I grew up Christian so I still believe in Christianity fundamentally, but I do believe that religion is so much bigger than Christianity as well. I don’t think that Christianity’s necessarily the right answer but it’s the closest to what I think.
I do believe in a higher power, in a god but I don’t believe that this god is micro-managing our lives. It’s an aspirational thing as opposed to a micro-management thing.
I grew up Christian and bought it hook, line and sinker for the longest time. But that all changed in a conversation I had with a second cousin of mine from Belgium. He asked me a very pointed question: “Am I going to hell?”. And I said, “yes”. And it was reflecting on that over the next 5 or 10 years, just as my parents were starting to flirt with universalism, that I began to question that us-and-them mentality that Christianity has. So that’s how I went from a very fundamental, evangelical Christian framework to one that’s a lot more open to other possibilities; other ways of explaining things. To think of a god that would be so black and white, so “you’re in or you’re out”, just doesn’t make sense to me. Life is not black and white, so why would god be black and white?
So for me it was just a slow evolution in my thinking. When I moved out here [to Vancouver] I started going to a church that was much more open to other interpretations of Christianity. And just during the weekly discussions in church and whatnot, it evolved. I just knew that what I’d believed before, because of what I’d said to my cousin, that couldn’t be true. But figuring out what was true or what I wanted to believe, really took a long time.
A friend of a friend invited me to this new church that was opening up, which was an offshoot of a more traditional alliance, evangelical church. And they started talking about things differently. Dr. Father Gabon [4.14] is an Anglican priest in New York and he’s written a book that takes a little bit of a different perspective [tac??] on how to interpret the scriptures. So we went with that process, which made a big difference. That church probably was around for 10 years, so it was like a real framework. One part of that was that the gospels, like what happened to Jesus, was actually the important part, and everything else is the story around it. As opposed to a lot of churches, that take Paul’s letters as the most important part, and they interpret Christianity on the basis of the letters. And that really changes how you view things, how you view God. The biggest difference is that in the gospel god constantly talks about inclusivism, and he never has any judgement on anybody. Every single story about Jesus is about inclusivism. Like he says, you’ll be with me no matter what; he who has the first sins cast the first stone; the children can come to me, the lepers can come to me… It’s such an inclusive-“everybody screwed up, and everybody is welcome”-mentality. Whereas in the letters, specifically around Paul, there is a lot more framework around, ‘there’s conditions’, ‘you need to do this and then you get that’, which is a different, more of an us-and-them framework than in the gospels.
God loves you no matter what you do. Everybody is worthy of god’s love. That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to what you do. If you do something stupid, like cheat on your wife, murder somebody, or lie to somebody, there are consequences to that. There is still an accountability to other persons. That’s not a religious thing, that’s just a ‘how we live as humans’-thing. Treat other humans how you want to be treated. I don’t see that as specific to religion, but I do see that in almost every religion. There is an element of acceptance, everybody is worth is, everybody is loved, no one is better or worse than anybody else, and: when you go live your life, try to do it this way because that makes life better for everybody and for yourself.
For my everyday life that means just being okay with who I am. There is this book Gifts of Imperfections, which is a lot about ‘we all screwed up, we all made mistakes, but I’m still a worthwhile human’. I try not to live from a place of guilt or shame – I’m okay. That’s a fundamental thing. I try to teach my kids that as well, that they’re loved regardless of who they are. I had a chat with my kids just a month ago, explaining them that I’m gonna love you forever. There’s nothing you can do to make me not love you. But there are things you can do that could make me not like you. If you’re treating your siblings poorly, if you’re treating me poorly, if you’re doing life poorly, I might not like you as much, and that’s a part of the ethical living. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll always be my child, I’m always gonna love you unconditionally forever.
I don’t need Christianity to explain this to my kids, and I don’t bring it in terms of Christianity, just in terms of humanity. I think that Christianity does it the best, but that’s in my limited knowledge, I don’t know all the other religions that well. It works for me, it makes sense to me: the idea of sacrifice, the idea of unconditional acceptance…I do think that the Bible explains it in a really good way, when it’s lived out well. But that’s not to say that the other religions are wrong.
I still choose to identify as a Christian, because that’s how I grew up, and I also really love the community that Christianity has. You don’t find that kind of community much in the world today. The world is becoming very isolated, individualist. Churches are still a very good way of throwing a bunch of people together who don’t really know each other, who don’t have a lot of commonalities, yet still support each other, still love each other, care for each other.
I think the vast majority of Christians have a little bit of cognitive dissonance in their lives, where they’ve grown up with certain hard rules, such as no dancing, no drinking, depending on their particular denomination, but they know that doesn’t make any sense. They live with this cognitive dissonance in their lives, so they know they don’t have a leg to stand on to judge you for anything. So, for the most part, in my world, in the Lower Mainland and the people I hang out with, it’s bit of live and let live, as opposed to in the Southern States for example, where there would be a much harder ‘you have to do this, follow this rule’ mentality.
I’ve got friends who are ex-Christians or now are atheists, they still can’t process that I would have Christian beliefs. Because they know me and they would agree with me on how to live life, so they can’t believe that I can believe that and still want to identify as a Christian. For them, those two can’t go together, because they’ve got a framework of what Christianity is, but I don’t think it is that. They have to throw out the baby with the bathwater in order to stand firm, whereas I am okay with not doing that, I’m okay with standing up to certain of my Christian friends around things like drinking or partying, or whatever. I’m not offended by that, I’m happy to talk about it.