Tonight, I am going to write one of the bravest things I have ever written, in the cowardly form of writing them for a bunch of strangers on the internet. Tonight, I will finally admit to myself a truth that I have long thought, and felt, but could never bring myself to acknowledge. And then I will go back out to my life, and continue to hide who I am, putting a brave face on my coward's heart.
I do not believe in a God.
This has been a long time in coming, and frankly, I don't know why I haven't allowed myself to acknowledge this before. After all, over the last few years, I have become increasinly antagonistic towards the words and actions of American Christianity in general, and in the increasing legalism and parcohialism of my own beloved Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod.
It's weird calling the LCMS that any more. But part of me still loves it.
Part of me still loves the wonderful old music. Singing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" on Reformation Day. "For all the Saints who from their labors rest" on other Days of the Church. I still weep thinking about trying to sing along to "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" at my Great Grandma's funeral.
Did you see the part of the London Olympics Opening Ceremony that NBC cut out here in the US; the tribute to those who died as victims of terrorism? It was an interpretaive dance routine set against this primal drum beat, as a lone voice sang the hymn "Abide with me." That's one of my favorite hymns. In fact, the third verse is perhaps my favorite of all the sacred music I have ever heard. "Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day. / Earth's joys grow dim; it's glories pass away. / Change and decay in all around I see. / Oh, thou who changest not, abide with me." It's that verse that I will still cling to. You see, I desperately wish that I did believe in God. I would pray to God to give me faith if I thought it would do any good.
Part of me will still be that little boy who loved being in the kindergarten Sunday School class taught by Grandma, who taught him that Jesus loved him. Part of me will still remember the Vacation Bible Schools and all the fun there.
Part of me will still remember my "theological training" in confirmation classes during middle school; and at the age of 14, being expected by my family to stand before all of them and God and promise to be faithful even to the point of death. All the while doubts nagged in the back of my head.
If God was so awesome and all knowing and all powerful, then where the hell was he? As I grew from a boy into a man and needed guidance, and help in becoming in the adult I was supposed to be, where was his voice for me; that so many of my peers heard for themselves. When my friends were saying "God wants me to be a teacher," or "God wants me to marry Laura as soon as we get out of high school," my God was silent to me.
And years later he still was, as I struggled to decide what I wanted to me when I grew up. As I asked my mother, the major relgious influence on my life (and I woman I care deeply about, so please do not insult her here), what she thought I should go into at college, she simply told me that was in God's hands and that I should listen for His voice. But He never spoke to me. He never said "my son, I am proud of you and this is what I want you to do for Me." Perhaps I was naive to think that. Perhaps anyone that does believe is naive. I wish I could happy and contended as one of the flock. But I can't. I'm too intellectually honest with myself; even if I'm not with anyone else.
That's not to say that there weren't others in my life that thought God had a plan for me. Or at least that God had their plan for me. Oh, how many people thought I should go into the ministry myself? My mother, my grandparents, no fewer than the five Pastors who I was close to. My Uncle, who is himself a Pastor; and one of the wisest, kindest, least doctrinal man I know.
If I were to be a Pastor, I would want to be like him. He is a true rebel in a denomination founded on a rebellion against dogmatic practices, even as the LCMS becomes ever more dogmatic than the Church it rebelled against. My Uncle bristles against the increasingly legalistic tendencies of the LCMS, and knows that it must respond to its demographic pressures to survive; the same demographic pressures facing the GOP; the LCMS is becoming too old, too white, and too conservative. He truly believes in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth; much more than the anti-gay, anti-choice, gospel of wealth bigots who claim to follow Him do. (And frankly, I love that Jesus. What a selfless figure. He gave everything of himself, and demanded nothing earthly in return. If only we all could be like that.)
Even as I was a member of the Saint James Society in high school, a group designed to identify young men for potential ministry services (there were five of us in that group....one of us actually is a pastor now, but he was always going to be), I knew I would not be on that path. Even as my pastor in college would arrange for me to swing by our chapel in the middle of campus whenever the two seminary recruiters were in town, I knew I would never be a Pastor; because I wasn't sure I could live a life as a Man of God when I doubted the existance of said same God.
But I loved my time in that that Chapel during college. Many of my good friends to this day were met as a part of that group. I never felt more at home in a church as I did then. Maybe because it was the first time I spent a lot of time with people my age in that setting instead of being expected to be seen and not heard in the finest German Lutheran tradition.
But after graduation, when I found myself searching for a church home and a nice young Lutheran lady to marry, I found mself a young man in an old man's institution. Maybe that was when my heart started to turn agains the church as much as my mind already had. When I realized it was true that the Church provided preschool for the very young, Sunday school for the young, confirmation instruction for the less young, and then nothing until there was a spouse and kids of your own did I really start to sour on LCMS, did I allow myself to be critical of it as an institution.
These last few paragraphs, I just realized, have served as a wonderful distraction for myself to the reality that I, tonight, before you beloved strangers on the internet, have admitted to other human beings for the first time that I am a non-believer. And it is such a liberating moment for me; freeing my mind of the schakles of legalism, of doctrinate beliefs. But it is also an imprisioning moment for me, because I can never admit this to anyone out there that I love. My mother, my remaining grandparents, my sister, many of my friends, would be heartbroken to know that I wrote this tonight. They would make numerous attempts at saving my soul.
No, it will be easier for me to take the coward's way out. To admit the truth to myself, but to no one else.
I was originally going to title this diary "Midnight Confessions of a Closet Atheist," but I thought it would be gauche to use the term "closet" when it has such a powerful connotation to the LGBT community. But I feel that I will now live my life in such a situation. I will go out there and act like nothing has changed; that the Bible is the inerrant word of God; that the Small Cathecism is a true and faithful instructor and summary of Christian Doctrine as undersood by the Lutheran Church. But I will secretly be a non-believer. Even as I sit in a pew and sing along to the liturgy I know by heart, but believe is being sung to a God that isn't there to listen.
Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 3:00 PM PT: Just got home from work and saw how this diary kinda took off.
Thank you for the recs (long time listener, first time caller) and the advice, both constructive and positive.
I've always been amazed by the openness of this community, and felt this would be a good place to let this off my chest. Thank you, all.