Answering 19-year-old me

I’m no longer a Christian, see Lost and How I went to theology school and lost my faith
This is still good advice though: “Talk. Don’t just be flaily at bits of paper in secret.”

I found a hand-written brain-dump I wrote from before I gave up being a Christian. It had my pastor’s email address scrawled in the corner; I don’t think I ever showed it to him. I wonder what he’d’ve said? I wonder what I’d say now? I wonder if this counts as my letter to my past self blog-roll post?

Published with my permission ;)

The letter

I have no idea what to believe.
I look at my life, and if I strip away any bias of Christian upbringing, I get God doesn’t exist. But I haven’t removed bias. I’ve replaced it. With western atheism. The world around me. 1 bias for another.
Everything is just the way you look at things. And when I change assumptions I get a different result. I don’t like that I can’t answer myself. There is a lot within Christianity that I struggle believing. Why is healing so inconsistent. The ridiculousness of the bible re-interpreted for nice bible stories in a politically correct age.

There are huge clashes between ideologies. Slaves. Women. War. Sex. It doesn’t even seen consistent in the bible itself. I hate that I have so conditioned myself not to swear, this automatic censor to what comes out of my mouth, when it’s so at odds with the sentences in my head. I hate that I can’t say a movie is art because it has nudity, I hate that I don’t pray except in front of people, I hate that I feel like everyone else does the same. I hate that I’m always cynical of Christian successes. I hate that I can go to church and sing the songs and help at youth group, and then come home and it feels like a fucking charade.

Nothing makes sense to me in a concrete way. Everything is shifting. I hate that I argue away Gods love as that nice feeling that someone loves you, as imagined, wishful thinking. I feel so hypocritical, yet I’m so glad the youth believe. Their faith is strong. But I can’t. Every time I return to God I say I want to serve you this time. This time. And people say every time invite the Spirit in. Live by the Spirit every day. It sounds like brainwashing. You repeat something enough, you believe it. Until you stop repeating it, then it vanishes. I hate that I can convince myself to break up with a lovely girl. Hurt her. Just because I can’t see myself marrying her. The was nothing wrong with our relationship. But I convinced myself it was better now than later. Maybe it was.

I talk to myself a lot. I talk to God too. In the same way. Am I just talking to myself?

I don’t even know what I want to believe let alone what is true. I feel like I’m losing my mind. Actually going crazy. I can’t stay by myself too
long. I start to go nuts. So I watch movies, read books, lived in a fantasy place. I’m losing it. I don’t know what’s real.19-year-old me

My Response

It’s ok. Doubt is ok. Swearing is ok. Babel is a great movie.

You don’t have to figure everything out now. You don’t even have everything figured out in 7 years time. Faking it is stressful: relax and be honest with where you’re at. You’re not as smart as you think your are.

Cognitive bias are present no matter what you believe. They’re a red herring though - not part of your struggle with Christianity. Be aware of them yes, if for no other reason than that it’s truly fascinating how our brains are fooled.

That relationship? She’s married, I’m sure she’s happy. No lasting damage. You’re fine also, unencumberedly single.

You’ve read the Bible. Keep reading it. Read it again. There’s some crazy stuff in there, yes, but when read as a whole it is consistent, it’s just not always made obvious up-close who’s doing wrong and right. (Hint: Everyone is usually wrong).

Read more, study more. There is a wealth of information on how to reconcile the lists of apparent contradictions that you’ve been hit with. All of your intellectual issues are already answered somewhere - there’s nothing new, you don’t have to come up with the answers yourself. Definitely talk to more experienced people of an intellectual bent, they’ll no-doubt have had similar questions, and will know where to find answers.

You have a responsibility to the youth group to not fake your relationship with Christ, if you can’t do it for real (you can’t), set is aside for a time (you do). It’ll remove the whole stress and terror of being found out as a fake Christian (which is a significant part of your mental anguish). Most people will understand. You can even stop calling yourself a Christian for a while; it’ll help you extract the Truth of Christianity from the mushy hollow christian/churchy appearance. (I don’t mean stop praying and seeking God, just that sometimes labels like ‘Christian’ and the expectations that follow them hurt more than they help.)

Above all: God won’t leave you like this. Hang in there. Talk. Don’t just be flaily at bits of paper in secret.