Who wants to convert to a religion full of bitter, judgmental people on the chance they avoid a hell they’re not even sure exists? That isn’t faith. That’s fear.
I was raised in a traditional Christian home. My parents’ interpretation of Scripture was the one they expected me to believe without question. In all other things (politics, education, career), they encouraged me to explore, question, study. But in religion, they expected me to conform.
My parents held strict beliefs in Creationism. I learned evolutionary theory, but it was only so I could pass my yearly standardized tests.
They believed that homosexuality was wrong and that homosexuals were plagued by an evil spirit. Abstinence and sexual repression until marriage was the only “right” way to live a pure life. I was taught that consuming any amount alcohol and drugs was wrong. Smoking cigarettes and tattooing myself was wrong. Piercing anything other than my ears was wrong.
Unfortunately for my parents, they also taught me logic and critical thinking. They sabotaged their own efforts at drawing a line between their faith and the rest of the world. If they expected me to use logic and critical thinking, why shouldn’t that extend to my religion?
This is where I believe traditional Christianity fails. It doesn’t differentiate between setting faith apart from the world and closing it off altogether.
I was not blatantly discouraged from learning about other faiths, but I was told in no uncertain terms that those faiths were the wrong ones and that I should always come back to Christianity—Protestant Christianity to be exact, because Catholics were wrong too.
As I look back on my childhood, I am astounded at the strict interpretations of the Bible. As Christians go, my parents were liberal in several aspects. They were non-denominational ministers. They believed that women could (and should) be pastors and leaders. They did not believe women had to leave their hair long and wear only dresses and become subservient to men. They believed in equality for all genders and races. They taught me to respect others, even if I didn’t agree with them. That is, except when it came to religion.
Judgment was cast on those who believed differently. The Mormons were wrong. The Buddhists were wrong. The Hindus were wrong. The Muslims were wrong. And don’t get me started on the Atheists. My mom once cautioned me against my interest in yoga. She argued it could lead to inadvertent participation in another religion.
Proverbs 22:6 (Or “Train up a child in the way he should go” in the King James Version) was used as justification for imposing strict limitations on my personal faith. I was required to read the Bible every day. Church was not optional for me as it often came right into my home in the form of Wednesday night Bible studies. I was not given the freedom to explore, even within the boundaries of my own religion. If I had a different interpretation, I learned to not speak of it.
Now that I am an adult and have had ample opportunity to explore the Scripture, I have discovered that I do not interpret many things the same way my parents did. Christianity, in my opinion, is much more forgiving than what I was raised to believe.
Jesus did not spend his time in churches. In fact, he disliked the “traditional Christians” and opted to spend his time with the so-called “sinners.” One of the few accounts of Jesus entering a synagogue involved him flipping tables and cracking a whip. (Matthew 21:12)
In my opinion, Christianity is based on kindness, love, forgiveness, open-mindedness, and understanding. It is not supposed to preach fire and brimstone. Salvation should not be motivated by fear. It should be motivated by hope. (John 3:17)
One of my favorite Bible verses is Matthew 7:5: “Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”
I believe that this verse is telling Christians to stop focusing on how other people are living their lives and work on improving their own. I believe it also includes those who are so focused on helping others that they forget their own needs.
Christian “witnessing” should involve leading by example. I don’t see a lot of that. I see professed Christians working to change others into their own idea of Christianity. Instead, they should be examining their own beliefs, desires, and feelings. I see “altar calls” that confuse a symbolic act for true faith.
This is why people have turned against traditional Christianity. It’s not because Christians are doing something right and becoming martyrs for their faith. It is because others can see the hypocrisy.
Who wants to convert to a religion full of bitter, judgmental people on the chance they avoid a hell they’re not even sure exists?
That isn’t faith. That’s fear.
I have a feeling my parents would be disappointed to find that I have been exploring and studying other beliefs, including atheism. I have not discounted Christianity. In fact, the more I explore, the more drawn I am to a faith I believe is based on love and acceptance and not the rigid interpretation of judgmental people.
But I have also learned that should I place my faith in Christianity, it does not make other beliefs wrong. I have learned that faith should be a personal choice, not forced upon us by authority figures. It was wrong of my parents to insist that I follow their religion and interpret it their way. I should have been given the freedom to explore and choose. That is how you “train up a child in the way he should go.”
I plan to raise my daughter on a foundation of love and acceptance. I will share my beliefs with her, but I will not insist that she share them. Should she find her way to the Christian faith on her journey to self-fulfillment or should she choose another path, I will support her.
Her faith is her personal choice as my faith is mine. Trying to control the heart and mind of another person is about as effective as trying to cage the wind.
Deidre Parsons is a freelance writer and blogger living in a tiny town in West Virginia. When she’s not writing on her blog (Write Like Me) or half-halfheartedly potty-