Rethinking My Beliefs about God Apart From Traditional Christianity

How Deep Is The Love Within An Institutional Church?

In Church, Fundamentalism, Life, Love, Relationships on February 15, 2011 at 1:40 am

How deep can friendships go within the confines of a church institution, or any systematized hierarchical institution for that matter, such as a public school or prison facility?

Personally speaking, although not so black and white, I think we might as well ask how two people can make love in an airplane lavatory. It’s entirely possible as the mile high club might testify. It’s just not very convenient or conducive, as that is not the primary purpose of a toilet.

Now that I’ve got your mind on sex, I’m going to be really cruel and change the subject….

Even though I couldn’t presume to define love and its infinite expressions, I think I’ve had some glimpses of friendship love here and there within the church institution, but especially outside of it. Imagine my shock when, thanks to the invention of social networks, I became closer to people I met online within a few short months than to those I had known for decades at my church. How is that even possible?

Maybe the safety of a computer monitor and a private friend list can give us courage to open up and share our deepest, darkest secrets. Maybe it can also provide some freedom to share our mundane life, such as our favorite color, the Italian word for pasta (also “pasta”) and how we really feel about the weather… with people from all over the world. And maybe it’s a lot easier to tell someone we love them in an email message when, if rejected, we don’t have as much to lose.

But I think the overnight success of social networks and live gaming reveals a deeper truth of our current day society. There seems to be a lot of people starving from a severe lack of real human connection (and this would include victims of sexual abuse.) The surprising factor is that virtual reality seems to have done more to relieve that skeletal holocaust than our society’s face to face communities, many of which are institutions. In fact, institutions may be a contributing cause of this epidemic of relationship starvation.

I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that a small but significant exodus from churches is taking place within the same time frame as the internet is being used to safely reveal unconventional and unorthodox beliefs. Apparently, some people are figuring out that they do not have to involve themselves in church programs in order to know God or even to make friends who believe in God. Attending church is neither necessary for God’s love nor human love, but can be experienced in all of its glory outside of the church institution.

To some degree, this is what happened with myself. After I had decided that I couldn’t bear another Sunday morning church service, I started seeing all kinds of contradictions in my faith. For example, when the Christ told his followers to love one another, how did this get translated over the centuries to mean that we should create and maintain a religious empire?

After a while I started meeting other people through Facebook who were thinking along similar lines and daring to ask the same kind of questions that would have caused us to lose the security of our Christian community in this day and location, or thrown to hungry lions in another.

And this is the moment where I was finally able to trust others enough to allow love to be born in my own feeble, vulnerable heart. Real friends talking about our real thoughts without fear. No theology could adequately describe how I continue to feel about my friends of all different shapes, sizes and backgrounds, yet with a common desire for friendship, only for the sake of friendship, that draws us all together. Our belief in, or desire for something is our common ground.

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” ~ William Shakespear (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

In other words, our beliefs affect our relationships. If we view ourselves or others as sinners unworthy of being loved, then our friendships will be nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we are being taught week after week that a holy God is repulsed by unholy thoughts and deeds, then we naturally project our unholy thoughts and deeds upon others, in a subconscious attempt to be free of them so that God can love us.

Christians treat others exactly how they believe God deals with themselves. If God favors a certain few who exemplify a certain denominational belief system, that is just who those believers will also befriend. What would be the point of becoming emotionally attached to people that God is going to eternally destroy such as heretics, unrepentant sinners and those who missed too many church services?

Religious rituals are intended to be symbolic of reality, not the reality itself. Taking communion during church symbolizes the communion people have with the body and blood of Christ and each other. But it’s not the actual communion.

And I think this is where the issue lies. The primary purpose of a program is not to create and develop personal relationships but to create and develop a confined system which represents something else, in this case a relationship with God and others. The same thing occurs when computer software is used to run a business or keep track of the stock market. But the tool can be mistaken for what it is being used for, or what it represents.

A system has its purpose but as anyone who has ever been in a relationship can tell us, love cannot be confined to a system. The more we try to view it as such, or to control or manipulate it to be such, the more we destroy it. Love is of a different nature – an invisible, free-flowing nature that compels us. Love is not a duty but a spirit. This is why trying to turn our love for God into obedience to Bible commands or church obligations ruins the relationship between us and God. Even the seemingly harmless command for people to love God or others only creates a wall between all of us. Love must be of our own honest inclination without force.

I’ve met some wonderful friends at churches and I’ve witnessed some beautiful friendships within them too. But generally speaking, those friendships can only go so deep before we hit what is often a theological wall. The artificiality of relationships founded upon a program or belief system can keep a genuine depth of honesty from occurring, unless two souls can connect outside of that controlled belief system.

So in order to experience depth in our relationships, we must first remove the wall within our own minds that inhibits them. This wall is going to made up of different hindering assumptions but here are some of the beliefs I am in the process of removing from my own religious mindset:

Love is conditional and God can only love the righteous.

Sinners are rebelling against God by their own choice and God must punish them.

Engaging in religious rituals like reading the Bible, praying, attending church or evangelizing ensures God’s love for us and protects us from God’s wrath.

Associating with people who are “living in sin” might cause us to live in sin too, so we should avoid them.

Evil is more powerful than good. Sin is stronger than love.

Human souls are entirely and completely sinful; we must pray and repent in order to be forgiven.

If we do not “defend the truth” and evangelize we are responsible for the blood of “lost souls.”

A marriage is under the authority of God’s word which is the Bible.

Sins are those actions defined by our church culture, often of a sexual nature.

My salvation and the salvation of others is dependent upon our professed beliefs and actions which should conform to the current Christian subculture.

The use of threat or punishment can force people to do what is right.

One must be a Christian in order to have the Spirit of truth within them, in order to correctly interpret the Bible and not be a heretic.

I just realized that this list could go on for a very long time but hopefully this gives my reader an idea of the magnitude of and necessity for a mind transformation. These beliefs have been very damaging to the free-flowing love in my relationships. Replacing these beliefs is necessary for the sake of my perspective upon myself and others, and how we relate to each other.

If I can understand that I am worthy of love and that God loves me simply because I exist, I will naturally love myself as well as others. This love, in fact, is really all the same love without distinction between God, myself and others. As much as I love one, I love the others. And as much as I have accepted love is as much love as I possess to give.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” ~ Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

I’d like to wish you all, whether married or single a truly happy Valentine’s day. May you know in your real life relationships whether face to face, online or only in your dreams, the infinite and eternal depth that makes up the nature of real love.

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  1. It’s helpful to see your list of assumptions–when I see them on the page written out–I recognize them right away. Some of them live so deep inside me, I don’t realize they are even there.

  2. I am right there with you. Thanks for sharing this!!

  3. Well done, Elizabeth.

  4. I think that what bothers me most here is that you are speaking as an expert about something that you have never experienced. OK, so you have experienced religiosity, or “institutional church” as you call it. The only thing I know to do is to share my experience with you.

    Although I have, like you, have a bad taste in my mouth from Churchianity, in the last few years I have had the opportunity to belong to dynamic faith communities where we did not focus on some church service to unite us. In fact, many of us did not attend a Sunday service at all. Instead, we met throughout the week in each other’s homes, and at coffee shops, and we talked about “what it means to follow Jesus”, to love our neighbors, to live out the life that Jesus has prescribed. As we began to live in community together, we found many other communities online that were pursuing humility, service, and trying to make their world a better place. These “Gospel communities” weren’t churchy or religious. They don’t speak Christianease (they poke fun at it just like you and me). What’s more, instead of thinking that they need to throw out their orthodoxy, they/we have realized that we didn’t believe it deeply enough! A rigorous community of faith in Jesus where folks are allowed (and encouraged) to process their questions and doubts about the bible out loud is what you’re looking for. So, as you blog about how lame Christianity is, you might consider that you haven’t actually ever experienced authentic, neighbor-loving, worldview-shattering Christianity. Much love! ~JS

    • When I speak about Christianity, I am talking about a general religion, not individual hearts and churches.

      I have found a community where we can process our questions today. They’re called “friends.”

      And I have experienced some authentic Christianity while discovering that no matter how new the church movement is, it is still a religion. I think that “knowing God” and religion can be at enmity with each otherr. True religion is love, which is not a religion at all. One can experience love within religion, but it is still the love, not the religion that is the essence of experiencing God.

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