It is not all bad growing up in a fundamentalist evangelical Christian home and community. I took a few moments recently to reflect on the things that I appreciate about my religious upbringing, in order to share them here.
At the end of the day, Christianity is about love. Loving your neighbor, putting other’s needs before your own (there’s a dark and co-dependent side to this particular coin, but I’ll get to that later), self-control, self-sacrifice, humility; these are values I learned, and learned well. To their credit, many followers of Christ put these values into practice daily. They are more important than lists of do’s and don’ts, and condemnation of behaviors and lifestyles that are considered sinful, such as homosexuality and abortion. Don’t get me wrong, those things are condemned, but the Christians in my life are not Westboro Baptist Church types, known for hateful rhetoric (see the Westboro web site here, if you are unfamiliar: http://godhatesfags.com/). In fact, the Christians I know would condemn Westboro Baptist Church and their tactics, and so do I. Westboro is not the face of biblical Christianity, though it is one of the faces that anti-theists like to call attention to when arguing that Christianity is harmful; and let’s be fair, people claiming Christianity have done awful things over the centuries. Finding examples of those who give Christianity a bad name is easy, dating all the way back to the first century A.D. People are people, and you can find bad apples in any basket. Any group of adherents to anything is going to have a contingent of hateful people (see supporters of any political candidate, left or right). I do not identify with those who search for the worst, find it, and paint an entire community and its figure-head with one brush (see the 2016 election cycle).
Christianity taught me about forgiveness. I learned to let go of blame, bitterness, and anger – all are toxic if indulged, though there are healthy and proper expressions at times. I learned to give charitably. I learned to be a good listener. I learned that I can be just as wrong (if not more-so) as those at whom I’m pointing my finger, and I learned to examine my thoughts and motives carefully. I learned to grieve for and encourage others. I learned that hope springs eternal. I learned to stand up for what I believe in, even when the chips are down.
Could I have learned all these values without faith and religion? Arguably, yes. Such was not the case though, and here I am.
I will carry many of the values I took from Christianity for the rest of my life. I have some wonderful friends, many of whom will spend time praying for my soul when they hear that I no longer place faith in their doctrines. They will call me spiritually blind. Many will choose not associate with me, or think of me as a sad, deluded individual. I will be grouped with the Lost… I am okay with all this, because I must be honest with myself and others. I am open to whatever honest inquiry reveals.
I am grateful to Christians, and Christianity, for much. That will never change.
I am also saddened by much. I will deal with that in the next post.