I guess it’s best to just start at the beginning. I was born and raised into the American Southern Baptist church. If you’re unfamiliar with Southern Baptists, think: hell, fire, and brimstone. In fact, our church (and thousands of other churches) even had this garbage performed:
If you get the time to watch it, I highly recommend it. It may give you some insight about how NOT to be like Jesus – or possibly give you nightmares. Now that I think of it, Halloween is coming up. It’s appropriate for that. Other than that, it really has no value whatsoever.
Anywho, I left the Baptist denomination when I was 18 and never looked back. I went from the stoic Baptist ways to the charismatic church instead. There I received my “prayer language” – which I openly admit now that I made up over time (if yours is real, more power to you) – and learned all kinds of unhelpful theology.
One of the most damaging things was thinking I needed to be in God’s “perfect will” for my life at all times. I didn’t shake that one until a little over a year ago. That’s the idea that somehow I’m supposed to “supernaturally know” which choice I should make in every situation. I can’t begin to tell you how much stress that put on me! As if the choice I made would either find me with great favor and success, or a ginormous failure. Remember the fear tactic I mentioned before? It applies to “God’s will” too. I’ve since discovered that if I’m living a life full of Love, It’s going to be difficult to screw that up too badly.
Fast forward a decade or so to Part 1 of this series. The brewing storm that began after reading Pagan Christianity had flashed a few lightning bolts, but it was about to unleash its fury! After reading the book, this thought occurred to me, “What if everything I’ve ever learned about Christianity is wrong?” I’m sure you’ve been there, and you certainly understand the sheer terror of that thought – along with the ramifications of exploring it.
Well, back to “The Matrix” we go; I took the red pill and decided to see just how deep that rabbit hole went. I informed my wife of my intentions, and I made sure to keep her up-to-date with everything along the way. Today, we’re nearly at the same place in our beliefs, but during this process she most definitely was not!
I was going to wipe the slate clean. I’ll just forget everything I’ve ever been taught, and start over – question EVERYTHING! And that’s exactly what I did. I questioned why atheists/agnostics believe the way they do, and why science is so important to them. I questioned why other religions believe the way they do.
I questioned the Bible.
That’s when shit got real. Suddenly, after seeing everything from an outside perspective, a lot of the Bible was really weird when read as a literal text. I mean, Noah and the ark? Really? Come on. God made the Earth in 6 days? Adam and Eve being real people – how do we know their names? Even more modern beliefs such as the Earth only being 10,000 years old… Seriously? That’s just silly.
Then I saw other things that didn’t make sense; even in the gospels. If you read them one to the next, there are some pretty clear inconsistencies – insignificant differences? Maybe, but enough to show the Bible isn’t “inerrant.”
About this time, a verse I remember hearing throughout my Christian upbringing came to mind. The verse, in 2 Timothy, said, “All scripture is inspired by God…”
It hit me. I can be inspired to write my blog posts, but God isn’t dictating the words I use on the page. Is it really possible that the writers were using metaphors and mythological stories to try to describe a God so big, one that they couldn’t see, a God able to construct all of creation? Is it possible that they wanted to paint Jesus – a rebel; a humanitarian that caused them to see the woes of the world – with God-like supernatural abilities; hoping that if they did, onlookers would want to love others and live accordingly? Yep. Is it also just as possible that Jesus really was fully as supernatural as was written about him? Yep. Does the historicity of Jesus raise some valid questions concerning Jesus? I think so. Is it 100% possible for us to really know either way without having been an eye witness to it all? Nope. Is hell a made up place to scare Christians into submission? Good question. Could it be that the book of Revelation is a mythological story that cannot be interpreted literally?
Wait. Should any of the Bible be interpreted literally?
I grew up thinking that everything about the Bible was 100% true; that it couldn’t be wrong. I believed all of the stories: Noah, Jonah, Adam & Eve, etc. I also believed that Jesus was coming back for us anyday. It was also ingrained within my beliefs that questioning the authority of the Bible was sinful (that fear thing all over again).
Christians like to quote Revelation 22:18-19, “18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” – NIV
The thing is, the book has been added to, taken from, interpreted, misinterpreted, and jacked up for hundreds of years. All along, the plagues have left those alone who’ve added to/taken away. Fear tactics. The Bible can be wrong. It’s okay.
I happened upon a 2 part audio lecture about Fundamentalism soon after asking the question of whether or not the Bible should be interpreted literally. Part 1 and Part 2 – a combined runtime of less than 1 hour. That was my first exposure to Fundamentalism, and it finally consolidated everything I’d come to believe into something more finite.
As I began to unravel all of that and make peace with what I’ve come to believe, I wondered if there was anyone else out there who had come to these conclusions. I certainly didn’t know anyone personally. I’d be called a heretic for speaking such blasphemy! Enter John Pavlovitz. My wife, still struggling with the idea that I’m turning into an atheist (I wasn’t. I consider myself an agnostic that chooses to believe in God – John actually wrote on this topic recently), was the first to discover his blog. John is a pastor, author, and now a friend to Lindsey and I. We communicate often via Facebook, and even hang out via Skype occasionally. He was the first person that I found who was vocalizing things I was learning/unlearning.
During my “journey” – as we’ve come to call it – Lindsey made a discovery for herself! It dawned on her that her whole salvation experience was one of fear. She had been scared into the loving arms of Jesus through fear tactics. I’d say that most American Christians have “accepted Jesus” this way. She made the connection that God is Love, but fear was used to force her to God. Her revelation was mind blowing for me. I hadn’t thought of that before! She regrets that her salvation experience didn’t come through a tender wooing. Since then, I’ve made another heretical friend. Her name is Cindy Brandt. Lindsey and I, now determined to raise our kids without instilling fear in their hearts, found a series of Cindy’s of great value. It’s entitled, “Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist.” I’m excited to get to know Cindy more!
With a decent grasp on Fundamentalism in hand, the life that Jesus lived began to make more sense. The “red letters” of Jesus have inspired me deeply. This Jesus wasn’t a hell-damning person at all! Rather, he loved so passionately that it infected everyone he was around – except for most of the Pharisees that were so stuck in legalism that they killed him for his heretical love. I also discovered that I’m not the first to see Jesus in this light.
Thomas Jefferson – you know, the author of The Declaration of Independence, one of the Founding Fathers of America – decided to take a razor blade and glue to the Bible. He scoffed at a good portion of the writings saying that they were written by, “ignorant, unlettered men” who manufactured “superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications”, and so he cut away the parts of the Jesus story he felt were made up. He told John Adams what he was left with was, “as distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.” Later, Jefferson wrote, “I am a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” He said that Jesus’ teachings were “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” His piecing of the story of Jesus today is known as “The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” There’s another version that’s easier to read called “The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth in Modern English.”
Why am I even bothering to bring all of this up?
Because it’s part of me now. The Jesus that was so enslaved to dogma and bad theology in my mind isn’t the Jesus that I see anymore. When I look at him, I can’t see him through the fear stained, hell-damning, Where’s Waldo of God’s will, gay bashing, my way or the highway, right wing Republican glasses that I used to wear. I refuse to be bound up in debating the Bible; to be manipulated by others and their interpretations of it. It’s a waste of time and energy, and at the end of the day, more people are damaged by that than are loved.
Have I drunk the Rob Bell kool-aid? Have I become a blaspheming heretic? Perhaps, but I’m in fantastic company. Jesus was one too. He was persecuted/executed for his beliefs at the hands of the Pharisees.
Food for thought: I submit that most Christians aren’t the persecuted ones who Jesus talked about, but instead they may be the persecuting Pharisaical people who he warned others following his likeness about. The heretics that are speaking boldly sound much more like the Jesus I’ve come to know recently than the Christians damning them to hell.
Christianity today sounds like: LGBTQ? Hell for you (that rhymed). Blasphemer? Lake of Fire it is. Democrat? Weeping and gnashing of teeth. John Pavlovitz/Rob Bell? “There’s a special place in hell for people like you.”
Someone, possibly Mahatma Gandhi, once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.”
Can I tell you something? I’ve been wrapped in fear for “coming out” with these beliefs. Fearing that I would be ridiculed by Christians. Afraid for the non-stop bombardment of hate mail (disguised as “loving correction“) and rejection. There’s something very wrong with that. Knowing that there’s something wrong with that is what has given me great courage. If Love doesn’t win in everything, with everyone, every time, without conditions – even if it goes against your
religious beliefs – then you’re doing it wrong.
I’m no longer frightened by idle threats; rather, I’m broken by my previous inability to love someone because they didn’t measure up. I’m horrified by memories I have of making fun of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. I’m filled with remorse for the ways in which I treated the social outcast, homeless, poor, atheists/Muslims/Buddhists/other religions, and the unpopular person.
Aside: I have LGBT Jesus follower/non-Jesus follower friends now, and I love ALL of them! Shout out to my LGBT Facebook friends! Ok, my LGBT friends I know in real life too. You’re amazing people, and I love you for who you are – just as you are. I’m so anxious to get to know you more! You’re all so fun to be around.
I’m disgusted by associating myself with a “faith” that puts the “sins” of others under a microscope instead of oozing with Love for that person. You can try to tell me what the (misinterpreted) Bible says all day long, but it’s no longer my authority. “The Word made flesh” is, and his life will be my testimony.
You can say that I’ve “lost my way” using whatever words/labels you want to. You can say that I’m hellbound. You can tell me that I’m dangerously playing with fire. Say what you want. I’m confident I’ve never looked more like Jesus. It’s “Heretical Love” that compels me. I’ve chosen to worship Love and live like Love, and I’ll never apologize for choosing it.
Now I can sleep at night.
P.S. If you’re reading this, and it sounds a lot like your story, and you’ve been afraid to speak out about it – maybe you’ve been looking for someone, anyone that feels the way you do, please reach out to me! I’d love to hear your story! I know how lonely it is in that place, and I desperately wanted another like-minded person that I could connect to. I’ll never uncover you or out you! I’m here for you. You will be safely loved here.