Jonathan, I loved this piece with all my being. Your candor, honesty, and writing is beautiful and sincere. I hope you continue searching too and know it’s okay to doubt. Doubt is essential to faith. Without doubt, faith can’t exist, but far too often Christians can squash that essential truth. That being said, I was curious about some perceived misconceptions I think you have about Christianity.
“Ultimately, to be born again is to surrender something else entirely: your sense of mystery and wonder.”
I wasn’t a Christian until age 28—and like you—grew up in a Church environment but thought the whole thing was a sham. I didn’t have a radical conversion story either like your friend Cook you share about. Like you, I spent time going to a church I was curious about (often hungover and having slept over at some random girl’s apartment) and met the people inside the church who loved me exactly for who I was. The more I got involved and dove deeper into their community, I began seeing the things you mention. What I was worshipping, problems in my own life, etc. I didn’t care though, because I had questions and doubts. When I became a Christian however, I never went to the front or prayed a prayer. I just had an epiphany much like CS Lewis did— “Oh shit, I think I’m one of them.” I still had numerous questions and doubts and continue to search for them, but your statement, I think, is backwards for many of us who would call ourselves followers of Jesus—it’s the beginning of mystery and wonder.
I have no idea how a transcendent, omnipotent God who is eternal and can’t die, becomes a man and dies. Mystery and awe. Born of a virgin? Mystery and awe. How the hell does the universe work with him being in control and allowing free will but also knowing the future? Mystery and awe. As a Christian now, I marvel and am often dumbstruck by how much in nature and the natural world is a mystery and causes awe. There are things in my faith that produce the same results. I’ve found more beauty, more of a love for science, and more awe and wonder now as a Christian than before. However, based on the standard average Joe Schmo cultural christian, I would agree with your sentiment. Those that look very little like the man they claim to follow and become “born again” self-righteous jackwagons do give up their awe and wonder. So I’m curious if anyone you’ve talked to at the church has found more awe and wonder like I have?
“Beneath the church’s sexy, Instagrammable exterior, however, lies a conservative ethos: nonbelievers are going to hell, abortion is a sin (even in cases of incest and rape), sex is only acceptable after marriage, and homosexuality is forbidden.”
Most churches (liberal or conservative) agree on basic doctrines and have for almost 2,000 years. Many people have problems with a truth and exclusivity claim that the only way to salvation is through Jesus, but if you mix and match what you want to, is it really Christianity or just some religion you invented? Dr. Timothy Keller, when asked this question responded eloquently to NYT reporter Nicholas Kristof:
If something is truly integral to a body of thought, you can’t remove it without destabilizing the whole thing. A religion can’t be whatever we desire it to be. If I’m a member of the board of Greenpeace and I come out and say climate change is a hoax, they will ask me to resign. I could call them narrow-minded, but they would rightly say that there have to be some boundaries for dissent or you couldn’t have a cohesive, integrated organization. And they’d be right. It’s the same with any religious faith.
So even most liberal churches are going to agree on that front wholeheartedly, if not, they’re typically universalists churches that incorporate other religions and ways to God and not seen a “Christian” per say.
The other points you bring up are doctrine related based on where the church lands. Most churches believe abortion is a sin because they believe humans are made in the Image of God, and therefore is an affront on someone with intrinsic value. While we cannot prove that humans are more valuable than insects, somehow we all know that. Even the most mentally handicapped person on earth has more intrinsic worth than the prize winning horse Secretariat, but yet again, we can’t prove that. We just kind of know it. So many Christians believe that because of this not only religious, but philosophical indictment, that the unborn have a right to life. Most churches also are case by case basis on the issue of rape and incest in an abortion case. Where they MASSIVELY fail however, is after the child is born. Christians are monumental failures in regards to the life of a child after conception. Hell, if 1 family in every 3 churches adopted, there’d be no children needing adoption in the U.S. Pretty sad, right?
Finally, sex before marriage and homosexuality. So two things on this: 1) The church is currently divided on the issue of gay marriage, so you would be correct that they lean more conservative. 2) Even gay affirming churches believe sex before marriage is a sin and require their gay couples to abstain until marriage.
So while the church can seem conservative in some areas, even the liberal, gay affirming churches are going to align pretty close with their teachings. Where they’ll disagree is over homosexuality and in perhaps the case of abortion cases of rape and incest, but past that, they’re not too different.
I realized this reponse got insane long, but hell, I read a 35 minute piece you wrote and there’s a lot of content so I was like, “this is such a dope read, but I wonder if anyone explained these tiny nuances to him?”
Please don’t hear this as nit-picky. I am curious— in all honesty —if that church or people in it talk about mystery and awe or the differences between them and other churches? I’m even curious if you’re still going?
In the end, please know you wrote an amazing piece I loved and you’re a gifted writer who I look forward to reading more from in the future.