A long time ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, I became disillusioned with religious institutions. Since I had been brought up in one that declared itself the infallible mouthpiece of God, I was also disillusioned with what had passed for God up to that point in my life.
My father’s premature death and the inequalities and suffering I saw in the world convinced me that if there was a God, I didn’t like him very much. Not liking God was uncomfortable, to say the least, since the feeling might well be mutual. It was easier to just not believe in one.
I simply abandoned God to a mental file labeled “Probably Not,” and proceeded to enjoy a reasonably affluent lifestyle of many delightful pleasures. The problem with a life of pleasure is that it is addictive. It took more and newer pleasures to keep my naturally questioning mind turned off. And my children were becoming old enough to ask me some of the questions I was avoiding. At the same time the increasingly blurred edges of society’s moral boundaries left me without the guidelines that had kept me safe from the more destructive human behaviors while I was growing up. I finally admitted that the life I was leading was becoming increasingly bereft of any purpose that I truly valued.
I began a search for meaning. I had read most of the classical philosophers, the thinkers of the enlightenment, and contemporary books about the death of God. But I had never actually read the entire bible, so I decided to start with the scriptures. I read it from Genesis through Revelation. Since I brought a skeptic’s mind set to the project, I had also thrown out most of the interpretations I had been taught or exposed to in daily life. So, in some ways, I came to the scriptures without preconceived opinions. I was surprised by the relevance of many of the ideas, though puzzled by obvious contradictions. The claims about Jesus and his promises to his followers challenged my credulity, but set off a tiny wistfulness deep within me. Mostly, reading the scriptures just increased my hunger for meaning and purpose.
So, I began a search that eventually included taking introductory classes in several of the major Christian denominations and a couple of courses at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School, one of which was on world religions other than Christianity, and initiating discussions with church attending friends about some of the more difficult to believe claims made in the New Testament.
The major denominations seemed to all emphasize certain (and different) parts of the New Testament, while ignoring others. The part about give all you have to the poor appeared universally unpopular. The humanity of the person, Jesus, seemed pretty much unexplored, though the miraculous was also downplayed.
Modern Christianity was a very anemic version of what was described in Acts. In fact, it looked mostly like a combination of an insurance policy and a spiritual country club, rather than the life and world-changing force it claimed to once have been.
I came to the conclusion that Jesus was a good man, but a somewhat delusional idealist, who got himself killed. I sadly put Christianity and God back in my file that was labeled Probably Not.
Since humanity was on its own, then it was up to us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and try to make our planet a better place to live for future generations. I began to invest some of the time and energy I had spent first on pleasure, then on seeking God, to a search for meaning through working for justice for those still disenfranchised under our political system.
(to be continued)