For nearly twenty years I preached, taught, lectured and judged my way through a career in religion. In the end, I couldn’t do it anymore and I needed to say sorry.
Sorry for the bigotry.
Sorry for the hypocrisy.
Sorry for the judgement.
Yes, as an effective evangelist I judged a lot of people. But an effective evangelist is somewhat of a godlike figure in the church, heralded and celebrated for basically achieving the impossible: judging rational people as doomed and convincing them that the only way to live is to follow a character that even Christians disagree about. As a theologian, that’s essentially what I did. I took an old fiction and covered it in context, semantics, systematics and apologetics to make it palatable for those who have too many questions.
When I left Christianity, I lost things such as righteousness, destiny, calling and heaven. While I was not too concerned about losing things like eternal subservient worship, I did miss God’s judgement in one particular way. I missed the concept of ‘final justice.’ As a victim of abuse in many forms, I had passively taken comfort in the idea that perpetrators who had gotten away with despicable things, would eventually face a reckoning.
Now this concept, ‘God’s final judgement’ is, of course, a particularly ugly feature of Christianity, especially as it is used in the catechism and indoctrination of young kids in Sunday schools all over the world. Yet, after the dust had settled from my leaving, and I had faced some significant issues with trauma, I realised that a world without a final reckoning seemed harder, more unfair.
Here’s an example that might explain what I mean:
When I was a young boy, I was exposed to snuff porn (a genre of movies where a person is actually murdered or commits suicide). It’s an appalling form of entertainment that shockingly continues to “grow as an industry.” I once met a group of people that focused on rescuing women from this wicked trade. Whenever the images of that video force their way into my consciousness, I can no longer find that false comfort that one day, those perpetrators will be judged. It seems unfair. I can no longer stand on the Christian side of the fence, in safety, with my baptised friends expecting God to sort things out. It forces me to somehow grow up and reckon with the fact that humans do terrible things and do get away with them and that there is no real fence.
This is what rationalists and humanists of all sorts have been doing since the enlightenment. They understand that we all stand on the side of the unfair reality that our societies groan under the weight of injustice. The difference is that in realising this, injustice becomes an imperative for humanity to address, not an indicative form of proclamation to be delayed until some heavenly war happens. In the end I let the concept of God’s justice go, but frankly it wasn’t easy.
Judgement was a theme that was a regular feature of my pastoral visits and a staple question in my theological lectures. “Will God judge me for…?” Will God judge so and so for…?” “Will God judge me if I secretly like and support the gays?” It’s funny how often this particular question came up. I notice today as I write that the Sydney Anglicans have banned same sex marriages, yoga and indigenous ceremonies from their properties. When Christians take the Bible literally they really can be self-righteous and out of step. But this is what happens when the Bible is taken as the ‘Word.’ To some degree you have to be judgemental. It’s a judgemental book, it promotes judgmentalism. Even the hippy version of the Jesus myth can’t ignore the places where Jesus acts as an extreme fundamentalist. The sheep and the goats, the re-invention of the Old Testament concept of sheol, the place of the dead as an amphitheatre of eternal torture, hell, his, ‘my way or the highway’ proclamations…
It’s judgemental and quite frankly, a regressive way to frame life.
Yet, if I am honest, I do miss the safety I once derived from the concept that God will bring justice to those that have escaped it. As a victim of abuse, it served as an anaesthetic to some degree and blunted the force of victimisation. Without the concept of divine judgement and justice, the trauma of victimisation did indeed raise its ugly head. The unfairness of life can be overwhelming if it is allowed to manifest and then release all at once. But once revealed, trauma can be addressed and healed to some degree.
In the process of shifting from myth to reality, I have experienced the rawness of rational life, and been given the opportunity to move from the victimisation and judgement of my perpetrators and taken up the genuine posture of survivor, despite the unfairness of injustice. So, while I may miss that aspect of Christianity that made sense of injustice, I find myself free from its counterpart judgmentalism and truthfully find the bareness of the human condition something of a liberating challenge.
Also published on Medium.