Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Benefits of Renouncing Christianity

As I stated some time ago in another fora, there has been some good that has come from this conflict, which is that I have renounced Christianity. And that’s not a sad thing; indeed, it’s been entirely positive,

So how did this come about?

Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with The Episcopal Church, and with organized religion generally. On the one hand, I love the fact that The Episcopal Church incorporates the best of ancient tradition, with modern notions of inclusion and diversity. On the other hand, I have had more than my fair share of bad experiences with the church, including a stint on a vestry in my 20’s that underscored just how toxic intra-church dynamics can be. (Have no fear, the outcome of that debacle was one that its proponents richly deserved, and proof that karma has a wicked sense of humor.)

Into this mix came my experiences with Grace Church. While there were many aspects that were positive, my time there also brought into sharper focus the dirty underbelly, both of Grace Church and organized Christianity generally. These include the downsides of clericalism, in which elaborate systems and liturgies come to serve the clergy in question, seeking to perpetuate power and privilege, versus supporting the needs and growth of the faith community. Relatedly, organized faith too often seeks first and foremost to perpetuate itself, with the priority becoming the organization, versus the underlying faith. In short, church too often points either to itself, or to its clergy, versus towards the divine.

This focus on superficial trappings of faith also looms large in the day-to-day business of the church, particularly at Grace. Hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars go into making sure that altar flowers look nice, and altar candlesticks gleam, but no one cares if members bully other human beings over inconsequential bullcrap, like whether or not members of the altar guild wear blue smocks or not. Nor is this an isolated example.

Meanwhile, the Bob Malms of the world swagger around, talking too loudly, finding ways to remind parishioners that he played football in prep school, that he used to be an accomplished marathoner, and more, all the while trotting out the Jesus-babble. The latter includes rhetorical questions like, “Will our children have faith?”, despite the fact that even a cursory examination suggests that Bob has very little real faith, and his children even less. 

Nor has Bob ever been on a mission trip to Haiti, or volunteered at a homeless shelter, or otherwise engaged in activities that most parents would regard, for example, as formative for their teenaged children. 

Neither is Bob committed to the wellbeing of Grace Church or its members.Anyone who can spend 15 years ignoring the hellhole of a church office, or the toxic dynamics within the church, cannot even validly claim to be a priest in anything other than name. Same for any clergyperson who can, without a trace of irony, loudly proclaim, “Why should I give a fuck?”, when asked about families transferring out of the parish. Nor has Bob shown any concern for the effect his vendetta against me has had on the parish. As long as his check clears, he’s good.

This sort of superficial faith contrasts sharply with the generous compensation the church pays Bob. Given the level of compensation, one would imagine Bob would feel some real incentive to be diligent, but not at all. Indeed, even important matters must, per Bob, fall subject to the timing of his annual vacation. (One’s tempted to suggest stopping Bob’s salary, then responding with “Why should I give a fuck?”, when he inevitably asks about the matter. You’d see just how fast Bob became an ardent proponent of the church canons.)

All of which is to say that a lot of time, attention, and money goes to supporting the trappings of church, versus being church. Things like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness fall prey to things like a successful Founders Day gala, or a beautiful altar, or another sermon constructed of phrases, clauses, and concepts that Bob has memorized over the years, but which have no real-life meaning.

But where one really comes to understand just how destructive organized faith is when one looks at the sort of behavior that’s acceptable by clergy at Grace Church. Whether it’s bullying, shunning, harassment, lying in court, trying to drag a dying woman into court in contravention of state law, or referring to former parishioners and fellow Christians as “dysfunctional” or “terrorists,” Bob Malm’s conduct makes clear that clericalism’s only real beneficiary is clergy.

Of course, parishioners take their cue from Bob, and that’s why church members are every bit as ugly in their behavior as he is. That is why people at Grace Church think it’s okay to urge others to commit suicide, to refer to fellow parishioners as “unbalanced” and “psychotic,” and all the other ugly nonsense that is now well-documented in writing.

When one reaches the point of being able to see these issues with detachment, one realizes that neither Grace church specifically, nor church generally, is a benefit. They’re not even necessary evils. They’re simply impediments to human decency, compassion, kindness, and the other values that were important to Jesus. Church takes up time, money, and mindspace, and to what end? Indeed, my fear is that, if one is not careful, one will adopt the negative attributes of churchgoers — a willingness to throw others under the bus, all the while slapping a layer of “servants of Christ” whitewash on the whole tawdry mess. 

In short, being a member of a church does violence to the whole notion of actually being a Christian. By replacing real compassion and care for others with the mechanics of church membership, church kills genuine faith. Thus, it follows that foregoing church allows faith to flourish.

At this point in my life, I’m very glad to have said goodbye, both to Christianity and the Christian church. Under no circumstances do I want to be associated with an organization in which bullying, harassment, shunning, lying, smear campaigns, and even trying to drag the dying into court are okay. Nor does the God I know have any patience for these modern-day parallels to the conduct of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus offered unconditional love and acceptance, including to the sinner, the tax collector, and the prostitute. Church offers highly conditional acceptance, based in no small measure on whether your priest and altar guild approve. And if your priest starts referring to you as “dysfunctional,” the rest of the church will blindly join.

So, I’m very happy to say that I have no connection now to Grace Church. It has nothing I want, nothing I value, nothing worth having. It’s just a large, drafty, bit of outdated architecture, designed to look old and romantic—a fitting message for a faith that itself is nothing but a bunch of outdated silliness built around a fawning clericalism. 

The same goes for the larger church. Time and again, The Episcopal Church has shown that it is incapable of policing the conduct of its own clergy. Indeed, the Episcopal Diocese is on the record, in writing, as supporting abusive behavior by clergy. This from a diocese in which the bishop diocesan has been credibly accused of covering up sexual harassment by clergy under his supervision. Yet the same bishop appears to nearly foam at the mouth when clergy have an affair. So how is it that sexual harassment is okay, but having an affair isn’t? Not that having an affair is okay, but if the bishop is going to defrock clergy for having an affair, he can damn well do the same for those who engage in sexual harassment. 

Nor is another denomination the answer. In talking with a former Lutheran pastor, for example, I was amazed at how commonplace my experiences are. They’re not unusual. They’re not atypical. They’re really the norm in faith settings.

In short, I am very happy to have left Christianity behind, and have absolutely zero desire to ever go back. Nor do I ever want to hear again from Bob Malm, Grace Church, or The Episcopal Church. I don’t have time or energy for such nonsense. Indeed, the world would be a better place without organized religion.