Guest post by Karuna Gal
I hung onto the Christian faith most of my life. Unlike me, my siblings lost their belief pretty early on, with no fuss or bother. They did baptise their children, and some of those kids made their First Communion and Confirmation. However, the kids are “Nones” – they don’t follow any religion.
So, why did I stay a Christian? I was very religious. I was thoroughly convinced that there was a God. Another reason was that I had no doubt that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. The first disciples were so sure about this that they died for their beliefs. Why would they lie about something that put them in such danger?
Although I explored other spiritual traditions, like Hinduism and Native American, I always kept the Christian faith as the touchstone of my religious belief. I had grown up as a Roman Catholic Christian and that conditioning was strong. It ran in my family. We had a priest and a Third Order Franciscan (a lay order) on my mom’s side.
When I was in college I finally rejected Catholicism because of its history and attitude toward women. Thus began a long process of looking for a church that would help me in my spiritual evolution. I wanted to work on my shortcomings and fears and become a better person. Oddly enough, though, the different churches I attended were hardly into this at all. Even the Quaker church I tried for a while was more evangelical than interested in “the still, small voice.”
Churches I attended had a lot of activities and events. There were prayer teams, Christmas pageants, and food pantries for the poor. They held potlucks and silent auctions. But when it came to the challenge of working on really improving yourself — well, forget it. I think someone has called churches social clubs with a religious veneer, and I have to agree with that statement. A lot of times I felt that I was a freak, wanting to deepen my spiritual life and improve myself, and no one around me, including the clergy, seemed to understand or care about this sort of thing at all. I didn’t see quite yet that Christianity was unable to give me what I wanted. So, I kept plugging away, keeping active in the church. I hoped and believed that if I continued to do my service to the church, Christ would grant me the grace of becoming a better person.
Things came to a head in my early fifties. I was a member of an Episcopal church for about ten years by then and was very involved in it. But I was slowly getting soured on it. I started to be bored by the bad sermons on Sunday mornings. Even if I felt a little inspiration after Sunday services it quickly dissipated by Sunday evening. The work I did for the church seemed to be good for the church (especially all that fundraising) but I didn’t see any improvement in myself. I was still the fearful, depressed, and flawed person I ever was.
Then something occurred that took my questioning to another level. A friend who was running a successful Sunday School program was treated most shamefully by clergy and some “pious” church members. I was an eyewitness to their uncharitable and hypocritical behavior towards her. My disgust and surprise over this were heightened because I was going through “The Change.” There was nothing like going through menopause to thoroughly test my assumptions and give me a much better bullshit meter.
And then, finally, came the total destruction of my belief in God and in Jesus’ resurrection. This happened because I read Reza Aslan’s book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus.” While it was interesting to get a Muslim’s perspective on Jesus, Azlan mentioned another book that dealt the final blow to my belief. It is called “When Prophecy Fails,” written back in 1956. This book shows how people, when their millenarian or messianic belief fails to deliver, double down on their belief in spite of that. Along with discussing historical examples of this behavior the authors describe the folly of a modern American group who were waiting for spaceships to come and take them to another, more congenial, planet. The “Higher Beings” never arrived in those spaceships when they were supposed to. The people waiting for their deliverance from above were disappointed, of course. The group broke up, but a surprising number of them continue to believe the spaceships are still coming. The folks on this earth just got the dates wrong. The spaceships are still going to arrive, absolutely!
So, the first disciples of Jesus were sincere, but they were sincerely deluded. They doubled down on their belief in the resurrection of Jesus because it never happened. There was to be a Second Coming, too, absolutely! They were so convinced that this was the truth that they were actually willing to die to prove it. They just couldn’t face the sad fact that their supposed Messiah was dead as a doornail and would never return.
It seems incredible that people would risk death over a delusion they hold, but then we are seeing anti-vaxxers saying from their deathbeds that the COVID they are dying from doesn’t exist. I even read that one man, whose wife died from COVID though he recovered from it, is out protesting against mask-wearing!
I once read a quote from a modern German poet, which I remember as “A dead Christ shouts from the rooftop of the world that there is no God.” And that was how I finally realised, after all my years in Christianity, that there is no God, no resurrection.
How did I reconcile myself to my new understanding of the world? It took a while, a couple of years, and it was a very painful process. I left my church. Surprisingly few people from church followed up with me to ask why I left, even after all the time I had spent there. I was full of despair, feeling that I could never find a way to spiritually improve myself.
Then I started to accompany a friend to a Buddhist temple, more for fun than anything else. The monk there — who is now my teacher —- talked about how life is suffering; that there is a way out of suffering. And that is by ethical behavior and practicing meditation. So it’s all on your shoulders – no God, no Jesus, no priest or intermediary. Just you and your efforts to become a better human being. Buddhism works for me, and I am very happy. I wish that my theism and my own delusions about Christianity hadn’t lasted so long and held me back from pursuing my spiritual evolution. But better late than never.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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