Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why I Miss Being a Born-Again Christian

I read a great article last night: “Why I Miss Being a Born-Again Christian.”

It’s a good read, short and interesting. After having studied the Bible from a secular standpoint at Yale the author, Melissa Misener, became agnostic. Yet much of what she wrote resonates with me, especially this morning as I was reading in the syrupy sentimentality of the Gospel of Luke:

“People were also bringing their children to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anybody who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

Blech. Verses like this superimposed over pictures of a white, blue-eyed Jesus dressed in shining white robes make me cynical. The deeper meaning in it—that we as adults ought to have childlike faith—seems either impossible or willfully stupid. How can anyone have faith in the Bible like a child after hearing the messy process of Nicea or Nicea’s modern grandchild of church politics today? Misener writes that she can no longer see God as anything but an opiate for the masses, a fantasy to comfort cowards from the cold reality of life (a comfort she herself admits to missing).

I agree: the baby Christianity that Misener and I both feel nostalgia for is easily crucified by an examination of the Bible’s ever-so-human origins. The difference between us is what others would call childishness: I, as a college-educated masters candidate, continue to insist that the world is full of magic. Don’t worry: I see the impossibility of it all. That an all-knowing being, full of both mercy and justice, created the world and everything in it and then wrote a book about it—it reeks of every kind of willful childish ignorance.

Christians are like the child that crosses his arms and pouts, “It’s not fair.” Agnostics are the parents that shrug, exasperated. “Life isn’t fair. Get over it.”

My nephew.

True, it’s childish to believe in justice, in mysteries like the Bible actually being—somehow, impossibly—true. My insistence that God created the universe and orchestrates a divine dance of redemption probably owes more to my love of fantasy novels than anything holier.

But I love the unsolvable mystery of the universe, the impossibilities that still happen every day. “The unknown” isn’t just a phrase from Star Trek; there are pockets of unknown all around us, especially on a philosophical scale. While my brain pulls me toward organized and systematic examination of the parameters of our human existence—science rocks and logic can heal—I love that there still is so much we don’t know and might never. And I suppose that’s childish.


  1. Thanks for this, Elaine. I really liked the Buzzfeed article and this post.

    To me, there's something childish required about each possibility - faith, agnosticism, and atheism. So the "childishness" doesn't bother me much. The thing that gets me is the potential damage of teaching a super-literal interpretation of the Bible, because when kids find out, "Hey, this might not all be literal," then their recourse is often to leave the faith instead of just seeking out a better understanding of the Bible.

    1. Well said. My church growing up was close to that idea, and I think Calvin and the way people think saved me from some kind of crisis. Especially the literary side of things.

  2. Nice post Elaine.

    Griffin, do you think that that damage would be mitigated if folks were taught from the beginning that the Bible contains some ambiguities and non-literal sections? In other words, do you think people are leaving because of disillusionment, or because of the inherent scariness of the ambiguity?

    It occurs to me that the idea of childlike faith as uncritically accepting rather fails to recognize what children are actually like. Trust, certainly is characteristic of a child, but so is curiosity and an incessant need to ask "Why?" "Why? "Why?" "Why?"

    1. Nice question. I hope Griffin answers too, but my thought is it's disillusionment. Once people feel their whole foundation has been proven to be not as solid as they thought, they forget to check to see if some of it is solid. Like when you get the wrong answer in a math problem and then throw away your entire framework, but it turns out the framework was fine; you just slipped up on some arithmetic. I think teaching an element of literature (and how things can be true in ways that aren't literal) would really help youth groups.

    2. I think people should be taught from the start that there are nonliteral and difficult parts in the Bible. This would save kids a lot of worry and spiritual crises later on. One doesn't have to believe the Bible is entirely literal or perfectly inerrant to maintain that it's true, divinely-inspired, and authoritative on issues of faith and salvation.

      As I see it, people don't typically leave the faith because of a "scariness of ambiguity." I think it's disillusionment. But not a disillusionment with God or spirituality or even the Bible. The disillusionment is with this all-or-nothing approach to scripture.

      I wrote a post on my blog to elaborate, if you're interested.