Some Quick Reflections on My Life Among Evangelicals
I did it. I survived my experience at a right-wing, evangelical Christian university. As of this past Saturday, I am no longer an undergrad student. I find my mind full of swirling thoughts about the whole experience, and I’m not sure if I can coherently put those thoughts to words. Regardless, I shall try.
#1: I chuckle to myself when I ponder the irony involved in my heading off to a Christian school in order to better understand my faith only to reject faith altogether. I can’t help but speculate that had I attended a state school I would most likely still be a person of faith. Living among Christians really pushed me to challenge the claims made by people of faith in ways that I doubt I would have elsewhere. I am glad for the experience, really. Had I gone to school elsewhere or nowhere at all, I would likely have indulged in a complacent faith for much of my life. Attending that particular school sparked a desire to learn about the truth-claims of my faith that allowed me to see the internal inconsistencies of religious belief. Beyond that, it was really a formative experience. I was forced to learn how to maneuver through a sub-culture in which I was part of a staunch minority. The intellectual and emotional lessons I learned as a result will certainly help me later in life.
#2: In hindsight I am absolutely certain that Christians simply cannot live in compliance with the tenets of their faith. For the past year I’ve always found some humor in many of the lyrics of songs sung during chapel services. “You’re the only one I need,” “My life is in You,” “This world is empty, pale, and cold compared to knowing You my Lord.” It is almost hilarious the claims made by Christians-and these kinds of claims are by far not limited to a few emotional songs-in comparison to the lives lived by Christians. I have never witnessed a Christian who has been able to purge him/herself of so-called worldly pursuits in favor of a more devoted faith. Walking through my Christian campus, I would see students clad in the same clothes as college age persons elsewhere. I always wanted to ask if Jesus would be willing to waste the extra $30 for the shirt at Abercrombie or American Eagle. Students at my school spent much of their time playing sports, watching YouTube, going to the movies, and a variety of other typical activities. There is nothing inherently wrong by these activities. However, you would think these students who are by and large convinced that 85% of the world is destined for the pits of hell would find more productive things to do with their time.
#3: Christianity (and other religious faith) is not necessarily bad. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is a justification for religious belief; however, there are Christians who are prompted by their faith to do great works of justice just as their are Christians who are prompted by their faith to commit great atrocities. Religious belief seems to me to be nothing more than a sociological phenomenon stemming from that desire to be a part of something bigger and a desire for eternal life. It’s existence is morally neutral. Ultimately, I think truth trumps non-truth every time, but there is no reason for me to believe that an abandonment of faith in the world will suddenly create an international utopia.
#4: I am ready to put struggles of faith behind me. At no time since the publication of my de-conversion to those at my school did I intellectually question the decision to abandon faith. From time to time, however, I would find myself drawn to the story of it all. A God who created each of us, cares about us deeply, a powerful enemy in Satan, a cosmic struggle for the souls of the world in which each individual may take part, certainty in the triumph of good over evil at the end of days, an eternity in paradise with a personal and benevolent God. The story can really be compelling emotionally. But the extent to which it is compelling is no greater than any other religious metanarrative. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and countless others carry with them the same sense of inclusion and purpose. That is no way to choose which truth-claim to follow. Despite those psychological reasons to continue in faith (I have even from time to time considered joining a church for social reasons and faking faith), I am content in the great mysteries of the universe. I am content not holding to an unsubstantiated claim to absolute truth. I am ready to go on with my life in other settings where religious faith is peripheral.
#5: Christian communities are not the “real world.” One of the ongoing jokes among students at my school was that we lived in a “bubble.” A favorite professor of mine often countered that our school was “closer to reality than the fallen world on the outside.” I respectfully disagree. Some of the social phenomena I experienced at the school seem to be absolutely ridiculous. The degree to which people hone in on behaviors such as course language and the imbibing of alcoholic beverage is almost absurd. Use the word “fuck” in front of many of my friends from school and you will be met with utter shock, make a flippant remark about all of the individuals burning for all eternity and hell and you may very well incite rounds of laughter. Announce that you frequent the local bars to have a few drinks after a long day of work and you will find yourself the subject of a great deal of scrutiny, participate in gossip about which Christians are worse than others and you’ll find yourself right at home. It’s absurd the degree of certainty and assurance with which the students at that school will condemn certain behaviors as “sinful” and embrace others without pause. Further, I fear most of these people are completely unprepared to engage the outside world. Lest they remain in overwhelmingly Christian communities, these people are going to fall apart. I truly am concerned for the futures of my friends who fit the stereotypes of Christian home-schoolers; there is no way they are going to have an easy transition into the real world.