I Was a Hardcore Christian, But This Is Why I Lost My Faith

My decision to leave the Christian faith didn't just happen because of a few negative conversations, or a few isolated events -- my decision was made because I realized (and experienced) that the Christian faith, for many, wasn't a welcome place for the oppressed, and that, in fact, has been, and in many different ways, continues to be, an agent of oppression for many people. Five years ago, there would be no way in hell that I could ever conceive of leaving the Christian faith. But here I am today. Friends have asked me why, and how, someone who was as zealous a Christian as I could so intentionally and deliberately leave the faith, that I decided, I am in a good, and secure place... and I'm ready to answer why.
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Part I - The beginning

Five years ago, there would be no way in hell that I could ever conceive of leaving the Christian faith. But here I am today, only mere months after I finally garnered the courage to change my Facebook status (oh, heaven forbid!) and be public about my faith...or lack thereof. Friends have asked me why, and how, someone who was as zealous a Christian as I could so intentionally and deliberately leave the faith, so I decided I am in a good, and secure place... and I'm ready to answer why.

Before I go into the full reason, I feel the need to offer a couple of disclaimers. The first is that I feel in order to fully explain why I left the church, I need to offer some background into the events that led up to this decision... so bear with me, and please respect that this is not an easy article to write. Also, what makes this article especially difficult is that in writing it, inevitably I will be thinking of people who have influenced my decision to leave the Christian faith, and some of those people might find themselves reading this article. I do not wish to speak ill of anyone, and I will do my best to not name anyone outright, but people who know me well enough might be able to identify people I reference, and for that, I apologize. I do not wish to put anybody in a bad light. Do I have friends that are Christian? Yes. Do I care about them very much? Yes.

With that being said... this is what happened:

To start at the beginning, I did not grow up in a Christian home. My parents, who are two loving and supportive people, both grew up in Christian homes (Dad was Lutheran and Mom was Catholic) but both stopped going to church very quickly after they grew up. For reasons I still don't exactly know why (except that it was "the thing to do") my sister and I were baptized as Catholics, and we went to the Catholic school down the street from the house where I grew up, out of convenience. This Catholic school was next to a Catholic church, and that Catholic church had a youth minister who would come next door to the school with his guitar, come into class, and play cheesy Christian songs (like "Shine Jesus Shine") and it was awesome because we didn't have to do math class anymore!

But also, when I was a kid (and this should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me) I was totally that awkward kid, with the bad haircut and glasses and my nose in a book all the time. I saw this individual and this youth group he had as a welcome invitation, to make friends and meet people who were welcoming and would accept me unconditionally for who I was, books and all. And I was exactly right.

I started going out to this church youth group and felt very welcomed, and loved, and developed a very positive friend community that had a great effect on my self-esteem. My teenage years were very happy, and I do want to stress that.

As far as Catholic churches go, this particular church had more of an "evangelical" edge to it, and was pretty strongly influenced by a revival movement, very similar to Pentecostal revival movements, that had hit the Catholic church in North America in the '80s. What I mean by this, is that there was an altar call kind of moment, there was a "movement of the Holy Spirit," so to speak, and a moment where I "accepted Jesus into my heart" -- looking back, I'm not sure if this was a true moment or not, or that I was swept up by the emotions of the event involved: the music, the charismatic speaker, and whatnot.

I also wonder if I "accepted Jesus" because all my friends at that time had already done so and there was a bit of peer pressure involved. Either way, I really did love Jesus. Hardcore. I kept my bible in my backpack, I went to church every week (it was also convenient because I played piano for various church choirs so I had a commitment to go, and playing was so easy and fun for me) I even prayed the rosary. Every single night. There was none more zealous than I, and I'm sure this caused me to be alienated even more from my peers, but at the time, I didn't care, because to me, I had a god who loved me, so who gave a shit about what other people thought?

Part II - Since when do parking lots cost $40,000?

At the end of my high school career, I applied and got accepted into a year-long missions program where you travel across North America going to churches and go to Ghana. This is where my seemingly unshakable faith, started to crumble. I can confirm that there are some pretty corrupt churches in Southern Ontario/the United States. I know, because I've been to them and spent time there. Churches where there were pastors literally screaming at each other behind closed doors, (we were at one church over the Easter weekend, and minutes before the service had started for Easter Sunday, found out that the two pastors had been screaming at each other and threatening to quit... minutes before the service started); churches that were blinded by capitalism (I cannot understand the justification of the money spent in mega-churches) and authority (I had someone tell me to "Please, refer to me as Pastor _______").

We went to a church where they were holding a $40,000 fundraiser... for a parking lot. And yes, they already had a completely functional parking lot, but they wanted a nicer parking lot. I was furious at the thought, especially when we had just gotten back from Ghana and had encountered some of the most blatant and unfair forms of poverty I had ever seen in my life. When you see enough of the nasty underbelly of churches, you're left with a really bad taste for the hypocrisy, politics, and gossip that seemed to be a trend with most churches we went to.

The one thing I seemed to continually come across, was the fact that I was Catholic, and the majority of churches we were visiting were very Protestant. According to a lot of these people, I'm not a Christian, or a REAL Christian, and the Catholic church is a terrible corrupt place and the Pope is the anti-Christ and Catholics are just misguided Mary-worshippers... I have heard it all. And the thing is, Catholics feel the same about Protestants -- they have "some of the truth, but not all of the truth."

So I was suddenly finding myself in a constant year-long debate against what felt like everybody I came into contact with, because the form of Christianity I subscribed to, was different than their form of Christianity. So who was right? They think they are right, and I think I am right. And I grew to learn, that people don't like the idea of being wrong, and I had to become comfortable with the fact that I could be wrong, and that it's OK. I could grow, I could learn, being wrong wasn't bad, it was good because then I could correct what is wrong and learn from it.

But further than that, this thought caused me to realize, how arrogant I was, to think that my form of small-town Southern-Ontario Catholic Christianity was the only way that people could come to know God properly, when there are billions of people all over the world who reach out to all kinds of higher powers and forms of spiritual enlightenment all the time? And those people feel the same kind of assurance, peace, and goodness that I do? I can't have the nerve to say that these people were wrong because how they relate to their god is different than mine, when all I have to justify my belief is a book. Which is exactly what I was doing. And exactly what those people who thought being Catholic was wrong were doing to me.

Part III - What happened out there

After the year was over I went to university, and after my first year of university, I had a very difficult summer. I couldn't find a job, so I tried to make a go of it and started my own business, which is incredibly stressful as it is. I was also very lonely, which made me very vulnerable. A person whom I thought was a friend paid to have me fly out to visit him in Vancouver. I was also incredibly naive at the time and didn't think getting sexually assaulted could possibly happen to me on this trip to Vancouver... but it kind of did. And I was in a terrifying place, having no money, being thousands of miles away from home and friends and familiar faces, and having no means to escape and run away.

I can't explain how horrible it feels to not be able to run away when you're in danger. In the Christian faith, especially conservative Christian faith, there are a couple of very large no-no's, and sex before marriage is one of the biggest ones. I've heard and been to talks where people equate pre-marital sex to losing your value, or being like a piece of tape that gets stuck and re-stuck until it can't stick anymore, or a bank account where you're cashing out money until you have none.

At the time, I very heavily blamed myself for what happened to me and was terrified to let on in even the remotest sense that anything bad (that I didn't consent to) had happened. A large portion of my reasoning was those analogies about what happens when you have sex before marriage kept playing over and over again in my head. I also had this stupid thought, that since I was regarded as a leader, I can't let anything bad happen to me, or show any kind of indiscretion.

It's horrible how deeply I blamed myself for the whole thing, which is so wrong, and so harmful to do. I felt tremendously ashamed, as though I had done something wrong, and this was a tremendous lie that took a long time to get over. Oddly enough, I only ever had one friend who directly cut through my bullshit story and asked me what really happened. Only one, out of all the friends who knew I was going. And I was too afraid to tell him, and when I finally did, he reacted in a way that made me feel even more wretched about myself. (He and I have talked about this and apologies have been made.)

But still, I wished somebody had warned me, or said something, or kindly reminded me to be careful. I had one friend email and caution me against going... two weeks after I had gotten back. Two weeks too late. And when I finally started to tell people what really happened, a lot of people reacted inappropriately, saying that I should forgive the guy, or that God was going to heal me, or that good things will come out of it. Just for future reference -- don't EVER say those things to someone who has been sexually assaulted. It's ignorant, rude, and dismissive, and caused me to feel further alienated.

The question, "where was God?" kept on asking itself to me as I tried to process what had happened. God is supposed to love me, and protect me, and keep me from harm. This is what I had been taught, yet here I was, feeling like my church had failed me by keeping me sheltered and naive, and feeling like I was continually let down by Christians in their dismissive, harmful reactions when I had finally got the courage to stop thinking about those "sex before marriage ruins you" analogies and talk about what happened.

I reasoned two things to answer my question about where was God, when I was in Vancouver: God either was present and there, and did nothing about it, or God was not there, and does not exist. It is easier for me to think that God does not exist, than to think that God was present and did nothing. A God who is present and does nothing is not all-powerful, and is not all-loving, and I simply cannot forgive a god who stands by and watches while people get hurt after he promised to protect people. If I had the power to stop something bad happening to someone I loved, I would do everything I could to stop it. Of all of the times in my life that I needed God, God was not there. This is where I stopped believing in God -- I would rather think that God simply does not exist, then think that God abandoned me.

Further than that, I began to think of how randomly senseless the world could be. I grew up in a safe and loving environment in a stable country with a good economy. The majority of the world cannot say the same. Where is God then? I had people ask me to pray for them in a village we were visiting in Ghana because they have no clean drinking water. Where is God then? I met a homeless person in Toronto who asked me to pray for him so he could overcome his drug addictions and find a safe place to sleep that night. Is God protecting him? Where is God in the face of natural disasters that destroy countries and leave countless numbers of people devastated? How can an all-powerful, completely loving, benevolent God allow that kind of random injustice and suffering?

I started to think of the many times where I have heard other people, and have also found myself, thanking God for being present in the little things -- God helped me ace that test, or God helped me get to work on time, or God led me to my true love. How incredibly selfish is it for me to reason that God is always present and doing little magical things to make my life easier when there are people who live in this world who don't have the basic necessities for living?

And then, maybe those people in that village in Ghana do get clean drinking water one day, and they are thankful that God provided for them. What kind of God denies people basic necessities for living and then demands their thankfulness if he does choose to provide? I would rather that God does not exist, than choose to follow that kind of god.

Living with this secret, this "sin" made me realize that I didn't feel welcome in the churches I went to anymore, and the times when I felt most welcome, were the times before anything bad had happened to me... which feels very backwards to what I understand Christianity to be about. The more I started doubting my faith, the more the bible made perfect sense to me, and the easier it became to read: Jesus loved the poorest of the poor. He spent time with the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the people with the worst reputations, and loved them unconditionally, contrary to the culture they were a part of. God wasn't a god of the rich and powerful, but a god of the outcast and enslaved, who freed oppressed people and stood for the rights of the downtrodden.

So naturally it would feel like this kind of unconditional love, and this unity and welcomeness should be extended to all people, regardless of gender, race, and class, just as Jesus embodied in his life. Yet I fail to see that in so many churches. I've encountered too many Christians who (for example) would rather argue about the theology of whether a homosexual person is an inherently disordered individual living in sin according to the book of Genesis... rather than recognizing how deeply harmful those kinds of dialogues are and the profound effect that kind of thinking has on the lives of people.

I know I speak broadly, and am at risk of generalizing, but too often I feel like in so many parts of the North American church, there is far too little emphasis on an ongoing option for appropriately caring for the poor, and that such care manifests itself in ways that do not "inconvenience us" or involve colonialism (like short-term missions trips, for instance).

In a Facebook note where I wrote about these thoughts many years ago, I said,

"It has become too easy, too passive, and expectations have fallen too low. Where is the challenge if I begin to feel like the view towards salvation is that it is assured simply because I fill up a space in a church pew? There is too much brokenness in this weary world, and too great a responsibility, and (by the way...) saving souls should never, ever, ever, be thought of in numerical terms... Don't give me a church with good music and good public speaking. Give me Jesus. Give me the courage that Jesus had to love tax collectors, prostitutes, and to approach the lowest caste, the diseased, dirty, and dying, and love them. Don't give me an altar call and have the nerve to tell me that all I have to do is kneel down, say 'yes,' and that is my way into heaven. Give me the weight of the world, and the responsibility of the impoverished, the dying, and the hungry."

I found myself continually dissatisfied, and unable to justify this kind of "feel-good" attitude I found in so many churches I encountered. I was very quickly running out of answers and reasons.

Part IV - Nails in the coffin

And then a couple of things happened, that in my mind, I refer to as the "nails in the coffin." There were of course many things that happened, many negative conversations and traumatizing experiences, but I'll talk about two of them that encompass the spirit of most of what happened, for the sake of length. (We all know this post is long enough already...lol). The first "nail" that happened was that I volunteered at a weekend youth retreat that I volunteer at every year, and for the first time in a tremendously long time, deeply related with what the speaker had to say.

The people who organize the event (who are also good friends of mine and the organizers of the year-long missions program I went on) had invited a speaker they had seen at an earlier event, and his message was very clear, and very simple: It is OK to doubt your faith. In fact, doubting your faith and questioning it helps your faith to grow. Also a person's actions are a reflection of what they believe. If, in my actions or inactions, I am supporting systems or institutions that enable oppression, this is what I believe in.

I loved his message. His message resonated deeply with me, and for the first time in this dark night of the soul I was experiencing, I felt a glimmer of light, and a chance for encouragement. I could doubt my faith, and that was OK. However, I was one of only a few people who resounded with what he had to say. Many, many people at the event thought his ideas were "heretical" "un-biblical" and couldn't believe that this "non-Christian" was speaking at their event. People were walking out on talks, arguments were taking place all over the grounds this event was held at, and the poor speaker was getting harassed everywhere he went.

People were telling him they needed to pray for him to receive Jesus into his life, saying he was a heretic, and looking for opportunities to argue him at every turn. The hardest part for me, in the midst of witnessing this insanity, was that a lot of the people who disagreed so strongly with him were people I knew personally. People whose churches I had visited, or people I had lived with or worked with or spent extended time with. And they were saying that it's not OK to doubt your faith. In fact you are not allowed to doubt your faith, and if you're doing so, you're not a Christian.

This broke my heart, and I realized that these people I had known for years were not safe people, or kind accepting people that I could be open with my struggles about. (I need to offer a disclaimer: not all of my friends, including my friends who organized the event, hated what he had to say. A lot of people related to him the same way I did, and that meant a lot to me.)

After the event, I knew the organizers would receive piles upon piles of angry emails, and I made an attempt to curve the anger away from them by writing a Facebook note, and circulating it on social media. Within three days of writing the note I had over 120 comments on the note, and piles of messages in my inbox. I had angry messages, messages from people who were "concerned" about me, but I also had a couple of messages from people thanking me, for having the courage to openly express what many people were afraid to say.

That also floored me more than anything -- other people out there felt the same, and that they were part of a church where their opinions weren't welcome, and felt oppressed and unable to say how they felt and where they really stood with faith. In this regard, the church was unwelcoming. The next year at this same event, the speaker they invited was conservative, and talked about the usual stuff; how you should accept Jesus into your heart and all that. Then I realized how much a consumer culture permeates so many churches -- that my friends can't even use their authority in planning this event to challenge people in a healthy way, but that they are still held at the mercy of giving people what they want to hear. This really disappointed me.

The second "nail in the coffin" was at a summer camp I volunteered to be a counsellor at. At the camp, I was asked to give a talk. This was a Christian camp, and I asked them what they wanted me to talk about (I was good friends with the organizers) and they said, "Anything. We trust you." So I was faced with the challenge of giving a Christian talk to a bunch of teenagers at a summer camp, and I didn't know what I would say. In fact, I had to give two talks, and this made me very nervous. I didn't want to lie and say something I wasn't sure I believed in, nor did I want to say what I actually thought, and draw a lot of negative attention to myself.

I had a long conversation with one of my close friends at the camp about my dilemma, and he advised me to speak what I believed in. So I wrote a letter to the church, and I spoke very honestly. For the first time in front of a group of strangers, I told them what happened to me in Vancouver, and I talked about the residual effects, and the doubt I was experiencing, and where I was presently. And the result utterly shocked me. People were thanking me for being so open, and kids were confiding in me, and telling me their struggles, and how they were not sure of what they believed in, and why. It opened the floor for a very open and vulnerable dialogue among people who were willing to accept one another.

For the second talk, I decided that, rather than present my "letter to the church" I would invite people to collectively write a letter to the church, and we could continue the conversation about where they stood with the church and how they felt about it. A couple of people who hadn't been at the first talk came to the second talk, and one individual in particular got very upset, and started saying that I was sinning, and "demonizing the church" and how dare I say anything negative about the church. My attempt to explain that we weren't being negative, but rather allowing a critical analysis of an institution we all cared about ended with her running away in tears, and completely derailing the conversation.

I attempted to try and find her afterward and try and patch things up, but she started screaming at me, accusing me of putting her in an unsafe place, and again, being a sinner who demonizes the church and is a horrible, horrible person who is completely wrong, heretical, and evil. I couldn't talk to her, and something about her words cut straight to me, and I ended up leaving and having a full-fledged panic attack. I realized that no matter what I do, no matter how strong my efforts and what I would say, there will always be people who think I'm against the church, or that I'm a horrible heretical person who is trying to destroy their beloved church, and that more than that, I was evil.

And in that moment, I suddenly became very, very tired of the uphill battle I felt like I had been fighting on for years, and I desperately wanted to distance myself from the institution I was once willing to give my life for.

What was difficult about this was at the time, I was actually working for a church, as a youth pastor. But I no longer believed in the work I was doing. It all seemed very silly to me, and like a big masquerade.

Every Sunday I had to perform a "children's focus" where I would sit at the front of the church and all the kids would gather round and I would give a little bible lesson. The children's focus is not about the kids, nor is it about educating kids. Rather, it is for the adults, so they can look on and say, "oh look how wonderful it is that the children are learning," when all the learning and activity was happening in the actual Sunday School. The whole point of this stupid weekly presentation was to appease the adults, and I couldn't stand it.

Once I had an individual in this church complain to the pastors that I didn't look "reverent" enough during the church service, and it really discouraged me. Church shouldn't be about looking reverent, but it felt like everything I was doing was all for looks, and there was no substance to what was actually going on. I began to grow sick to my stomach every time I pulled up to the church and forced myself to walk in the door, and to this day, I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of churches. I eventually had a very honest conversation with my bosses when my work performance began to fail, and I decided to quit the church and ended on good terms.

Part V - Enough

Since then, I have received a lot of mixed reactions from being honest about my faith. For years, I had been terrified to tell anyone that I wasn't a Christian anymore, because I was afraid of all the relationships I would lose, and all the people that would distance themselves from me. To me it feels like there's a tremendous stigma in a lot of Christian circles about people leaving the church, and this assumption that I'm not a good person, or a person Christians can be friends with, because my views are now so different.

A lot of Christians I had met would refer to people who weren't Christians as "nonbelievers" and talk about atheists in this sort of vernacular that reflected an "us vs. them" attitude, as though these "nonbelievers" were a part of the world, and that the world was a corrupt and evil place filled with all sorts of depravity. "We are of the world, but not of the world," is a catch phrase I often heard, and while I appreciate holding onto certain traditional values about one's conduct in life, I didn't want people to think of me as "of the world" -- when they were thinking of the world as such a terrible, evil place.

I was really scared of telling people. What I started to realize though, is that people had been distancing themselves because of my views for years already, and that I didn't want those kind of people in my life. I would rather be friends with people who would love me, regardless of my beliefs. And I am very happy and grateful to say that I do still have friends that are Christians, and our beliefs and views are very different, but that hasn't had an effect on our friendship. That was very huge and important to me, Other people have, yes, chosen to distance themselves from me, or let our friendship "fade away" or have told me they were disappointed in me, or even worse, call me a hypocrite or tell me I'm going to hell, or try and re-convert me. If people are that angry and insecure... there's not much I can do about that.

My decision to leave the Christian faith didn't just happen because of a few negative conversations, or a few isolated events (though from my story, you can see how huge of an influence those events can have) -- my decision was made because I realized (and experienced) that the Christian faith, for many, wasn't a welcome place for the oppressed, and that, in fact, has been, and in many different ways, continues to be, an agent of oppression for many people.

Many church denominations interpret the bible to say God destroyed a city because of homosexuality... so therefore all gay people are bad? Many church denominations also interpret the bible to say that a woman should be silent in church, and they are not meant to be leaders, so consequently, even to this day so many churches can't accept the idea that women are capable of leadership? (I know someone who can't have the title "Pastor" because she is a woman. She is just as qualified as a man, but isn't allowed the same title... because she is a woman...?)

Historically, a lot of Christians had used the bible to justify slavery. And I have no idea how to interpret the stories in the bible where God commands people to commit genocide, or God destroys populations and wipes out cultures, and tears entire cities to the ground, or floods the world sparing only one family and a bunch of animals. But even fast-forwarding to today, it feels like so many Christians I met were content to pick-and-choose the parts of the bible they would follow. To a lot of people, the idea of condemning someone for getting a divorce is unthinkable, but discriminating and denying rights to people based on their sex, gender, or race is acceptable.

There is a clear double standard in many Christian denominations, and because of that, churches are actually not a place for fellowship for everyone. One person told me, in a conversation we were having about abortion and human rights, that if a child gets raped, she has to keep the baby. I know that these attitudes are reflective of the extreme and fundamentalist side of religious belief, but regardless, these were people I personally knew and connected with that said this to me, and I never thought I had come from a place and had relationships with people who could demonstrate such intolerance.

Fundamentally, morally, and ethically, I cannot follow a religion that would advocate such hate, judgment, and ignorance. I know that a lot of Christians do a tremendous deal of good things in the world, and advocate on behalf of many oppressed people, but I still really sorely miss the critical conversations where these double standards exist in the bible, the interpretation, and how that enacts itself in the world, and wish for more Christian leaders to speak about these issues. So maybe it should be up to me to fix the church, but it got to a point where I started to realize this kind of hate is larger than just a problem that needs to be fixed, but that it is ingrained into a really big part of Christian culture in North America.

So many church denominations are content to split up if they disagree; people believe so strongly and fervently in their interpretation of the bible they would sooner split up their church denomination than actively dialogue and try to understand one another. And for all of the things I can do, I cannot go up against that kind of strength of belief -- to many, it is church doctrine, and not something that simply changes. One person messaged me and told me she was disappointed that I left the Christian faith, and I responded by saying,

"I'm disappointed too. I am disappointed in the churches I was in and how they failed to teach me compassion, and failed to be a safe place for the oppressed and marginalized, but rather continued to be institutions that perpetuated colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. Certainly there are groups, and individuals working for justice in the name of God, but I was too overwhelmed with seeing years and years of injustice and hypocrisy and so many churches across multiple denominations who were keen to push their own political agendas at the expense of the people they are supposed to be reaching out to. I also realized I could still do good in the world, and fight against injustice and oppression, and not have to do it with a Christian agenda, but simply because it's the right thing to do, and for the sake of building a better world. It took me years to come to terms with not believing anymore, and then even longer than that afterward to be open and honest with myself and others about it, and that's only been a very recent development. And believe it or not, I'm really happy right now. I have a life that I love, and people that I love, and I feel like I'm doing meaningful things."

Were there times when I felt the presence of God? In looking back, most of those times where I "was moved by the holy spirit" were influenced by outside factors, like loud uplifting music, or other people and emotions running high, but there is one moment I can't explain. During a church service in Ghana underneath a straw canopy, somehow everything felt very different, and I felt like I was aware of a "sacredness" to everything and everyone gathered. I've never felt that feeling again, and I'll never forget that feeling, and honestly, I don't want to reason that feeling away with excuses involving heat or dehydration or exhaustion. For some reason that moment was special, and it will remain so for me.

My dissolution of my relationship with God was not because of the negative interactions I experienced with Christians, but that I genuinely feel as though a relationship has been broken. From that moment in the darkness in Vancouver, where I couldn't answer the question to "Where was God?" I continued to feel betrayed, and come up with questions I couldn't answer. I couldn't understand what kind of god would create people, and in one breath, tell them they are perfect, that he "knew them while they were in their mother's womb" but then tell them they are inherently disordered, or can't be leaders because of their gender or race, or creates people who are inherently sinful?

I believe we weren't given a "choice" to follow god based on the eating an apple in the Garden of Eden, because now our "eternal life" is wholly dependent on us loving God. There's no choice. How can that be true love? "Love God, or go to hell"? How cruel is that? It doesn't matter to me whether God exists or not -- it more matters as to why he didn't do anything when I needed him, and remains not present in so many instances of suffering around the world, historically and presently. Honestly, I left God, before I left the church, and I was heartbroken to leave him. Moments like that moment in Ghana, which felt like I was aware of something so profoundly more greater and beautiful than I can reckon, remain to me to be memories from a relationship that has been lost, and one that I miss terribly.

Do I still care about faith? Very much. Am I still interested in discussing and conversing about the implications of faith in this world? Very much so. There seems to be an assumption that because I'm not a Christian, I no longer care about religion, but I do very much, and still wish to be included in the dialogue. There is a very very fine and delicate balance between the relationship of people based on their beliefs, allowing room for dialogue, and the opportunity to learn from one another. Like the lesson I learned so long ago, it is difficult, but so right to exist in the liminal experience that is being able to be wrong, and being willing to learn from one another, and, like that speaker at that event taught me, have the courage to hold your faith and ideas in an open hand, and truly see what it is they are made of.

I realized that I can be a positive force for change and that I don't have to do it with the motivation of "ministry" or "outreach" or "winning souls for Jesus" -- there was one speaker at that Christian event I always went to who loved the tagline "Gettin' sweaty for Jesus!" and I realized I didn't want to get sweaty for Jesus. But for other people? Most definitely.

I no longer want to feel like I'm incapable, or inherently flawed, or unable to do things without God. It feels more empowering, great, and wonderful to believe in myself, and know I can do things because I can. And that I'm not a product of sin, but a human being with wishes, hopes and dreams. I have infinite possibilities, not because a god allows it to be so, but because humanity has been, for thousands of years, in the midst of evil, war, and greed, working to also create goodness, and build a better world, and I can continue on that fight for a better world, not for the motivation of heaven at the end of my life, but the assurance that my children and children's children can continue to build, innovate, and create in a better and more beautiful world than I can imagine.

And that, to me, is enough.


W. Jeffrey Paulish

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