What Ruined Religion For You?

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In my Twitter feed this morning, one of the first things I read was this question from someone I follow. (Twitter’s current state of insanity is another post.) It made me pause and think for a bit.

Many people looked at my daughter’s suicide and said I was angry with God. I’m not. That’s an easy explanation for my drift away from religion. I know God had nothing to do with her death. It was human sin, both on her part and the part of others (I don’t consider the act of suicide a sin, but her drug use and lying were). God had nothing to do with it.

I still have a deep faith. I believe in God and Jesus; I just don’t believe that any of us here on earth can understand what God is. It’s like an ant trying to understand a human. I believe there are truths in all faiths and there are many paths to God. I still belong to a church that is affiliated with the ELCA – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Evangelical but not like the “typical” evangelicals). I just haven’t been to church in a long time. I don’t have a problem with it. The church I belong to is liberal and welcoming to all. The Pastor isn’t insane or anything. In fact, I regularly read the sermons of another Pastor I am friendly with.

I started finding myself angry when I was in church. Why was going to worship making me angry? It was the wider world of Christianity that was filled with such hate and judgment that it upset me to be a “Christian” as well.

I was fortunate that growing up, I had a Pastor that was very kind, understanding, and liberal. His wife and my mother were close friends. I babysat their kids often and enjoyed it. Their oldest son, who is a gay designer, credits me for introducing him to much of the music he loves and shaping the tastes he still has to this day.

When I was in my early 20s, they moved to another church, as Pastors do. I didn’t necessarily think it was a bad thing – sometimes an infusion of new blood can do wonders for a congregation. However, the next Pastor that came in was the antithesis of the Pastor that had just left. We didn’t see it at the time, but eventually, I came to see that he was the type that would override the Council’s decisions and do what he wanted to do, and no one objected. He accused me of being a racist because I liked the band Guns -n- Roses. His wife was in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and survived, but that led to him posting a xenophobic screed in the church newsletter against the Arab/Muslim world. Finally, the church I grew up in followed his lead and seceded from the ELCA over the issue of gay marriage and welcoming gay people in the church.

How could this warm, loving church I grew up in allow this to happen? How could they change so drastically in just a few short years?

I ended up working in the office of the next church I belonged to. It changed a lot of my perceptions about organized religions. I learned a lot about how it operates and how churches and Pastors are really human, although the culture holds them up as a lot more. Once again, the Pastor that I started with left, and the next one we got was insane. She drove away a lot of good people by focusing on silly things like where things were positioned on the altar. Eventually, I quit my job because I couldn’t deal with her. I didn’t want my own children subjected to her weirdness (and she was friendly with the xenophobic Pastor), so I left that church for another.

You might ask why these Pastors were allowed to continue. Church hierarchy is such that the local Synods will not step in unless they are asked to. They eventually were asked with the insane Pastor, and I was on the Church Council when that happened, but it was too late in a way. The next Pastor there is the one above that I am still friendly with, but I had already started my kids at another church with a great youth group.

My parents both had deep faith, but even now that I am older and look back on what I knew, I am troubled by some of the things they did. My mother was regularly on the Evangelism committee, which were the people who helped drive membership to the church. She would go around ringing doorbells and talking to people. I know I don’t like it when people do that to me, so why was what my mother did okay? I believe that evangelism isn’t about confronting people in their homes, but a church’s presence in the community. After all, early Christians gained followers not by proselytizing, but through their actions. When plagues struck and people fled the cities, early Christians stayed and helped the sick and dying, often resulting in their own deaths. They believed that was what they were called to do. Where does that contrast with today’s Christians? Where does that contrast with what my mother was doing?

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.

– Susan B. Anthony

I also don’t hold up the Bible as the inerrant word of God. I see too many people who read the Bible and cherry-pick what they want to believe. There are many contradictions. Many of the things people interpret literally were actually stories meant to teach the people of the time. Above all, the so-called Christians feel like they are gatekeepers to God. They ignore Jesus’ one commandment:

“I give a new commandment to you: ‘Love one another; just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.’ “

Are we loving one another when we excuse the gun violence in our society? Are we loving one another when we persecute people who don’t look the same as us or speak the same language? Are we loving one another when we marginalize people who love differently than we do? Are we loving one another when we advocate to persecute the homeless in our society, rather than reaching out to help them? Are we loving one another when we make excuses for inaction on any of these social issues?

I was told once by a Jehovah Witness that came to my door that you don’t interpret the Bible, you read it. Well, that’s silly because unless you are reading it with an understanding of the original language it’s written in and know the context of the times, it’s all an interpretation. Those contexts are important. The language is important. Take a paragraph of text and run it through Google Translate into another language and then back to English and you will see how things become misinterpreted. Finally, the Bible was written by men. There were many “books” that didn’t make it into the Bible. Why? Because just as we see now, men had an agenda. They decided what to include in the Bible based on their own biases. I’ve read some of the manuscripts that didn’t make it into the official Bible, and they are fascinating.

What ruined religion for me? The people who practice it.

10 replies »

  1. I have never been particularly religious, and I went to a fairly low key church myself. But aside from the music, it just never spoke to me. Plus, I got bullied at church as a kid.

  2. Patty I grew up in the LCA which became ELCA… People are always the problem. I married and converted to Catholicism – which is rife with flawed leaders and congregants. The thing is that it is no worse/better than any other religion. I think God loves everyone. If we try to follow the greatest commandment then I do believe there is a place for us in heaven… A wonderful post!!

    • Same here. I think people miss the point of Christ and get bogged down in details, or think if they point out others’ “sins” that excuses their own. Love everyone, and let God sort it out in the end.

  3. Thank you for this lovely, thoughtful, heartfelt essay. It brought back a lot of memories for me—which I won’t go into here. I no longer believe. As with your experience, it wasn’t a single incident—as painful as losing your daughter was. It was an accumulation of things. In short, it was people.

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