It’s probably a strange thing to say more than nine years after I stopped going to church, but I think I may be losing my faith. And I’m only just discovering this now because of how my brain sometimes works like a computer running Windows.
Let me explain:
If your computer crashes or is unexpectedly rebooted in error, then Windows, if that’s what you’re running, will offer you the chance to boot something called “Last Known Good”. It’s an option to boot with the same settings as the last time it was successfully booted. It’s there in case you made a change so bad that you now can’t get into Windows at all. “Last Know Good” is your fall back position, what you can default to in order to have some chance of recovering from whatever it was that went wrong.
I think I have something like this. I’ve noticed before that I tend to stay in roughly the same mood from the time I go to bed to the time I get to work the next day. It’s as if, without anything to change it, I carry on in the same emotional direction (switching metaphors I could call it Newton’s First Law of eMotion). If I’m happy when I go to bed, I’ll be happy when I get to work, because nothing will have happened to change that. If I’m angry at the end of the day, I will be when I get up. “Sleeping on it” has no effect.
Except it’s kind of a false echo. I don’t think I really maintain that feeling, not the times I’m thinking of anyway. I think if I did I wouldn’t be so easily changed so soon. I’ll feel the anger but the first joke from a colleague cheers me up. I’ll be happy until the first irate customer brings me down. I’ll be operating in “Last Known Good”.
I think this works with people too. If the last time I saw/spoke to you we fought, chances are I’ll be carrying that with me into the next meeting. It may not even be a real experience. I’ve dreamt of falling out with people and been wary of them in the waking world. (Yes I know that happened in an episode of Friends, but also has genuinely happened to me.) And whilst the passage of time can help, make it easier to make a change in the next encounter, I can still be running on the previous emotion for a long time.
A really long time as it turns out, maybe nine years or more.
When I left church, when I decided to stop being a Christian – there was always a small part of me that thought I’d one day go back. I was angry and disappointed and frustrated and burnt out – and on some level I knew that and knew that once I’d had a chance to calm down, relax, re-group I’d be able, and I’d want to, go back.
But I stayed away too long, and my first few tentative steps of return were through a website called Ship of Fools (you may have heard of it), a place where I learned to doubt some of the truths I’d formerly believed. That was a problem, but precisely because I always saw myself going back to the same kind of faith that I’d had. When I read threads on the Ship, I tended to side sub-consciously with evangelicals, whilst at the same time having those doubts about evangelical belief.
It started to wear me down actually, and I took a sabbatical from the Ship. I believe I’ve mentioned it on here. I was so tired of “my” beliefs being attacked without having the confidence in them to defend them. Then I got in contact with old friends from my church days. I made a couple of weekend trips to visit them. I visited my old church, and a newer one planted out from it. Lots of familiar faces, familar forms of worship. It was comfortable (on the whole – my old place were having communion and I didn’t feel right about taking it which was slightly awkward).
And yet since then – which was about a five/six weeks ago – I’ve had a growing sense that that’s not what I believe any more. I had secretly expected, even hoped, that these trips would re-invigorate my faith. It didn’t happen. Instead I find myself thinking that I’ve lived the last nine years without it and done ok. Well ok, a lot of that time I was somewhat screwed up. But a) who isn’t? b) a lot of that was fallout from my original burnout and the rather strange choices I made after it – quitting my job and moving hundreds of miles away, having to start a new social life at 33 when I was a introvert to begin with, an introvert who wanted to curl up in a ball and lick my wounds.
I’ve probably “not done so well” in the last few years as much because I needed friends and a life as anything else. And anyway, in the last year, it’s gotten really good. I’m still something of a loner, but I’ve been more consistently happy than I’ve been, well ever really.
Some of you might be thinking that whilst it’s fine that I’ve ditched evangelicalism there are other ways to be a Christian, and I shouldn’t give up on faith altogether. Whilst I understand that point of view, there are two reasons I don’t think I’ll be popping along to my local liberal motr church or anglo-catholic tat-palace: 1) I think I’ve gotten a pretty good idea about most of the flavours of Christian belief – and the problem is that there are two many of them and they are contradictory. I’d probably be tempted to go for a One True Church religion if it wasn’t for that fact that there are two of them (ok many more than two, but two with a real claim to being ‘authentic’). I don’t know what my fixed points are any more. I used to have the Bible.
And 2) – well 2) is simply that I don’t feel it any more. I don’t feel the certainty, the need, the desire, the sense of something… I guess I miss prophesying (“my calling”) and being part of something larger than myself, having a bigger purpose.
I may still surprise myself but for now I’m happy losing my religion.