The Path to Life Is...
The path to life is narrow and few will find it
A few months ago I had a run in with an old friend from college. Since we’d last spoken, he’d become seriously religious (And also SERIOUSLY hot. Such an unfortunate combo. For me, at least). So you can imagine his surprise when he learned that I, the purity princess from Alpha Chi Omega, had by all means “lost my religion.”
He proceeded to spend time on the phone with me in deep concern over my new found worldly happiness; trying his best to convince me I was wrong (my favorite kind of mansplaining. Just...I know more about the BIble than you. Trust me). That I had simply given into the desires of my flesh, the things of the world, those ungodly habits that are just so damn tantalizing. I mean, of course I did! “The ways of the world” are easier than the way of Jesus.
Ah yes. The reason people “leave the faith” is because we have decided being “worldly” is just easier and more fun than following Jesus.
Idk about your flavor of Christianity, but Midwest Jesus culture left me with these bullet points of how to be “all in” on this whole Jesus follower thing:
Go to church regularly. And not just on Sundays! Oh no. You must be DEEP in the church community, or it doesn’t count (And we all know what happens to lazy people. We’ve read Proverbs).
Spend time with Jesus everyday. You do this by having a committed time of prayer and Bible reading/reflection/journaling. Really “dig into what it is the Lord wants for our lives.” If you don’t spend time with Jesus everyday, you’ll stray from him. Just like any relationship, this one takes #werk.
Surround yourself with people who are “like-minded.” Aka religiously believe exactly the same way you do because “bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33).” However, you can be friends with non-believers if you have a clear game plan for eventually sharing the Gospel (that’s the Jesus story for all my Jewish and/or non-Christian readers)
No premarital sex, obvi. In fact, don’t even get yourself in a situation that might lead to premarital sex. So maybe don’t fool around. In fact, you’ll probably fool around if you’re ever alone together so maybe don’t ever be alone with your significant other. No closed doors. No beds. Only vertical sitting in the living room while roommates are home.
No drinking. I mean, you can drink just don’t get drunk because drunkenness is a sin. And just like the “if you give a mouse a cookie” scenario of your virginity explained above, do whatever you can to prevent drunkenness. Don’t even go to the parties. Don’t open a beer. Just stay in and crack open that Francis Chan book you’ve been meaning to read.
Pretty appealing lifestyle, right?
The thing is, Christians know this life blows! It’s limiting and boring but they’ve convinced themselves life without booze, premarital sex, and/or gay friends is better than eternal damnation.The irony, of course, is many religious people have created their own Hell on earth by missing out on so many beautiful experiences. A life without orgasms or wine? HARD PASS.
There were a few verses used to justify this exclusive Jesus life.
Matthew 7:14 “The path to life is narrow and few will find it.” See! This whole Jesus following thing is supposed to be hard! If following Jesus were easy, everyone would do it. And Heaven can’t fit everyone, don’t be crazy.
1 Peter 2:11 “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." The logic was, we are supposed to look different than everyone else because we are following a godly life, not a worldly life. God (well, Peter actually. But also, maybe not Peter because how did a Galilean fisherman know how to read and write so eloquently when only about 10-15% of the population at that time was literate? And usually fisherman were not in that percentage? Just a thought) tells us we will look like strangers to everyone else, but it’s okay! Because they’ll notice our differences, ask us why we are different, and then we can share how Jesus changed the desires of our heart to lead a different lifestyle.
So, the assumption when someone leaves church is that their heart is just “in the wrong place.” The church-leaver allowed their Godly desires to be taken over by worldly desires. And of course, whoever the “real Christian” is in the equation, believes it is their responsibility to lead the church-leaver back into the light.
Being on the receiving end of some serious spiritual stinkeye kind of makes me wanna slap "Real Christian" me in the face with my NLT Bible
I used to be the real Christian and now I’m the church-leaver. And since I’ve been on both sides, I feel like I can speak pretty candidly to both. Being on the receiving end of some serious spiritual stinkeye kind of makes me wanna slap "Real Christian" me in the face with my NLT Bible.
Okay so let me tell you Real Christians something: no one cares about your Jesus-follower check list. And we’re annoyed with your unsolicited Evangelism masked as “deep concern for our hearts.” We’re fine, we promise. Please stop, thanks.
But also, it’s not 100% personal. Most people are just generally way too caught up in their own lives to notice if you claim Jesus is the son of God but also you like to drink beer. The only people who care about that stuff are bored Christians who like to tell others what to do in the name of spiritual accountability.
I said something to this effect to my friend*:
“Look. I know you think I left Christianity/church because I wanted to get drunk and have sex without a guilty conscience. Or I no longer wanted to listen to my ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ have a say in a life with which they didn’t agree. But it’s way more complicated than that. The fact that you think leaving church/religion was easy, or that the minute I did so, every forbidden behavior suddenly became my normal...that’s so condescending. Also, I’m truly happier over here on the dark side of actually engaging in the world we live in, instead of avoiding it.”
*I know my friend was well-intentioned. I don’t hate him or anything. I know he thought he was basically doing me the biggest solid of my life by highlighting the error of my beliefs. But it’s pretty ineffective and mostly harmful so…
Lots of things contributed to “losing my religion.” Sure, the catalyst was me challenging the idea that I had to be forever detached from my sexuality in order to be in God’s favor. But the more I asked questions about the validity of scripture (as it had been presented to me) and walked the streets of New York City, the more I realized all the obsession with following the rules to be a true and committed follower of Christ is just a giant distraction from actually being Christ. On this earth. Right now.
The people Jesus spent time with, helped, fed, and transformed were not symbolic of my non-Christian neighbor with whom I must share the Gospel STAT. No, the people from Jesus stories are actual people who need to be fed, healed from real diseases, and need hope. When I see need so blatantly everyday, I just can’t help but think there’s no way Jesus --this guy who ostensibly came to earth to hang with, touch, and heal the most vile humans -- intended for us to care more about memorizing scripture and hanging out in church for a spiritual ego boost 3 times a week, than reuniting orphans with their parents at the border or getting the mentally ill off the streets.
I wasn't running from Jesus. I just wanted to be Jesus.
The path to life is narrow, indeed. But maybe, JUST MAYBE, religion is keeping us distracted and self-centered enough so we never have to do the shit that is actually hard.
You know what’s harder than sitting in a comfortable chair sipping coffee we purchased with our 10% tithes (#coffee4jesus), praying for our non-believing friends? Peeling addicts of the subway stairs in a puddle of their own piss and asking if they’d like to go get some food. Walking past an old man begging, but deciding to turn back and just have a quick chat with him. Make him feel like a human (I attended a homeless workshop at Redeemer Presbyterian and learned the thing people in the streets suffer most from is being ignored. They go days without being acknowledged as a person. Can you imagine?). Or noticing the subway doors closing on a passed out drunk in a wheelchair and asking other pedestrians to help you get him on the train.
The point is, I didn’t leave church/religion because I wanted to have guilt-free sex and drink wine or have friends from different religious backgrounds without the responsibility of eventually having to let them know they’re going to Hell. I left because I was annoyed with the noise. Essentially, I wasn’t running from Jesus, I just wanted to be Jesus. And that is hard enough without having to defend every choice I make that doesn’t line up with scripture to people consumed with useless moral efforts. “Moral” efforts that don’t really actually make the world a better place.
I just wanted to mind my own beeswax and get to fucking work.