I don’t remember the exact date that I decided to stop believing in God, but I like to recall It as a glorious renunciation on a hilltop while looking out at the stars in the night sky. With arms outstretched. I laugh and cry joyously as I contemplate the wonders of the universe.
In actuality, I was hunched over in front of a computer, eating chips, and binge watching YouTube. It was during a video of a debate between an atheist and theologian that a light bulb went off: “Wait a minute, the other guy makes more sense!”
From this moment, I never looked back on my religious ways…sort of.
While life has gotten better in my post-religious years -- I discovered new hobbies, clarified my educational goals (“being a minister” was off the list for obvious reasons), and accepted myself as a gay man -- I find that there are a few things that I miss about being a Christian.
“Loooooove one another
For looooooove is of God”
I sing this from the shower as my partner shaves in the sink nearby. He’s used to this morning routine by now. He calls these my “Jesus songs.” Every day, I have a new one for him -- a diddy from youth camp, a mission trip, or vacation bible school.
Many songs are about the higher values of humanity: Love, joy, peace, and the rest. In a world where a lot of modern pop songs revolve around selfish pursuits, it’s refreshing to have a repertoire that reminds me to be a better person and serve others.
I recently talked to an Oasian who wrote a jazz tune about our Oasis core values. We agreed that there is something about music’s repetitive and rhythmic nature that makes it stick. Just as one would memorize a quote, why not memorize a song that reinforces values that are positive and based in reason? Some nonbelievers would be freaked out by this, and I certainly don’t expect regular group singing at Oasis anytime soon (read: ever), but it is something to think about.
The “Purpose Drive Life”
“Thank you for bringing me here, God. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I won’t let you down.”
I was sitting in front of the “Chapel on the Hill” at Abilene Christian University, praying to God about what the future would hold as I began my first week of seminary. I remember this specific night in particular, because at no other point in my life have I felt more “on mission” than I did on those chapel steps at that very moment.
The truth is that my life has never felt as purpose-driven as it did when I was a Christian. Without truly understanding the power of confirmation bias, it seemed like opportunities had fallen perfectly into place. Every interaction. Every choice. It all felt like it contributed to a particular path.
I have since learned that life does not necessarily have a single “purpose,” but a number of “purposes.” I now understand that much of the meaning in our lives is created through our actions. But I sometimes miss the comfort of being able to easily fit my life into a larger missional narrative.
My partner and I recently visited the St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, Texas. (This visit was mostly to balance the sinfulness of the true purpose of our trip: driving up and down Hwy 71 for signs of the famous “Chicken Ranch.”)
We pushed open the doors and tiptoed inside quietly (as one does when entering a holy space). “Do you think we’ll burst into flames?” I asked. Before I could laugh at my own joke, I was taken aback by the ornate woodwork, stained glass, and paintings in the sanctuary before me. At the front of a room, a docent was lecturing a tour group: “As you can see, the stained glass contains the names of former members at the bottom,” she said. “This reminds us of those who have come before.”
Even my church which would never win any architecture awards felt like it had a story to tell. So many memories: weddings, funerals, celebrations, and more. I was baptized, attended a graduation ceremony, and had my Eagle Scout court of honor there.
It’s exciting to be at the beginning of the secular community movement, but it’s also exciting to think that years from now, secular communities like Oasis might have their own spaces with their own rich histories and stories to look back on.
Maybe in some ways secular communities can replace the things that I miss about religion. For example, a “sense of community” might have been on this list of what I miss were it not for Oasis. But even if they don’t, that’s okay. There will always be pros and cons to my former way of life. For me, the cons outweigh the pros. So while I may still sing the songs, reminisce about being “on mission”, and appreciate the history, pursuing truth is far better than anything I’ve had to give up.