Losing It is a series detailing real accounts of people who have transitioned away from faith, particularly Christianity. The following story in the Losing It series is written by a TUFC Guest Author, Jarrell Anderson. It has been edited only for syntax and flow.
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“But though I may be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge”
–Apostle Paul, II Corinthians 11:6.
The bitter irony of me prefacing this essay with a scripture is not lost upon me. But, like the Apostle Paul, despite strong language and ideas, my intimate knowledge of self is limitless. If any of the above offends you, now is your opportunity to make your exit.
“I’m often asked, occasionally in an accusatory way, “are you atheist or agnostic?” You see, once people associate you with a philosophy or movement they then assign all the baggage and all the philosophy to you. When you want to have a conversation, they will assert they already know everything there is to know about you because of that association – and that’s not a way to have a conversation. If I have one word for my association, its Agnostic” tweet
– Neil deGrasse Tyson.
In order to make my religion easy for some, I identify more with agnosticism than any other religious category.
Agnosticism’s definition, for my purpose here, is the belief that nothing is proven to be truly known of the existence or nature of God as well as the same being true of the absence of God.
Since the age of 8 I can remember struggling with my religion and the world around me. I’ve always been an extroverted person with a big mouth and a big heart who unapologetically questions everything. Much to my dismay, it is common practice in many African American families to never question your elders. As a child, you are to do what you are told, existing only to be seen and not heard. Well, I was not that child. I loved being heard and seen. I loved questioning elders, especially on things that I believed flat out made absolutely no sense to me. The same has also been true with my questioning of God.
As I grew older in the church, just like we were taught to never question adults we were also taught to never question God or “his” methods and reasoning. I was taught to fear God and even though God was love, God was also to be feared.
Of course this is one of the many things that made absolutely no sense to me. What also didn’t make sense to me was a congregation, who oftentimes overflowed out the door, kneeling down at the foot of the cross of a man who didn’t look like any of us. Yet, every Sunday, we ingested the promises of a heaven that would wash us clean and deliver us from the evils of the world as we knew it. I recall asking at vacation bible school (VBS)
“If when God washed away our sins would I then be white with blond hair?”
After all, I’d spent every Sunday listening to stories of salvation surrounded with images of heavenly hosts with pale white skin and fair blond hair. What else was an impressionable young boy supposed to believe? Puzzled and taken aback, my VBS instructor questioned my curiosity. I responded:
“well Jesus and his angels are washed clean of sin, yet none of them look like us. If we are all sinners does that mean that it’s because we’re black?” tweet
Ms. Daisy, my VBS instructor shook her head as if I’d just asked the most profoundly ignorant question ever. Yet, where was the fallacy in my logic? The images that were produced by our church and all other churches I’d seen up to that point all fed me images of a white heavenly master with his sin free, rosy cheeked, blonde haired, blue eyed angels.
Ms. Daisy’s terrible response to my childhood curiosity would only fan the flames of need to question everything. The idea of forgiving those who trespassed against you was always a common theme, even when those trespasses happened from family members, close friends. I was taught to believe the teaching of the preacher who shamed us into giving our last dollar to God, even though it makes not a single ounce of sense for God to have use for earthly currency. I was taught to believe that conversation with God was necessary, yet I needed to be ok with “him” not answering me. I was taught to never question why the bible said we were made in “his” image, yet my skin and the skin of my darker grandmother did not match that of the images I saw stained in the glass above our sanctuary.
The church taught me that I was taught to honor my drug addicted mother, in spite of her disappearing acts that left my siblings and I to fend for ourselves.
I was taught to be thankful for our 2-bedroom apartment where I not only shared a room with my brother and sister but also with rats and roaches. I was taught to see beauty in a world where just down the street from my dilapidated apartment building a prostitute was killed and had her eyes and vagina gouged out in one of the dozens of abandoned buildings. I was even taught by churchgoers and “people of God” to forgive the pastor who molested me for 2 years and forced me to remain silent about my abuse by threatening to stop providing me with basic necessities that my drug addicted mother couldn’t afford to provide me.
I was taught to love a God that allowed me to call my grandmother on her 61st birthday only to find out she had passed away an hour before my call. You want to know why I lost my religion? It’s simple. I’ll answer this question in a manner in which I hate having questions answered; with another question.
WHAT KINDA FUCKED UP DEITY WOULD ALLOW THESE THINGS TO HAPPEN TO “HIS” CHILDREN?
If I was allegedly “covered under the blood” of Jesus, then why did he allow me to hurt so much? Why was the majority of my teen years spent caring for my brother and sister to the point where I felt trapped? Why did my college acceptance letter feel like more of a burden? Why did I feel that college meant choosing to save myself or my family?
Bible thumpers have told me that the answer to these questions lie in the fact that “It’s God’s will and you can’t question God’s will.” I respectfully say to those people: bullshit. Am I angry? No, I am not angry. In the immortal words of Samuel L Jackson, “I’m mad as hell!” There are still times that I wake up in utter disbelief that God would truly sanction these things to happen in my life and, for some, allow even worse. I questioned how God could be love yet be vengeful and angry. I questioned these oxymora so much that I literally drove myself into a frenzy questioning God/Jesus.
It was at this time I knew something had to go.
What had to go was my family’s religion. A religion I always felt insecure in. A religion I wasn’t sure if I’d accepted because I was indoctrinated into it or because it was just always around me somewhere. When I’d finally had enough and made the conscious decision to take a proverbial leap of faith, away from biblical faith, it was then that I gained clarity and mental peace. I became at peace with who I was. I became at peace with the world and the how’s and why’s of this life. I was no longer bound by the strict binary narrative of Heaven and Hell that told me I had to be who I already was. I surpassed the ideas of judging evil and praising good. I also then began to understand who my God really was.
My God was much bigger than the narrow halls of a religion. My God was not bound by sex or gender. My God does not condemn or punish people for who they were innately created to be. My God became my complex understanding of systems and interconnected experiences that make up the very fabric of life. To put it simply, my God became life itself and I would have never found this perfect peace, had I not challenged my family’s religion.
I am not able to state with 100% accuracy who or what God is. What I know for sure is that the God I knew while growing up felt like the most insufferable bondage. I’m neither here to insult nor persuade anyone of anything. What I am here to do is fully own the fullness of who I am by walking in my truth. I’ve finally arrived at a place in my life where my beliefs do not depend on the validation of or conversion of others – and it’s quite possibly the most liberating things I’ve done in my life.