I guess I’m reading a lot of provocative books lately. In addition to the motherhood book, I have been reading a whole lot about God. Some of this is because of the classes I’m taking – medieval literature is 100% Christian, 100% of the time. Flannery O’Connor is the Catholic Queen, and Cormac McCarthy has a God of some sort, I think, even in his dark world. No exaggeration that both of my professors bring Bibles to class on a regular basis. But lately I’ve also been picking up Anne Lamott. And it is Anne Lamott, more than anything else, that has me really thinking about God.
I am at a tenuous place with my faith right now. It has never been stretched thinner. I am a functional atheist except for that tiny pilot light that has always been a part of me, that part that simply feels there is a God. Every time I think about it I talk myself out of it, yet it persists.
It has always been there. I don’t know where it came from. My parents are not and never were actively religious, though I went to Sunday school and sang in the church choir for a few years, mostly for community reasons. We never prayed or talked about God. But when I was seven or eight I was determined to be baptized. My mother found it puzzling, but she arranged for it to be done privately in front of a few family and friends (“I wouldn’t have that spectacle in front of the whole church like the minister wanted it,” she told me). I have very little memory of the whole event, but I was talking with my mom about it a few months ago and she told me something I found both startlingly sad and beautiful. She kept the hanger that my baptismal robe came on – one of those hangers covered in thin paper. She kept it because I wrote on it, apparently while I was waiting for the minister to come get me, in my awkward childish hand, “Please God don’t let me mess this up.”
I went through another fervent phase late in high school. I envied the conviction with which my Christian friends professed their faith and the way their families’ lives were so grounded in their religion. Christianity demanded action and in exchange promised a demonstrable difference in the quality of your life. Christianity had answers to difficult questions and a guidebook to navigating existence (“Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” was the joke that, among other people, my government teacher liked to toss out with a smile on occasion). Perhaps most pressing, Christians made the bold and troubling assertion that the only way to avoid eternal damnation was to join up with them. Some nights when I was a teenager I really did lay awake at night thinking, What if they’re right about that? I started sporadically attending a fundamentalist church, and eventually prayed to be saved. I started reading the Bible every night and eventually read the whole thing.
But ultimately I never fit in with that community or that brand of faith. It was too loud, too vocal, too in-your-face. I have always felt instinctively that for me, religion is the opposite – something intensely private, quiet, and reflective. And I didn’t find it as helpful as I thought it was supposed to be. Life got damn difficult after high school for awhile, and faith was not the lifeboat I thought it would be.
Christianity has made me feel so bad recently, or perhaps I should say that Christians have. From Flannery O’Connor’s child-killing heroes to the crazy man preaching damnation in the brickyard, from the ridiculous medieval accounts of saints’ lives I’ve been reading to the facebook posts bashing gay marriage and proclaiming that those who fight for the unborn deserve a special crown in heaven – it’s a bunch of bullshit. It really is. It makes me angry.
Anne Lamott’s faith is of a different kind. A reminder that God is love, that Christ is love, that to be a Christian at heart means you simply have to be liberal – with your time and your heart and your resources for those who suffer and are in need of whatever you can give, that we must help God to do his work, that Christianity is about forgiveness and living for others. Reading her books on faith has made me sad that I don’t have that connection anymore. I do not read the Bible every night anymore, though I still do pray sometimes. I want to find it again, but there is so much I cannot reconcile.
I cannot reconcile that homosexuals are abominations. I cannot believe that Jesus would march outside a planned parenthood to make a frightened young woman feel even worse for making a tough choice, that he would participate in Chick-Fil-A appreciation day and shit on his fellow human beings, that he would vote Republican. I cannot believe that everyone who doesn’t believe in him is automatically damned. I truly feel these things in my heart. But they don’t always line up with the Bible. The God of the Bible is wrathful, and the apostles are often misogynist dicks. I sometimes feel the only books of the Bible I would bother to read anymore are the four gospels – the parts that actually have Jesus in them – and Ecclesiastes, which seems made for depressed quasi-Christians like myself and oddly comforting in its bleakness.
I have never enjoyed going to church and have never found myself in one that I liked – they’re either too right-wing, or so left-wing that they have no backbone. I don’t want a feel-good church, I like a church that deals with the tough questions, but I also don’t like a church that tells me what I should believe and how I should vote. Are there any churches that meet that standard? Are there any churches to which I could drag my atheist husband? Do you need to go to church to find God? And then I feel ridiculous, because so much of life tells me that God doesn’t even exist. How can we possibly exist separately from our bodies, how could the randomness and atrocity of this life ever make any kind of sense? How could a loving and rational being “create” this mad world?
That’s where I am. Yet the part of me that does still believe, that tiny persistent part of me, could say that I am reading Anne Lamott at just the right time. I have always known that I have nothing to offer God except for that tiny nugget of faith that I can never seem to erase. I am a terrible Christian, I probably don’t even deserve to call myself one, but – but, but, but – I can’t not call myself one. Not yet. And maybe not ever.