09 July 2012

How I Became a Better Christian by No Longer Being a Christian

For some additional background on my experience with evangelical Christianity, as it relates specifically to this post, check out part 2 and part 4 from my "Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical" series.

Here are things I've discovered about myself in my life after evangelical Christianity:

  • I'm more willing to extend goodwill to others and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • I'm more joyful and happier as a general state of being
  • I'm less angry that the world isn't the way I think it ought to be
  • I'm more patient with others. I wait to see what they do, how they resolve an issue, or for them to figure something out I already know, without needing to be in control.
  • I'm more apt to adapt to others and their needs and to be willing to help them along whatever path they're on.
  • I'm more able to be honest and straightforward with others with the result that issues are resolved and relationships strengthened.
  • I've become better at sticking to my commitments instead of turning tail when problems arise.
  • I've become more even-tempered, less prone to becoming upset or bothered, or flipping out.
  • I'm in better control of myself and my emotions.
I'd like to make a few clarifications about this list. First, these are trends, not achieved states of being or anything crazy like that. No person achieves perfection (which I'm not sure is a thing anyway) in any category of behavior, or acts with absolute consistency. Second, about the time I was leaving evangelical Christianity, I experienced a major event wherein I did something majorly wrong and hurtful, and that event was a catalyst for me to make many of these changes in myself rather than just think about them. Finally, I don't believe in some objective state of being or way of living that all people ought to try to attain or live up to; the list above contains things I wanted (and want) to work on in my life, my desire to improve in those areas being the primary motivation for even attempting to do so.

The reason I find the experience of growth as a non-Christian interesting is because I wanted to grow as a Christian and had trouble in the areas mentioned above. I honestly think that being a Christian was a hindrance to my growth, and that's disconcerting. However, my experience shouldn't be seen as some kind of condemnation of Christianity— it's not— but it should at least serve as a basis for questioning what we mean when we talk about Christianity and personal improvement.

When I asked myself if there was something about evangelical Christianity that would cause me to find growth— particularly in the area of interpersonal relationships and communication— difficult, I thought about the evangelical view of the world which separates the in and out crowds. No matter how loving or inclusive Christians claim to be (this includes liberal/progressive Christians who say the word "inclusive" like it's going out of style, which it is), any particular form of Christianity always exists as a sort of sub-culture within the world, but never a fully-integrated part of it (St. Paul and I are on opposite sides of this). This means some people are always on the outside, be it non-Christians or Christians with the wrong ideas.

I think that the world is meaningless, or that any inherent meaning is impossible to know or find or communicate, but that people look for and create meaning. I want to find out how they do that and what it looks like, and that's something that's driven— at least in part— my growth as a person. It's not to say that growth is incompatible with Christianity in a general sense. But Christianity and personal improvement are incompatible in my particular case.

The thing that gets me, that is probably upsetting to atheists and Christians alike, and which I honestly find off-putting and wonderful and strange, is that if there were a God who primarily wanted people to love each other as a way to improve the world, then I have to think that such a God would have wanted me to leave evangelical Christianity so that I would love people better.