Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: leaving the faith

My Journey #4 – The Turning

It was not hard to decide how to approach a fresh view of Scripture. Jesus first. Always Jesus first. I would start with the Gospels. It was going to be fun, because I had spent most of my spiritual study time with Paul. So I opened up the Gospel of Matthew and everything began to fall apart.

Since I was trying to read it for the first time, his words seemed charged with new power. Love your enemies. Do unto others. Walk the extra mile. Repay evil with good. I had known it all before and had lived a life doing my best to practice it. But I could feel its full weight now and it was incredible. I stood in awe of the Christ all over again.

But there was more underneath the ethics. Something that troubled me when I first saw it. Without Paul as a filter through whom to interpret Jesus, he no longer seemed Evangelical. He spoke of people being saved for acts of charity and damned for an unforgiving spirit. He sat with people of other religions and never tried to convert them.

The next few steps were harder and more complex than I’m able to express in this little post. I had a commitment to be honest with myself and the text, no matter what the authorities said. I began to see inconsistencies. They were nothing new – I had already read the Bible cover to cover more than once. I used to have ready answers for the discrepancies between the inclusive love and compassion of Jesus and the violent intolerance of Moses, Paul and Jehovah. But those ready answers didn’t seem to hold water anymore. Suddenly the stories of the Old Testament were tales of misogyny and genocide.  Paul’s ideas were typical examples of sexism and homophobia.

Those are big things to say, I know. Big huge things that I don’t even bother trying to back up. I bet that’s frustrating, and I’m sorry for that. But my purpose in telling this has never been to ‘de-convert’ anyone. I have no desire to pick apart the Bible and lay it open to specific criticisms in this post. Maybe there will be time for those kinds of discussions in the future. For now, I just want to tell my story. And my story leads me here:

I could not think of a good reason to have ever considered the Bible the authoritative, infallible Word of God in the first place.

Obviously, everything changed after that.

I had only known about sin and atonement through the Bible. I had only felt guilty for failing to keep a cosmic standard of behaviour because of the Bible. I had only believed in a personal God because of the Bible. And now the Bible was just another wonderful piece of literature. That’s when I had to admit a surprising truth to myself – I was in no way a Christian.

My Journey #3 – Hell

Every evangelical has to question hell eventually, unless they’ve had the humanity stripped from them. The idea of a loving God forever tormenting billions because they did not put their faith in Christ grates the teeth. Calvinism has a ready defense for hell: God is just, and when it looks like he isn’t just, it’s only because I am totally depraved and can’t see what real justice is. So even though it seems unjust to torment billions forever, it’s actually hunky-dory.

I used to do personal little theological studies. There was nothing better than opening up the Word, grabbing a pencil and notebook and working through some meaty theological problem. I picked up the study of hell a year or two after returning to Canada. To my surprise, though, I couldn’t find it.

Anywhere.

The Bible presents the two roads of a life following God and a life rebelling against him as a life / death battle, not a life / torture battle. The wages of sin is death. Those who do not believe will perish. Many verses use fire as an image of judgment, but I realized that fire is mainly used to make an end of a thing, not to torture it. A few passages in Revelation seemed to hint at something that sounded like the traditional view of hell, but Revelation is all manner of crazy, and I was not comfortable building a doctrine of hell from it alone.

I realized that if I had come to the Bible without going through the church first, I never would have come up with this idea of hell. Especially considering that the Gospels paint a picture of a God so loving that He was willing to sacrifice Himself to save (some of) humanity. I wondered if I was becoming an annihilationist. I wondered what this would do to my Calvinism.

And then Rob Bell showed up and everything went nuts.

You should have seen it.  The Internet blew up with anger over this geeky pastor who wrote an artsy book that suggested our ideas of hell were wrong. One of the most influential pastors in my own life excommunicated him on Twitter before the book even came out. It gave me a chill. Would that anger have been directed at me if I had shared some of the things Scripture was showing me? I had a realization:

My faith tradition had sacred cows–at least one of which I hadn’t noticed until now. How many more unjustifiable things did I believe?

I had to attempt a fresh look at the Scripture. And I had to do it no matter what the Internet said, because Truth was, and is, so much more important than the objections of friends.

My Journey #1 – Purpose

Sept 29, 2013 015(2)

My name it Matt. I used to be a Christian. I’m not anymore, and I want to tell the story about how that happened.

Topics like these are controversial because most of us are intensely invested in our worldviews. It would be easy to misunderstand the purpose of my telling.

I am not telling the story to defend myself. As an evangelical I would never have been convinced to justify the moves of someone who left the faith. If there was no spirit of Christ, it did not matter how heavy the evidence or profound the experience. No Christ = no good. So I know that no one from where I’ve come from will be able to consider my path as legitimate. I understand that and I don’t begrudge it. I did the same when I heard of brothers and sisters who abandoned Christianity.

I’m not telling the story to draw anyone away from their own faith. Jesus gives the world one of the most powerful ethics I’ve ever seen. If everyone were to adopt his way of doing life, we would have world peace tomorrow. Sure, his ethic generally takes a backseat in the lives of his devotees, but every once in a while someone appears in the Church that takes Jesus’ way of life seriously, and the world is better for those people. I’d hate to pull someone away from that.

Part of the reason I’m telling the story is that everyone wants to be understood. It sucks when the people you love don’t understand you. It sucks when they look at your path, with all its complexities and struggles and nuances, and write it off without understanding how it all happened. And even though I know most of my friends will not understand even after I’ve told my story, heck, at least I tried.

The next four posts will highlight the major signposts in my journey. It is all from my perspective, because that is the only perspective I have the right to speak from. Take it as that. Or don’t. I don’t care, in the end. It is enough that I have had my say.

The one that clarifies things

I’ve written quite a few drafts of this over the summer. They were mostly long and had all manner of shiny points and quips. I didn’t really like any of them. Some of them were preachy and others sounded snarky. One of them read like a guy desperate to avoid misunderstanding, and so the text was long and meandering and sure to cause misunderstanding. So the best way, I decided this morning, is to keep things tight and brief.

I am not a Christian.

It’s partially my fault that even this statement needs a bit of clarification. As an evangelical I tried to distance myself from words like Christian and religion because I felt they had been hijacked by systems that did not represent Jesus in the way I saw him. So there needs to be just a little more clarity.

I think Jesus was an amazingly insightful man.
I think the Bible is an important piece of literature.
It’s been a long and complex road from where I was to where I am.

Only the tiniest tip of my walk has been expressed on-line. In the weeks to come I’ll use this blog to unpack some of my thoughts on the journey and how I look at the universe now. But it’s important to be brief when talking about big heavy things, so I won’t say much more right now.

Sunshine

Source: ruthconscious.tumblr.com

I’m open and approachable and would love to hear from you, either in public comments or private messages. I know a lot of folks don’t like using the Internet for important talks, but I think with care and mindfulness any medium can be awesome for clear, friendly communication, even when dealing with subjects as heavy as this one.

One last thing: I love you. I may be out, but I don’t even have a drop of negative feelings toward where I’ve come from or the people and institutions that have shaped me. I am happier than I have ever been in my life, both in magnitude and consistency, and that would never have been possible without my past.

Looking forward to many wonderful talks,

Matt