Mattie Jo Cowsert
Hell Yes. Oh, Fuck.
A few months ago I attended a Christian service. And for the first time ever in my life, I didn’t take communion. You may be thinking “So what, MJ? Those crackers are gross and the wine isn’t even alcoholic (unless you’re Catholic…).” But, for me, sitting out communion meant I finally admitted something very big to myself: I am not a Christian.
You see, you aren’t supposed to take communion unless you are a Christian. By the Evangelical definition, being a Christian means you truly believe Jesus is God’s son (or if you’re Catholic, that you are actually gnawing on his flesh through the priest’s magic transubstantiation spell). That he died for the sins of humanity and you are committed to spreading this #GoodNews to anyone who will listen.
Well, I don’t believe any of that anymore, so it seems like a good time as any to give up the sham. I guess this is my official “coming out” as a non-Christian.
Before I moved to NYC, it never occurred to me that Jesus could maybe not be God. Like, we were encouraged to ask questions and explore in church (sort of...) but not about that. That part was a given.
Even the people who never go to church in my hometown still believe on some level (or at least they claim to in fear of eternal damnation and/or keeping the we-gotta-get-them-saved, Jerry-harassment-from-their-neighbors at bay) that Jesus is the son of God. God incarnate sent to this Earth to die for our sins as the ultimate sacrifice so we can finally be in unity with the Lord, free of animal sacrifice and some almost child sacrifice. Lookin at you, Abraham and Isaac.
The more information I read, the more I became sure of one thing: I was sure of almost nothing
But as I moved through the world of New York City, I was forced to see things in a totally different understanding than my Jesus Culture preset (read more about this here, here, and here. Or really just like, all my blog entries). Questions spurred more questions, and eventually I couldn’t help but wonder if the whole Jesus is God thing was actually true. I’d read the Bible A LOT in my life, but maybe I was reading it wrong?
I dove right into this “Who is Jesus even” search. I read books by Reza Aslan (yes like the Jesus Lion. But this guy is a Muslim), Tim Keller, Bart Ehrman, Pope John Paul II, Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Glennon Doyle, Rachel Held Evans, A.J. Jacobs just to name a few...Experts in their fields with entirely different experiences of scripture and faith. The more information I read, the more I became sure of one thing: I was sure of almost nothing.
This terrified me. When I was 8 years old, I asked my father from the back of our minivan if I could get #SAVED. After all, my grandmother had just passed away from cancer, and I was suddenly very aware that death could occur at any time. I didn’t want to be sent to Hell should I choke on a gummy bear or whatever other risky things 8 year olds do. I needed to be prepared! We had a brief conversation about what “getting saved” meant and then I got baptized in the pool of a health club #Missourah.
But here’s the thing about “not being sure” as an Evangelical -- It’s not really an option. As a Believer you had to be able to declare, without a doubt, that Jesus was the Savior of the world.
“It doesn’t have to make perfect sense,” they’d say. “You just gotta believe in your heart.”
Apparently believing a dude was born of a virgin, was God in human form, and rose from the dead so he can now be present in your prayers/in your bedroom spiritually shaming you post maturbation sesh is supposed to be as easy as believing New York City will separate my recycling on Thursdays because that is what the Department of Sanitation posts in my apartment lobby.
How could I just not know? Was it okay to just not know? Ugh. My dad is gunna disown me.
So for a long time I had to be okay with just not knowing. Although the terms “Casual Christian,” “Doubting Thomas,” or “Eager Seeker” plagued me as I moved through my religious limbo, I stayed there anyway. The discomfort of not knowing if I believed Jesus was the actual Messiah and therefore, removing my label as a “Christian” was better than pretending to be absolutely certain of something which I was in fact not at all certain.
If You Just Believe...
When Jesus got politicized and an official canon was established, the guys at the Council of Nicaea (or Athanius in 367 C.E.? I’m a little confused about the exact timeline based on my research) took the books which supported the view of Jesus they wanted to be consensus: Jesus was fully God, fully man, and also a spirit. Enter: The Holy Trinity.
It’s not faith I’m heady about. It’s facts
Nevermind there are loads of other Biblical contemporary texts which support Jesus as just a spirit or just a man. There were as many varied Christian ideas then as there are now! But those didn’t make it into the official canon, so those versions of Jesus are not widely accepted.
Then there are factual issues such as “Son of Man” doesn’t actually translate to mean “God.” “Kingdom of God” doesn’t translate to “Heaven.” Or that the details of Jesus’s Holy birth were mostly made up in order to support the author’s idea that Jesus was God...
Details being made up to support an author’s belief was actually pretty common practice in ancient texts. So no sweat, ancient author. To a modern Christian reader, however, it is important that the details of Jesus’s miraculous death be factually true. Because if not, this Jesus is God thing cannot be Capital T Truth. It’s no less bullshit than Mohammad’s illiterate Quran writing.
Look people, the list goes on and on. Ancient textual criticism is extensive AND SO FUN GET INTO IT.
I know some would say I’m being too heady about this faith thing. To which I say, I know. Aren’t women who think for themselves just the worst? And also, it’s not faith I’m heady about. It’s facts.
I actually have a lot of faith. I have faith that there is an energy/force out there piecing things together in a way I can’t fully comprehend and I don’t have to fully comprehend it to know it’s happening. I also have faith that my parents won’t disown me for writing this (my dad will argue and be deeply concerned, but he will not disown me).
I, as a non-Christian, am going to Hell
I just do not personally see the point in having an “unwavering faith” that Jesus is the Messiah as a means of saving my and everyone else’s soul. Like, by this standard Gandhi is in Hell but the Westboro Baptist fucks are in Heaven. No thank you please to the God who made those rules.
So I didn’t take communion that day because I respect rules and the rules say I have to believe Jesus is the Messiah in order to “join at the table.” The admission that I am no longer a Christian, Believer, Follower of Christ is something that surprised even me. As Rachel Held Evans said, “No one prepares you for mourning the loss of your faith.”
Finding a new identity outside the church/as a Christian is a pathless trajectory. It's like a path that must be traversed with a machete in hand. And just when you think you've machete'd your way to a path that is already paved, it turns out to be a cliff that requires scaling. With no harness.
Anyway, if you couldn't tell from my outstanding outdoorsy metaphor, my point is no one told me how to do this (not that anyone could have predicted me dismantling my Evangelical upbringing, blogging about it, and and talking about said blog on numerous Bumble dates with basically strangers. But you know what I mean). I also wasn't told that the second I reached one solid conclusion from a lot of Recovering Evangelical mindfucks, I would now have to deal with the greatest Recovering Evangelical mindfuck: I, as a non-Christian, am going to Hell.
This is going to make my mother very sad. I think she was really counting on the whole family living together for eternity in our little cloud house or whatever houses in Heaven are made of.
I hope my admitting this will not delegitimize the God, Sex, and Rich People message. Just because I am no longer a “Believer” doesn’t mean that you can’t remain a Believer. And experience sexual freedom (Accounts such as God is Gray have incredible resources and information on this topic)!!! Yay You!
But first, Hell.