Writing About Faith Without Actually Saying What I Believe

The other day, someone I’ve met all of twice asked me a very specific question about my faith on a mutual friend’s Facebook page, and I was amazed that I was actually able to write a somewhat coherent answer. But I know the answer I gave would not have satisfied a lot of Christians, because what I wrote was basically just, “Actually, I don’t know what I think about that. I used to think X, but now I have my doubts. My views might change, but for now I’m honestly not sure.” It was surprisingly freeing to actually be able to just say “I don’t know”, but for the longest part of my life, I thought that not having a concrete answer to trot out when someone asked my opinion on something faith-related was, well, a failure of my faith.

It’s called Apologetics, and it’s an branch of Christian theology that many people—especially those in their 20s and 30s—will be familiar with. As a child and a teenager, I wasn’t very good at memorising Bible verses, but I could repeat the arguments for what Christians believed on X, Y and Z. I guess they were my opinions, but now that I’m questioning, well, everything, I can’t tell if I really ever formed an opinion or if I just parroted stuff. I do remember feeling incredibly conflicted because I just didn’t care about the issue of evolution. I was never one of those kids who was particularly into science, so I hadn’t learned a lot about evolution. I know it was a contentious issue, but I didn’t care enough to research it and form an opinion. Maybe it was real, maybe it wasn’t, but did I really have to have an opinion on it? Multiple people told me I did. I needed to have a defence in case a non-Christian questioned me about it. It would be a sign of weak faith to not have an answer prepared.

I call bullshit.

* * *

These days, I don’t do apologetics. Well, I do apologise for a lot of aspects of Christianity. I apologise for purity culture and climate change deniers and Donald Trump and a whole bunch of other stuff. Name a crappy thing, and people claiming to share my faith were probably involved. But I no longer have a defence prepared for every question I receive about my faith. Sometimes I’m not even sure what I believe, aside from “Jesus is pretty rad”. (I wrote this without even thinking about “rad” being short for radical and thus implying that Jesus is an anarchist, but hey, it works). And since becoming less certain about my faith, I’ve actually had some of the best, most open conversations about religion. People are way more interested in talking to you when you admit that you don’t have definitive answers about things, that you’re still figuring things out, and that you’re aware that some pretty awful stuff has been done under the banner of your religion.

For the longest time, I actively avoided discussing my criticisms of Christianity with one of my best friends, because you’re not supposed to talk about things like that in case it “puts people off” your faith. Then I had an all-out crisis and realised this wasn’t something I could hide from them, and it all spilled out, and it was absolutely fine. More than fine, in fact. I’d been hiding my uncertainties because you’re only supposed to talk about your faith when you can defend it with concrete statements, when actually my uncertainties where what made me human and relatable and someone worthy of having a friendship with. We’ve had some fantastic conversations about what my faith means to me, how it’s changed, and what I’m looking for in a faith community. The friend I thought I shouldn’t talk to about these things has been one of my biggest supporters during my faith deconstruction. We’ve even visited a church together. I guess technically this is unintentional evangelism? I don’t really do evangelism—in fact, this started out as a post about my issues with the way most Christians approach evangelism, but it went off in an entirely different direction, so this is something I’m going to write about another day. Maybe. Possibly.

* * *

There’s a lot of vulnerability in being uncertain, and being open and honest about how little you actually know about something so huge as faith and religion and the existence of God. And the people who can be the most harsh about uncertainty are often those who are supposed to be part of your faith community. While I do write publicly about a lot of aspects of my faith, there are some things I’ve only revealed in in-person, in private Facebook groups, on websites where few people from “real life” know my username, on discussions on a friend’s profile where we don’t have enough mutuals for the news of my heresy to spread, because I’m not sure if I’m ready for the potential backlash. Admitting that you’ve changed your mind about crucial aspects of your faith, that you’re no longer certain what you believe, that you’re now critical of things that were once major parts of your belief system, can be terrifying.

This uncertainty has led to many fantastic conversations with fellow Christians who are also revisiting and questioning their beliefs. I’ve had people I don’t know all that well contact me specifically to discuss something I’ve hinted at in a more public forum, because they’re relieved that someone else is also reconsidering these aspects of their faith. It’s opened up conversations with non-Christians who are intrigued and obviously find me non-threatening and reasonable enough to converse with—which probably wouldn’t be how I’d describe myself ten or even five years ago. My uncertainties have put me in a position where I’m thinking about and talking about my faith a whole lot more.

It’s no longer something concrete, something fixed, something that I can take for granted. It’s constantly evolving and changing, and sometimes I wish it would just settle in one place and life could go back to normal. But I know it’s not going to do that. Once you open up the door to rethinking something that’s always been part of you, it’s impossible to shut it. It’s so much a part of me that I can’t just discard it, but I need to reconcile it with what I used to believe, and what I’m now feeling pulled towards. I need to figure out how I’m going to move forward with this part of me.

* * *

I recently read an essay by Rebecca Solnit that described despair as being a form of certainty, while uncertainty is a ground for hope. This explanation has stuck with me. Back in November, I definitely found myself dwelling in despair. The religion that I’d aligned myself with for my entire life had been responsible for something that caused a lot of people—myself included—to fall into despair. I know at least one friend who abandoned their faith altogether—despite the fact that they had degrees and qualifications in theology and had been working in the same industry as me for far longer. It was the breaking point for them, but not quite for me.

I pulled myself out of my despair by turning it into anger, latching on to the resistance movement, and eventually landing in anarchism. I found hope in something entirely unexpected, something I felt very uncertain about aligning myself with, but it was the only thing that made sense. These people were pissed off, but not despairing. And unlike a lot of Christians, they weren’t spouting platitudes about praying for change and then returning to their normal lives—they were doing stuff. Trying to change things—and not just small things. They weren’t willing to settle for this crappy nightmare world.

I’ve found hope in fighting for change, and surrounding myself with people who are doing stuff when I’m too limited by the whole parent thing to be more active and involved. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about what I can’t do, and I’m committed to supporting and lifting up those who are actually manage to make some progress. To holding each other accountable, to reminding each other why we’re part of this in the first place. To not despair.

* * *

I’m still a bit uncertain about the labels I put upon myself. I haven’t yet taken “Accidental” out from in front of “Anarchist” in my social media bios because, well, I am here kind of accidentally. Sometimes I call myself a Christo-Anarchist rather than just a Christian because I’m incredibly aware of how much my faith has shifted in the last year, and I have doubts about whether I can use the label on its own anymore. I know a lot of people wouldn’t consider my faith to be truly Christian. I mean, I think LGBT+ people are human beings deserving of equal rights, so that’s enough to make some people write me off altogether and condemn me to hell. (Sadly, this isn’t an exaggeration).

I jokingly referred to myself as a Christo-Anarcha-Feminist the other day, but I think it works. All of those labels intermingle pretty well. Patriarchy is a system of oppression, so anarchists should advocate for its destruction, thus all feminists are basically anarchists. And since I’ve already made the argument for Christianity as Anarchism, we might as well make it Anarcha-Feminism. I should really devote an entire article to this rather than an overly simplistic paragraph, but yeah, why shouldn’t God be powerful enough to triumph over capitalism and patriarchy? If we’re really free, why should we suffer under such man-made oppression? Thus: Christo-Anarcha-Feminism.

Sometimes labels are limiting, but right now I’m finding it liberating to realise that I don’t have to be confined to one label or one belief system. I can be anti-patriarchy, anti-capitalism, and pro-Jesus. I can call myself a Christian even if I’m not certain about everything, I can call myself an anarchist when I’ve only known that the word means for less than a year, and I can call myself a feminist even if I took my husband’s name when I got married. I can mesh them all together and make a ridiculous label that most people in my life won’t understand, because it helps me anchor myself, and reminds me that I do have a lot of things that I believe in, even if I have many more that I’m not at all sure about.

* * *

I’ve got to the end of this post without explaining what I believe, and I’m okay with that. I’m still figuring that out, and I don’t need to defend my beliefs in order to call myself a Christian or an Anarchist or a Feminist. I’m at a stage where I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that I may never again have concrete beliefs that I can explain in a succinct statement, because I’m constantly learning, constantly evolving, constantly admitting that I might have got something wrong. Where there was once arrogance and certainty, there’s now vulnerability and uncertainty, and it makes for much stronger friendships and deeper conversations, for which I’m immensely grateful. I’m glad I’ve found my way here, to this place of uncertainty and hope. I’ve never been more uncomfortable, or more free.

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