I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written and rewritten this post. You’d think there was some simple, easily communicable answer to this question — something that could serve as the perfect click-bait headline, one that really sticks it to the “bad guys” and makes my friends high-five in smug approval.
I’ve tried metaphors, arguments, moral pleas, and transparent streams of consciousness. Truth is, though, I have no idea why I left the fold. I had a lot of reasons, sure, but none were individually strong enough to warrant walking away. In fact, I know people more liberal in faith than I am who still strongly identify with Christianity. But I can’t speak to them, or to any of my fellow wandering sheep.
The truth, always, is nuanced, complex and difficult to communicate. I’m not sure I can even speak it, but I’ll share what little history that I can, and hope that it illuminates the path that brought me here.
The Torment of Reform
By the time I hit my twenties, I had grappled with enough deep theological questions to stop feeling comfortable identifying with Christianity. I knew that there was no Biblical defense of the strange, cultural/political Christian phenomenon I was raised in. But I didn’t leave the fold then; instead, I considered myself a Christian reformer.
While that seemed noble, the demands of reform can bring immense anxiety to yourself, your friends, and family. However, that’s nothing compared to the fear it provokes in the institution of the church, which has a deplorable history of dealing with its own reformers (death to the radicals, blasphemers, and all that jazz). I think all reformers are tormented by that weight. It’s an odd feeling, being tormented by something you love.
As a Christian, though, I had already been accustomed to feeling anxious all the time. I believed that anxiety was Godly, and defended it like any hard-working Protestant would. I could have carried the torment of reform as proudly as a cross. But in time, my need for change started to feel less like justice, and more like… something else.
Was it rage? Hard to say, for certain. But the more I insisted that theology be changed and corrected, the more I started to despise those who remained resistant, and resent the people who taught me such indefensible truths. I became stubborn, self-righteous, and insistent. I was starting to act just like them!
I began to feel a subtle, creeping notion that my altruistic intentions could have insidious origins. So, for a moment, I stopped doing what every bone in my body believed was right, and started really looking at myself. I was no longer noble, no longer spiritual; I was just another angry man claiming righteous authority, wagging his finger and pounding his fists, demanding that the will of God be heard and obeyed, no matter the cost.
I’m not sure why that concept — the enraged man demanding obedience by threat of eternal damnation — has remained so pervasive in Christian culture. The gospels themselves seem to explicitly challenge that image of God, and honestly, it seems more akin to a devil. In any case, I regrettably played the part.
In attempting to reject fundamentalism, I somehow fell back on the fundamental powers and practices I had learned. I was becoming the very image of the angry, patriarchal church leader whose very will I was attempting to defy. In attempting to reform them — even out of alleged love — I somehow became them.
I had never felt so helpless. I knew that reform was required — but if that process extended the same warped ideals of power and control, then how could I succeed? I had no evidence or ability to defend any of the bizarre theologies I grew up with, for I knew they did not hold up to scrutiny. I could not accept them, and I hated who I became when I challenged them.
I was trapped, frustrated, and panicked. I felt like I couldn’t breathe — but then, of course, I realized something obvious. I had been breathing the whole time. So, I kept breathing. I took one deep breath after another, and eventually, I was able to step back and discover a space that I never knew existed. I had been so ingrained in my battle that I failed to see its simplest resolution:
I didn’t have to deal with any of this, at all.
I didn’t have to write a theology, embrace a religious tradition, or challenge it. I didn’t have to limit the world in that way — for or against, black and white. I could just walk away. I didn’t have to be a reformer, or a Christian, or even NOT be a Christian. I could simply be.
I didn’t fight, I didn’t forsake. I merely stepped back. And as I did, I watched a part of myself remain behind, still endlessly arguing and seeking the truth, eternally imprisoned in that unending and obsessive dialogue.
Watching my own behavior from afar, I was forced to ask: what purpose does that man serve? How is this obsession helping him, or helping anyone? I had no answer. So, I left him behind. Perhaps he was never even a part of me; perhaps he was someone else.
Finally, I was free of myself. For the first time, I had let go all I had known of God and religion, of what must be and what must not. After years of struggle, I had stopped looking and found faith.
I left the fold, and I was born again.
The Path of the Reclaimer
While the space I found from leaving the fold felt like salvation, I am aware that it may read, somewhat, as a shirking of responsibility. For a time, that may have been true. I basically spent the last ten years of my life avoiding Christianity like the plague (it was one hell of a decade).
While I reveled in that freedom then, I do have one major regret: that, out of fear, I had decided to conceal my newfound light instead of simply letting it shine.
I was afraid that others would not understand, that I would be left excommunicated and unloved. Everything the church had every shown me so far led me to believe that would be the case. I honestly thought it would be better for everyone if I stayed in hiding. It was certainly better for me — even now, I am viewed by many as a problem that needs correcting (for my own good, of course).
But by concealing my life, I was hoarding wisdom that could have alleviated the suffering of others, or at least let them know they were not alone. Through simply expressing my perspective, without demand or argument, I could have loosened the taut fundamentalist ties of friends and family, aiding those who felt persecuted in their environment.
So, as an apology, I’m here now. I’m running a blog, I’m recording music, I’m creating and listening. However, I’m returning to my history as something different than I was before — not as a reformer, but a reclaimer. I have come back to champion all I have ever learned to be good, and internalize it so I may show the world what it means through my actions.
I don’t have to argue with you, or convert you. I don’t have to research and develop some new theology. Even if I did, it would still inevitably pale in comparison to the vastly infinite reality — or, if you must, God — beyond the limits of language and perception, whose name is too nuanced to ever be pronounced.
Instead of attacking, I am celebrating the most beautiful concepts the church had to offer: love, hope, faith, grace, charity, joy. These are more than just words! They are our most sacred conxepts, ideals that outshine any theology. Like the love of Christ himself, they defy the tenets of orthodoxy and order.
To many, these concepts are the culmination of Christian history, the most precious lesson we could learn — progressive Christians, post-Christians, atheists, agnostics, and Unitarian Universalists have come to similar conclusions. But I don’t care about that. I don’t need a religion, a brand, or a name. I have seen love. I know that it takes many forms, but I want love itself to shine. Who would reject it? Who wouldn’t want to be enlightened?
Through my actions, I hope you catch a glimpse of what I am starting to see — that when love is unencumbered by the all-too-human demands of Christian culture (and the demands of our own understanding), only then can we begin to appreciate its true nature and overwhelming power.
I may have left the fold, but I’m standing here now. I have let go of much, and rediscovered the greatest gifts you had to offer me. I have returned to stand as a testament that when everything you know and cherish dissolves, something far more beautiful remains.
Why? Because love — like joy, and charity — is better than us, bigger than us, and brighter than our limited understanding. I cannot think of a single sane person who would ever reject love, or seek to diminish it. And in this time of deep cultural division, it stands as the only ideal that we are all willing to cultivate, together.
So that’s the end, right?
Not exactly — love is the both the end and the beginning! My mission, for now, is to share in a way that explains my actions to the community I came from, but also empowers and embraces those rejected by them.
If you struggle with Christianity, know that you are not evil and you are not alone. But even as you fear the church, I implore you cherish its greatest concepts — to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Consider that the culture is neither absolutely good nor absolutely bad, or demanding in any way of the absolute mentality it taught you. Fighting against it may often reinforce its most oppressive elements. It may feel like your enemy, but remember, it is not only your enemy. And, if ever you need a breath of fresh air… remember that you can just walk away, for a moment or for a lifetime.
And, if you are still a proud Christian — then I know you understand the values of the love I am espousing. I know this because you taught me how to love. But I hope you can understand why so many of us struggle, with you or against you; I hope you understand how your light can be clouded.
I may have “left the fold”, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. I would never have been led to where I am now if it weren’t for you. And out of all the concepts you taught me, the greatest of them was love. That love is God, and always will be. I hope you never fail to consider its implications.
You can actually start right now, because my first Genuine Joy single is about all of this, and — surprise ending! — it’s out today.
Enjoy, and live in love.