I renounce the Christian religion.
And now I shall explain what I mean by that statement.
Christianity, or the Christian religion, as it is known by its own broadest consensual theology over history, is a life lived in community for the service of the Christ. That, at least, is the Christian religion in its highest and idealist form. It is not, however, what I have experienced.
I have been abused, exploited, manipulated, and now disposed of by high-ranking leaders of this community, in blatant defiance of Christian teachings, and, in fact, their own interpretations thereof. I have seen my family impoverished to fill the bellies of many a fat cleric, and labored long and hard to serve not the cause of Christ, but the earthly ambitions of these fraudulent priests. I have burned away years of my life that I shall never regain because I mistakenly believed that I was serving a God, when I was actually serving men. And now because I have actually lived according to the principles that these same men taught, they have cast me out of their midst.
These people who are called clergy place themselves between God and men and tell all that they are the intermediaries. They claim that they have authority over other men -- including me -- and I am to do their will if I am to be faithful to God. And the communities that they have built around themselves serve no greater role than to bring profit to themselves and to stifle the voices of individuals who see hypocrisy among these same self-proclaimed holy men. And they have asserted that no true Christianity can be found alone, but only in the judgmental, manipulative presence of others.
I reject the concept of earthly spiritual authority.
I reject the concept of earthly intermediaries between gods and men.
I reject the concept that a spiritual life must be lived in community.
I reject the concept that I exist to serve the needs of other people.
I am a human being. And in that, I am a precious thing. I am beautiful and valuable and important.
I am not disposable or expendable. I am not a sacrifice on anyone's altar or mule for anyone's burdens.
And I refuse to be treated as though I am.
Therefore I leave the destruction of the Christian life. It is not within my power to take back the years that have been burned away in that cult, but it is within my power to ensure that I am not abused by Christianity ever again.
Many years ago, before I met my wife, I was in love with a girl. This girl, whom I shall call pseudonymously "Annie", I met in my senior year of college. She was my first girlfriend, and I fell madly (and by that I mean 'insanely') in love with her.
A man in love for the first time may do many foolish things, and I was no exception. Convinced that she was the one true love of my life, I sacrificed my career and moved across the country to be with her. It was not something that she approved of. In truth, she was not interested in a serious relationship. Still, we stayed together for two years -- two years in which I lived in constant terror that she was going to break up with me -- before she dumped me.
And then I found myself in a strange city, working a low-wage job, having wasted two years of my life and so many opportunities because I loved Annie in a way that was unhealthy and unrealistic.
For at least a year afterwards, I kept on telling myself that I had made the right decision to be with her, in spite of the terrible cost. I rationalized my error in very imaginative ways. I desperately wanted to convince myself that I had not willingly destroyed my own future through my own foolishness.
But eventually, I could no longer deceive myself: I had screwed up terribly by getting involved with this girl, and the entire relationship had been a disaster. What minor benefits I had gained were massively outweighed by the horrible costs.
The Hayek quote in the header of my blog reads "We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish." In short, we cannot learn from our mistakes unless we are willing to admit that we have made them. I was not able to learn from my time with Annie until I was able to get to the mental plane where I accepted that I should never have been with her in the first place.
In a similar vein, I wish to avoid future years of cognitive dissonance justifying the past several years of Christianity in which I vainly search for some reason to justify my past foolishness. I could continue to try to get ordained in other Conferences or denominations, or I could be an active lay member of a church and continue to pour time and money into the black hole that is the Christian life...or I could go ahead and admit the obvious truth that, for me, Christianity has been a disaster.
And I'm ready to stop fooling myself otherwise.
An Olive Branch
I am aware that only some of a great many Christian leaders have abused me, and certainly their numbers do not represent more than the tiniest fraction of Christians worldwide. And I am aware that I have been given great love and compassion by Christian friends in response to the injustices that I have suffered. I do not, therefore, rule out the possibility that the Christian religion may reconcile itself to me.
But the abuse and exploitation is over, now and forever. I will not tolerate it. As the wronged party, I alone determine the terms for reconciliation. The Church must therefore come to me, on my terms, and none other.
I am unwilling to waste my time with fruitless conversations or invitations to various congregations so that I can continue to be exploited by other branch offices of the same operation. Therefore, any person, congregation, or other Christian group that wishes to reconcile Christianity with me must pay me $204,500 (USD 2008), which is my rough estimate of our financial losses alone from the past three and a half years, prior to beginning any negotiations with me about rejoining Christianity.
I would take this gesture as a sign of good faith that the Church does not view me as simply a resource to exploit.
I offer this opportunity because I am a generous person and am quick to forgive the penitent.
Why Not Other Churches?
Like Pete Townshend said, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Most Christians regard other denominations as fellow travellers on the same mission. They are, in essence, branch offices of the same company. And they feature the same problems: earthly spiritual authority, mandatory community, and mandatory exploitation of time and money.
I have no reason to believe that any other denomination is different. "Ah, but you have no reason to think that they are the same." True, but the burden of proof is not me. The burden of proof is on the Church -- on Christianity -- to prove itself worthy of me. Why? Because my life is mine, and mine alone, and I do not give it to any passing stranger. I declare that Christianity must prove itself worthy of me to have me, therefore it is so.
At any rate, how many times must I go through this hell? How many years must I fritter away while one church after another proves itself false? How many Churches must I allow to exploit me? For me, one is one too many, and I'm stopping here. I'm not going any further and exploring other UMC Conferences or denominations or non-denominational churches, and letting one after another abuse and exploit me as I grow only older and poorer.
Writers and commenters have urged me to go to other Conferences and denominations for more "ministry opportunities". So I should go, hat in hand, to beg other panels of prelates across the country for an opportunity, years from now (if I do everything right) to be the pastor of a church?
No. I will not.
I have a family to feed, and my wife and daughter deserve better than to have me force them into poverty so that I can continue to chase rainbows. And I deserve better than a life of fearful slavery before "holy men" who may, at any moment, destroy years of my hard work for their own amusement or convenience.
So In Conclusion
Until such time as Christianity decides that it wants me and is willing to act accordingly, I journey alone.
I do not rule out a relationship with Jesus. I love Jesus, even though so many of his followers -- particularly those who claim to have been left in charge until he returns -- are complete assholes. Jesus is welcome in my home. The Church, however, is not. Not now; not ever again.
On my voter registration card, I am listed as an independent. And I am -- a political independent.
So what I am now, religiously speaking? I am a spiritual independent. I have no affiliation to any organized religion. I call no human being master, mentor, or leader.
I alone determine spiritual truth for myself. I may take the ideas of others, or I may reject them. I may worship the gods of others, or those of my own creation -- or none at all. That will be for me alone to determine.
For I am, and therefore I will it so.