Like roughly a third of the world, I was born into a Christian household.
Like a smaller percentage of these Christians, I learned about other religions and atheism, took some years to reflect on it, and ultimately chose to remain Christian – my definition of Christianity meaning living a life emulating Jesus Christ’s teachings as much as possible.
However, unlike any other Christian I know, while I practice Christianity, I hold great disdain for other Christians. I just can’t help but criticize them, look for hypocrisies and inconsistencies in their lifestyle, and doubt the lack of evidence whenever they quote the scripture.
I’ve made great effort to never let anyone know this Christian-critical part of me, and not let it manifest in my actions to avoid criticism and conflict.
How do I, an imperfect Christian, not call myself out for being a hypocritical, inconsistent Christian?
Why do I care about these labels when the modern trend is for everyone to define spirituality, or lack thereof, in their own terms?
In the Theory of Knowledge, a course in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, they teach that there are eight different ways of knowing, of acquiring knowledge. Two of those are “Reason” and “Faith.” Reason needs no explaining, so let’s focus on faith — the most elusive of all.
Faith is conventionally defined as having full trust and confidence in a belief without the need for proof. Most see it as an antonym to reason. The pastor shares the story of a mother diagnosed with cancer, the egregious corruption in the government, the rise of Islamic extremism. The pastor reassures the crowd that if we pray and strengthen our faith, all these things will get better. The kid who’s been to boarding school and is back in church for the first time in two years thinks to himself, “when have thoughts and prayers ever actually accomplished anything? Science, policies, and funding is where it’s at.”
Yet here I am, living a seemingly paradoxical life. Complementing my religious faith with logical evidence, expecting other Christians to do the same, but assuming they don’t anyway then criticizing them for that. Living a life guided by Christian values, but treating Christians with disdain like many of my Atheist friends.
For how this happened, I have two theories:
After I left home for high school, I was no longer surrounded by devout Christians. Outside home, it was apparently the norm to blame religion for all of society’s problems. I could no longer avoid questioning my beliefs as much as everyone else around me did. I felt an overwhelming insecurity in my knowledge of the Bible. I did more research and uncovered the grotesque list of crimes Christians have committed throughout history in the name of Christianity. I developed a general disdain towards the church as an organization and everyone who I perceived to blindly follow the church. Furthermore, although everyone respected one’s right to believe in a God, I felt all the more pressured to come up with a logical reason for having such beliefs.
It didn’t help that the seemingly natural conclusion for Christians who’ve been born and raised Christian but were educated abroad was to become Atheist.
But somehow, despite all this, I chose to retain my Christian identity and values. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I know it started out with me thinking 1) if Heaven and Hell was in fact real, I’d at least have the chance of going to Heaven if I died and 2) being 16 then, I didn’t have any clear values of my own, and Christian values provided a familiar, historically-tested foundation.
Since then, I’ve learned to recognize the many uncertainties in standard biblical interpretation and researched more historically-contextualized interpretations. I continue to study different ethical frameworks to compare and contrast with the teachings of Jesus, for whenever I need to explain Christianity to myself or anyone else. I’ve also gotten into the habit of developing arguments for and against why someone should gain a religious belief.
The ‘problem’ is, I started expecting other Christians to do the same. Otherwise, it’s blind obedience, not “conscious” Christianity.
This also presented another problem with my self-perception. If anyone were to ever logically invalidate my justifications for being Christian or religious in general, it would put me in the religious equivalent of a midlife crisis. I still don’t know if this means I have to strengthen my knowledge of the Bible, my general knowledge of religion and ethical frameworks, my debating skills, or my faith.
My faith in God is an irreplaceable node in my support system network. In it, I am at the center – the hub. Though once a hub of STDs, now a hub of people I love and people who love me.
Each node (circle) represents something or someone that I consider a source of support. Directed edges (arrows) are defined as A being a support to B, each edge having the property of perceived “reliability,” some more reliable than others. Thankfully, reliability is variable and improvable through time. Around 60 percent of the network are people who I care about and care about me, while around 30 percent of it are people who care about me but I don’t care so much about.
That 10 percent? That’s reserved for my faith in the Lord and Almighty God. Christ alone, Cornerstone.
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love.
How sweet the sound.
Christian song references aside…
There have been times where self-research, the wisest of wisdom from my closest friends, and even therapy, would not be able to provide me the comfort and peace I have gained from prayer and sheer faith. In the deepest of my depressive episodes and closest brushes with death, prayer has pulled me out before I was completely sucked in.
Logically, I know no one is going to be able to provide the exact type of support I need at the exact time I need it. Though I’ve accepted that, it doesn’t change the fact that I still want and need that in my life. Therefore, I understand why my logical brain has entrusted an illogical entity, the blackbox node that is God, with this illogical task. It is the only node that is 100 percent reliable and provides comfort regardless of my circumstances. If I was in the middle of the forest alone without cell service, or in any similar situation where that is my perceived mental state, God is the only node that I can turn to.
So, is this mindset Atheist?
No, it is not an atheist mindset. There is no “one Atheist mindset.” I simply ask myself the same questions my handful of atheist friends ask. I think many of the teachings of Christianity and beliefs Christians hold are based on unquestioned tradition and respect for authority. I easily find fault in other Christians because I am skeptical they aren’t aware of Christianity’s dark history and won’t repeat it.
Will I stop disliking Christians?
I know I will. It’ll just take some time and more wisdom. Perhaps it’ll take an intensive six-month course in Biblical analysis, or befriending a priest. Maybe eventually, I’ll only frown upon the ones who, given the benefit of the doubt, still act shamelessly hypocritical. Maybe one day, I’ll take Christians out of the pedestal I’ve placed them on and somehow internalize that their hypocrisy is not unique to being Christian but to their being human. See them as I see every other non-Christian. Give them as much respect and benefit of the doubt.
How do different branches of Christianity or other religions play into this?
Yes, there are multiple branches of Christianity and other religions. Though I can distinguish between them, my disdain does not. As for religious non-Christians, I find myself actually interested in their values and lifestyles, even respecting them.
So how do I live with myself?
As much as I need my faith, I also need to feel like I am capable of rationalizing my every action. But faith is inherently irrational. So while I’ve rationalized this much, that an irrational entity can fulfill an irrational need, I haven’t justified why I have this irrational need in the first place.
Maybe it’s not irrational. Maybe the temporary comfort I get when I instantaneously pray to God in times of trouble is actually contributing to a longer-term sense of peace I’m simply unaware of in the moment. That the stress I don’t accumulate when I pray in times of trouble has helped me not be much worse off than I am now.
If Kelly Clarkson were to take a Complex Systems course, she would say
“Cognitive dissonance doesn’t kill you. It only makes you stronger.”
Maybe constantly having to reflect on and justify my religious beliefs contributed to my current level of critical thinking. Critical thinking without which I wouldn’t have gotten into Minerva or I wouldn’t be living such a healthy and balanced life today. To make the difficult decisions I needed to become the confident, loving person I am today.
Or if none of that is true, at least I know I’m working hard not to be the kind of person I don’t want to become. That strength, that willpower, that effort. It’ll serve me well in my growth as an adult.
Why all the labels?
Because I’m explaining how the people under these labels have affected my life and how the labels ‘raised Christian’, ‘acting Christian’, and ‘thinking Atheist’ have affected my life. As ideal as it may sound to head towards a world where we have no labels in terms of religious identity and practice, there’s logistic and legal necessity to categorizing similar doctrines and beliefs, a conversation best reserved for another article.
Up to you really. This was somewhat of a formalized diary entry. If I had to give one, it’s to ask you to list the values you personally believe in, list what values belong to the religion you most identify with, and then stress about whether you hold these values because of your religious affiliations or not. Do it not to satisfy my inexplicable desire to have every religious person question their beliefs, but because I think it’ll benefit you. I believe you’ll gain more value from your beliefs after they’re tested and you’ve come out of them more knowledgeable and self-assured.