Late Saturday Night
After way too many beers I decide it’s time to talk to one of my best friends who is someone I actually went to seminary with. I came up this week just to have an opportunity to talk with him, and apparently when we’re all piss ass drunk seems like the best time.
Me: “Hey, so can I talk to you for a second? So I’m kinda an atheist. Yeah and it kinda sucks, but we should totally drink more beer”
Him: “Ok” (proceeds to drink more beer)
We’re driving to the airport, I’m severely hung over, and the truck is quiet. It’s quiet for a while.
Him: “So you kinda dropped a big bomb on me last night”
Me: “Yeah, sorry about that. Seemed like a good idea between the beers”
Him: “So you want to talk about it?”
Instant tears. I choke the next words out with wisps of air and barely audible words.
Me: “I’ve just lost the ability to believe. I didn’t choose to become an atheist. It’s something that happened to me against my will. And it sucks, and I’m so very angry..and…and I don’t know what to do.”
I spend the first part of our drive relaying fears of having to switch careers, what my wife is going to think of me, losing the church community, and the fear of death. Not so much that I’m afraid of dying, but I’m afraid of what will happen to my family should I die prematurely. Who is going to take care of my kids? Who is going to take care of my wife? These are all things I was relying on God to do, and now there is no one to do it when I’m gone. They’d be on their own.
This is where the anger begins to boil in me.
Me: “I am so fucking pissed right now. I mean, where the hell is God?! Hmm? Is he too busy helping movie stars win awards that he doesn’t have time to save children being gassed to death in Syria?!”
“Is he too busy helping rich Americans buy new cars, that he can’t free young girls being trafficked?”
“I mean, what the fuck dude?! You know every time we hear that a kid from church makes it out of Children’s Hospital alive and well we think, ‘Thank God, our prayers have been answered.’ But what about all the kids who die? Who’s parents prayed and begged for their children to live? ‘Oh well, sorry. God must not want you to be happy. Your kid wasn’t important enough to live.’ FUCK.THAT!”
“I mean what is this bullshit? The Israelites suffer in Egypt for 400 years. 400 YEARS! And God has the audacity to say ‘I have heard the cries of my people’? WELL WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR 400 YEARS?! Someone could have been born 200 years into the slavery and die 200 years before the exodus. Were they not important? Because they certainly were never heard.”
My anger shifts away from God and toward Christians.
Me: “And I know that nobody actually believes this shit. I mean come on. If people really believed hell was really real, they’d spend all their time and money trying to prevent people from going there.”
“Why do Christians get to ignore Jesus whenever it’s convenient for them? When the word of God says ‘if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him your other’, like you don’t get to question that. That’s God himself speaking, and yet hardly any Christians think it’s actually wrong to defend yourself when attacked.”
“And no one tithes, let alone gives to the poor. We see Christians dying in Syria and we’re like ‘Oh, I feel so bad for them, we should pray for them.’ And the American Christian goes out and buys a 50” TV they don’t need. If it were my children being gassed to death in a war torn country, and I knew other Christians from around the world had enough money collectively to save them… and instead they bought TVs?!?!? My children are dying while you buy TVs?!?!?! And where the hell is God in all this?!”
“If I treated my children like God treated his, I’d be…I’d be…in jail.”
Have you ever angry cried? Like your so mad that you can’t stop sobbing? That’s how I was communicating.
Him: “What else are you not just mad about but afraid of?”
Angry sobbing continues
Me: “I don’t want my wife to be constantly disappointed in me. I don’t want her to think there’s something wrong with me and I need to be fixed. I don’t want my wife living with me and thinking… and thinking… and thinking I’m going to hell.”
“And I don’t want my kids thinking there’s something wrong with daddy. I don’t want my kids growing up thinking daddy is going to hell. And I really don’t want my kids growing up as Christians.”
Him: “Well not all Christians believe in such things. There is a lot of good that they could take from a religious system without being…like ‘those’ kinds of Christians.”
I should probably mention here that I’ve long suspected that my friend is kind of agnostic. Like a Christian agnostic who has a sense of God, legitimately worships Jesus, but doesn’t really hold to the Bible. He isn’t a liberal Christian, but more of a cultural Christian who participates in church, believes in the power of God…just not classically Christian.
No longer sobbing, I reply to his ‘those kinds’ statement from a rational perspective.
Me: “I don’t know man. I don’t get non-biblical Christianity. It’s like you’re just making shit up. No offense, I know it may feel like I’m attacking you, I’m just trying to understand how someone can avoid the bible but yet still be Christians. I guess that might be good for my kids, but I can’t walk that path.”
This prompts him to share his true colors in regards to faith
Him: “John, I don’t think your beliefs about the bible and God are that much different than everyone else’s. I think most Christians aren’t actually Christians. You know why I go to church? Music and community. I never listen to the sermon. I don’t know much about God. I just do the best I can to help people.”
He then spends a good portion of the drive empathizing with me and reassuring me that I’m not crazy and that I’ll be ok. We both agree that I do need to tell my wife. Knowing my wife well, we both agree this will devastate her but won’t end our marriage.
I begin sobbing at the prospect of now having to tell my wife in just a few hours.
Him: “I just want you to know, John, that this doesn’t make me think different about you. I still love you and will accept you for who you are, as I always have. You’re still one of my best friends and I appreciate you as a person.”
I couldn’t even type that out without crying. You can imagine the effect that had on me there.
At some point in the conversation he asked me a question that I would begin to hear over the next few days:
Him: “Is this a loss of all faith or are you just burnt out?”
Since he was the first person to ask that question it didn’t strike me as that odd. I assured him this was a total loss of confidence that God existed. Am I burnt out yes…but more on that in future posts.
I am grateful to have a friend like him. It felt very freeing to vent out my burden and in turn be accepted. I won’t say that this is the same as it is for gay people to come out of the closet, but I imagine I’m walking similar ground.
This will probably be the best reaction I get to coming out. It’s all downhill from here.