I went to Easter vigil last night at a Catholic church with my Mom and her husband. This morning, I went to Easter services at the Presbyterian church that I normally attend.
I gained a fresh appreciation for a post that Rachel Held Evans recently wrote, Holy Week for Doubters, as well as the comments that followed it. To be honest with you, when I read posts or comments by people who say that they agonize over Easter on account of their doubts about religion, the response that usually goes through my mind is: “Get a grip! You’re going to a service! You go, you sit down, and you leave! It’s not a big deal! Some people have real problems!” But, after the Maundy Thursday service that I attended last week, I could somewhat identify with doubters who struggle with Easter. Back when I was more of an evangelical, I would go to a service to be inspired. But what if I’m not sure what I believe? What exactly should I be feeling at a service, in that situation? It’s difficult for me to feel emotional and inspired when I hear Christian affirmations that I doubt are even true.
There are a variety of reasons that I doubt, both academic and personal. But I’d like to mention a personal reason that I doubt: I would like to make choices, rather than forcing myself to be something that I’m not in the name of “obeying God.” I’m sure that conservative Christians could stand in line, get on their holier-than-thou high horse, and say to me: “You see! Your problem is spiritual! You don’t want to submit to God! You want to sin and do your own thing!” Well, I don’t want to do anything that harms people, I’ll tell you that! But, yeah, I definitely don’t want to get back on a spiritual treadmill in which I beat up on myself for not being extroverted enough, or I feel that God does not forgive me because I have a hard time getting rid of a grudge, or I look at a woman with lust in my heart and ask God for forgiveness, knowing that my repentance is a sham because I am a human male and will probably look at a woman with lust again. I’m tired of feeling that I have to be perfect, or that certain things have to be true in my life for me to know that I am truly saved. I mean, life is tough enough, without adding spiritual insecurity to the mix! I’m tired of feeling that I have to silence the moral sense within me—-such as compassion for gay people who have an orientation that they did not ask for and who don’t want to be celibate for the rest of their natural lives—-in order to conform to a book (the Bible) that sometimes portrays God in morally-questionable terms.
It’s not just that I have a hard time believing that conservative Christianity is true. That would be doubt! It’s that I don’t want for conservative Christianity to be true. What’s more, I get sick when I think about the possibility that such a belief system might be true. A number of conservative Christians would probably label that as unbelief.
Okay, that said (and, on some level, I’ve said this stuff before, in past posts), what do I have to say about the services that I attended? Well, last night, I appreciated the sense of connection that I felt during the passing of the peace. I also felt rather at peace at the end of the service, perhaps because of the music, or the friendliness of the people at the church. This morning, the hymn that especially stood out to me was “He lives!” The song is about knowing that Jesus lives on account of his kindness to us personally, and the things that he does around us. It’s a rather subjective or experiential belief in Jesus’ resurrection—-which differs from believing Jesus rose for classical apologetic reasons (i.e., the empty tomb, the disciples not dying for a lie, etc.) and from highlighting that Jesus’ resurrection was his triumph over death. But I somewhat value its humility: it speaks from experience (or an interpretation of one’s experience).