If you grew up in a family like mine, there is no worse sin than being an outsider to the faith.
Well, maybe being gay is equally bad.
This occurred to me this morning because of something I had posted on Facebook: a link to the website Stuff Christian Culture Likes. I linked it with the comment, "This blog describes pretty much everything I have ever hated about the evangelical Christian church, and the reasons I left it. It's also hilarious." I have never, in the history of Facebook, encountered more vitriol in people's responses to something I have posted. And this surprised me. I thought everyone in my old community realized, by this point, that I am apostate, a heathen, and a disappointment to my family.
But upon further introspection, it makes sense that they wouldn't know. Because, you see, I have never officially "come out" as a non-Christian. And to these people, being an unbeliever is so unthinkable that they will not acknowledge such a thing until forced to. Much like how these same people would react to knowing that I am also bisexual.*
I realized that I was no longer a Christian at the age of 20. I had been angry at the church for some time, but losing my faith wasn't really a choice. It was like when you stop believing in Santa Claus: no amount of willpower could have revived my faith. I just simply could not believe – either in an afterlife or in the idea that Jesus could represent the only way to finding God or truth. I told one person from my old community about this: my mom. Her reaction was, well, difficult. Actually, she reacted much more kindly when I told her I was bisexual. Upon learning that I had lost my faith, she tried begging, logic, anger and disapproval, and ignoring me. I understand, too – everyone in her community would judge her for my loss of faith. But because her reaction was so negative, I was hesitant to tell anyone else about what had transpired.
So I passed. I went to church on Easter with my family and worked hard not to roll my eyes. I visited my old friends who are still Christian, and agreed with their statements about Christianity. When they asked me about my faith, I'd carefully talk around the things I disagreed with. I made sure not to post anything overtly stating my lack of faith on social media. I'm sure they still knew I wasn't quite "one of them," but no one said anything, and I didn't bring it up.
Until this year. This entire year has been about healing for me, about facing the things that were wrong with my childhood and my adult relationships. And this year I've decided to stop lying about who I am and what I believe. This, then, is my "coming out" statement.
I am not a Christian. I am a follower of no religion. I believe that there are as many paths to finding the truth as there are people. I believe that Jesus was a good man with wonderful teachings, and that he was divine in the sense that all people have some divinity, some piece of God, in them. I cannot believe that he is the only way to find divinity, though. There are too many people I know who hear God or have found love and peace who identify with other religions or no religion. I cannot believe in an afterlife. The concept of the afterlife, as I was taught it, works too well to manipulate those who are unwilling to agree. I believe hell is a state of mind, a lack of love. There could be nothing more hellish than a lack of love.
However, I respect those who do follow Christianity and feel that it is the way they have found God – as long as they strive to truly follow the principles of Jesus, which were, above all, "love God and love your neighbor." Those who identify as Christians but use Christianity as a rulebook to judge others by make me feel hurt and angry, and I am not the only one. Jesus would not have agreed with that. Jesus, after all, reprimanded the scribes and Pharisees for their obsession with following the rules in lieu of love. Jesus said, "Whoever is without sin may cast the first stone."
Those I grew up around did not treat me as Jesus commanded them to treat others. They told me they would not attend my wedding if I married an unbeliever. They told me they would not accept me if I didn't follow the rules. I have been angry with them for a long time. But with this statement, I forgive them. We are all looking to find love; I am sad they seem not to have found it and I hope they do, through Christianity or through whatever way they can.
I am ready to be honest about who I am. And if people feel the need to cut me off because of it, that makes me sad, but if so it was never a real relationship to begin with. This is who I am. I choose to be free of others' expectations and guilt.
*Disclaimer: I realize that as a bisexual who is currently in a publicly acknowledged heterosexual relationship, I experience privilege in my decision to come out, or not, that is not necessarily available to gay, lesbian and trans people. I don't claim that my experiences can be compared with theirs.