A number of people are surprised to find out that I identify as Christian. (They are less surprised when they find out I’m a member of the United Church of Canada, which some would hardly classify as any real kind of Christianity, in some cases.) It’s not even like I identify as a “secular Christian” like some identify as “secular Jews”… no, I believe in a ‘God’ (we’ll leave that for another day). I am otherwise a completely rational person, and recognize this belief in a ‘God’ as being irrational, so why haven’t I denounced it all? It’s a long story, one I’m going to tell in a few parts.
My family wasn’t actually overly religious while I was growing up. We lived in a small town, Bothwell Ontario, in the middle of a corn field. In these sorts of places pretty much everyone goes to church. In a town of about 700 people (at the time) there was at least 4 churches that I can remember. We went to the United Church, where my brother took up the collection, my sister and I sang and we were always in the Christmas plays…we were good little church goers.
If you don’t know a lot about the United Church, then I’ll just give you this bit of information: It is insanely liberal, progressive and inclusive. They marry homosexual couples (if the minister wants to), they don’t say Jesus in church (if the minister doesn’t want to), they take the bible very metaphorically (as metaphorically as you want to) and they seriously love egg salad sandwiches…I’ve been to UCCs across the country and they all love their egg salad sandwiches. Very, very progressive and inclusive.
However, when I got a bit older I switched to the baptist church. I know, I know… but it’s where all my friends went. Also, my mom remarried after my dad died and my new step-dad was the minister of the United Church, so I didn’t like going and listening to him talk even more than I already had to at home. This is when I entered my crazy-christian phase, and where I think a lot of my internal conditioning about religion comes from.
The baptists are more fundamental than the United churches, not quite as fundamental as southern baptists in the States, but they’re pretty close. They’re about as fundamental as it gets in Canada. But because they’re fundamental, they’re also more “fun”. The christian rock, the big youth groups and the big gatherings. It was fun, interactive and a solid community of people. I think the most addictive things were the “Acquire the Fire” events. We would all board a big bus and shoot off to Hamilton for a weekend – I wrote about these trips back in 2006. I won’t reiterate too much of what happened when I was there but here are some interesting highlights:
- The first day I was there they had me on my knees, crying my eyes out and grabbing Ron Luce’s feet asking him to save me. He dumped water on me and said we’d work on it.
- I made some sort of promise to stop watching TV for a year… something about there being too much wickedness on TV that was corrupting my brain.
- Any homosexual tendencies I thought I had were the devil in me. When I learned this at ATF it coincided with the first time I ever questioned/started to explore my sexuality. About three weeks before the event I had actually started dating my first girlfriend. When I got back from ATF I broke up with her immediately and didn’t talk to her for well over a year.
- I promised to be a virgin (even though I think at that point it was already too late… but I guess I promised to not do it again), to read my bible every day, to tell *all* my friends about God/Jesus (and I did…they hated me for a while), to be active with my church community and to forever be guilty if I questioned that any of this was wrong in anyway.
Crazy Christian Katie lasted for about two years (when I turned into Crazy Environmentalist Katie). I didn’t necessarily stop believing in God, but I stopped…caring as much. In first year university I started to question my belief, but only a little bit. I ended up posting somewhere that I was questioning my belief in God. I didn’t even say “I don’t believe in God”… I said something like “Sometimes I wonder if there is a God”. The camp that I had been working at for about 4 years and attending for at least 13 years called me up and told me that I wasn’t welcome back because of my views on God.
This pissed me off! I didn’t think anyone should be denied a job because of their views on God. So… This is when I joined my first atheist group and went through my “new atheism” phase of pure anger and hatred of religion. This anger dissipated over about a year but I stayed active in the atheist movement because I find secularism to be important and a sufficient use of my time. Only recently have I started to really think about my faith again. About six months ago I rationalized it all out and realized… I don’t think I can ever be an atheist for about 6 (give or take) different reasons that I will describe in this “mini-series” of sorts. Perhaps, in this den of atheists, the problems can be fixed. I’ve come very very close to denouncing my Christianity entirely, but it’s a lot harder than that. I’ll say “okay, this is it!” and then before I know it the guilt kicks me in the gut and the conditioning slaps me in the face.
I think my story is important for people in the atheism activism movement to keep in mind – moderates are our allies. I don’t think too many people would argue that I’ve hindered the atheist activist movement in Canada, in fact some might say that I’ve helped push it along. This coming year I’ll be involved with four different secular/atheist activist groups as either an executive or key volunteer while I continue to identify as Christian. So yeah, religion can be fucked up sometimes – but some of the religious folks are okay and will help atheists out.
In the next few posts I’ll talk about the reasons why I can’t denounce my faith… :)