I don’t love you like that anymore…

…and I probably never really did.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast, and the guest talked about not loving people that he didn’t love. At first, and on one level, I found that idea off-putting. As a former Christian I’d been trained over the years that we were to love everyone, unconditionally, and if not, there’d be Hell to pay.

That’s the idea….love one another, or else. How it gets meted out in the lives of individual believers is another topic entirely.

I call that kind of love, loving people under duress. Love is a consensual action. It’s something you cannot command or coerce. And loving out of obedience or under orders, or threats is a form of coercion.

As I thought about it, I realized that the guest on that show is right. People shouldn’t be able to lay claim to our love without our consent. There are people in my life that I want around as long as I live. There are others I really don’t care if I ever see again. Both have been members of churches I’ve attended.

One of the things I started doing when I left the Christian religion is taking back my heart and mind from it…taking back my agency. Love and love commandments are one of those areas.

In churchy circles there are numerous platitudes tossed about. People are always saying things like ‘God bless you,’ ‘I’m praying for you,’ and ‘I love you.’ Then when this last is not enough, some say, ‘I love you with the love of the Lord.’ I don’t talk that kind of language anymore. It’s a cutesy sounding. It makes everything seem warm and fuzzy. It also negates the individual’s ability to love at all.

Humans have loved, feared, hated, envied…they’ve felt things and experienced many emotions long before what we refer to as the Common Era….long before Christianity.

If I love you I’ll tell you. If telling you would make things awkward, I’ll find some way to let you know. It’s between the people. Gods and religions have nothing to do with it.

epiphany

I have cousins a few hours away in a couple of directions. I see one set a bit more often than others, and usually around Christmas. One of them is a minister and as expected his first concern is that one is staying faithful to God. I haven’t been to church in 3 years. In August of 2016 I posted a video announcing that I don’t believe anymore…that I am no longer Christian. I guess he and his wife didn’t see it. At least they don’t act like they saw it.

Every year when we meet up he usually asks me how long it’s been since I was at church, and says something to encourage me to go. Well I’m not going back. But I also don’t want to debate that at the table in a restaurant. I usually just nod my head while knowing that I’m not going back. This year I just really didn’t want to get into it. 2017 was extremely stressful with highlights of me selling my house and wrangling the move over to my mom’s with my dad in tow, dad’s health declining a bit more, my own trip to ER for heart palpitations…a visit I still owe money for. Then there’s the continued malaise, uncertainty and extremely annoying pronouncements from the White House. I just wanted the year over with and the family visit ended up wrapped up with all of that.

What came to me that morning, as I was obsessing over what my cousin was going to say about my non-attendance at services, was that my “service to God” is in taking care of my parents at this time in their lives. That it was acceptable to ‘The Divine.’ That it is good enough. I’m not a Christian. So I’m not going to try to influence anyone towards that path. The rest of what anyone thinks I “should be doing,” doesn’t matter.

Not our faith

There are numerous reasons why I left Christianity. The journey was 32 years before I finally said, “Enough.” As a black American, it’s simply not our faith. Christianity in America, by and large, was introduced to, and forced upon enslaved Africans. We were not allowed to practice our religions from our villages in Africa. It’s the slave master’s religion, and I recognize it as such. Being told I’m evil, serving Satan, and going to Hell are no longer compelling reasons for me to stay in something that I no longer want. And all Evangelicals have as a bargaining chip/blunt instrument, is Hell. They become petulant elementary school playground bullies, threatening to sick their god on me instead of the time-honored threat to ‘bash my teeth in.’ I’m done. If there is a God and an afterlife, my part in that is between me and the deity. It’s no longer anyone else’s business, and it really never was. I reject the agency of the church over my relationship with the divine.

Pray? Me? Pass.

 

I never got in a regular habit of praying as a believer and here’s why.

I’m an introvert. We hate small-talk…with anyone…including ‘God,’ whomever that is. I don’t like talking when I really have nothing to say and unlike many people I crave silence when there’s not an active conversation going on with another person. I have only heard of one person who said they heard the ‘audible voice of God,’ and I wasn’t told that by the person. That was in my Foursquare days when there were demons under every placemat. When I was there I was encouraged to not meditate as I had practiced it in my ‘former’ life as that was leaving doors open to ‘demons.’

I talked to ‘God’ because I was told by some that I needed to. I was told by others that I had to. In fact one pastor said I’d lose my ‘salvation’ if I didn’t pray. I guess we’ll overlook Romans 11:29 while we’re trying to scare a group of newbies into conforming and so they’ll keep coming back.

Talking gets to be exhausting. I just never liked being the only thing speaking in an empty room and that was what praying to ‘God’ felt like EVERY TIME. I did some of it but ‘I never prayed without ceasing.’ I suspect it was part of what led to my eventual exit from the faith. Today when I meditate I may state an intention or chant a bit but it’s very limited and not consistent. I ‘pray’ a little but I am no longer sure who I’m praying to anymore or if there is anyone to pray to. I may return to it as part of my spiritual practice, but I doubt it’ll be at the core. It will be my decision and not at anyone’s behest.

If there’s a ‘Hell’ I’ll probably be there, and that’s okay

Physically, as in a geometric location prepositionally oriented to the Earth (below), or a co-planar alter dimension of roasty torments, probably not. But in the hearts and minds of some of the people I’ll leave behind, I’ll be ‘down there,’ wailing and gnashing my teeth because I chose to no longer believe.

The trouble with the afterlife is that we have to die to find out what it is. We talk about it as if we’ve sent NASA battlebot rovers through the tunnel and into the light and we’ve been watching the live feed on the agency’s website. The truth is, we don’t know. We have no reproducible evidence of what, if anything, is over there, or if there is in fact an ‘over there.’ There is a lot of speculation and supposition among people, and most of it is very fervently held.

We live on in the hearts and minds of the people whose lives we’ve touched. That’s the only ‘afterlife’ that’s verifiable. It’s the only afterlife that we do know. That’s why forgiveness is so important, not because of a threat that God won’t forgive you if you refuse. It’s so that you’re not carrying around the burden of encounter after encounter, and situation after situation for years afterwards, and possibly to your grave.

When people die and someone sees them in Hell because they chose to not believe in Christ, or at least to not believe in the ‘Christ’ that was being preached at them, it means that they have a place in their heart for the purpose of burning and torturing people, and they’ve placed that person, their memories of that person, there. And if they have a particularly sick pathology, they take delight in the fact, and count it a blessing to one day observe it. That idea goes back to at least the 13th century, to St. Thomas Aquinas.

I personally know a few people who shine the outsides of their mental furnaces, and whenever I go, if they’re still here, they’ll likely toss me in with the others.

The thing is, eternity, the other side, whatever that is…whatever experience, if any that I’ll have when my time ends here, that’s between me and the creator. That’s between me and the universe. It’s not anyone else’s business. And it certainly has nothing to do with whatever movie is playing in someone else’s head, now or after I leave this experience.