifying but also ridiculously inept, those who got thoroughly confused about the difference between conquering people and bringing Jesus’ message to them, those who killed other Christians who baptise people ‘incorrectly’ (however that is), and even currently living folks who believe it’s unbiblical and a man-fail to do household-chores1, that any kind of homosexuality is an abomination, trans people deserve less respect than a stray dog, and we should only extend care and hospitality to the perfectest ‘Christian’ refugees.

Of course #notallchristians, but definitely and obviously some Christians, and it frequently feels like #mostchristians at least passively seem to support the worst (ok, maybe not the worst worst, but at least the next worst).

I lost my faith in God

Faith is commonly used to mean ‘belief in the existence of’ when we’re talking about supernatural beings, but here I am engaging in something commonly called ‘word play’ and using it in a different sense: trust that they are good.

With man’s inhumanity to man2, and especially man’s inhumanity to man when the inhuman man is defending their inhumanity-ing using God, Church, or Bible, why would God either: 1. stand idly by while we destroy one another, or 2. speak through prophets but not with any distinction between those who speak for God, and those who claim falsely to speak for God, apart from ‘know them by their fruits’ - a metric which, by the time we have data, the damage is done. alternatively 3. destroy us all, either hell or flood.

It strikes me as odd that the major instances of God stepping in and saying ‘enough is enough’ were a flood that wiped out almost all life on earth3 and then thousands of years later, sending himself to Earth to live a truncated human lifetime saying some genuinely subversive and compassionate things, and then vanishing after a confusingly bloodthirsty example of self-sacrifice4, not ever popping back up for a moment to say ‘uuh, that’s not quite what I had in mind’. whether power by threat of hell or continued subjugation of women or antisemitism or more general xenophobia or not explicitly condemning slavery, or however else Jesus’ own mostly not awful words have been used for evil purposes, let alone the rest of scripture.

If it is what God had in mind? that’s not a God I want to follow, and if it isn’t, then that’s not a God with any, love, care, or responsibility, up and leave and not pay attention to the outcome? also not a God I want to follow.

Now, I am not the pure source of all love and morality, or an infinite intellect, so please forgive my not having answers and just asking the questions.

I didn’t have the energy or will to argue this case with even the most gentle of my classmates, friends, family, etc, or the desire to attempt to change anyone else’s mind. I also don’t feel I had earned this emotional state toward discussions of the church or spirituality: no-one has abused me personally.

  1. is a thing an actual, not joking, a current Christian teacher said source since deleted but you know, nothing’s really deleted and its since-deletion doesn’t negate that he said it sincerely at the time, and don’t blame youthful indiscretion, he was at the time (and still is) a respected (in some circles) teacher of theology. 

  2. is this phrase a critique of patriarchy and toxic, performative masculinity? 

  3. portrayed with disturbing frequency as the cover of children’s bibles 

  4. the various mechanics of Jesus Death=Salvation receive muddled explanations by even their most committed defenders. I certainly don’t understand how Christus Victor is supposed to work, or why substitutionary atonement doesn’t make God an entirely unjust judge.