...Or at least that is what some would conclude is the result of the route my religious experience has taken me. But, of course, from my perspective, the trip through the Christian, organized and corporate church has brought me a freedom that those who speak of "freedom" and "grace" within the crazy world of disorganized religion could never know. Experience is the best teacher and may be only one that leave you with any depth of conviction.
Having been a devotee from my youth through middle age to a literalist view of Christianity as both a lay member and then on into the ministry, and then, slapped awake by reckless religious change, I have become an expert in what I don't believe anymore. I can explain well why inerrancy is a mistaken view of scripture. I can explain Christian origins and the violent history of the so called Christ-like church. I can well explain the misery a literalist view of Christianity can inflict upon a soul, a marriage or a family, and how well any system of rigid, "we are the true people and we have the true perspectives" keeps one from one from every being truly free to think.
But being an expert in what I don't believe is not satisfying personally of course. A journey should lead somewhere and growing up should provide a positive result from past experiences. Throwing Jonah off the ship did indeed stop the storm, but being swallowed by a sea beasty is not the most pleasant experience either. At least after being puked up on shore, we can hope that we can draw a few conclusions from the whole ordeal. It's those conclusions, for me, that I would like to share with the hope that those who experience a similiar awakening thru disillusionment with the organized Church, of any denomination, can identify with.
First of all, while many will say, "well you just had a bad experience with THAT church," this is not really so. This is usally followed by my needing to come to their church and see the difference. While my personal experience was a combination of sincere searching and wonderful friends, the end result has been a spiritual disaster for many, of whom I am only one. I say "disaster" but in the long run, it was a case of what's "bad" turning out for the good. The issue is no longer finding the "right" church or a nicer group of really really spirit led people. The issue has become the cover up in Christian origins and history that many pastors of many denominations tell me, "well, I know that is so, but if I say that, I'll lose my job."
The average person in the pews is a follower and a conformer and not a reformer. They are way too trusting that the minister is telling them everything he knows. They need to know that most only tell you what they think you can handle. That is, of course if he has a valid theological education. The self appointed types are never going to do enough study to put them out of the religious racket that rewards their efforts so well. The less informed the man, the louder he will yell and the more angry for God he will appear to be in an effort to hold on to his turf. He will also be generally sincere, but sincerely wrong. Remember, sanctified ignorance is still ignorance.
So what do I believe? What conclusions have I come to that work for me, albeit not for those who have yet to walk this path?
I no longer need to attend a corporate church or belong to a religious organization to feel safe and informed. My experience was neither one that provided safety nor information anyway. I'll take a quiet seat next to the river anytime. Once you get into the corporate church, you better get ready to kiss your money, personal energy, time and freedom of thought goodbye. In far too many places, you really do check your brain at the door.
I don't need to listen to a man try, every week to convince me the Bible is the inerrant word of a never really here, ever present God. It is not. Most ministers I know only tell the congregation what they can handle, which is precious little and certainly nothing new from what mommy and daddy taught them. Many people attend church out of fear of tribal (family) retribution if they stopped. They don't want to attend. They don't get anything from it. They disagree with it. It is boring. It is repetitive and manipulative. They'd rather stay home and rest, but...it's what I/we are expected to do and darn it, what I want to do never counted for much anyhow.
I no longer need or want any organization to plan my life's time to suit their needs or give them the illusion of work being accomplished. Ministers are notorious for making their own work. Some spend the sermon offending and scaring everyone so they can spend all week visiting for damage control. Many plan so many things to do for the members during the week, that they seem to forget that most real people have a life of work and family. Many judge your spirituality by your attendance at these events while saying that you really don't have to attend, but you do. Ministers often construct the Church in such a way as to create a full week of work for themselves. This work is not necessarily real work, but it keeps him "busy". If you are in such a church, one that seems to invade not only your weekend, but most of your week, just withdraw to a more simple life of just church attendance and I bet you get a visit or some sideways comment from the pulpit not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together as is the custom of some...namely YOU.
A church can make you feel really really guilty for not "serving the brethren", but resist that and serve yourself first. Just say no. Then love the ones you can quiety behind the scenes to their good. What you'll find is others saying "brother, I wish I could do what you are doing, but..." The bottom line is they are afraid of what others will think of them. Get over it.
I no longer give my money to churches. A real God doesn't need my money. I gave them enough and they mispent it, plain and simple. Approximagely $75,000 worth of giving and I was the darn Pastor! Along with that, they wouldn't save social security because you don't have to with a pastor's income, and then broke a promise for retirement pay. Spiritual bastards all...
Most churches teach the Old Testament tithing as if Jesus himself set it up for the New Testament Church to prosper under. Jesus could not care less about tithing even in his own day. Of course he wasn't anticipating all that would follow and be done in his name either. One prominent Church Father went so far as to note "what profit this myth of Jesus has brought us." Yikes, yet true.
Tithing is one of those convenient things that doesn't come under the New Covenant, but is still God's will for our financial well being. Or so one is told. Eat all the mice, snakes, dogs, pigs and rabbits you want, but God loves a cheerful tither. In fact, it is how your prove God exists as the promise is to try it out and see if the windows of heaven won't open for YOU. They won't no matter what Malachi says in the Old Testament. If you complain, the minister will tell you something like, "you have air don't you?" or "you have a job don't you, and wonderful children?" You can't win. Churches that rely on cheerful giving only will never be able to buid a church that can be mistaken for a mall with spires. Nope, it's tithing, of course from your heart, but it darn well better still be ten percent of your GROSS, not NET income!
I no longer abide the teachings of the lone Guru and Grand Poopa types in religion. The ranters, healers, teachers and showman of Jesus Land add precious little to a thinking person's spirituality. Too many are clowns in the area of religion and while entertaining, generally are consumed with securing their next fix of narcissistic supply and bucks. Many are sincere, but not critical thinkers...no money in that.
The scary part is that they can spew utter stupidity of both scripture and common human sense, and we are supppose to care what they think. I don't and you should think it through if you do. We let these men get by with BS far too often. If we keep it up, we will regret the day we let God's men of faith and power mix their religion with our government. We already are coming to regret how some in government confuse their own religious perspectives with governing. Any man that can lead one to believe obsurdities, as they say, can lead you to commit atrocities.
I don't need to find God in a glass, mahogany, teak, gold, silver or platinum Cathedral, Church or Worship Center. I once attended a place where the building was dedicated as the "House for God." It cost millions and most of the people who paid for it, never set foot in it...a TV ministry. But then the place was sold and God was evicted. Good thing the Book says he wasn't living there anyhow. Any real God lives within the human anyhow, a place most humans would never think to look. No literalist church wants you to discover you don't need the church after all to be a content and grounded human being. They certainly don't want you to think you were born right the FIRST time.
When people ask what church I attend, as they are wont to do here in the south because they can't fathom that you wouldn't, I tell them the "Non-Condemnational Church of God." They look at me and just say "oh"....and then "I get it". But they don't.
Life is experiences and experiences are for learning. I haven't really gone from Pastor to Bastard. Well, ok for some I have. But I am free, and while it's true the truth can set you free after pissing you off, there is more deeply spiritual truth to be learned outside of organized religion, mall size churches and from men who are given far too much attention as if they knew. It's within you.....It's within YOU.