Reading one of my favourite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, I just came across a few lines which really grabbed my attention. Two philosophers, Isabel and Jane, who have previously not met each other, meet in a cafe for lunch. Perhaps not unexpectedly, their conversation launches straight into deep matters:
The mention of religion stuck out. The laicisation of conversation – even about major things – had been so complete that religious references seemed inappropriate, almost gauche. And yet that was what had made us, thought Isabel. That had been at the heart of our culture; it had given our society its fundamental outlook. And could the Enlightenment have flourished in quite the same way in the absence of Christian sentiments of love and cherishing of others? Society may be post-Christian, but could hardly ignore its Judeo-Christian past; we did not, after all come from nowhere.
I am, almost infamously, post-Christian. I was a devout believer for most of my life and tragically lost my faith five years ago. It was one of the more traumatizing events of my existence; as I said to a friend recently, I wish I could still believe – but my faith is gone, and to pretend otherwise, even for the sake of comfort, would be intellectually and morally reprehensible.
I have been a depressed Christian, and now am a depressed post-Christian. Being a depressed Christian was, in many ways, a wonderful opportunity for growth. One could not treat the issue of suffering lightly: no trite quoting of scripture, nor intellectual theologizing, would turn your face from the fact that suffering exists in this universe, which apparently came into being through the agency of a loving God. My faith did not ease my suffering; rather, my suffering deepened and broadened my faith. I could feel and experience what it meant for God to enter creation and live among us, and die an unjust death at the hands of powerful men.
These days, I cannot pretend that I was never a Christian. As Isabel muses in the quote above, I cannot ignore my Judeo-Christian past. Losing my faith left a God-shaped hole in my psyche. (Wow, as I typed that sentence, I suddenly realized that the phrase “God-shaped wound” might be more appropriate!) There was a great deal of psychological re-wiring which had to be done: for instance, if you are a Christian and do something which you are ashamed of (i.e. sin) there is a process you go through to restore yourself to a state of grace. I have had to find a new process, and train myself in it. I’ve had to find new ground beneath my feet, a new basis for being. It’s been tough, but I’ve made progress.
Being depressed in a post-Christian world is … different. I suspect my world was already post-Christian before I lost my faith. Although I was still “in the cult”, much of Western society had moved on. Still, I lived in a subculture in which people prayed for me, believing to a greater or lesser degree that they were able to do something to actually help alleviate my suffering; even my medications bloke doesn’t promise that.
I’ve had Christians tell me that God is still there, waiting for me to turn back and receive the promises of faith. They earnestly gaze into my eyes, as though I could will myself – as though they could will me! – back into belief. I politely tell them that if I could, I most surely would choose a life of faith again; however, I can not. I don’t have it within me to retreat into what would, for me, be a spiritual and intellectual sham for the sake of comfort. If there is a god, they would not want that, surely?
Judeo-Christian imagery and themes pervade my psychotherapy: trinities; sin and forgiveness; salvation; relationship. An emphasis on justice, love and relationships, broken and true. Sacrifice. Integrity. Just wrath, and just suffering.
No, there’s no escaping where I’ve come from; just like the title of Jeanette Winterson’s masterpiece, “Written on the Body”, my history is inscribed into my psyche.
I know, however, that where I come from is less important than where I am going.
And where I am going is towards a place of wholeness and health, along a path of intellectual honesty and authenticity.
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Friends, as I write this, I am dealing with the recent news that my bedridden grandmother has pneumonia and may not have long to live. I’m sure my psychotherapist would make much of the fact that I’ve chosen to write on religious themes after hearing that news, but I’m just letting you know that the coming days may be a little difficult, and as I have in the past, I may be looking to the community here on WordPress for support.