I am taking a sabbatical from Christianity. And I think Jesus will understand.
There are many reasons, and I am not proselytizing you to join me. The bottom line is I believe the net effect of Christianity over the course of history, including American history, is negative. Even evil.
Not just the Crusades and the Inquisition. More recent history: Manifest Destiny and genocide. Slavery and Jim Crow. Hatred of the immigrant. Rampant fear, which Jesus tells us repeatedly to Do Not. Refusing to wear a damn mask, for Christ’s sake. Shouldering an AR-15 at McDonald’s with a smirk.
You can argue that if you follow Jesus’ actual teachings, the result is good. But we have a religion where a critical mass of professed Christians, at least in this country, choose to ignore those core teachings. You know, Blessed are the Meek. Blessed are the Peacemakers. Those pesky Beatitudes. Love thy neighbor. What you do for the least of these, yadayada.
In Europe, they have pretty much given up on Christianity. Can you blame them?
But at some point, I have to ask myself: What good are the core values of a religion if so many of its adherents apparently not only ignore them, but pervert them? How is that “good news”? Who would want to embrace this corrupted religion?
If I sit in the pew behind you and we hear the same sermon based on the Good Samaritan, and the next day I see your Facebook feed spouting hateful garbage (mixed in with the beautiful flower photos), what’s the point?
I am not even going to get into my overall beliefs, although I am struggling with those too. From 1975 to 2005, I was a non-believer. When I joined the Episcopal church, I was like a reformed smoker – a convert. Got involved in church leadership. Taught Sunday school. Built five different versions of the parish website. Went on five 8-day silent retreats. Played in an eclectic musical group that gave the choir a break.
But I have also been reading American history – unlearning the sanitized versions swallowed whole in school – and there is no escaping the series of atrocities, for 400 years, committed in the warped belief that we were and are special people blessed by God and commanded to achieve dominion.
Heck, don’t even ask me about Western Civilization at the moment. I just finished Douglas Preston’s book, “Talking to the Ground,” about traveling on horseback among the sacred places of Navajo country. The Navajos have their own robust creation story and belief system, in spite of our efforts to eradicate it. We unswervingly thought our culture and beliefs were superior, and I used to believe that.
This may sound as if I am depressed, but it is actually liberating. My entire life, I have wrestled with the idea that the billions of people who were not even exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let alone accepted it, were damned for all eternity. That just didn’t make sense – not if you also believe in the concept of a loving God and that all are created in the image of God.
I don’t need an alternative to replace it right this minute, and I may be back. I am luxuriating in the not knowing and the searching. Because really, no one knows.
This painting by John Gast represents Manifest Destiny, the belief that the destiny of American settlers was to expand and move across the continent and spread their traditions and institutions.