A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Why I Am Not A Christian

A large part of why I am not a Christian has to do with my parents, my uncle and my brother who all do not believe in God, let alone the Christian God. My parents and my mother's brother grew up Catholic and disliked it so much that almost before they reached adulthood they became atheists. They disliked the ritual of confession of sins, they disliked the emphasis on hell and guilt, they thought the concept of eating the body of christ and drinking his blood was barbaric. I'm sure there were many other reasons why they could not embrace Christianity such as the history of violence that came along with it, but they didn't tend to go into it. Occasionally they bad mouthed the church but not Jesus in particular. Jesus they seemed to accept as an important teacher (but not the son of God) and even read books about the historical Jesus trying to understand more deeply who he was and what his culture was like. While they may have been fascinated by the man Jesus, they did not trust organized religion. And again, they didn't talk to me about it much one way or another. It was just assumed in our household that God did not exist. The path they laid out for me was one of intellectual rationality and moral responsibility devoid of the trappings of religion. I was to go to school and learn and I was to treat people with courtesy and tolerance but there was to be no religious training on their part.

We stopped going to the Unitarian church on Sundays when I was very young and after that only went to the Candlelight Service on Christmas eve. Their closest friends were mostly non practising Jews (except for holidays) also primarily intellectual and rational. They were well educated professionals who were more interested in politics and culture than religion. To this day I am pretty unfamiliar with churches and church groups. When I was a teenager one of my closest friends began becoming interested in Christianity after reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (and because she was interested in a boy who was Christian...). But my memory of it is pretty dim and we stopped seeing each other sometime in college. So, the people who were in my life were not church going Christians. During college I took several art history classes on the art and architecture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. That was the first place I began to see Christian imagery and learn Christian concepts. I also took a class in the history of Christianity which I found very interesting though again I've forgotten most of it.

So, though I was partially educated about Christianity in college, I still had no Christian friends and never went to church. And being me, I kept to myself and my family. I didn't think about it much. It was only after I moved far out into the country that I realized that most of the people who lived around me were Christians of some sort or another. I began to realize that most of the people in the U.S. were Christians and that going to church was the norm. But it wasn't normal for me. My brother's closest friend here turned out to be a Born Again Christian and he introduced me to a young woman who tried to convert me. But her faith was so intense that all she did was scare me. I absolutely could not accept the Born Again belief that those who didn't believe in Jesus would go to hell forever. I still think that is an arrogant and heartless belief. But she and my brother's friend and family were the only Christians I've ever known here. And I'm afraid I didn't trust their religious beliefs and even now many years later still don't though I definitely care about them.

It was during my tumultuous relationship with Brendan that I began to believe in God and began to pray. But my beliefs and prayer had little to do with Christianity. The Al-Anon books encouraged me to have faith in a higher power and to cultivate a relationship with that power through meditation. So I guess I developed a sense of spirituality more than a belief in the precepts of Christianity. Then I left Brendan and three years later became psychotic. During the three years before I became psychotic I was moving in the direction of Buddhism as my spiritual practice but the voices put an end to that. They bombarded me with Christian imagery and ideas, seemingly out of nowhere. One intense night it was as if I was surrounded by archangels and they were telling me I was a holy woman. It was a frightening and humbling experience and I resisted it. Then the voices said I was Jesus reincarnated as an abused woman. I was so psychotic at this point and so harassed by the voices that I didn't know what to believe and so I rode the delusion out.

I bought a study Bible and began reading the New Testament but I didn't get very far. There were too many layers to the delusion and I got lost in it. I knew I didn't really want to be Jesus and I certainly didn't want to have any special powers. So the voices flipped the delusion and began saying that I was the Devil incarnate which was absolutely terrifying. They said I had hurt everyone I had ever known and that I would have to apologize to all of them and that they would never forgive me. I remember arguing against it, saying it wasn't so. Then the voices said I was Jesus and Kate and the Devil all in one and that Jesus and I were to help the Devil. We were to try to bring the Devil into recovery, trying to get him to "turn around." The voices called this "Lucifer in Recovery." Going from one extreme to another made me very disoriented and ill but ultimately I had to believe in my essential goodness. In order to prove my worthiness the voices said I had to get a therapist, go to support group meetings and help people in my community. Amidst a lot of torture that's what I did. I found a therapist right in town, went to Al-Anon and a support group for domestic violence victims, became friends with the women in that group and began to act as a lay social worker. These women were very kind to me and shared their homes and families with me. I was grateful to them but still none of them were practicing Christians. The only place I tried to talk about God and encourage other people to talk about God was in the Al-Anon meetings. I even went to a couple of church services but was too ill to cope with it and not ready to admit that I was suffering from schizophrenia. Even in the midst of people I felt like an outsider, too psychotic to really bond with anyone.

While I was still psychotic (not taking the anti-psychotic meds) I returned to finish my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I was required to take a year long class called Western Civilization. By the end of the first semester we were studying about Jesus and early Christianity. I had always believed that the New Testament was written by men who were followers of Jesus (though it appears that none of them knew him personally I think) and because they were merely men and not divinely inspired there were inconsistencies and contradictions within their gospels. I did believe that some of their portrayals of Jesus were correct and some were manipulations of the truth. Then I discovered that at the time that Jesus was preaching (a mere three recorded years!) and for several centuries afterwards there was a popular cult among the Roman soldiers and slaves called the Cult of Mithras. It was based on the Persian religion Zoroastrianism. The parallels with Christianity are striking: Mithras (the Christ figure) was born of a virgin on December 25th, he had 12 followers, there is a baptism (blood instead of water), a Last Supper, his death to redeem mankind, a resurrection on the third day after his death and a Last Judgement. I was shocked. This meant that the writers of the New Testament several decades after Jesus' death were purposely interweaving the story of Jesus with this popular cult (so popular it rivaled Christianity for the first two hundred years).

Around the time I discovered this I was on the verge of a psychotic break and I began to see and believe that the Bible, though filled with truths and beauty, was man made and not divinely inspired and that the real Jesus was only partially revealed. I also saw parallels between some of Jesus' teachings and Buddhism, which originated some 500 years before. It made me see that Jesus in his own day was very sensitive to the people and cultures around him and that his followers used his sensitivity to their own advantage, molding his story as they saw fit. Unlike Buddha, Jesus was not alive to guide the early church. The Christian movement that developed after his death was therefore suspect, as fallible as the men who created it.
Luckily, I believe that there is enough of Jesus' actual teachings to make the New Testament a very valuable book and I was intrigued to know the real story of Jesus, but then I had my breakdown and afterwards I was so frail that I put the study of the New Testament aside. Perhaps now I can return to it for further study, gleaning the truths from the half truths in my limited way.

And so, I find Jesus a compelling and problematical figure in history, problematical in that I don't think he was accurately portrayed or only partially so. The Christianity formed in a large part by Saint Paul I did not necessarily see as a reflection of Jesus' true beliefs. Who Jesus was really is still somewhat of a mystery to me. But some of the sayings attributed to him are so powerful and revolutionary that I can't help but feel drawn to him. While I don't believe that the Bible is God's truth, and I don't believe that Jesus was the son of God (he often refered to himself as the son of man, not God, as if to make the point that he was not divine), while I'm skeptical of Christianity because I'm not sure it was what Jesus intended, I still am drawn to Jesus primarily because of some of the things he is said to have preached. The whole concept of loving your enemies, which is still not embraced and practiced today, I find deeply moving and I see it as a path that could heal the world if people would but take it.

When I think of God, I think of one God for all people. I think it is the arrogance of man that presumes that some people are chosen by God and others are not. To my mind, there are no chosen people because every single one of us is chosen by the very fact that we are alive. I dislike intensely the divisiveness that religion causes amongst the people of the world. We all share a common humanity and yet we fight and fight and fight. Why? It is not God who tells us we must do it, it is mankind.
Religion is the creation of man and while all religions have their inspirations and revelations they also are imperfect because we are imperfect. What is perfection? As far as I can tell perfection is love. When Jesus exhorts people to love their enemies, he cites this as an example of perfection. He concludes: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) Love is all inclusive as God is. No one religion can be all inclusive and therefore it is not a perfect system. But the goal is to strive towards spiritual perfection, love for all, even if we keep falling short of it. And that's why I will continue to look for truths in all religions, for the things that unite us instead of divide us.
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