Last week, as I was talking to another fellow deconstruction survivor, I had a realization. I suddenly understood that what made my falling apart of faith so painful, so overwhelming, was not just the trauma of an unprecedented paradigm shift, but a breaking of myself.
It is early morning as I write this, and I have just completed praying the Episcopalian Office. As always, it’s left me feeling full, centered, and comforted. I pray the Office every morning and night, and it’s become one a pillar that brings me deep pleasure.
I’ve written a lot about faith and doubt within Christianity over the past year or so. Doubt has been my constant, dark companion. I can understand now why Martin Luther (according to myth) hurled a bottle of ink at a devil that was taunting him. I’ve been hurling my own ink, trying to fend off the monster.
I could easily shrug off the doubt and turn to the warm light of my faith, stuffing all the questions back into the box, but I can’t do that. My understanding of integrity doesn’t let me shrug off genuine questions. I know that I need to value truth, and that truth requires certain proofs to be true. I know that humility, asking questions, and accepting my capacity to be wrong is integral to living a good, upright life.
I’m happy as a gay man. In fact, with the exception of when I sit down to write about it, I rarely think about being gay. It’s simply a fact, fading into the details of life. I think of myself as simply Stephen, with a myriad of interests, and I think of my partner as my partner, whom I love dearly. Very rarely now do I ever stop to consider that we are both men. I love my partner’s masculinity (I am gay, after all) but that doesn’t mean I stop to dwell on the fact. This lack of dwelling is a mark of happiness and freedom for me.
On Christmas Eve my partner and I watched an old favorite of mine: Donnie Darko. The film is a trippy, incoherent and yet strangely cathartic philosophical exploration of reality. Running through the film is Donnie’s struggles with belief in God. The film captures well the unreality and alienation that accompanies such deep exploration: little makes sense in this world, and we are surrounded by delusions and nightmares.
The scenes that struck me the most powerfully were the discussions Donnie has with his therapist about his struggles with belief in God.
For as long as I have had faith in God, I have also known doubt. My doubt and I have been in a dance for years, now, growing apart and then coming together, sometimes fighting, sometimes talking, sometimes choosing to understand one another.
As I struggle with navigating the faith I love so dearly, I turn to the internet for guidance, and I find a great deal of cerebral talk with little soul. I hear Sam Harris and Dawkins and Christian apologists talk about the pros and cons of faith, but what’s missing for me in almost all discussions about doubt is humanity.
I’ve been occupying an odd head space lately: reading a great deal about cults, and pondering my general resistance to going to church. I didn’t think they were connected, but it recently occurred to me that perhaps they are. Enter Youth With a Mission (Or YWAM, pronounced “Why-wham.”)
When I was a Freshman at a small Christian college, I took a Philosophy 101 course. I read Camus, and Nietszche, and Aristotle, and Augustine, all under the tutalage of a caring, prodding, sometimes infuriating philosophy professor. Up until that point, faith had always been a given. Certainly, I had occasional uncomfortable questions (is eternal torment really a reasonable response to sin from an all-loving God?) but generally I didn’t let those questions trouble me. My Evangelical surroundings worked hard to reinforce the assurance that my particular early 21st century brand of Evangelicalism was certain and reasonable, and that it was the outsiders who were delusional, or working from incomplete evidence.
Every so often, I get asked a difficult question: how, after all I’ve been through as a gay person in the church, am I still a Christian? I’ve struggled with this question, and refrained from writing about it, because, “I don’t know” doesn’t seem like an appropriate answer.
The question just keeps coming up, though, and I think it might be time to start unpacking that “I don’t know.”
There are two primary accusations brought against Christians today: hatred and hypocrisy. Over the past year, though, I’ve come to see the apparent hypocrisy and hatred (or bigotry, as many people put it) as occasional symptoms of a much deeper problem, a disease that is rotting out the heart of modern Christianity: codependency.