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9/15/04                                                                                       View Comments

Time to Say Yes to Life

sent in by Ficino

It’s been over twenty years since my fervent faith collapsed, and almost fifteen since I stopped going to church altogether. I used to think I could never go on without believing in Christ as my savior. Rarely, I miss it, but I realize it’s the social or emotional trappings-- Christmas carols on an icy night, incense breathed at mass, or tradition and the pull of ideals. I know from reading posts on this website that many people who drop Christianity feel adrift and anxious. From my middle-aged perspective, I haven’t looked back or regretted leaving. I’d make the same decision again and know it was the right one. Christianity was costing me my chance for a human life. The god it represented was unjust. It didn’t live up to what it promised. As a system, it couldn’t be true.

As a young child I was sent to Presbyterian Sunday School by parents who were also into Westernized, Hinduistic practices and ideas like vedantic yoga and reincarnation. I was attracted to God and spiritual things. The summer after ninth grade I had been reading Autobiography of a Yogi and was struck by the meaninglessness of earthly life compared to the aspiration of becoming one with God. All the same I wanted to fit in with other kids, plus I was attracted to other boys, but I didn’t confront that as a “problem” within myself until I was well into high school. I wound up in college lonely and confused, resigned that I was gay but unable to decide what to do about that, wishing for a sense of direction and purpose. I wanted to understand truth that would set me free (I used to say this biblical verse to myself). I had fallen in love with philosophy and wanted to study more, even perhaps someday to be a philosopher.

At the start of sophomore year I met some students who had been “saved” over the summer. They seemed full of life and purpose. I marveled at how they seemed transformed. They and other Christian students all seemed to display instant love for each other, and they tried to show it to non-Christians like me, too. It didn’t take long before I agreed to go with one of my new friends to an emotional revival at an Assemblies of God church. I thought the emphasis on sin, repentance and belief was ridiculous, even too easy. I had come to believe that, if knowledge of God is real at all, it can be obtained only through arduous searching and self-development. I thought sin was more lack of awareness. Still, at the end of the night I asked the pastor to pray that I would understand I was a sinner. My friend told me to read the epistle to the Romans. Within two weeks I sat in the university chapel, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and gave my heart to Christ. All my new friends rejoiced that another sinner was born again. I became immersed in the Assemblies church and in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus. I had a multitude of instant friends. People wanted to hear my testimony.

At first I still had doubts. My upbringing and education had left me assuming that fundamentalist Protestantism was just for the ignorant and emotional. I dove into the Bible and devoured books explaining prophecy, creationism, and so on. It was not long before the Assemblies of God led me to seek the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and to speak in tongues. It seems another person's life now, but I remember kneeling with two other people from the congregation in a darkened living room one autumn night on a shag carpet waiting, and then receiving, the "baptism." My tongue took off and formed what seemed like complete utterances all by itself in an unknown language. I now am convinced I psyched myself into an extreme emotional state with my own prayers plus increased rate of breathing. While my voice was doing the tongues thing, my rational faculties were all intact and I was with another part of my mind sort of standing back and thinking, wow, I've gotten the baptism, hasn't God blessed me! plus also wondering how much my consciousness was controlling what my tongue was doing. My influence was a role in my sister’s becoming a Christian. She and her husband now are still deeply into the charismatic movement.

On campus I became aware that there were many versions of Christianity and much doctrinal dispute. When I wrote a paper the next year on St. Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of predestination (he held that God foreordains all events, including who shall be saved), I came to believe that the Arminian (God foreknows but doesn’t cause) approach of the Assemblies was not scriptural. My adherence to Christianity was stronger than my natural resistance to Calvinisitic doctrines like God predestines those whom He will punish forever in hell (the saints rejoice at their torments), and I drifted into Calvinism under the influence of some other Christian students who were also studying philosophy. I was elected president of the campus InterVarsity chapter, and I had a lot to do as leader of an organization of 160 or so members. I was “discipling” younger students and all sorts of stuff that amazes me - how did I think I knew anything? I visited elderly shut-ins. I was always in love secretly with some male friend and no prayer or religious exercise ever changed that. I believed God would change me eventually. I did seek counseling from adult Inter Varsity leaders. Like everyone else, I jerked off every so often and repented.
At one college retreat, about a hundred guys went to a session on masturbation, while I and one girl and one other guy went to a session on homosexuality! Every so often my friends would confess their lusts or that they’d looked at porn or whatever. I dated girls here and there but didn’t feel any physical desire - which scared me, but I still believed God would change me. Like many who are really into Christianity, I wanted to go into some ministry.

In graduate school I met Eastern Orthodox and Catholic students. For the first time, I was confronted with serious Christians who were not Protestants. My Assemblies and then Calvinist associates had all just assumed that those traditions were unscriptural and works-centered rather than salvation by faith alone. One Sunday I went with other students to English services in a side chapel at a Russian Orthodox cathedral on New York’s Lower East Side. It seemed very foreign, but people were clearly into it as much as in the Assemblies. I met seminarians from St. Vladimir’s. Protestants tend to talk as though the Holy Spirit skipped over about twelve or more centuries. I started to wonder, were the Reformers justified in breaking away totally? My question changed from “how can these priest-ridden groups think they understand the Gospel?” to “how can the Reformers justify their radical break?” One of the most striking things to hit me as a Calvinist was in a footnote in Tradition and Traditions by Yves Congar, quoting another theologian who observed that the principle of "sola scriptura" does not satisfy its own requirements in the case; it's not taught anywhere in the NT, which on the other hand talks about traditions of the apostles as normative. I was shaken by Congar’s remark that the formation of the canon of scripture had long been one of the trump cards of the Catholic controversialist. Protestants claim to limit themselves to a Bible alone, when that Bible doesn’t itself state the list of books that go into making it up - the Church came up with that. John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua also shook my Protestant assumptions.

I went on to a year at a Calvinist seminary to give the Reformation a chance. Someone mentioned Cornelius Van Til a while back on this website; he taught at a nearby seminary, and I heard him lecture on his presuppositionalist apologetics and went to his house for tea. John Henry Newman’s Lectures on Justification and his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine provided arguments that none of my Calvinist teachers could answer. I had been taught by Calvinists that “a dogmatic Christ founded a dogmatic church.” They wanted the Westminster Confession and other Protestant documents to hold authority about doctrine over the individual. They got impatient when I kept asking why that principle doesn’t amount to tradition and teaching magisterium, i.e. it leads to Rome. By the end of that year I was sitting in on mass at a local parish, and the other students and the professors abandoned me as an apostate. I had pledged to judge all questions by scripture when I entered that seminary. I believed I was still doing this. “This is my body.” etc. etc.

By this time I had a girlfriend, but I wasn’t taking things anywhere. I had sought pastoral counseling about what I called homosexual desires. Nothing was changing. I thought maybe if I just get married in faith I’ll learn to love her physically. As I decided to become Catholic, though, my idealistic side turned toward the priesthood. Plus that gave the obvious advantage of promising ways of not dealing with my sexuality. It turned out that I was groped at one point later by a religious brother in the provincial house of his order, and other priests made passes at me. I told my priest about it as well as the brother’s superior, but I figured to let charity be charity and forgive someone’s weakness. In a meeting with a monk-therapist I was told I wasn’t a real homosexual but a case of arrested development. I didn’t know what to make of that, but since I was more seriously planning to enter religious life, I figured God would enable me to transcend the flesh by his grace. It was very painful to my girlfriend when I told her I planned to become a priest. I am ashamed even now of how long I let her hang on, though I know a marriage would have been total disaster.

Among educated Catholics I met many who developed their minds and did not get hung up on fundamentalistic prejudices. All the talk of “the Lord gave me a burden for this” or “the Lord led me to say/do this” etc. ad nauseam is much rarer in Catholic circles. Catholic friends also tended to remain friends with me after I left, when all but one of my former Protestant friends shunned me as an apostate. As years passed, eventually the problems with the God of the desert as depicted in biblical texts, and with the mentality that the religions of those texts create, became too much. I remember one summer visiting the monastery of Mt. Savior near Elmira, and another visitor, a Catholic seminarian, said, in answer to my questions about what he was looking for, replied, "I'm trying to learn how to be a human being."

At that time I was in love with my roommate who then became engaged to marry. Again I’d seen my emotions run into directions my religion fenced off. I'd been praying, and people prayed for me, that God would free me, but nothing was changing. My priest said, enduring homosexuality and remaining faithful to church teachings was God’s way for me of carrying the cross. That year I felt depressed at what looked like a life of loneliness. I might have handled my struggles if they’d been unique to me, but as a believer in God’s omnipotence and sovereignty, I couldn’t see how He could be a just god setting up a world with millions of people like me and letting us have human drives and desires, then barring us from experiencing their fulfilment the way He allows heterosexuals to do -- even those who can’t have children. All of us gays and lesbians were the pot saying to the potter, why hast thou made me thus? and the potter’s answer was, because it is my will, and it glorifies me. I would walk down my street wondering, is this the way Luther used to feel when he said he hated God? Some gay Christians claimed the Bible verses against gays and lesbians really have different interpretations, but my study of the Greek never convinced me they were right-- though I’m still open to that possibility. Any ex-fundy knows how useful hermeneutical dexterity can be. I went into therapy with a priest but nothing changed. Contradictions in the Bible that I used to shrug off started to disturb me. A graduate-school friend died of cancer despite the prayers of our whole campus group, including children from a nearby parish who didn’t even know the young man. My hope was that monastic life would give me structure, goals and direction.

Then, a REAL miracle! I fell in love with my present lover-partner of 23 years. When we realized we loved each other, my religious scruples fell like a house of cards. The thought of hell waiting for gays melted under the warmth of hope. I realized I could choose life over fear and loneliness. The day we declared our feelings to each other, I wept that I could never pray the rosary again. Ken took me in his arms. “Of course you can, Kit. You can if you want to.” But I knew the man I loved was wrong on this. I could never pray again from inside an infallible faith. Whatever the gray areas, the Christianity to which I’d devoted myself - Protestant or Catholic - claimed to be inerrant in its essentials. I had never taken seriously anything less than that. Drop one essential and the edifice crumbles. I let it crumble and smiled through my tears. In the ensuing days, I walked on air and wanted to shout our love from the rooftops. Over time, the Christian residue faded away. The human part remained and grew into its proper spaces. Sadness and grief and obtuseness alternate day by day with gladness and wonder. They are just what they are; it’s a relief not to spiritualize mental states anymore. I chuckle that as years passed, I even became sexually attracted by females as well as males. It took getting out of Christianity to feel that. I’m loyal to my honey just the same; only monogamy works for me.

Before that day, I would have propounded lots of arguments to convince myself that my doubts about Christianity's fundamental truths were smokescreens for my sins, lust, desire for guys, rebellion, pride in my education and intellect, blah blah. “You never really gave your heart to Christ because you were attached to your homosexual desires/scholarly pretensions.” Whatever. I did and believed ALL the stuff. I don’t know how I could have had stronger belief in the forgiveness of my sins. After becoming Catholic I had stopped masturbating. I felt and expressed in confession a strong sense of contrition for my mental slipups. Religious types always say that a person’s decision not to accept their doctrines comes out of the person’s moral fault, not the fault of the doctrines. When I looked away from myself and at the evidence of unanswered prayer, contradictions in the Bible (check this website!), the moral depravity of the deity depicted in that book, absurd combinations of mutually exclusive ideas, etc. etc., I realized my own "argumenta ad hominem" were my insecurities talking. Some genuine Catholic friends urged me to stay in the church; picking and choosing what teachings to accept just seemed dishonest.

Augustine read Plato and fell in love with the Form of the Beautiful. He wanted that abstraction to have a human face. He convinced himself that face was the face of Christ. How many of us do that? But I need a human face to look into mine. How much "grace" a selfish, flawed human being can reflect back when s/he just is open to acting in right sentiment. I think that's the most love we get and give in this world. Acting because God told me so doesn't bring more virtue and often weakens what there otherwise would be. When I first got saved, Christianity met some of my psychological needs: direction, purpose outside myself, confidence with people, yearning to be loved. Nevertheless I believe Christianity blocked me from other developmental tasks that were important at that age, like integrating romantic and sexual issues, establishing my career, being at ease with the world outside Christian circles. I always secretly hated feeling that non-Christians were fundamentally separated from me and that I had to focus on converting them because they were headed for hell. As a Catholic I loved the sacraments, the slow rise of the Divine Office prayed six times a day, the best of the music (like Faure’s Requiem), the attempt to integrate reason into faith, the understanding of human nature of the more Italianate style of Catholicism. I was like other born again types - when pushed to the wall to give an explanation, I justified my conversion by my experience. So why not leave a self-contradictory system when you realize it damages your experience?

(Parts of this testimony are pieced together from earlier postings.
Apologies to those who are reading them for the second time!)

Ficino
New York, NY
became Christian at 19
left at 28 and falling off thereafter
became Christian because of search for direction, psychological needs
left because of contradictions, anti-gay stance of christianity
former labels: Assembly of God, Calvinist, Catholic
labels now: atheist, Epicurean