One of the questions I often get asked when in dialogue with evangelicals who have found out that I’ve left the faith is, what do I now use as a standard for truth in my life now that I no longer believe in the Bible? This question usually comes from a very sincere place that reveals the nature of evangelical indoctrination – when you are taught from a young age that you are sinful and cannot be seen by God without being covered by Christ’s sacrificial blood, the compass by which you measure Absolute Truth should never be internal. After all, you can’t trust your own sinful nature. All truth – which “must be true at all times, for all people, and in all places,” according to evangelical apologist and child indoctrination machine Josh McDowell – must come from an external, universal source.
For Evangelical Christians, of course, that source is the Holy Bible; at least, the Holy Bible as interpreted by your church leaders. Evangelicals will tell you that you can read the Bible over and over again, but if you haven’t accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, then the Holy Spirit cannot guide you to correctly interpret what you are reading when you crack open the Bible. That’s why so many people keep missing the truth when they read it – they simply cannot see it, because Jesus alone is the heavenly filter by which you can understand the truths contained within. In this scenario, the chances are that the truths contained within that the Holy Spirit entrusts upon your heart are exactly what your pastor tells you they are. If not, there’s a strong chance that you didn’t do it right.
I’ve noted in previous posts that the idea that the truth can only derive from source external of my own flawed nature was one of the hardest knots to untangle during my deconstruction process. When I realized that I no longer identified as Christian, by first impulse was to seek another external source from which to find the actual truth. This search for the “real” truth was still hardwired by the nonsense that McDowell and his ilk had taught me to believe – that “truth” must be true for everyone, all the time. There’s no room for the full spectrum of the human experience there – A.K.A. nuance – because Absolute Truth theology works off of the premise that we are sinful and fallen beings who need divine intervention in order to have any value.
But once I began thinking outside of the limitations of that dour metaphor and began to see myself as evolving instead of fallen, then I realized that searching for absolute truth external from myself wasn’t the way that I needed to approach my continuing journey. Rather, it was more helpful for me to trust the intuition and common sense that I found within myself in order to discover the compass by which I could guide my own life, my own choices, my own path. It was admitting that I was good enough, smart enough, and open enough to learn from my own experience and listen to others talk about their own experience to chart my own compass. In other words, it was the act of learning to trust myself when all of my life, I’d been taught that my sin made me untrustworthy.
So to answer the question posed to me by many evangelicals: Now that I no longer believe in the Bible, what is my guiding force? Again – it goes back to rejecting the notion that I am fallen and embracing the idea that I am evolving. Instead of looking for answers, it is embracing the mystery and being constantly open to change based on learning experiences that I encounter every day, just by engaging with the world around me. It’s constantly being open to evolution by finding joy and wisdom in the opportunity to learn something new and change my mind.
I’d say that I evolve best based on three important ingredients: Evidence, compassion, and metaphor. Evidence, because I no longer want to be a person who rejects reality in favor of a religious text written thousands of years ago with a more limited understanding of the way the world works. Religious texts can certainly be useful guides for meditation and contemplation, but if saying that they are without error means that you deny clear evidence found in the world around us, it’s okay to admit that maybe the writers were limited by their own time’s still evolving understanding of the way the universe works. Compassion, because if human beings are capable of kindness and empathy (and we are), then we ought to live by such qualities to make this life a more beautiful adventure for all of us. If an action in which I am engaged requires me not to be kind to myself or others, it’s important to ask myself if it is an action worth pursuing. Compassion is kindness without reward; it is the essential reminder that we are all fellow travelers in this universe, and that we all deserve to be treated as such. Metaphor, because for as much as we have learned about the way the universe works, it still contains profound mysteries; God was a guiding metaphor for early man to engage with those mysteries, and stories are still the most powerful way that I contemplate my own place, however small, in this ever expanding cosmos. The act of religion is simply the act of choosing a metaphor – a story – that helps you walk more richly into that mystery, to embrace it more fully.
These three ingredients have made life such an interesting and exciting journey for me. While these three components continue to serve me well, the exciting part of being in the state of evolution is that they are also subject to evolution themselves. We all must try out different paths, different ways of interpreting the world around us, until we find the ingredients that make up our guiding compass. Along the way, don’t be afraid to be curious, don’t be afraid to try out new experiences and ideas to see if they fit for you. If they don’t, keep moving. If they do, journey with those ideas for a while, and be open to them evolving with you. Just don’t forget to be kind to yourself and to be kind to others, and to trust your own intuition. Evangelicals will tell you that we are so corrupt with sin that we cannot trust ourselves – and sorry, that metaphor just doesn’t work for me anymore. If it doesn’t work for you either, that’s okay. With an open mind and an open heart – look around, listen, learn, and trust your intuition. You’re smarter and stronger than you think.
Thank you so much for reading. Remember this, above all else: No matter where you are in your journey, you are worthy of love, of respect, of being heard and believed. I love you.