“I think I’ve finally figured it out,” I journaled one summer evening after my sophomore year in college. “At the heart of my struggle with Christianity is not doubt, but fear.” I had been struggling to make this discovery for over a year. After my freshman year of college I spent my summer on the east coast, participating in a church-based colporteuring program. Ironically, it was this ten week stint as a literature evangelist that launched me into the most poignant periods of doubt I’ve experienced. For the next year, after phases of daily four-hour Bible reading sessions, followed by phases of frustrated agnosticism, I struggled to find the heart of my doubt—the pebble in my shoe that hindered my ‘Christian walk.’ Eventually I wrote:
I want the faith of the conservatives, but…I fear the social impact of what conservatives stand for. I abhor theocracy…exclusivity, and patriarchalism. Yet the people who seem the most in touch with God stand for these things…
Does God stands for things I abhor? …if I hate these ideas, do I hate God?
Another voice in my head tells me that a perfect God could not possibly stand for those values I fear. But giving into that voice feels like manipulating my perception of God for my own comfort—without proof the conclusion seems to lack integrity.
[Ultimately,] it is easier to doubt the existence of God than to face that I might hate Him…Evil is often defined as ‘against God,’ and ultimately, [I fear that] I am.
The problem lay in what I knew subconsciously but strove to ignore even as I handed out copies of Steps to Christ; no matter how much I evangelized, studied, and prayed for surrender, I didn’t want Christianity to define my beliefs. I wanted Christianity to affirm the beliefs I already had. The equality of women, the equality of love regardless of its sexual expression, the importance of social justice, ecumenicity, and inclusivity, are all beliefs I formed largely independent of scriptural study, and all, for the most part, non-negotiable.
My own denomination was divided on all these points. As I saw myself running out of options, my fear of hating God began to choke my spiritual breath. I was afraid of being evil. Furthermore, I knew that if I was indeed evil, there could be no redemption for me, because I was (and am) proud of my beliefs, proud of the very ideas that seemed to separate me from the image of the divine with which I’d been raised. That I may indeed embrace a life in opposition to God is a frightening thought, one I haven’t yet reconciled beyond the genuine belief that if the divine is truly transcendent, my honesty will weigh in my favor.
In some ways I was angry with the image of the divine presented me. I have often been angry with God’s ugly portrait, raging because like a medieval monarch, it is the only available picture of my betrothed. So I continually asked no one in particular how could a loving God endorse genocide. How could He mandate homophobia and misogyny? How could he validate preemptive violence of any kind? Some people say they dislike the angry god portrayed in the Bible, but to steal an idea from Rob Bell’s “Love Wins,” the real problem isn’t God’s righteous anger, but its apparent misdirection.
burns with rage against discrimination, racism, and homophobic violence. I want a God who seethes when those on the lower rungs of society are neglected, ignored, and blamed for their plight. Instead I am presented with a deity who provides—at best—justifications for nearly every side of each debate, and at worst provides religiously based legitimations for everything that is wrong with western society.
Of course, the issue of God’s character is hardly this cut-and-dry, and so I renew my search for the face of the Ultimate. I leave the door open for my mind to be changed on any number of issues (because closing doors is not the work of true intellectuals). For now, however, I choose to believe that I am not evil, but moral.