Questions and doubts

I miss Jesus. Those sandals. Those funny stories he’d tell that don’t make any damn sense.

It’s not like we were ever super close, necessarily. I remember praying every night in middle school. It was nice to have a man let me talk as long as I wanted to but the fact that he never responded did made me wonder whether he was really listening.

My ache is deeper than toilet papering my youth pastor’s house or even roofing houses for poor people. It’s an ache for meaning.

We agree. We’re in this together. We matter.

If I’d stayed in religion I’d have had to try to do to my flavor of Christianity what I did to libertarianism. But the Christianity I grew up in was even less accommodating to my picking apart and hyperbolic condemnation in an effort to improve it.

As much as I may have rebelled, there was great comfort in having something to rebel against.

I’m going to use part of a documentary about a porn site to illustrate my breakup with Jesus because that’s where I am in life. In the documentary about the porn site Kink.com a female director/producer talks about desperately wanting a rough scene she was filming to end, and looking to the female director to notice how uncomfortable she was and end it for her.

That’s when she realized no one was going to do it for her. She was going to have to save herself, now and forever. That’s the reality of working in porn, and the reality of walking this Earth.

When I told my husband I wanted a separation, he finally agreed to go to counselling, but only through our church. So we sat down with our pastor and his wife. For weeks, I’d describe what I needed from my husband and they would tell me that the problem was with me and my relationship with God.

Now, five years later, I couldn’t agree more with half of that. The problem was me. But “Get closer to God” was such an insultingly facile answer that that couple might as well have been an indifferent porn director.

I was going to have to save myself.

I left the Southern Baptist Church, and organized religion generally, in a huff. “How dare you try to thwart my happiness and well-being to uphold your antiquated ideas?” I steamed. I saw how the church had treated my divorced mother, and she didn’t even instigate.

Why do people keep getting back together with people who are bad for them? There is no one I have loved who I don’t still pine for. Jesus among them.

I can see them all more clearly than ever before. Their flaws and faults. But I want them all the same. I miss them all the same. I’m afraid of them all the same.

I think most of the moral philosophy of Christianity is so stupid as to insult my intelligence. I think many of the norms the church promotes are actively pernicious. I think they were built by people to survive a time we’ve thankfully left as a species. I think it’s akin to climbing into a self-driving Tesla and spending the rest of your life looking for the reigns, if looking for the reigns were actively opposed to your nature.

Except it’s more complicated than that.

Clearly the norms work for some people.There is also utility to norms just because they’re norms. It’s nice to not have to make it up as I go along. It’s nice to have something outside myself to look to for deciding what to do and not do. It’s nice to agree with people.

Sometimes the cost rebelling against a patently absurd convention is greater than the cost of following the convention.

But most of the time you don’t know until you try.

That’s the best argument I have encountered for hewing to Christian norms. Sure, some of them are stupid, but we don’t know which ones are stupid en masse until we violate them en masse. Is the potential benefit greater than the risk? Last year I would have said “Fuck yes.”

Today, I don’t know.

I’ve got a slew of new boyfriends now. Skepticism, rationality, liberalism, empiricism are all in the mix. I’m in love with them, but they’re not the commitment types. We’ve been together long enough now for me to see their flaws as well. In theory, they’re great. But in practice, they have all the sanctimony and self-righteousness of religion (with an extra-dose of pretentiousness) but none of the aid and care.

Since Jesus and I were close when I was young, it seems fitting I’d quote lyrics about our relationship. This song, from 1999, was my JAM when I was a tiny Cathy.

You know it only breaks my heart
To see you standing in the dark alone
Waiting there for me to come back
I’m too afraid to show
If it’s coming over you
Like it’s coming over me
I’m crashing like a tidal wave
That drags me out to sea
And I want to be with you
You want to be with me
I’m crashing like a tidal wave
And I don’t want to be
Stranded, stranded, stranded, stranded
I can only take so much
These tears are turning me to rust
And I know you’re waiting there for me
To come back
I’m too afraid to show

I hate some of the baggage of a relationship with Jesus. I am still scarred from our relationship. But no one makes me feel as safe as he did.

I hate regressive social norms. I hate what they do to vulnerable people. But I’m tired of beating my body against them. Maybe progress doesn’t need to be my responsibility.

With Jesus, I felt trapped. Without him, I feel alone and unprotected. So I dance around that old cage and touch it and dream of it and remember it. Too scared to crawl back inside, but too tempted by its siren song to walk away.

One Comment

  1. Tim Robbins

    It’s interesting that you refer to it as a cage. In my late teens I came close to walking away from faith because I felt the christian rules were a cage, and God was cruel to give me intrinsic desire for things outside of the cage. It was a book on evolutionary psychology that changed my view.

    The Moral Animal, as well as Sperm Wars, are two books that do a great job of driving home a point we’re never taught elsewhere: humans are reproductive machines, not happiness machines. We’re perpetually manipulated by invisible forces of instinct, hormones, dopamine, and libido. We’re designed to successfully reproduce, not to make responsible, love-based decisions that bring peace and contentment into our lives. We’re designed to shut down brain activity and allow sex drive to take over our consciousness, hijacked.

    Sex is an awesome, beautiful thing. But I have bigger goals than hedonism, and I want sex to play by my terms, not visa versa. Those books made me realize that Christian sexual morality is not a cage: it’s a map. We’re on a forest path with many forks, with many paths that are enticing but lead to misery. It is not freedom to be tricked into actions by evolutionary programming.

    The Jesus who died on a cross, the Jesus who loves, gave us some deeply wise guidelines on how to live life. You can call them regressive social norms: I used to think that too.

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