Post-Christian: A Lament

I’m slowly coming to the realization that the faith of my childhood: the Evangelical, middle-of-the-road, straight and narrow faith that was passed down to me by my parents and community, no longer fits. My faith has gone through a myriad of transformations, and I’ve always prided myself on having an adaptable faith. But this feels different: the faith itself is no longer working. It’s an old, trusty Toyota that has carried me through forests and over deserts, but it’s sputtering now, starting to break down.

Does this mean I’m not a Christian anymore? I don’t know. While I might be more Buddhist than Christian at this point, I still feel tethered to the Christian symbolism and language of my upbringing. I still see the world through a Christian lens, and I still find myself praying, less out of habit and more out of instinct, out of love for God.

So perhaps I not “not Christian”, but rather Post-Christian, which is a state you can only reach by passing through Christianity itself. It’s a sort of evolution in which Christianity is a crucial ingredient. I haven’t grown past Christianity, but my Christianity itself has grown, has turned into something that I can no longer recognize.

The internet is full of stories of the victorious freedom from religion; stories of people who felt enslaved to their religious upbringing, enslaved to their religious worldview, and found a joyful liberation from that slavery. I don’t relate to these stories.

Losing my faith – if that is even the right word for this, and I don’t know if it is – feels like a terrible loss. It doesn’t feel like a victory, but rather like losing a family member – a matriarch who wrapped me up in love, wisdom, and meaning. It feels like a death, instead of a victory. This is a lament, not a victory march.

It leaves a painful void in my chest. What is the world, if not created by a loving God? What is life, if not directed by Jesus? Maybe it’s disillusionment, maybe it’s growing up to something more expansive, maybe it’s a death. But no matter what it is, I can only grieve.

And then, I find myself coming home again. I wander away, and inevitably, migrate back to where I came from – back to my faith, back to my mother. But each time I wander away, there is the terror – increasing now – that I may not find my way home again.

Do you experience doubt? Have you grown beyond your spiritual home? How have you navigated the new territory?

7 Comments

  1. We all have to walk our own path.

    I too was raised as a Christian. I served as a minister for many years. But Life took me down unexpected trails and while I wrestled with what I had been and what I was becoming for some time, in the end, I knew the label fit no longer. There was both mourning and feasting in that realization.

    I do not know where the path will take me in the future, nor do I worry about it. I am a human being on life’s journey. As such, I wish you peace, love, and joy on yours.

  2. I think the simple faith of our childhood is inadequate for many thoughtful adults. Indeed, the way that simple childhood faith is understood and expressed, without development, can lead to unfortunate results. As Eric Voegelin has noted, those who become aware of the reality of transcendence live in the tension of our in-between existence, where our existence is tenuous. Nothing we can say about God is adequate to the reality, even when it is true as far as it goes.

    Do we need to reject our former articulations of faith or develop them as we recognize that they are only part of the divine reality?

    It seems to me that whether we are Christians depends on how we answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” not on whether we hold to the understanding we had as children.

    1. I think your final point – who do we say Jesus is? – gets to the heart of the matter. For me, it’s not so much that my faith is shifting – that is too soft a word, and it’s been shifting for years – but more that it is evaporating or transforming into something that may or may not be Christianity. In other words, I don’t know what my answer is anymore to the crucial question, “Who do you say that I am?” My faith as a whole is changing, not just some of the contents of that faith, or how I approach it. That is the source of the grief, and it is a tide that feels much greater than myself. I’ve tried desperately to resist it, but I find that’s simply futile. I have no guarantee that I will return to some semblance of an orthodox Christian faith (orthodox in the most basic way, as in affirming the Apostle’s Creed.)

      This shift really started for me when I entered my deep depression in 2014-2015. I came out of that nightmare a different person, and I am still coming to terms with the person I’ve become.

  3. Excellent post. It reflects my feelings. I no longer consider myself a Christian based on theological doctrines decided in the fourth century, and I’m quickly falling away from sixteenth century theology. But that simply means I no longer believe in the inerrancy of the church. I am fully committed to the teachings and the example of Jesus, many of which agree with Buddhist and Hindu and Taoist wisdom teachings. I am a product of my past but I’m sorting out what my heart tells me is good. I’m throwing away what is no longer relevant, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Keep up the good work!

  4. I can relate to these words, Stephen. I feel post-Christian too, with sadness yet gratitude, because traditional Christian ideas of sin, sacrifice, and grace helped me emerge from the trauma of my early life, but for that same reason, those ideas now would keep me mired in relational patterns I’ve escaped. I’m Christian in the same way I’m a New Yorker, I guess: it’ll always be a formative influence but I couldn’t live there anymore.

    Grief is natural at such a time, but I think we should push back against feeling ashamed for these changes. Western philosophy and religion tend to idolize stasis as a marker of perfection or reliability. And churches afraid of losing members pile on with guilt for “backsliding”. During my most militantly orthodox phase, my Buddhist husband gently cautioned against “attachment to views”. How right he was!

    Reading my old journals, I do find that the values and dilemmas that have preoccupied me have remained mostly the same through 40+ years, though wrapped in different religious or philosophical packages as I kept looking for the best route to the goal. Perhaps you have a spiritual core that has remained constant as well.

  5. Hello Stephen,

    I was born into Catholic faith, but today, for me, the bedrock of my faith journey begins one day when my grandmother took me to church and presented me to God and she had a conversation with Him. That is a distinct memory for me.

    I’ve moved away from the “liturgical building” I guess. But I remain “Christian” in my heart. I read Pope Francis, I study Eastern Traditions, and read other inspirational tomes like, The Spirituality of Imperfection” by Ernie K. (recovery).

    Studying Religion while getting sober, gave me two routes to observe. One was by the book, the other was organic, watching other people get sober, in my circles. I was reading Canon, while seeing God, as I understood Him, work in the rooms, in really practical and visual ways.

    Religion is for people who fear Hell, and Spirituality is for those who have been there, they say … I may be Christian/Catholic, in my heart, that connection, I believe keeps me alive. But my spirituality is something I practice daily. I don’t go to “church” really, but the “church” is in my heart, where it can peacefully exist with all the other parts of my spiritual/religious makeup.

    You are still, we, are still, on a quest to find what works for us. That which resonates in our souls. Never beat yourself up over that. A faith life, is what we build for ourselves, whether that be familial connection, religious practice or spiritual ways we learn on our own. Your Tarot, Yoga, Spiritual practice is unique to you, and something that grounds you, you have said before.

    As long as you are pursuing something that brings you comfort and peace, then keep at it. Spirituality is imperfect. Religion, if taken, By The Book, is perfect to those who compiled it, and for those who follow it blindly. They’ve read the book, they’ve been preached of the book, and for many, that settles it, right ???

    The eternal question is unknowable, however we are still on that study path…

    Keep searching, because that is part of our lives, we will never know ALL the answers, but if we seek, we will learn what we need to know.

    Jeremy

  6. Have you ever listened to The Liturgists podcast? I recommend it, in particular episodes 6 & 7, “Lost and Found.” I think it speaks to this experience, at least in part.

    I’m going through an evolution of my own faith, as well. At this point, it doesn’t feel quite like a death to me, but more like this Person I thought I knew is Someone Else entirely, far more complex and mysterious, far more profound and beautiful… but almost a stranger, and that is unsettling. It’s hard to know how to approach this Person, or where I stand.

    I know what the Bible says, but at the risk of committing blasphemy, the Bible seems too small to contain or explain this Person (and of course, “person” is too small a word as well).

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