Contented Reader

just point me toward the nearest library

Quitting church

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I stopped believing in God several years ago.  Or, rather, I finally accepted the ever-growing pile of evidence that God really does not exist, and that to continue to pretend he does would be simple dishonesty.

That wasn’t easy.  It involved a fairly radical shift in the way I look at everything, and it isn’t easy to reconcile the things that you were taught about the universe before the age of five (and which are thus permanent) with the things you’ve learned in your thirties.  It would have saved me a lot of trouble if my parents hadn’t taught me untrue things in my early childhood.

But I got over Santa Claus, and I got over the Tooth Fairy, and I got over God, too, in roughly the same way – by allowing myself to put aside the stories I heard and look at the world for myself, and seeing that the stories just didn’t add up.  “If Santa exists, why do rich kids get better presents than poor kids?”  “If God exists, why do people starve to death while praying for food?”  The answer to both questions is the same answer, and the answer’s in the question.  “If.”

Theodicy, the problem of pain, is only a quandary for people who know the answer but don’t like it.

But even though I knew God didn’t exist, I kept going to church.  Why?  Because I always have; there are very few Sundays of my life that haven’t been spent that way.  Because I’ve grown used to that time of calm and focus, a place apart from the rest of life.  Because I have friends at church, and I like going out for lunch after the service with them.  Because I was afraid that I’d become more introverted and reclusive if I didn’t make myself spend time as part of a community.  Because it was hard enough on my parents when I came out, and I hoped that visiting my church from time to time would make it easier for them.

But.

I can, if I choose, create my own time and space of calm and focus for Sunday mornings.  I can do that in any way that makes sense to me.

The kind of ‘friends’ one meets through belonging to the same organization aren’t so much friends as acquaintances.  I’ve had people like that in my life always, and most of them, I don’t remember their names.  The ones who are real friends, worth keeping, I already see outside of church, and will continue to do so.  I prefer having a few close friends, anyway, and avoiding the noise and fuss of large gatherings doesn’t make me a people-hater; it just makes me older.

My parents are going to have to deal with their issues in their own way.  I’ve done what I could to help them, but they’ve had enough time now.  It doesn’t make sense for a grown woman to go to church solely in hopes that it might please her parents.  Anyway, my church is so foreign to them that I don’t think their visits (two in a decade) were that helpful.

So I took a little hiatus, to see how it would feel.  And I do miss it, sort of.  And I sort of don’t.  But the truth is that sitting there, listening to things I’m sure aren’t true, is too irritating for me to get the calm and peace I used to get.  As much as I’d like to be part of a community of like-minded people, being part of one another’s lives as we all get older, I don’t think that church is going to be that community for me.

Lots of people make the opposite choice.  They go to church for community and culture and tradition, even though they don’t believe anything they hear there.  I think there are so many of those that the churches would suffer massive losses if they all stopped going.  I understand that choice.  That’s what I’ve been doing for two years.  And it sort of worked.  But it wasn’t the same, not the same at all, as the experience I had back when I believed that what was happening there was related to something real.

I don’t know what happens inside of other people’s heads.  I never will.  But my life, the good parts and the bad parts, has come together because I’ve been honest, with myself and with other people.  I’m not really good at faking things.  Sometimes that’s worked out for me, and sometimes it hasn’t, but it seems to be part of my character, and I think I should go with it.

I’m not angry or bitter, mostly.  Religious people are people.  The mean ones find reason to be mean in their religion, and the kind ones find reason to be kind in their religion, but even though they deny it, I think they would have been mean or kind anyway.  Some of the people I’ve gone to church with have been mean, and I could blame the church, but instead I’ll blame them.  Some of them have been kind, and I could give credit to the church, but instead I’ll give credit to them.

If I want to be part of a community again, I’ll try to find a group of like-minded people.  Churches aren’t the only kinds of communities.  I could join the Friends of the Library, or the Astronomy Club, or… something.

The mixed feelings I have are not unlike how I felt when graduating from high school, understanding that moving forward is good and right and positive, but still a little fearful of a future that isn’t very clear right now.

Graduating from high school worked out okay.  Quitting church might, too.  And if it doesn’t, well, I feel like I’m making the only choice I can make with integrity.  I’m being honest, and trying to do the best I can with my life.  I guess that’s all there is.

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Written by Contented Reader

July 27, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Opinions

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