crisis of unfaith

August 19, 2012 | 58 Comments

lost in a crowd

The movie Saved had me in a snotty, sobbing mess last night.

Teenager Mary Cummings, who has “been born again her whole life,” is about to enter her senior year at American Eagle Christian High School. She and her two best friends, Hilary Faye and Veronica, have formed a girl group called the Christian Jewels. Everything seems perfect—until Mary’s “perfect Christian boyfriend” Dean Withers tells her, as they’re swimming underwater, that he thinks he’s gay. 

In her shock, Mary hits her head in the pool and has a vision in which Jesus tells her that she must do everything she can to help Dean. Hoping for a sign, Mary goes to a shooting range with Hilary Faye, who has a “spiritual solution for everything” and tells Mary (not knowing about the situation with Dean) that if all else fails, Jesus could still restore their “spiritual and emotional virginity.” Believing that Jesus will restore her purity, Mary sacrifices her virginity to have sex with Dean in an attempt to restore his heterosexuality.   – Wikipedia

It’s maybe my seventh or eighth time watching it. I love it more each time. Religious satire is profoundly funny to me as an ex-Christian. Paul is another favourite of mine.

If you’ve never been immersed in religion, you’re laughing because of the movie’s absurdity. As a former Christian, I’m laughing because it’s absurdity I wrapped my heart in. Hilarious and really fucking sad.

We had just finished the scene where Mary gets confirmation of her pregnancy after a one-time sexual encounter she believed was ordained by Jesus. It’s my favourite scene. She’s standing at the bottom of a towering cross. Emptied of her purpose, she looks up and says, “Shit. Fuck. Goddamn.”

And that’s when the crying started.

We went on to watch Mary take a hard look at her faith from the other side of the cross. We felt everything she felt as she attuned to the intolerance, shame and hate that comes with marrying oneself to a system of belief. We hurt with her as she stood up for herself with fresh courage and became isolated.

I’m not sure what, exactly, rattled free my crusty old hurt. Steve was sitting behind me, laughing at the parts I was laughing at, and suddenly I was choking back tears that turned into silent sobs that made their way into loud, full-body wails.

“The movie is making me really sad,” I said, somewhere between the silent sobs and the full-body wails.

Steve scootched over to comfort me.

“I believed, Steve. I believed with my whole person that god existed and cared and loved me. We gave our whole lives to something that is a big joke. I feel so duped. And I cried out just like Mary’s crying out. I begged for answers and believed they would come and they didn’t.

And we lost so many friends and that’s a really big deal. It’s such a big deal. They were our family. It hurts. I miss feeling like I belong to something.” I unburied my head and looked up at him. “Do you feel like this? Ever? Do you feel sad, too? Do you wonder if leaving was a mistake? Do you worry we really are lost like they believe?”

“Yes, I feel sad. No, I don’t wonder if leaving was a mistake. And I couldn’t understand anything you said after the first sentence, so I’m sorry.”

And suddenly I was laughing snot bubbles.

“Are you watching the movie thinking it’s crazy, Shan?”

“Oh absolutely. Certifiably nuts.”

“Then we’re good. We’re not crazy for leaving. But that doesn’t make it any less hard.”

“Okay. I probably just need to hear that sometimes. It’s so messy in my head. I don’t think anyone understands or realizes how messy.”

It’s extremely messy.

There’s only one reason Christian girls comes down to the Planned Parenthood.
She’s planting a pipe bomb?
Okay, two reasons.

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  • N

    I would have cried with you, because I would have felt the exact same way. I married and stayed that way because of a religion that was a big fucking joke! Had I just been able to have a normal relationship with that man, I don’t think it would have lasted a year and because of our stupid religion, I made it last almost TWELVE! I sobbed in the bathroom last night because I lost my entire twenties to a big fat ruse. I have kids whose parents are nothing alike and who sometimes hate each other, who live in different provinces because of this stupid religion which most people are too unintelligent to see is fake and nonsensical. And the ones who are intelligent enough are trapped and internalising their oppression.

    I have lost family too. I have lost so much. It’s really hard for me right now, too. It’s absurd and immoral.

    • Shannon

      Calculating the loss is too much. I think that’s what was happening, the reason behind the impact. I was angry last night, too. And I was part of 1/20th of the crazy you were. I can’t even imagine being part of the mormon church.

      I don’t think you were stupid. I don’t think I was stupid.

  • Tara

    I was raised Irish Catholic. I understand the missing the sense of belonging to something. The comfort of rituals. The beauty of candles and songs of midnight mass. What I don’t miss is the patriarchy, the abuse, the archaic (sp?) rules of non-marriage and the homophobia.

    Truthfully, something is missing for me, I just haven’t found it.

    • Shannon

      I never loved the rituals. I don’t think we had them to the extent Catholics do, unless it was communion Sunday or Christmas. I miss the singing. I miss the people and the instant belonging, even though I never felt I belonged.

  • Lynne

    I completely understand the sadness, and also the confusion. I have drifted away from my very Catholic upbringing and still wrestle with what I think about religion and how I feel about faith. I still show up at mass on Sunday mornings just to sit and reflect. I no longer take communion and often I tune out of the sermon completely, but there is comfort in the ritual and peace I don’t find otherwise–and I can’t imagine that if Jesus was the righteous dude everyone claims he was that he’d care much either way.

    • Shannon

      I miss the singing. Isn’t that weird. But where else do you sing like that? Is it possible to be sure, but to remain confused? Maybe it’s a longing. As crazy as it was, it was a familiar crazy. Comfort in the ritual and peace — that penetrates.

      Thanks for your words and for being here, Lynne.

      • Sharolyn

        I miss the singing too. :)

        • Sharolyn

          And the ritual too, actually.

          • Shannon

            What rituals do you miss?

        • Shannon

          We should just sing!

        • http://rljd.tumblr.com rap legend Jesse Dangerously

          I miss the singing, too!

          The damn songs can still stir me after all these years.

          • Shannon

            Same with the stirring.

      • Lynne

        “As crazy as it was, it was a familiar crazy.” <– This is so totally true, Shannon.

        And yes: I, too, love the singing–especially at Christmas. I like this idea that we all just get together and sing ;)

    • Tara

      I totally get the comfort in ritual and peace….

  • http://trulywrittenramblings.wordpress.com/ Carrie

    I went through a crisis of faith at 12 when I just couldn’t reconcile the old testament with the new. I couldn’t understand a God that changed him mind, that was cruel one second and loving the next. It was like he was shizophrenic. Over many years of searching (From paranormal experiences, heresay, and studying of different beliefs and even a mix of science) I believe in God again. Not the Catholic God I was raised with, but a God that makes sense to me. Reading near death experiences is truly fascinating. Also I have had my own experiences with paranormal activity and its hard not to believe in something when you’ve seen it with your own eyes. But was I scared for a while, did I feel betrayed. Yes. But I think I have a greater faith now.

    I hope you find a renewed faith, one that makes sense to you! :)

    • Shannon

      Hey Carrie, thanks for taking the time to comment. I honestly don’t think I’m interested in finding faith again. It holds zero interest for me. It’s the community I ultimately miss. But there’s too much baggage that comes with religious community to overlook. I’m so much happier just living. I’m glad you’ve found something that makes sense to you. :)

      • Carrie

        Fair enough! :) Living is just as good. I did that for many years too. It was awesome and who knows how my mind will change in 10 years, I’m fairly open to just feeling my way through!!

        Very great, thought provoking post! :)

  • http://www.iasoupmama.com IASoupMama

    I have been wavering between agnostic and atheist since I was seven. No joke. I was the only non-Catholic girl in my Catholic grade school and when my second-grade class was preparing for First Communion and going through their first confessions, I got to sit in a pew reading Nancy Drew. And looking all around me, studying the church.

    And the thing that struck me was that the angels looked miserable. And I thought, if the angels aren’t happy in heaven, what’s the point?

    Thus began my life of being on the outside. But the thing is — there are plenty of people on the outside and plenty that don’t care what side you’re on. And I, too, loved choral singing, so I joined a choir. And sometimes they sang religious pieces which was fine to me because singing in the group was as moving to me as the text was to others.

    • Shannon

      I bet you have some neat stories! Were you reading Nancy Drew under the radar?

      I think I’m one of those people who don’t care what side you’re on. But because I’m a former member of the other side, I’m overly sensitive to it still. I’m hoping that will fade with time.

      Thanks for stopping in!

      • http://www.iasoupmama.com/ IASoupMama

        No, the nuns allowed me to read Nancy Drew because it meant I wasn’t sitting there kicking the pew in front of me from boredom. And because I was a good kid, just not a Catholic kid. They had no idea about the religious debate going on in my little head — no one did because I didn’t really have the ability to express it. Thank goodness that almost all of the nuns weren’t like the meanies you see on TV — they were all kind and giving, so I didn’t mind pretending during religion class.

        I stopped by from Yeah Write and I’m so glad!

        • Shannon

          I’M GLAD TOO.

    • http://rljd.tumblr.com rap legend Jesse Dangerously
      • http://www.iasoupmama.com/ IASoupMama

        Yes! Exactly that!

      • Shannon

        Weee!

    • http://themediaforge.ca Terry Wills

      The comment “plenty that don’t care what side you’re on” makes me sad because people need to care where you stand. If they think God is a scam or not, they need to care enough that they live by their convictions. I don’t think people should be assholes about it and I’m not disillusioned to how Christians with all the right or wrong intentions can act, but people need to care about things like this.

      I once heard a talk about how if Christians truly believed what they preach about either eternal damnation or eternal paradise, they would and should treat someone who doesn’t believe like they are in a burning building. If someone was trapped in a burning building you wouldn’t knock softly on the door and ask them if they’d like to come out and get some fresh air. They’d kick down the door and drag them outside. I get the point the guy was trying to make but too often some Christian’s kick down doors and drag people out by their hair screaming. Not really what the Jesus I’ve read about was saying I think.

      I grew up in an Anglican household and went to church every Sunday. I hated the fact that I had to get up early to be bored and be around people who didn’t live by their so-called convictions. I turned my back on God, or maybe I never believed to start with, when I was in my early teens.

      When I was in my mid-twenties I started doing graphic design at a tool store by my apartment. I soon found out that I was surrounded by the very people who I tried so desperately to convert from Christianity since I was a teenager. About 80% of the company was Christian at that time. After telling one of them that I was tired of hearing about his f-ing god, he stopped pestering me. Another guy said he’d stop as well if I would go to church with him 5 times. I was friends with this guy, knew him to be one of the kindest guys I’ve ever met and trusted him enough to know that he wouldn’t guilt me if I stopped going. I also kind of missed the singing and wanted to keep an open mind (really for his sake) so I went. Plus, he said there were a lot of babes at his church.

      He was right, there were a lot of babes but there were also a lot of really loving people. I had said for a while leading up that if there truly was a God, I’d have to be convinced by having an experience with him. The 2nd or 3rd time I went I had a profound experience with the holy spirit. I know that sounds crazy to some people and I honestly thought I was going crazy at first. My heart towards God was changed in an instant. I went from the guy who tried everything to make Christians feel uncomfortable and unwanted around me to being in hook, line and sinker. I was also very fortunate enough to have a couple guys around me at the time to cared enough to be open and honest and messy with me. They walked the walk and talked the talk.

      I don’t think dragging people out of their burning house by their hair is the answer. That wasn’t Jesus’s style. He was all about relationships. He cared enough to know where I was at and meet me there with love, not condemnation. I want to be like that one day.

      I’m kind of babbling now.

      All I’m trying to say is that I care enough to tell you about Jesus, hopefully it was in a loving way. The rest is between you and him.

      • Shannon

        THanks for sharing here, Terry. I’m happy for your and your story. It’s not my story though.

  • http://aplaceofgreatersafety.wordpress.com/ Jane

    I was never raised to believe in God – I was taught to question all of it. I was raised in a church where agnosticism, atheism and humanism are thoroughly embraced as totally respected options. It’s easy to fall away from a church like that (no fear of hell or the wrath of God) but I have found I craved the community, and I’ve been crazy involved as an adult. My whole journey has been to get the community without the dogma. It has been possible for me.

    I am so impressed by your statement at the end “no one understands how messy.” Nope. On some level I’ll never be able to understand how hard it is for people in your position. I’m lucky to be pretty much on the same page with my parents – it happens to be an agnostic page. Thanks for sharing, and helping me to understand better.

    • Shannon

      I do really miss the community. It’s great that you have that! I’d love to know more about it?

      Thanks for stopping by and joining in the talk. I’m happy to have you here.

  • http://erinmthrelfall.posterous.com/ Erin

    Powerful piece. This is a very easy piece to relate to! I am also not a religion follower, as I don’t think most religions really follow God’s/the Universe’s way. I do miss the community from a church, the opportunities for community service, and the teachings that can come about being a better person. We all need lessons on that, I think. This would be a good conversation over tea! Thanks for sharing, and sorry for the hurt you feel.

    • Shannon

      It’s funny how we all want that community and that often times church is THE place to find it. I wish I was good at creating community, because there has to be a way to have it outside of the church. I mean, I know there is.

      I’ll talk over tea anytime! :)

      Thanks for being here, Erin.

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  • Anna

    Oh man. I understand how messy it is. I still struggle maybe 5 or 6 years after really leaving the church. I miss what I thought was my family, even though most of them shunned me, cast me aside or forgot me when I left. I miss what I thought I had.
    My best friends that still go to church are so hard to deal with. I love them and they love me, but when we talk, I feel we just miss each others points.
    I miss the singing too.
    I love doing things that are good and not blaming them on Jesus.

    • Shannon

      The singing! I miss it so much.

      Thanks for sharing some of your story, Anna. It helps the lonely feeling.

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