Today in Your Stories we have Eric’s story of combating fundamentalism in his own belief system.
Eric is another friend of mine whom started his perpetual journey at around the same time that I did and we’ve talked at length about that journey over the years. Without Eric I’m not sure I would have made it through my own doubts, and he remains a friend that I both respect and admire. Many of the same questions that brought about his doubts were my questions, and I suspect they may be your questions too if you find yourself here.
Eric writes his thoughts at his blog over at SavageSoto and is currently stationed in Cuba with the US Navy.
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Growing up in a Christian family, my first associations with Christianity are as old as my first memories. I “accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior” when I was 7 or 8 but didn’t really become devout in my faith til the age of 12.
I would speculate that I was probably more hardcore about my faith than most the people I knew through my teen years, though I wasn’t that into the specifics of theology. I would share my faith frequently with my friends and countless people online and was actively involved in the church over the course of about 7 years. During this time I had some casual doubts, but they would fade whenever I’d have a powerful spiritual experience or talk with a pastor.
Towards the end of the 7th year, however, I began to encounter questions and thoughts that couldn’t be explained away so easily. Questions such as “if God knew even a single soul would be lost eternally, then why create them to begin with?” . I quickly found the traditional Christian interpretations of things like “Hell” to be unconvincing and began to study and embrace Christian Universalism (which believes that all people will eventually be saved and reunited with God). It didn’t answer all my questions still, but it helped me deal with many of the bigger ones.
This paved the way for me to have generally more open-minded views about religion and peaked my interest in theology and Biblical word studies. It amazed me how many different ways words in the Bible could be translated as well as how many different interpretations people derived from the Bible, complete with legitimate arguments to support each one. I also began reading a book titled “Jesus, Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman that went through various discrepancies in the Bible as well as the book’s origins and different beliefs even within the early church. It seemed Christianity had been divided on theology from the very start. The more I learned, the more confused I got on exactly what the “correct” beliefs were. The church had taught me much, but mentioned none of what I was uncovering.
Up until this point, my method for finding truth was simply reading the Bible and praying for God’s direction on the matter…but were all the people who disagreed with my beliefs NOT doing that? Could they not hear him as well or was it I who could not hear him so well? Who was interpreting the words of the Bible properly? I quickly began to wonder how anyone could really know what God wanted us to believe? Maybe hearing God was only hearing what we wanted or thought we were supposed to hear based on what we had been taught about God? This became one of my biggest problems with Christianity and religion in general; there didn’t seem to be anyway to confirm that you understood the divine will or arrived at the right beliefs about the divine. You could only assume and hope that you were correct and that countless others were deceived.
One of my other problems stemmed out of what kept me a Christian through all my previous doubts and that I mentioned before: my spiritual experiences. While I never seemed to experience the supernatural to the extent many I knew had claimed, there were some events that greatly impacted me.
Aside from frequently feeling a strong warmth or “presence” of God when I would pray or sing, I once had a vision of what appeared to be Jesus engulfed in light and flowing robes. There were also a few instances where I “spoke in tongues”. I was definitely a changed person overall since committing my life to Jesus.
I simply couldn’t see how that could all be fake and I’m still not sure it was entirely. The more I learned about the mind and how it works, however, I realized that the mind can easily play tricks on us. The mind is constantly searching to categorize and make sense of things in our life and if certain religious definitions are available to us, it’s possible our mind will use them. So, my other major problem with Christianity and religion in general is that the beliefs we adopt are not necessarily the only or best explanation for the spectacular experiences we sometimes have. There can be scientific explanations or even other ones of spiritual nature.
All this and more led me to stop calling myself a Christian, though I still find myself inspired by Jesus as well as the Buddha and other religious leaders. I entertain and try to apply ideas from different religions and philosophies but I no longer see enough evidence to base my entire life around any one of them. Jesus said himself that the “truth will set you free” and the place that I’m at is honestly the most free I’ve ever felt.