doubting my faith

In the months since I left the UK for Norway, a lot has changed for me. Especially with regards to my faith and beliefs.

I was more or less a Christian from I was a little girl. Believing in, and praying to God, was as natural to me as breathing.

My parents were not Christians, but I grew up in a foster family as well in which the father, my dad number 2, is a priest in the Lutheran Norwegian Church. However, I was raised with a nice kind of Christianity only focusing on positives, no Hell and I was never really told God and Evolution were really conflicting.

Believing in Jesus and that he died for me was a choice I made myself, though I can’t remember exactly when I did so.

I have always been interested in religion, philosophy, ideas and how different people live. I read about many different ways of life, and in my teens, I had a brief flirtation with some faiths, although I think I always believed in Christianity deep down.

I didn’t become a serious Christian before I lived in Edinburgh where I studied. A friend of mine took me along, a little unwillingly, to a church service one Sunday morning I’d rather sleep in. But this was a cool church. They had a band, the preaching was done using contemporary props such as videos and music, there was dancing during worship and doughnuts afterwards. Oh, and the people were very welcoming. I wanted more and I had discovered Evangelical Pentecostalism.

I kept going back, and soon found myself both speaking in tongues, singing songs I believed came from God and even getting the whole congregation to join me and generally becoming a proper bible basher.

I got baptized and found this rebellious in some way since my father refused to have me and my brother baptised as babies. The church believed I had prophetic gifts which I showed through my singing. I was a great example of a devout and faithful Christian woman.

Moving to London, meant me needing to find a new church, but I didn’t feel at home anywhere because I never felt the same welcoming feeling I’d had in Edinburgh.

A couple of months ago, when I still considered myself a Pentecostal, I wrote a post on faith healing and disability, and being blind, made me a natural target for wannabe healers.

I decided to give up finding a church. I didn’t exactly live a Christian lifestyle then. I dated a couple of guys who were bad for me and had a negative attitude to life. I never lost my faith though and always felt guilty for not being pure and going to church.

But one day, as my life was at a low point with my mother being diagnosed with terminal cancer, the same friend who had introduced me to Pentecostalism, introduced me to some people in London who went to a Pentecostal church with attendees from all over the world.

I didn’t immediately love that church either. Not only was I told I needed healing, but that “the spirit of blindness” was living in me. I was tempted to leave, but I made friends among the people my age who were more accepting of my blindness, because I would get healed one day of course, in God’s time, and that would be a happy day. I also joined the worship team and I was made leader of a bible study group for young women, because the youth leaders had faith in me.

I loved the girls in my group and we had a great time discussing every topic under the sun from guys to Spiritual gifts. As much as I dislike and feel angry with the Pentecostal church today, this is the one good thing I’ve taken away from the experience and which I would change for nothing.

But there was a problem which became increasingly bigger as time went by.

I could not become religious. By that, I mean that I didn’t really believe the bible was the true word of God to be taken literally, that the earth was 6000 years old, that sin was anything other than destructive behaviour which certainly didn’t cover two people living together outside of marriage, or two people in a loving homosexual relationship and that a loving God would send most people to Hell. Because, most people weren’t and aren’t Christians.

I was also angry with God for all the suffering and unfair things in the world and didn’t want to quite accept that this happened because we were all sinners.

But being well indoctrinated by this point, I didn’t dare to question those things too much. I was scared that if I did, I’d lose my faith which would send me to Hell for eternity.

Being an evangelical Pentecostal, means taking everything in the bible literally and so I found myself forcing to agree with stuff I didn’t want to agree with. I was taught all thoughts of doubt came from Satan so I prayed for Jesus to rebuke them.

Leaving London, I wasn’t planning on never finding a church, but it didn’t happen and I could list lots of excuses as to why, though I now suspect I didn’t want to. I did though, take the time to read the bible and the more I read, the more questions I got.

First of all, I questioned original sin. If God knew what was going to happen to Adam and Eve, why would he put them in paradise, create some dangerous trees they would eat from and then throw them out again? And why would their sin have to reflect on all the rest of mankind for all time to come?

What about free will? Certainly if we are told that we have free will, but choose the wrong because only one thing is right, we’re going to suffer eternal punishment, and then is that free will?

In the New Testament, Jesus clearly states that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but fulfil it. However, it would not be fulfilled until his return. Didn’t that mean we’d have to practice all the stuff from the Old Testament? Killing gays, burn adulterers and so on. Not adhering to this meant we were picking and choosing something we humans should not do is the Bible was divine.

And then, the claim by Christianity that being saved only meant having a relationship with Jesus and not a religion, but having a religion after all because the Old Testament was still valid?

This literal way of reading the Bible, is not so common I think in the Lutheran denominations, but I learned to understand and read it as a Pentecostal and so for me, it’s either the case that everything is true, or nothing.

I asked a lot more questions, such as why would God create the sun on the fourth day and why would he rest on the seventh day? And I am still asking and raising questions. But from my Evangelical understanding, I have come to the conclusion that there is so much in the Bible that isn’t divine that none of it can be divine. It’s a beautiful piece of literature with some great stories in it, but many of which are irrelevant today. A divinely inspired book would be just as relevant today and would not need so much human interpretation to be made sense of.

A divine book from a God who loved unconditionally, would also not say that the condition for his love and eternal bliss would be to believe in him/her/it in only one way and it would certainly not be possible to use this book to abuse mankind. Take the crusades, Spanish inquisition, witch burnings and killing of Jews for example.

I do not want to put a label on myself just yet, but I don’t think I can be called a Christian anymore. Perhaps I’m an Atheist, Agnostic, or Deist, but what is more important to me now than what my label will be, is to learn to shift my focus and live without Christianity which no doubt will be a hard process to which there are no quick fixes. God has always been there and now I have to put my trust in myself and the wonderful people around me.

I didn’t leave Christianity because I don’t want moral guidelines. I think they won’t really change because Christian or not, we can all agree that lying, steeling and killing is wrong. Or that drinking in excess or taking drugs lead to no good. I am the same person now as I was before. Only now, I think I’m good enough the way I am. I’m human and I have shortcomings, but so do we all. And now as then, I feel a great responsibility to make my life count for something. Greater now in fact that I’m not sure there is an afterlife.

Someone who is doing right in fear of eternal punishment arguably has lower morals than someone who does right for right’s sake.

I will inevitably lose friends over this, but I will have many left and both they and my two fantastic families will support me whatever I choose to believe as I will support them whatever they choose to believe.

(This post was originally written on June 29 2012, but rewritten and edited on July 12 2012.

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4 thoughts on “doubting my faith

  1. I know exactly how you feel. I spent 59 years as a Southern Baptist. My journey began about ten years ago. Many of the questions you are asking and feelings you are having, I have experienced. My old friends could hardly call me a Chritian today and that’s OK. Check out my website for my story ans a lot of links to other who feel the same as we do.

    1. Thanks for positive comment on a post I found it very hard to write for reasons I’m sure you can appreciate. I’d love to check out your website. However, may I please have the address?

      Looking forward to reading it.

  2. Hi LInn,

    thanks for your brave comments. I´m also a refugee from Evangelical Christianity (baptist: first Calvinist then charismatic), which I experienced as a kind of brain-washing. I´m also, as it happens, a Brit who has moved to Norway to live and work. And a writer. My story with religion is that after a few years of floundering and feeling confused and guilty, I found couldn´t quite give up on a spiritual life, but have come to know I will never be a signed-up, card-carrying member of a church in the way that was expected in my childhood. I did grow to feel more at home with the kind of anglican worship which concentrates on modest, unobtrusive un-shout-y faithfulness to liturgy (…. the confession, the Lord´s Prayer, The peace, the Eucharist, the lovely “Collect for Evening”…..) in other words, on actual spirituality, and not on micromanaging people´s individual lives. I felt perhaps even more at home with Quakers, who happily don´t require you to believe anything at all, but offer a shared, reflective, meditative (“prayerful,”, if you will -) space. I now see the spiritual dimensions which I learned about from the Bible as though they were a kind of special language for things I experience in everyday life. Things like love, grace, faith, repentance, and forgiveness. Those are no longer things that belong – for me – to a special and slightly odd, rarified world, nor do they belong exclusively to people who call themselves Christians, any more than people who call themselves Muslims of atheists or whatever. I find myself sensing that God exists in and between people – for example in those occasional moments when we behave in Godlike (loving, generous, sekf-sacrificial) ways. I avoid trying to pin any of this down too much theologically, because I feel fairly allergic to theological certainty, for reasons which I´m guessing you´ll understand.

    Anyway, thanks again for the post, and best wishes.

    Sandy

    1. Hi Sandy,
      Thanks for your lovely response to my post and sorry for taking long in approving it.
      In the two years since I wrote this post, I have arrived at very much the same conclusions as you have. I could go into details about it all, but actually, you have expressed and even mirrored my process and conclusions so well that there’s no need for me to say anything other than I agree with every single one of your points. Even down to the Anglican worship and spirituality, love, grace etc. not being exclusive to Evangelical Christians.
      I could also simply say “amen to that!” and hope you get the irony….
      So we have more in common than having moved from Britain to Norway and being writers! 🙂
      Linn

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