Are You an Ex-Christian?
July 11, 2010

Whether using the label “Ex-Christian,” “Post-Christian,” “Non-Christian Christian,” “Outsider,” or whatever else, many of us have grown up in Christianity, and have grown tired of it. Maybe we now call ourselves atheist or agnostic, or have just moved over to another religion or non-religion, but my qualifier here is that we once called ourselves Christian and now we don’t, or at least hesitate to. I’d love to know why you don’t.

For me, I am not anti-Christian. But technically I cannot call myself Christian simply because I no longer meet the traditional criteria, which for ages has been disputed but seems to be essentially agreed upon. Some say that a Christian is defined, just as it was in the first century, as simply someone who follows the teachings of Jesus, “The Christ.” Easy enough, right?

Well, that last little part of his name is where things get tricky, and that’s why Christians who try to lure people in with the simple definition are not being honest with themselves and others. Because “the Christ” for most went from simply meaning “anointed one” to “The Messiah” or the only true Son of God by whose name all things in Heaven and Earth are unified and in whose name one must believe in order to obtain eternal life, or for that matter, in order to obtain a truly whole life here on Earth…and the list of associated belief  requirements goes on and on, and I won’t get into the arguments thrown about from each and every perspective on that. But that’s one criterion that has become a sticking point for me, technically speaking…and it’s just one example of some of the things by which most people agree to define a Christian. And most of these things are mentioned in the Christian Creeds, like the 12 doctrinal items of the Apostle’s Creed.

And I have difficulty with these items, so I prefer to call myself agnostic regarding these points. (For more explanation see my FAQ and Definitions pages.)

But rather than wallow in the technical aspects, I want to focus on the fact that, for many who prefer not to call themselves Christian, it’s more of a personal issue…meaning, dealing with people. Some…no, many have been really hurt by those professing to be Christian. Some have been turned off, to put it mildly, by the hypocrisy or other behavioral factors of Christians. Gandhi, for example, said he “would probably be a Christian if [he] had never met one.”

For me, I was the Christian that turned me off. I was the one that “hurt” me. I was the hypocrite. And I did not want to be that anymore.

Of course, I feel that I was not really hypocritical in the typical sense. I was sincere in my faith, and I honestly tried hard to be genuine in the way I lived out my faith (I still do). But the word hypocrite comes from the Greek plays during which the actors wore masks to portray their characters. I look back and see that I was playing a role, (method acting maybe, because I was deeply sincere), and when it came to certain things, I was not being true to myself. And that ended up causing me serious internal, existential conflict.

And I can say that relieving myself of the burden of belief freed me to really pursue God in deep honesty. Today I feel that I am true to myself and true to that “still, small voice” inside me moreso than when I was living the life of a model Christian. And while some areas of my life are definitely not easier, today I am more content and peaceful than I have ever been.

***

I still consider myself a Christian in the sense that I follow the teachings of Jesus, but I also cannot call myself a “Christian” because I do not necessarily believe all the doctrines I’m supposed to. So that makes me an outsider, or, what might be more apt, a “non-Christian Christian.” That’s a term I heard recently by a guy interviewed in the just-published DVB (DVD + book) called The Outsider Interviews, (trailer here) by Jim Henderson, Todd Hunter, and Craig Spinks. The work was inspired by the book UnChristian, by Barna Research Group president David Kinnaman.

A few years ago I reviewed unChristian and was thoroughly pleased. While the Barna Group occasionally has been criticized, David Kinnaman is a good guy and his book, citing numerous statistics from in-depth surveys, really woke up some Christians to the reality that there’s good reason why some people hate them. And Outsider Interviews puts a face to the statistical evidence. It interviews atheists, agnostics, other “outsiders,” as well as young Christians who tend to agree somewhat with outsiders. And while the language is geared toward Christians, the authors have done an impressive job at letting outsiders speak for themselves, unfiltered, about why they don’t want anything to do with Christianity, or at least Christians. So I highly recommend it.

***

Anyway, what’s your story? Are you an ex-Christian? Why?

Or maybe you’d like to be an ex-Christian. Well, consider this your anti-altar call: (cue soft piano…)

With all heads bowed and every eye closed, how many of you tonight would say, “You know, Dave, I wish I could free myself of always trying to believe the right thing, but I’m afraid I’ll go to hell, and I’m afraid I’ll be an outcast.” If that’s you, could you just raise your hand right now? With no one looking around, if that’s you and you’ve raised your hand, I want you to just stand to your feet and don’t be ashamed; be honest with yourself… (Can we play that last song again, Tim? That’s right, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”) Let’s all just sing that right now as we stand together…Join with me… I have spoke with the tongues of angels. I have held the hand of the devil… But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for….I believe in the Kingdom come/Then all the colors will bleed into one…But yes I’m still running…You broke the bonds/And you loosed the chains/Carried the cross of my shame/You know I believe it…But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for….

As I often say, You are not alone.

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Redefining Lukewarm
March 25, 2010

I’ve been trying to make shorter, more ADD-friendly posts, especially since this particular layout makes paragraphs look longer than they actually are. But I just couldn’t trim this one that much. So I hope you’ll read this short story regardless…

I’m about 95% recovered from a nasty bout with a lung infection. I’m already somewhat OCD when it comes to ailments (of any kind) and I sometimes trend towards hypochondria. If I’ve got a headache I’ll think it indicates a brain tumor. Or if fluorescent lighting emphasizes a bluish hue in my finger tips, I’ll think I’m suffering a systemic blood clot that may result in an aneurysm. So for the past three weeks I’ve perceived myself more as a helpless, pale recipient of The Plague than a normally healthy 30-something.

But this bout did in fact involve several episodes of high fever, terribly painful, persistent coughing, and I ended up losing about 10 pounds over 10 days. And you must understand that I’m not used to fever. One day, for example, I gave a presentation at work, then almost immediately afterward I started feeling awfully cold, almost shivering. I was achy and feverish feeling, so I went home. I in fact had an elevated temperature.

People told me that I should focus on nourishment. Drink plenty of water of course, but feed yourself healthy things. Oh, that was wonderful…because I had absolutely no appetite. The thought of eating was repulsive. And some people say that you should take a hot bath and bundle up. Others say you should go naked.

I took a hot bath and bundled up. That felt right. I donned a long-sleeve shirt and a thick jacket, thick sweat pants, thick socks, wool-lined house shoes…and yes, gloves…In my 75-degree house. But then I got hot as hell. So I started removing clothes. But if I removed too much clothing, I would start feeling chilled. Perfect. I removed the gloves, that was okay, although I distinctly felt the cooler air settle on my hands, I could handle it. I removed my down ski jacket. That felt okay. Rolled up my sleeves. Shit, that’s too cold. Got goose bumps. Pushed the sleeves back down. Ahhh, better. Removed something else. Oops. Too much. Okay, better now. Oh wait, too cold. And on and on the process went, very gradually, until I ended up naked on the bed with the fan on. I fell comfortably asleep and woke up feeling much better (for that day).

But I had to go gradually. I had to pay attention to my body and go at its pace. I couldn’t just apply one rule altogether. I couldn’t just go from bundled to naked or vice-versa in one move. I had to blend practices. And by no means could I freaking “nourish” myself. Water, sure. Fruit? Fuck off. I just could not force feed myself.

During this process a mental light flicked on. I was checking my email while shivering and it hit me. I started crying. Maybe the fever was seeping into my brain and was about to cause an aneurysm and thus the sensitive emotions, but the moment was special nonetheless:

Most of my life I was taught that, spiritually speaking, you absolutely must be on one side or the other. You must be on fire, hot for God, or cold as the devil’s heart, devoted to Satan himself. You cannot be a fence-straddler. You are either fully with God or against him. You are either with the church or with the world. You are either a God-fearing conservative Republican or you’re a left-wing communist dictator lover. You must either go to Sunday school and youth group every Sunday and Wednesday and never ever hang out with those kids who smoke, or you might as well be a devil-worshiper. There is no in-between. Otherwise, according to Revelations 3:16, you are lukewarm and God will spit you out of his mouth like the snot you are.

Now, if you start getting confused by hanging out with those kids who smoke or the left-wingers, the demons are starting to get to you (and that’s probably why you’re sick) and they’ll try to pull you over to their side. And since you can’t be in-between, you had better start getting back into the Word of God and nourish your spirit and rebuke that spirit of confusion. You’ve opened the door to demons, so you’ve GOT to take the medicine of the Word. You have to meditate on scripture day and night. Fill your mind with God’s Word so there’s no room for the enemy. You have to get yourself red hot, on fire for God, to burn away the sin in your life.

Those were the instructions. Force feed yourself Scripture. Either spend all your spare time at church or you might as well be getting drunk and fornicating. Admittedly, I may be exaggerating the instructions a bit, but the essence remains.

But I think what I learned from my recent experiences with managing high fever can apply to a spiritual journey as well. I learned that you cannot force feed yourself something you really don’t want. Otherwise you’re just adding another layer of stress to your healing process. I learned that maybe you can’t always apply either the make-yourself-hot OR the make-yourself-cold approach. Sometimes, to remain healthy, you have to alternate between the two. You need a little heat and a little cold. And you need to do it at a pace that feels right, that assists with the natural, intuitive processes.

So maybe instead of stressing about being either-or and condemning ourselves and others for not choosing sides, we can choose to see “lukewarm” as a good thing. It’s about balance, not compromise. And I don’t necessarily mean a balance between “good” and “evil,” but rather a balance in our perception in what really is good and what is evil. And it’s about taking things at a natural pace. Receiving input and giving output as we feel compelled, not as we try to compel ourselves or others.

Maybe I can learn something in conversations with “the other.” Maybe there’s a reason I prefer to hang out with atheists than Christians. Maybe there’s a reason that I am intuitively drawn to rejects more than winners. And maybe, instead of stressing about not memorizing enough Bible verses – or not reading the Bible at all – I can pick up a holy book only if and when I feel compelled to. Maybe then I would actually get something more out of it than the pride of being able to say I spent four hours reading it.

Because, whatever God’s attributes may or may not be, I believe that an almighty designer of the universe might suggest a more holistic approach to spirituality and life in general. By holistic I mean balanced, unforced, intuitive. But perhaps a certain first-century prophet once said it best:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28)

Peace to you.