Quitting Christianity a la Anne Rice: a Manifesto of sorts

Anne Rice

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I’ve gotten angry with religion quite often lately. Like being part of a nation or state which also angers you because of their stupid policies and marginalizing of certain groups, finding your religion consistently betraying its preached principles is very disheartening. And although I’ve claimed atheism at various times in my life, I can never willfully give up that part of me that convinces me personally through experience a belief in a Divine Will that operates in/throughout/above/below the Universe. Many times I throw my hands up in despair and say, “No more of this bullshit for me!” Yet, I always come back.

Anne Rice has gotten a lot of flack lately for quitting Christianity. Some say that quitting Christianity is not possible. I would agree with the semantics of that. If you believe Christianity is an institution, you can quit it. There are differing definitions of “church” although I believe the church is made up of Christians no matter where they are. Others are in agreement with her and have come out of their religious institutions as well. We all agree that the polarization Christians (and all religions) cause when they insist on following this or that dogma, tenet, doctrine, or “prophetic” saying are the prime motive for our coming out. On her Facebook page, Rice has posted the various responses and there are so many that I can’t single out just one. However, I can say that I agree with her 100%.

When I became a Christian, I was not evangelized nor did I “come forward” in an alter call at a church. I had my own experience of Jesus and “God” on my own time and in my own way through personal prayer and from reading parts of the new testament. The Divine manifested itself to me in terms I could understand. It just happened to be in Jesus’ form. My first mistake after this experience was searching out a church where I could meet with fellow believers and connect with others and perhaps compare notes about our experiences. That would have been great, had it stopped right there. Unfortunately, becoming part of a community such as that seems to imply that others can become your moral compass and tell you what you can and cannot do and what you can and cannot believe. This got me wondering what the church is for then. Is it primarily a place where others can compare experiences or is it a club where only those who pay the right amount or who follow all the rules others laid down for us by others, away from the secular world and all its contaminates? Is it supposed to welcome all who wish to come to it or is it primarily set up to exclude? You will find as many explanations as there are religious sects, so nothing can be decided either way. What’s left is the kind of individualism that Rice espouses and that church leaders so despise. It is fundamentally a lack of faith in people to do the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons. I think it’s time we grow up from that.

Church leaders argue that Jesus set up these rules, but of course there is no evidence of this. The bible cannot even be counted on to accurately record the words of Jesus or to set down the history of the church without those, who happened to win the power play of sects back then, redacting those portions that came down to us ahead of time.  The one thing that convinces me that religions as practiced in the world are not absolute truth is due to the confusing witness provided by the varied sects, churches, religions, and practices throughout the world. None are in agreement. If such dogmas were ABSOLUTE TRUTH, there would be consensus about these issues and there is not. Individualism is the only answer here. Actions such as peace, simplicity, and love are its evidence. What I think these so-called leaders fear most is being out of a job! Do they not think that a Divine Will can’t accomplish what it wants with or without us?

My individualism imposes no belief on anyone. My individualism does the most good and spends my money where I see fit. I don’t funnel funds through the church and expect it will go where I want it to go. I send it directly. I don’t evangelize nor do I believe every believer called to do that. This thinking is only an institutional tool to garner the most numbers. In this day and age, it isn’t necessary to evangelize. The information is out there. It’s up to the Divine to speak, not me.  Much like the Religious Society of Friends, I believe in the Light that is in every person. This is the Light of God and it has to be trusted that whoever or whatever Divine Will is accomplishing in the world, what is accomplished is what is meant to be accomplished. The church as a traditional institution has done irreparable harm in the world by not trusting this concept. They believe “truth” is funneled through authority and hierarchy. Judaism and Islam share in the harm done and in believing in imams, priests, prophets, or “special” people. The “big three” have a lot to answer for and I’m not going to blindly follow the herd and say “They told me to” because they claim authority over me. My only authority is my conscience informed by my spirit, however that comes to me (brain, soul, outside me, whatever), through a community I choose, if I choose, and through information garnered from experts in other fields; scientific, religious, or otherwise. Therefore, I will stand or fall on my own decisions, no one else’s.


I Get It Now! I’m a “loose” Woman!

I think I understand why fundamentalist Protestant and Catholics stop by my blog and engage me in conversations about the church. These are usually nit-picky types of things like arguing whose facts are more important or bits and pieces of church history. They, like all believers, think that since I take issue with the church and its institutions, I must have some driving need for forgiveness for sins. This is a fairly common assumption (among many) made by those believers who try to figure out those of us who “rebel,” or “backslide” as they would call it.  We’ve had the audacity to leave church! Shock! Horror! Look at the endless grief they’ve given Anne Rice!  They just can’t understand why we would leave so they look and dig and hitting upon an incident we may write about ourselves on our blogs, they play amateur psychologist and console their own consciences by saying, “Ah, there’s the reason.” In their benighted sort of way, they think they are helping us, offering us a deity’s comfort. That’s sweet. But what they can never understand is that that comfort comes with a price; intellectual and spiritual integrity.

It actually makes them feel better that they’ve hit upon a reason, because the black/white, either/or thinkers are extremely uncomfortable with nuance, subtlety, and things that don’t fit strict categories or follow rigid authority. It’s scary out there after all.  It just occurred to me this morning and it makes complete sense. I think they would pick a better method of pastoral counsel though than the “you’re wrong, I’m right” approach. That’s why we left church in the first place; because of being constantly told not to trust ourselves, to follow rules, follow leadership and especially follow men. You see it’s especially ugly for them when women dare to leave the church. A woman without authority over her just cannot be countenanced. Quite frankly, I’ve always thought that women should leave the church in droves.  We’ll see if men could get any work done if they had to wash and iron their own vestments or church accouterments, polish all their sacramental cups and saucers, type their own sermons or bulletins, or watch their children. Men might have to {gasp} teach Sunday school or something! Oh my LORD! Cant’ have that. Women loose in the world is the downfall of Western civilization!

Afterthought: of course I do come off on these pages as someone with mixed emotions about religion. Like Anne Rice, I am sympathetic to open-minded, progressive spiritual persons who are trying to live a non-condemnatory kind of life. So I can see why I probably invite the criticism sometimes. However, I struggle to make sense of the world like everyone else. I just don’t like others telling me what to believe about ethics, politics, or philosophy without giving me the same courtesy.

Can’t Pin Me Down

Pinning me down to some coherent theology/philosophy/ism is like trying to wrestle a cat into a nice bath of warm water. Ever done that? Wrestle a cat, not pin me down! LOL. It’s down right impossible. The cat gets all squirmy and even scratches the hell out of your arms and hands; may even go for your head. So it is when I try to pigeonhole myself about what I believe. Changes daily. Like my undies. OK. TMI for a Thursday.

Came across some interesting arguments against PSA or in the evangelical world: Penal Substitutionary Atonement.  Hey, I’m great with the penal part. That just invokes girlish giggling on my part, but a while back I wrote my best attempt at explaining this doctrine from a Baptist/Catholic point of view. Ever since then, I’ve come to realize that it’s the main bone of contention among believers and unbelievers. On this doctrine evangelical rises or falls.  On this blog there are other good examinations of PSA. Check it out. I find it fascinating.

Wake Up Call to Christians

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading this article at Exploring Our Matrix. He outlines what is wrong with the religious “right” in far more generous terms than you’ll find from the left. Civility is called for and his voice is it. A foretaste:

What is wrong with being on the right? There are voices in our time that seem to be leaning further and further in that direction, even though they would claim to abhor what Hitler did. Yet all it takes for history to repeat itself is a nation leaning in that direction, a leader willing to use the language of Christianity and conservativism to manipulate the populace and exploit their faith and enthusiasm, and a failure to care when those we disagree with are persecuted and punished. The spirit of the far right is absolutely antithetical to the heritage and foundations of American democracy. And it is precisely that democracy that protects Christianity as well as all other religions to present their case, to make their appeal, to urge any and all who will listen to follow their lead and adhere to their values and convictions – whether they are about abortion, social justice, or the editing of Veggie Tales on NBC.

It is only a faith that is insecure that wants to force itself on others through legislation, because of a lack of trust in the persuasive power of the message itself. It is only the faith of the proud that claims absolute certainty, as opposed to humility and absolute trust in God as the only one who truly knows with certainty.

The Sin of Weight and the Weight of Sin

I believe that I have finally come to terms with my weight. Why now you ask? Because I no longer listen to what others proscribe when it comes to the size and disposition of my body; A) because, like politics, social engineering has gone way overboard in their intrusiveness into the private lives of the average person and B) because it’s nobody’s business how and what I eat, what size clothes I wear, or how often I exercise or even if I don’t.  Curiously, today I was thinking that the weight loss industry was pretty similar to what I like to call the “sin loss industry;” in other words, religion. Social engineers and the religious tell you that you are not acceptable as you are and each offers a way to “fix” you, but only if you are motivated enough! Each thrives on the guilt of the person marketed to. Each has a thriving book, DVD, food supplement, and CD industry committed to selling you the next best thing to keep you motivated. And each convinces you that you are the failure if the next best thing fails to work. They create the problem and then offer the cure.

Two blogs made me come to terms with how closely Weight and Sin are allied in the world; Corpulent’s post and Angry Gray Rainbow’s post.  Corpulent makes the point that even in the Fatosphere, we must prove that we are doing the right things and eating the right things in order to explain our fatness.  Angry Gray Rainbow reveals to us how her husband’s battle with a particular “sin” in his life transferred to her life and drew her in by implication. Reading these made me realize how closely people equate Weight with Sin and how both worlds try to impose standards of confession, repentance, and behavior modification so as to make them feel better about the imposition on our lives but to also make us feel worse when we can’t meet the standard. The emphasis is of course on feeling worse, without which feeling we would not sink our hard earned money into more remedies, more diets, more books, bibles, philanthropic giving, etc. to assuage the guilt. Both are about making us as small as possible to escape the notice of our fellow humans and a retributive God.

How many people do you know recount every bite of food they had to eat that day as if you are the priest and they are sitting in a confessional? Quite often, I’d guess. I’ve even done it myself, not only to others, but ad nauseum in my journals. I still do it as a matter of fact. Not because I care what I eat, but because it’s a habit that I can’t now break, even though it does not one bit of good. The diet industry has trained all its minions to constantly count calories and keep food journals because they tell us it will make us more mindful of what we eat. What it seems to do more often than not is create many more obsessive compulsive behaviors; bulimia, anorexia, OCD, etc.. Likewise, religions, especially Christianity, tell us that we must confess and repent of our sins daily. Recount, recount, recount and then we are to take steps to stop our behavior. All of course this does is to focus our attentions on all that we do “wrong” and not on all that we’ve done right. Rather than allow us to make these decisions ourselves, we must predict dire consequences for those who stray outside the bounds of the proscribed rules.

The emphasis is so much on failure that the obsession to find a fix takes over in harmful ways. The insidious part of this is that we are also blamed mightily for having failed to keep to the rigorous structure of our obsession with recounting. In the diet/entertainment industry, you must be weighed all the time, your measurements recorded and a goal posted for all to see.  This is a shaming technique similar to public confession of sin during church, recounting sins in a confessional, or any amount of “accountability” which is supposed to keep one on the straight and narrow. When one slips up, it’s always, always because you weren’t motivated enough, didn’t stick to the diet, didn’t pray, didn’t believe in this or that ideology, didn’t do this or do that. In other words, the onus of failure is always on the person attempting to modify their behavior, never on the method for procuring it. Your public excoriation and humiliation is supposed to cure you of course. The method itself is suspect in my opinion.

When I shifted the constant and unwarranted blame from myself and began to focus on the obvious faults of the method used to “cure” me, I could better focus on living each day to its fullest. In Christianity, I no longer blamed myself for not having enough time for devotions, for not reading the bible enough, or not praying, especially if I got no response and God failed to show up for these encounters. I just quit seeing everything I did or didn’t do as the heinous sin I was told it was.  Some see this as giving license to sin, but one has to question a method that fails again and again to effect change in most people. One would wonder that perhaps it’s the method that doesn’t work. No sooner did I give up this self maligning tactic, than I found it easier to just focus on living life, not merely avoiding sin. Avoidance only makes the thing avoided take on monumental importance, almost to the degree that you can’t avoid it even if you wanted to! It’s almost sure to happen!

Similarly, when I finally figured out that it wasn’t me who failed to recount every single food item I ate, failed to weigh myself daily, or failed to follow this or that exercise regime, it was the unrealistic expectations of an industry designed to make money off of my failures. Writing down every single food item made me realize how much I penalized myself in the pursuit of thinness. I therefore stopped blaming myself for failing to fit into the mold outlined for me. What a bunch of hooey that is too. Woman A can follow all the guidelines and expect perhaps to lose X amount of weight while Woman B down the street does exactly the same thing and gains weight.  Conclusion? We are not exactly alike.  I firmly believe that despite the nonsense of it on principle, BMI’s are adjusted downward arbitrarily every year by a panel of folks supported by the Diet Industry. Yet the Diet Industry and the Sin Industry treat us all as if we were cookie cutouts of each other (except for the gurus of course, who can live as they please off the largess of their minions). They rely on our wishing to fit in and pay any amount to do so.

I also learned to quit “feeding” the industry machine. I wasn’t going to be a better Christian if I bought one more re-issue of a study bible. I would not become a better Christian if I followed assiduously every morning, this or that bible study written by the latest christian guru,  prayed for two hours on my knees, or spent every Saturday afternoon in confession. I also would not make my fat acceptable to others if I constantly told people what I put into my mouth every day or shared with them how many calories I ate or didn’t. I was not going to be more loved and live life more fully just because I bought clothes off the same rack as a skinnier girl down the street. I have a lot of other things going for me than what size pair of pants I wear. The incessant noise of this over-sharing even invades the work place where everyone I know is on some kind of diet and feels the need to confess  it on a daily basis so that others know they are on the straight and narrow path. They are like evangelists trying to save your soul. If only everyone was on a diet, they would feel so much better about themselves.

Likewise, a public figure’s battles with “sin” merely confirm to me that we are all human beings who fail. I have much sympathy for them, not scorn. Those who fall hardest are often those who rail against sin the loudest and that’s unfortunate. They are the ones most in need of learning to live their own lives and taking their own responsibility for mistakes. Anyone who claims an “ism” and sets out the rules for following such “isms” are often just as guilty of setting up failure. The only ones getting any joy out of this blaming scenarios are those who point fingers and say, “See? See? I told you he/she was just sinful to the core!” It’s all about making ourselves feel superior isn’t it?

Feel superior if you must, but I know my failings. I know my responsibilities. I know what size is good for me. Rather than the constant monologue of failure, I’m learning to replace it with a common sense of kinship with every other human being who “sins” daily and begins the cycle of hating myself, repenting, sin again, and hating myself. Someone has to jump off that wheel. I’m glad to see more people doing it.

I’ll Take the Red Pill Please

I found this post at Scotteriology via Exploring Our Matrix. What an excellent analogy. The Matrix was a revolutionary movie for me. Like Fight Club it was one of the few movies that dared challenge how deeply humans are enmeshed in what we perceive as reality or what we have created for ourselves as a protective layer against the harshness of the world. Some of us are living lives pretty much on the surface of  reality, but biblical fundamentalists are buried beneath another layer called inerrancy. As a fundamentalist I felt pushed further and further back from the surface of reality as layer after layer of dogmatic belief was draped over me like blankets. The deeper one went in biblical theology according to inerrantists, the poorer the chances of ever waking up from it.

I’m not sure now what the “red pill” was for me back then. I think it was first discovering that so many different sects of Christianity interpreted the same set of scriptures in entirely different ways that set me on my way to questioning the “reality” fundamentalism claimed to construct for me. At least it got me out of a fundamentalist church. The final swallowing of the red pill was in a mythology class at university. There I discovered etiological myths. I learned that myths are so deeply ingrained in cultural consciousness that some cultures began to actually believe their own stories; those poetic stories told ’round a fire at the tribe’s center, stories about heroes and exploits of group salvation when the tribe began. These stories about gods and goddesses and supernatural phenomena, centered around the supposed origins of the world, were written down eventually and the very act of writing made them seem magically permanent somehow.

This germ of a thought opened every door for me. If I could claw my way out of the morass of inconsistent and self generating dogma that inerrancy provided, unplug myself from the “machine” of fundamentalism that was feeding me only what it wanted to make me serve it, then I could at least begin to see things clearly and make decisions closer to the surface of reality. All I had to do was handle the fear than engendered by facing the world as it was, not as fundamentalism told me it should be. Swallowing the red pill was the best thing that ever happened to me up to that point.

Religious Ambivalence

So what’s new, right? I’ve been the queen of religious ambivalence as long as I can remember since coming out of my christian fundamentalist daze. Some evangelicals label my kind of religiosity “non-committed” or they call us “church shoppers,” when really it comes down to disagreeing more with personal issues than that; namely dogma. I came across this article this morning and it explains exactly how I feel about religion. Some people feel it’s not possible to be of two religions. But I don’t see what difference it makes. Especially when institutional religion, for me, is more about style of worship than personal conviction. Since no one dogma/doctrine of institutional religion defines me and I can never wholly ascribe to a particular one, then why sign on to a brand of Christianity? One should just go to the church that fulfills one’s worship needs; silence, liturgy, music, etc. What has been your experience?