Tag Archives: American Christianity

The Scarlet Letter of Unbelief

Sometimes I don’t think God exists.

Sometimes I think God exists, but he is a terrifying sociopath with a twisted sense of divine comedy.

Sometimes I want God to exist — more than anything else — so that I can be held in the loving arms of a divine father or mother and cry myself to sleep.

*****

It’s hard enough on its own, this thing called belief.

Life is filled with pain and suffering and when those elements get overwhelming, they reveal how fragile belief can be. I think anyone, if he or she is being honest, will admit that somedays belief in a divine being or cosmic creator is hard to come by. This is why the phrase “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” stirs us deep inside. We may put on facades of certainty to impress one another with the “house built on rock” quality of our faiths, but there are those moments — for some of us, more common than others — when cracks begin to appear and the tears well up and we admit to a close friend: “I kinda feel this is all made up.”

But it’s even harder when you are like me, when you daily wrestle with depression and suicidal thoughts. When life isn’t just filled with pain and suffering, but rather life becomes a monster that isn’t content to stay under your bed. It rises up in the middle of the night, shadowy and distended and grotesque. It grabs you by the throat and shakes you like you are a baby in the hands of an abuser; it rattles your bones and chills your blood and throws you like a rag doll on the ground.

Those are the days and nights it just isn’t enough to say, “Help my unbelief.”

Those are the days and nights when you can only muster enough energy to curl into a ball and rock back and forth in pain. “Help my unbelief” is the last thing on your mind, with “Help my belief” following it.

“Help me stay alive.”

Help me to last until tomorrow.

I need to be honest: on those days and nights, no. I do not believe. If God exists, he can go fuck himself.

*****

I try to ask for forgiveness.

I try to love.

I really do try.

I try so, so hard. I try to show compassion, to listen to those who hurt. I try to be there for those in need. I try to put other people before me.

But sometimes I don’t believe in God.

And what terrifies me during those times is that — if I am honest and admit that — I know I am suddenly an outcast. I am literally a danger to the people that were my friends and confidantes a minute before I admitted it.

Shun the unbeliever.

Do not be unequally yoked.

I am a vessel made for wrath.

The moment I say, “I am no longer a Christian,” I know I will lose friends. They may not unfriend me on Facebook, but things will change. I know that some friends will remain, but some of them will no longer consider me “safe.” Some people, who previously thought that my ideas and my passions and my various advocacy projects were awesome, will no longer want to associate with me. Because the mere fact that I might no longer intellectually assent to the name “Christian” means that, somehow, my ideas and passions and advocacy are no longer valid.

If I am no longer a Christian, I am suddenly “other.”

I am dangerous.

As Jack Crabtree, my undergraduate senior thesis advisor recently said at a Gutenberg College presentation:

It seems so accepting and right to “see the beauty in every human being.” In truth, there is beauty in every human being, but that is not the whole story. Every one of those beautiful people out there is in active rebellion against God; and insofar as he is in active rebellion against God, he is dangerous.

Never mind that some of those people might one day bounce back. Never mind that belief is an inherently complex phenomenon. Never mind that depression is a heavy blanket that suffocates the soul with chemicals and synapses and memories of shadows and spiders and pain.

If I am not for God, I am against God. And if I am against God, I guess I am committed for life.

I am a vessel made for wrath.

That was the lesson I internalized growing up. Us versus them. For us or against us. In a sense I don’t care if I am an outcast. I know how to fend for myself. I know what it is like to feel alone in a pew on Sunday morning while surrounded with joyful, happy people that I cannot relate to. I know what it is like to think I am broken and I should be “happy” I am broken and just suck it up because, you know, God and stuff.

Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. Maybe predestination is true and I was made by God specifically to be a fuck-up, so I can be an example for the Christians on what not to be. To be a caution sign:

Danger! Warning! This is an unbeliever!

But I know better than that. I know that who I am, deep down inside, is not my depression. I am not my depression. I am not my suicidal thoughts. I am better than that. I am stronger. I am brave and I will fight.

And I am not my beliefs.

I am so much bigger than my beliefs, and so are you.

I know that some days I believe in heaven, and some days I do not. But I know that, if there is a heaven, heaven will be filled with not only Christians but atheists. It will be filled with Buddhists and Jews and agnostics. And I know that saying such a thing is not necessarily an expression of universalism. It is an expression of the simple fact that life is complicated and messy and we change and we grow and we struggle. That Jesus himself said, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat” to “vessels of mercy,” and “I was a stranger and you invited me in” to “vessels of wrath.”

*****

Sometimes I don’t think God exists.

Sometimes I think he does.

And I am learning, a little bit every day, to be honest. To speak up. I am learning to breathe. I am learning that I am more than truth-propositions and my worth and beauty transcend my mind.

And when I do not believe, I will not not be ashamed. I will wear the scarlet letter of unbelief proudly. Because I am being honest and real.

And when the monsters under my bed rise up and attack me, honest and real is the best I can be.