You know that feeling you get when something you were really invested in and believed in as a kid turns out to not be that magical when you experience it as an adult?
Maybe it was a fast food burger and fries, the feeling of Christmas Eve, or a tree you used to read books in.
Things often lose their magic as you get older because all the experiences you’ve had have given them context, and generally speaking, these experiences are likely to make you feel more cynical about the world.
This is how I feel about Christianity.
The church as I knew it (or desperately tried to believe it was) is dead to me.
The God I was raised to believe in is dead to me.
As children, we’re pretty naive. We tend to take the things told to us by the adults we trust pretty seriously, and we tend to trust more easily the younger we are.
Then we grow up and we realize the world is a lot more complex than we were told it was. We realize that growing up and being free to make our own decisions isn’t as wonderful as we thought it would be when we were little. We realize that if we want to be the thing we always dreamed of being, it’s most likely going to mean years of really hard work, and there’s a decent chance we’ll never make it and have to settle for something else. We realize that loving people is actually pretty difficult, and life kinda sucks.
I grew up in the church, or perhaps I should say “churches”. We had a church we went to on Sundays, churches we visited when speakers were in town or in neighboring areas, the churches I went to on Wednesday nights for youth groups, and other churches we visited for various events. The common thread between every place we visited was that it was Protestant, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and politically Conservative, and they were always led by white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-aged men. Many of the places were also some degree of Charismatic or Pentecostal. Every friend or acquaintance I made everywhere I went was going to be Christian, and as a result, my worldview was very limited.
The craziest part was, everything I learned told me over and over again that it was incredibly obvious that everything in the bible was an absolute fact, and that the way it was meant to be interpreted was quite black and white. There was no room for questioning or disagreement on most topics. Anyone who tried to question things in church was quickly shut down and it was made obvious that they should know better.
I was told that Adam and Eve were real people who cast the earth into a state of evil because they listened to a talking snake. I was told that God committed and condoned multiple mass genocides because he was just. I was told that people who don’t say a string of specific words will spend an eternal afterlife burning in flames, and that people who do utter these magic words will get new bodies and worship God and be happy and perfect for the rest of eternity.
I was also homeschooled – not necessarily with the goal of sheltering me, but because it was the best learning set-up for me. However, nearly all of the textbooks and teaching materials were “Christian”. This means my science books tried to uphold the Young Earth Creationist view (which holds that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that evolution cannot possibly be true) with every chance they got. The overarching theme of everything I learned was one that reinforced a black and white moral code, an inerrant Bible, and a human species destined for hell at the start by original sin, but then wonderfully redeemed by a Middle-Eastern man who for some reason was always depicted as white.
As a kid, I had no desire to do anything I was told not to do. I was never interested in alcohol, drugs, or sex. Probably to the great relief of my parents, I preferred spending time on the computer or reading books to going to parties or sleeping around.
Because I had an easy time not breaking the rules, it wasn’t difficult for me to accept that they were probably a pretty decent guideline. Until my friends started coming to me and telling me the things they’d done wrong…the rules they’d broken…and I saw the fear and shame in their eyes.
They begged me not to judge them, though they already knew I wouldn’t. After all, that’s why they were telling me and not someone else. There were many things they didn’t share with me, as I was the most naive of the entire group in terms of understanding how the world worked, but looking back in a strange way I feel like I took the role of Priest. It seemed like they saw me as the blameless one. Maybe if they could tell me the worst things they’d done and I didn’t judge them, but felt compassion and listened and then tried to help them figure out what to do next, they could feel like God would forgive them too.
Every time I had a friend come to me, deeply ashamed of something they’d done, there was something that didn’t sit right with me. So many times they would say things like “Do you think I’m still a virgin if we did X?” and “Do you think God is mad at me?” and most importantly “you have to promise not to tell anyone”.
Their greatest fears were things like their bodies being seen as dirty and used because they were told that their value was wrapped up in their lack of sexual activity (a message that was pretty exclusively only sent to the girls I knew), or being seen as “dangerous” to their Christian friends because of things like their sexual orientation or their doubts that God existed.
When I saw how much shame they were experiencing because they were “breaking the rules”, regardless of whether the rule-breaking actually did any harm, I started to question the system that set them up to believe that things like pre-marital sex would destroy their lives forever and make the all-powerful, omnipotent God angry and likely to punish them.
Even more disturbing, I had friends come to me often saying “I can’t seem to get myself to read my bible/go to church/pray/evangelize enough.” This too came with heaps of shame. They believed that their relationship with God and thereby their value as a person was being determined by outside peers and leaders who put pressure on them to prove they were “good Christians”.
When I was first delving into the more Holy Spirit-focused/Charismatic sects of Christianity about 10 years ago, people were constantly (far more than in classic evangelical fundamentalist denominations) emphasizing relationship over religion, to the point where “religion” as they described it was seen as a bad thing. They talked about how a belief system centered on following laws and rules and trying to be good enough would always feel empty and dead. They talked about how God was actually good, and they allowed a lot more freedom for people to be themselves.
I liked the movement away from a law and punishment model. I liked the emphasis on God’s goodness, though they still tended to remind people that the God of the Old Testament was indeed very angry, and that Jesus came and was punished in our place by that Angry Father God rescued us from his wrath for good.
I was sick of hearing pastors telling me I was a sinful worm and that I was lucky God even gave a shit about me. I always thought they were full of shit anyway. It was good to hear this new crowd emphasizing a God who thought I was awesome. I also enjoyed the openness to people getting different things out of the Bible at different times rather than trying to pretend it always “said” one specific thing.
I thought maybe I’d finally found people who I felt were at least trying to model their lives after the Jesus they said they followed.
And yet even though these people who I felt had a healthier perspective of God taught a lot of healthier alternatives to typical fundamentalist doctrine, in many ways their actions are no different. The degree to which they use scripture to dehumanize and condemn people who don’t look like them is appalling. I am at a point in my life where I’ve been betrayed and wounded to a degree I never thought possible – not only because of what’s been done to me personally or the layers of lies I was taught as if they were unquestionable fact, but because of the hundreds of stories I’ve been told and have heard and read of the damage that’s been done to others in the name of the Christian God.
These people told me we were family. They told me they would love me no matter what happened. Then they turned around and publicly harassed me because of who I was dating.
They told me that because they were honourable, it was their core value to honour all people, rather than only giving it to those who seemed deserving of honour. And then they turned around and attacked the LGBTQ+ community, calling gay people a “violation of design” and blatantly stating that we cannot follow Jesus or have the Holy Spirit.
They championed people having different perspectives and revelations of scripture and yet made sure they carefully filtered out the voices of all LBGTQ+ Christians to ensure only one narrative gets heard.
They spent months teaching us how to understand scripture in context and how to properly research the meanings behind each word in its original language. They told us again and again how important it was…and then looked at their current translation of the bible and said, “It says homosexuality is bad right here. That settles it.”
They talked about serving without expectation making a way for you to use your gifts in the church…but forget to mention that it was entirely conditional and that if I loved someone with the “wrong genitals” I would be completely disqualified and all of my training and service would be rendered useless.
And to top it all off, head leadership publicly championed Donald Trump as a man of character…
When I went to speak at a vigil on the Texas Capital steps after the Orlando Pulse shooting and then walked with the crowd to a larger vigil on 4th St. in downtown Austin – a group or 4 or 5 people with signs came to the edge of the crowd and started yelling at us to “turn or burn”. In the middle of one of the most grievous events in our recent history as a queer community, the fact that they believed it was their job not to grieve with us but to judge us speaks volumes.
For over a year now, on a weekly or daily basis, I’ve been faced with direct attacks from Christians on myself, the people who matter to me, and people who are like me. With every blow, my usual optimism and positivity has been worn farther and farther down. Sometimes it’s from people who were close to me. Other times it’s from strangers who feel the need to spread their hatred publicly on social media or through laws that discriminate against people like me and take away our rights.
Although I’m using the example of the LGBTQ+ community as it’s personal to me, I see Christians persistently dehumanizing and judging women, people of colour, sex workers, people with mental illnesses, the homeless and those living in poverty…
And at this point in my life, the only rational conclusion I can come to is that in many cases, Christianity does more harm than good.
I don’t care if you think you’re giving people the answers to life, the universe, and everything if you’re leaving a pile of bodies in your wake.
I never thought I would find myself needing to use everything I learned in church about loving your enemy, forgiving 70 x 7, and turning the other cheek, on the church.
I never thought I would need God most when the church turned their backs on me and caused me the deepest pain I’ve ever experienced.
I never thought I’d find real community until I abandoned the religious people who kept trying to tell me they were my community despite the fact that they didn’t give two shits about my life outside of “serving God” by participating their pre-approved religious activities.
I never realized that I would find the deepest love among the very people Jesus spent most of his time with – the people on the fringes who break the gender binary, who reject the idea that we must be either saint or sinner, who are oppressed, who fight to raise up those who don’t have a voice, who are okay with questioning everything, who are okay with a God who doesn’t rule the world with an iron fist and a black and white list of rules, who reject a God who is cruel and condemning, who are okay with admitting that nothing is certain when it comes to the divine, who don’t assume that everyone needs to connect with God the way they do…
But this where I’m at right now. And I have to say that despite losing the magic I thought I had found in Christianity, I’ve found far more in this community of misfits, heretics, and gender outlaws where I can be my honest self than I ever found within the four walls of a church building.
And honestly? There’s no place I’d rather be.
Beck Hanan is a super queer Jack of all Trades frequently trying to become a master of some. He desperately needs variety in his life on a regular basis and runs or helps manage a few companies, a couple of websites, and a handful of blogs and facebook pages at once – all quite different from each other – to help meet this need.
He is passionate about advocating for people of colour, the LGBTQIA+ community, and women, among a variety of other marginalized and oppressed people groups, in ways that help push the conversation forward, though at times he is guilty of publishing angry rants on Facebook that he later wishes he’d sat on for longer before deciding to post them.
He is in the middle of a massive spiritual and religious deconstruction and identifies as an atheist, an agnostic, and a Christian most days, often simultaneously. He lives in the Portland, OR area with his lovely wife Bre and their fluffy toy poodle Charles Wallace.[Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash]