My mother is an Evangelical Christian, and I love her. I guess if you were to really put the entirety of the first twenty-eight or so years of my spiritual quest—and life on earth, too, since I’ve been spiritually-minded basically from birth—into one concise statement, that would be it: My mother is an Evangelical Christian, and I love her, and she loves me too, and always has, and because of that, she taught me to be the same.
And so, largely because of who she was and also because of who I was and would’ve been anyway, with or without her, from elementary school on I sincerely loved religion. I was a serious child, and depressed, so even at a young age I looked to faith as my most reliable source of comfort and consolation. By the time I got to junior high, I depended on it just to get me through the day.
And it worked. What else can I say? It worked wonderfully well. Not only because it made me feel better, but also because it was real. In spite of some of the (major) shortcomings of my ideology, I still believe that God really was there for me all that time I was growing up, helping me navigate my sometimes complicated, sometimes overwhelming inner life. Why do I believe this? For one thing, I remember very clearly some of my encounters with what I can only imagine to be the Divine.
Sometimes when people wonder how anyone can believe that there is only one way to heaven, and only their religion is true, I think about the time when I was four or five years old, and my mother prayed for me to “receive tongues,” and how the next thing that I remember was waking up from a kind of coma and speaking audibly and very rapidly in a language I’d never heard before. Or the way I felt when my typical adolescent malaise was pierced clear through very suddenly one evening at a prayer meeting, causing me to kneel down on the floor in front of my mother, who was also kneeling, and tell her over and over how much I loved her. Or the time in high school when I went to a weekend youth camp and repented of my sins and then, upon returning, for the first time that I could remember, having no depression at all, and instead, for days afterward, feeling a calmness and peace that made me feel like I was floating.
Of course, experiences like these couldn’t last forever (or so I then thought); each day following the youth retreat, for example, that peace faded a little more even though I tried to prolong its presence by reading the bible and praying more than usual. I was disappointed when these experiences were over, but I never forgot them, and they gave me the strength to get through high school, the most difficult time of my life.
They also utterly convinced me of the truth of my beliefs. If Christianity weren’t true, I thought to myself, why does it work so well for me?
These days, I’m still utterly convinced that those experiences were truly divine and truly inspired. But I no longer believe they had anything to do with my being a Christian except that as such, I made myself open to them.
After all, why would God be limited by my ideas of him?
In any case, for a very long time I was a Christian, and a good one. It wasn’t until I reached my late twenties that this began to change. Well, actually, this had begun to change much sooner than that, but I wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge the change, or its consequences, completely.
I won’t go into all the details of why I ceased to be a practicing Christian, then ceased to consider myself a Christian at all (something that only happened just recently). I have written about these events in other books, and I wouldn’t want to repeat myself too much here. Suffice it to say that the story is predictable. It involves a liberal arts education, a divorce, and a man that I love. What I will tell you about, though, is the final chapter in my life as a Christian, the events of which played out only a short time ago.
It was the year 2011. In November of that year, I gave birth to an absolutely perfect little girl. Her name was Jane, and she died in my arms four days later.
My story of the events surrounding her death, called What I Learned from Jane, goes into the details. What’s important for my purposes here is that after Jane died, my life was never the same. I started reading spiritual books one after the other, books that had nothing to do with Christianity, books that would in fact be more properly placed in the New Age category of the store. I started meditating (though, as you may have already guessed, I never was very good at it). I started saying affirmations. I watched the movie The Secret and learned about the law of attraction. I started a blog about spirituality called Stories and Truth. I asked people questions.
I began to search.
Here are some of the new ideas about spirituality I eventually decided to embrace:
•“Salvation” for all. I now have a great peace knowing that I—and even better, the people I love—are all going to what I once called heaven, a place of utter and eternal perfection.
•Reincarnation. This belief is one of my favorites, though when I was a Christian I thought it was downright silly. I now believe that I—and, yes, the people that I love—can’t screw up our lives in any permanent way (or any way at all, really). We all get another chance, and another, and another—and as many as we want after that.
•Oneness with God. We are divine. We are all one. We are God. These ideas, which also sounded entirely unlikely to me before, are the foundation of what I now see as the only logical spiritual perspective, almost to the point of being obvious (though allow me to say here that it’s not my goal to convince you of the same).
•Amorality. There is no ultimate meaning to life; life is only what you make of it, what you decide that you want it to be. (I explain this idea at length in another short book called Happiness Is the Truth: A Spiritual Manifesto.)
•The power of thought. Thoughts are prayers. They are our way—our only way, if you include feelings and beliefs in the same category—of communicating what you—a God, or a part of God—want to have happen in your life. (If this idea is unfamiliar to you, I recommend more exploration—very profound stuff.)
This, then, is the greatly abbreviated version of my current theology and the events that led to my adoption of it.
That’s right: I am now a heathen.