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.

1 comment:

Jamie Cassata said...

Hey Tyler.

I've said it before and I say it again: I don't blame you for renouncing evangelicalism. It's unfortunate that you've never experienced true Christianity in the Catholic Church.

On another note, as to the point 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 find it difficult, Christian or not, to deny the principle that all men desire happiness! How can you possibly deny this?

Even when I was an atheist I knew that my "meaning" was to be happy and that I couldn't but want to be happy.