I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Christianity over the past week. I’m not even really sure why. It just suddenly seemed like an important thing to mull over.
I think that mostly there’s been a part of me that misses faith. Christianity was not particularly kind to me for long stretches. I referred to god as “The Cosmic Jackass,” after all. There was something comforting in the notion of faith, though. There was something to be said for having the belief that things would work out in the end.
This is where the thought unravels. That notion of everything working out in the end collides with the Cosmic Jackass God and nothing survives the resulting explosion. Everything that was to work out was to work out as god’s will, after all.
As much as I’d like to say this explains every single one of my problems and walk away I cannot. This is a point of departure. It’s a place where Christianity combines with the thing I like least about myself and creates a monster that I still cannot quite seem to shake.
I’ve always been afraid of the unknown. This, I suppose, is not a unique fear. I’ve always seemed to take my fear to extremes, however. I’ve never made an important life decision without attempting to analyze it from every possible angle a hundred times over and then trying to account for every possible factor that might come up down the road. I’ve never looked at the easy decision and then looked at the hard decision and said, “Yeah, I’ll do the hard one.”
The hard decision is scary. The hard decision is fraught with failure.
The hard decision is every decision I’ve ever wanted to make.
Many years ago my job went down to Texas. I had no urge to move to Texas. It was a guaranteed position and they’d pay my relocation expenses, so to Texas I went. I spent a miserable year and a half living in Dallas before moving back to Chicago to take a job working for the same boss on the same team at the same company as before. I didn’t want to do that, either. I had to leave Texas for my sanity but what I really wanted to do was move to Seattle. The Chicago move was the safe move, however, so I took it.
I was back at that company for three years. I started hating it about 3 months in. I didn’t feel secure at all, as the higher ups kept playing with our budget and we were constantly on the losing end of those awesome, unavoidable corporate turf wars. Eventually I lost out to a good, old-fashioned re-org. Things have not quite gotten back on track since then.
This is where faith would be nice. There’s nothing better than being able to pray and knowing that god will sort it all out in the end. This is where faith is the most dangerous. There’s nothing worse than praying for god to sort it all out in the end and then expecting that to be the case.
I decided in the first grade that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I am a grown up and I am not a writer in the sense that I meant. Blogs were not exactly a thing back in the mid ’80s. We hadn’t even hit Web 1.0 yet, so Web 2.0 and the blogosphere were impossible to comprehend. Still, if someone had told me, “Hey, you’re totally going to be a writer. In about three decades you’ll be occasionally spitting out three pages of randomness for maybe a dozen people to read,” I would not have been impressed.
The thing that I’ve realized is that being a writer is scary. The writing itself really isn’t. I write a lot and I write all good-like, too. It’s that step from being a guy who writes to being a writer that’s scary. It’s the part that requires putting work into something and then finding out that no one wants to read it that hurts.
So back when the blog thing was first happening I started doing that and in the back of my mind was this idea that someday I’d be discovered and everything would be amazing. There were, of course, about a million other idiots with Blogspot accounts doing the same thing. They probably didn’t get discovered, either.
This is where Christianity comes back in. See, I was taught in church to believe that if you wanted to do anything you needed to pray about it. God, to reduce many a sermon to the simplest possible explanation, had one of three answers to prayer: “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait.” You’ll notice that nowhere in those answers is an option for, “Get off your ass and make it happen, you lazy bum.”
Whenever a Christian is afraid of something or worried about something or not sure of what path to take they’re encouraged to take it to god in prayer. This means many different things in the various Christian traditions so I will only speak to the one I grew up with. I was encouraged to basically go to god and say, “Hey, I want to do this thing. Is that in your will?” It was then proper to engage in a convoluted casting of runes and reading of signs and such for a while afterwards.
This part is always a little weird to explain to people who didn’t grow up in that world. Evangelical Christianity doesn’t really want to be associated with the excesses of the Pentecostal movement and the various other congregations that speak in tongues and dance in the aisles and get slayed in the spirit on TBN. They’re still extremely interested in engaging in the prophetic tradition, however, so there has to be some way that god speaks. Usually what that means is that you pray for guidance in whether or not to become a writer and then the next day someone knocks on your door and says, “Hey, I’m looking for someone who’s interested in writing novels for a living. Do you know anyone like that?” It’s not usually quite so explicit as that, of course, but I’ve heard stories that do basically go that way. More likely it’s about praying for something and then an hour later you hear a song and that song seems to have something to do with that thing you were praying about so god must have given you an answer.
It’s…it’s pretty stupid when you’re standing outside of that world and looking in. It makes all the sense in the world when you’re doing it, though. You’re surrounded by people who believe the same thing, after all. What else are you supposed to do when you genuinely don’t know what to do, so you go ask someone you trust and are told, “Bathe this in prayer. God will show the way.” That, by the way, is the answer to every single question more difficult than, “Should I have Trix or Cocoa Puffs for breakfast?”
The process of growing up is all about taking steps out of shelter and fear and into the big, bright world. If there’s a scale of timidity from “Scared of your own shadow,” to “Fuck, yeah, where’s the GoPro?” I’d say that I was way more on the scared side. I never wanted to make waves. I never wanted to break rules. I never wanted to get in trouble.
Christianity did not cause this particular personality tic. Christianity did, however, basically destroy my ability to deal with it in any sort of constructive way. Prayer, after all, is the gift that keeps on giving to someone who doesn’t want to make a decision. Expecting god to show up and tell me how to handle that thing that was bugging me meant that I could put everything off. I didn’t have to try. God would tell me what to do. I never learned how to say, “I want this,” and then go after it with everything I had.
That’s another interesting problem that comes with the particular strain of Christianity with which I was raised. You’re not supposed to want anything other than god’s will. For me that meant that I wasn’t allowed to want anything.
It’s taken me years to figure that whole thing out. There I was, desperately praying to my ceiling in the middle of the night because I wanted to hear god’s will for whatever was vexing me. Then there were people who would just kind of show up and announce, “I’m gonna go do this because god said so,” and whatever that thing was just so happened to be exactly what they wanted to do. It always seemed to convenient, so arrogant, so deluded. They were dictating to god, after all. I now realize that it was much healthier, developmentally speaking, than my strategy. It’s also the sort of thing that becomes spectacularly dangerous in the wrong hands.
The people who just somehow meshed god’s will with that thing they wanted to do anyway were bypassing the uncertainty and indecision phase of life and figuring out how to move forward. I wish like hell I’d learned how to do that. It’s super easy. “I hate my job, should I go find a new one?” Shake that Magic 8 Ball and, whaddya know, it always comes up with, “Signs point to yes.”
This whole thing becomes spectacularly dangerous when the questions and attitudes become dangerous. Like, say, you think that black people or women are getting just a little too uppity and want to know if god thinks that it’s time to go shoot up a predominantly black church or set a Curves gym on fire. Most Christians would not go to this extreme, but some obviously have and some will in the future. The strain of Christianity with which I grew up offers cover to that way of thinking.
In the end I can’t blame Christianity for the fact that I tend to shy away from pursuing the things I want out of life. I can, however, blame Christianity for reinforcing my timidity and offering a way for my fears to dictate my actions while deflecting the focus of those fears onto an external force. These are long-held habits, after all, and they don’t just go away overnight.
The good thing, I suppose, is now that I see this pattern I’ve come to realize I don’t really miss faith all that much. I cannot be saved from my current predicament through faith. It’s going to require work.
Everyone who pays attention to politics in America is familiar with this phenomenon. The last few Presidential election cycles we’ve had a glut of Republicans who have zero chance of winning and who no one even likes very much who announce that god wants them to run for President and then completely disappear by the time the race really heats up. Or earlier. Everyone outside of, say, Mike Huckabee’s tiny circle of supporters rolls their eyes at the stupidity of the whole thing and asks why god wants Mike Huckabee to run since he’ll poll at -2% for a while until he goes back to doing whatever he was doing before. Then they’ll ask why god wants Huckabee to run if last week god told Rick Perry to run and the week before that it was Bobby Jindal getting the call.
It’s a specific way of communicating to a small percentage of the population. Hopefully it makes more sense now.