I don’t believe in “God.” Not in the sense that most people who consider themselves Christian do. I don’t believe that God is a male. I don’t believe that God sits in judgment. I really don’t believe that “God” is any conscious entity who makes decisions or takes actions that affect our lives.
There is very little in the Bible that I consider “literal.” The one exception to that is in I John Chapter 4, verse 8. “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
My “God” is Love.
Jesus was a man. He was a man of Love. He was enraged by money changers in the temple. He spent His days feeding the hungry, healing the poor, and defending the vulnerable from the punishment of hypocrites. I strive to be like Jesus.
When I was 15 my parents were in the midst of several years of drug abuse. This, of course, included such things as verbal abuse, physical violence, and unsavory people hanging around my younger brothers, my baby sister, and me.
I had just been unceremoniously dumped by my first boyfriend, so I pretty much thought that I was in a pit of darkness. A friend in my English class invited me to come to her church with her.
My great-grandma used to love to take me to church. I loved going. Then my single mom married a man in the air force. When I was six years old, we moved to Germany. I walked to school during the week and walked to church on Sunday. I liked the stories of Adam and Eve in the Garden, Moses parting the sea, and Noah’s ark. I loved Jesus. I loved singing, and I loved art, and we did all of those things at this church.
After three years, we moved to Texas. There, a church came to us. They had a bus and would come to pick us up and take us to Sunday school, and then we would have Children’s church afterward. More stories. More singing. I loved it.
Then we moved back to California.
The churches we’d attended up to that point all taught us things that seemed to go along with my mother’s version of Christianity: Love God, be kind, treat others as you would want to be treated, and remember to pray. It was all pretty simple.
I didn’t have a church to go to unless I went to visit Great-Grandma. She lived about a 45-minute drive from us, so I did visit her, but not every Sunday. I didn’t like my Great-Grandma’s church because the pastor gave me the creeps.
So for about three years, I was without a church, until my friend invited me to hers. I gladly accepted.
The first visit was just what I needed. They greeted me with literal open arms. I was desperate for that, so I dove in head first.
Some of the ideas of this church were new to me. Some people danced. They clapped when they sang. Some people spoke in tongues, which I’d heard my Great-Grandma doing under her breath, but these people were doing it out loud.
And there was “the rapture.” That was a concept I’d never heard of. I knew that Jesus would come back one day, and the Earth would be like Heaven (which I’d always imagined being very boring). But this idea of Jesus only taking some people and leaving the rest scared the hell out of me (no pun intended). I knew I was “an illegitimate child.” Did that make me unworthy? And I wanted to believe, but when they told me that if I didn’t believe that the Bible was the absolute, literal truth, I didn’t believe in God, I began having panic attacks.
I’d always been told that all I had to do was accept Jesus in my heart and I was Christian. Now there were so many more rules and there were only so many that I could embrace.
Some of our Sunday School lessons were designed around disproving the existence of dinosaurs.
My youth pastor told me he hated a friend of mine. when I asked why, he said, “because he’s gay.” This was late 80’s. I only sorta knew what gay meant. But I was pretty sure that we weren’t supposed to hate people.
I was given a book that I was told was definitive proof that the Bible is absolutely literal. Even at 16, by then, I knew that you can’t use a book to prove itself true.
I was literally bullied into “speaking in tongues,” an experience so humiliating to me that I never told a soul for two decades.
The most confusing part for me was sex. Up to this point, the only person who cared that I was a virgin was my great-grandma. She would introduce me to people as her “great-granddaughter, and I’m so proud of her because she’s going to be a virgin when she gets married.” TRUE STORY!
At my new church, however, it was a constant subject. Wait until you’re married. You give away a piece of your soul when you have sex with someone you’re not married to. That same youth pastor used to bemoan the mocking he would get at work because he was waiting until he was married to have sex. (Wonder how they knew?)
Ultimately, I learned that my fantasy man of almost two years was as into me as I was with him. He knew that I planned to save myself, and he said he respected that.
He didn’t. He pushed and pressured me, and I didn’t know where, precisely, to put the boundaries. I’d been raised to believe that men only want one thing, so I thought it was normal. Guys can’t control it. It was my job to keep them at bay.
And one day, almost a year after we started seeing one another, I stopped fighting it. It wasn’t rape. But it was nothing like I imagined, and I immediately felt like I’d ruined my whole life.
I married him one month to the day after I graduated high school because I thought that was the only thing that would make it right with the God of this church who was so wrathful.
I stopped going to church, but I still kept in touch with the youth minister and his wife. I started college and was warned that they would “come after Christianity.”
I was on a future-educators track. This included classes in the humanities. Those were the “secular heathens” that were going to come after my “faith.”
We began with ancient myths like Gilgamesh, and then worked our way through Egyptian mythology, Judaism, and Christianity. With each mythology, we looked at the arts and how they were influenced. I began to notice a few things. First, I noticed that there were similar stories that ran through them. As a math-brained person, I could see quite linearly how one may have influenced the next, which influenced the next, etc.
The other similarity was the systematic downgrading of a woman’s place in the world. (That’s a whole other story).
Still, I was at a place in which I didn’t really believe in what I had learned at that Church, but I believed enough to believe that I was doomed to hell for not believing. So when my class was going to be discussing the story of God testing Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22) in our next lesson, I did my reading and imagined what questions the teacher might ask. The one I couldn’t answer was “If God is omnipotent and knew us before we were born, shouldn’t he have known that Abraham would have carried out this sacrifice, had God not intervened?”
I called that youth minister and asked him this question. His response to me was life-changing. “Jenna, sometimes the bible isn’t meant to be taken literally.” I had married at 18 because this man told me that everything in the Bible was literal.
The more I learned about other mythologies; the more I studied the origins and evolution of Christianity the more logically I could see how Jesus the man became “God.” It gave me a sense of peace that I could go back to the kind of Christianity I’d grown up with.
Over the years, I’ve met dozens of people who have been at various places in their spiritual journey. It’s always the judgement and the “literalness” of it that trips them up.
I had a conversation with a young man in a class where I was substitute teaching that could probably have gotten me fired, but it was worth it to me. He saw my college ring and asked if I was Mormon. I told him that I was not and asked if he was. He said, “My parents are.”
I said, “You’re not?”
He said, “I don’t know. There are some things I believe and others I don’t.”
I said, “Like the miracles?”
He nodded seriously.
I said, “do you know what Jesus taught?”
“To help people and treat others the way you would want to be treated,” he answered.
“Do you believe those things are important?” I asked him.
He said, “Yes,” as if it was a silly question.
So I said, “Then what does it matter if the miracles are true? Those things are still important, either way.”
He beamed at me and said, “I never thought of it that way! Thanks!”
Eventually, I was hired to teach at an all-girl Catholic High School. I know that there are those who have had horrible experiences with the Church, but my experience at this one, at least initially, was positive enough to make me want to go through catechism. One of the most Christ-like men I know is Catholic, so I began to attend mass with him and his wife and he sponsored me through catechism.
In the end, the one thing that I struggled with was the Nicene Creed and the Eucharist. I can’t claim to believe in these things as fact when I don’t. I wanted to be confirmed as Catholic, but not at the expense of my integrity.
I went to my priest about a week before Easter and explained my concerns. I explained to him that I had come to understand that my brain requires facts for nourishment, but my soul requires truths. Facts and truths are not the same things.
He chuckled. He told me that some require those “mental gymnastics,” but they weren’t criteria for confirmation.
I often use the story of the Boy who Cried Wolf to explain what I mean by the difference between truth and facts. If one person tells the story that the boy cried wolf three times before his father stopped running to save him and another person says it was four, those are facts in dispute. When dealing with facts, they both can’t be true. But if we realize that this story has nothing to do with how many times he cried, but rather that crying for attention when nothing is wrong will cause people to stop hearing you, we realize that that is the Truth of the story, regardless of how many times the boy cried.
Christianity is this, for me. It is Truth in that it clearly states that God is Love, and it provides us with universal examples of love: feed the hungry, heal the sick, etc. In my research, that’s a Truth in all major world religions.
When I was in a coma for three weeks and dozens of people were praying for me, and my doctors called me a walking miracle when I woke, I believe that it wasn’t the prayers that healed me, but the love of those who were praying, no matter which face of God they prayed to. I believe it was my doctors and nurses and their Love for healing. I believe it was the love of my mother who got on a plane for the first time in decades to be with me (and whose voice is the only thing I remember from my time in a coma: “Jenna, it’s Mama.”)
Christianity is the culture I grew up in, and it is precious to me. I would even go so far as to say it is sacred to me. But I don’t hold my faith as superior to anyone else’s because I don’t believe in a jealous, vengeful God, and that’s not what a person who leads with Love would do.
I love to discuss these things, so if anyone has questions or just wants to talk, feel free to private message me.