It started in 2013. I got married in January and a month later, in February, my mother got a DUI.
We came from a fundamentalist background where the fact that mom was drinking, which she kept hidden for a year, was more scandalous than her having done it while driving. Because of this, my mother carried a lot of shame. She slowly attended church less and less and eventually stopped coming altogether.
There were other factors at play during this time that are too difficult or too personal to describe. What ended up happening, though, was my parent’s marriage began to deteriorate, and they eventually divorced.
My mother’s alcoholism and her absence from church were the impetus that caused a thirty-year marriage to collapse, and it all started a month after my marriage began. Suffice it to say, this wounded me terribly.
In the fall of 2013, something else happened: I started college. I was twenty-four at the time, and for the first time in my life I became fully immersed in a culture that I had rarely been exposed to.
I started school to become a social worker. This required me to take a lot of humanities and social science courses. I took classes in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and others that taught a contrary message to what I had grown up with in the church. We discussed topics like mental health, sexuality, and evolution that conservative Christians often oppose, dismiss, or ignore.
It became difficult to reconcile the traditional picture of God with the academic world before me. Ordinarily, I would have compartmentalized the two, but I couldn’t. I was already in a place of instability–trying to navigate newlywed life while dealing with the residual effects of my parent’s discord. I started to do something you’re never supposed to do: I began to question God.
Everything I felt certain of in the first 24 years of my life began to unravel. I questioned the legitimacy of the Bible, what sin was, if heaven or hell truly existed–I questioned the very meaning of life. I don’t think I ever fully questioned God’s existence. I mainly questioned the character of God and the things I thought I knew about my faith.
Church was of little help during this time. I eventually sought counsel from some elders about the questions I had. The best answer I received, besides the generic “pray and read the Bible more,” was suggesting I watch the movie God’s Not Dead. It was clear they believed my onset of doubt was being caused externally, probably by a malicious liberal arts professor with a bone to pick with Jesus. It wasn’t.
My uncertainty was internal. And it had nothing to do with my professors, at least not directly. It also had little to do with the content I was learning in psych or anthropology or the other studies that fundamentalists seem to fear most. There was a connection between these classes, but they weren’t the cause of my deconstruction.
Oddly enough, the block that made my Jenga tower fall was an English composition class. The class was about research writing. The professor spent a lot of time on syllogisms, deductive reasoning, and other forms of rationale. She did her best to drive home how to craft a good argument and avoid fallacies within the framework of our logic.
Christian conservatism teaches logic too, but it isn’t the same as academia. Everything that can’t be answered or explained proficiently falls under the umbrella of “His ways are higher than our ways.” This is a fundamentalist’s most popular response to questions and doubts. For the intellectually minded, however, this is not an acceptable argument. My deconstruction was largely a byproduct of critical thinking. Everything else was just a factor.
I started associating my religion with dogma. I felt permitted to question as long as the conclusions I arrived at were in line with the teachings of my church and palatable to those around me. This was unfortunate since I started to dismiss theological views that were hindering the reconstruction of my faith.
Despite everything, I still saw faith as important, but I couldn’t treat it with kid gloves anymore. Fundamentalist faith gets hung up on the “what” rather than the “who.” They care more about one’s doctrinal faith and use this as the litmus test of faith in general and even salvation.
Salvation had always been predicated not just on belief, but on a particular set of beliefs. Salvation meant maintaining the parochial status quo. Salvation meant Biblical literalism. It was subscribing to a six twenty-four-hour day creation and combating any empirical data that conflicted with this, or any other, Christian narrative. Salvation was caring more about political power than the “least of these.” It was hiding your wounds and only talking about the good things that happen in life. Salvation meant protecting image over integrity.
It was as if I had to choose between salvation and faith. I still had faith; I still believed in God. But the God I believed in seemed a far cry from the one of today’s Americanized Christianity. The God I believed in wasn’t insecure because I had doubts. He wasn’t averse to questions or thoughts outside the scope of my community. He cared more about loving one’s neighbor than getting swept up in religious culture wars. The God I believed in didn’t use salvation as a tool to gaslight or browbeat parishioners.
It’s been a month now since I’ve left the church. Critics of my new found path have said I am “confused.” I’m not. What I am is no longer certain, and that’s okay. Certainty and faith aren’t the same things. I had a house that was built on certainty. I had some impactful winds blow at a vulnerable time in my life. That home collapsed. Now I have a new home that’s built on faith. It looks different than before; that’s okay too, because the foundation is much stronger.
I guess the point of all this is to say: don’t let ideologies become you. You are so much more than what you believe. And if you let doctrine define you, you’re going to be defensive your whole life. Every time that creed becomes questioned you’re going to feel the “fight or flight.” It won’t be long until you find yourself in a crisis that you can’t defend or run from anymore. And it won’t happen because you were weak spiritually or because you sinned. It will happen because you will have realized that you wasted so much time defending a God that doesn’t need defending.
Photo by Dan Wilkinson.
About Alex Camire
Alex Camire is a life-long Christian who currently works in behavioral health and case management and is pursuing a Masters in Social work. He enjoys reading and writing on topics related to religion, science, law, and social justice.