Shortly after my fiancé and I got engaged, we decided to take a look at a book that was supposed to help engaged couples discuss all of those big things that need to be addressed before marriage: money, careers, kids, that sort of thing. Each chapter came with an assignment that was supposed to get us thinking and help us communicate our ides.
The chapter on religion asked us each to draw a picture representing our spiritual journey. My lack of artistic skill has in no way diminished my love of crayons, so I grabbed the big box and we both went to work. Behold the fruits of my labor!
At the time, I would have called myself an agnostic, but I was in the middle of trying to process my ideas about religion in general. I was still figuring out what I believed, and I found the drawing exercise surprisingly cathartic. Maybe that’s why it’s still hanging on our refrigerator.
I was raised by Christian parents, and it’s taken me a while to realize just how conservative we really were. After all, I went to public school, wore jeans, listened to secular rock music, and was encouraged to go to college and have a career. Then again, I was also expected to believe in young earth creationism, told that women were supposed to submit to their husbands’ authority, taught that homosexuality was morally wrong, and various other things that just never really made sense to me.
So, about the picture. That road is the safest place you can be. And it’s pretty – see the nicely mown grass (or maybe it’s astroturf) beside it? Nothing can hurt you there. Sure, there’s a sign warning you not to go into the scary jungle, but why would you ever want to? Stay where you’re safe, where you don’t have to fear the unknown. Nothing can hurt you.
I did my very best to believe what I was taught, to seek answers to my questions, and to understand the Bible. For years, I tried to be the best Christian I could be. But eventually, my doubts built up to the point that I could no longer call myself a Christian with any sort of conviction. I realized I needed to honestly examine my faith, rather than assuming it was true and looking for justification. I needed to ask the questions I had been afraid to ask. I needed to consider answers that didn’t fit with the worldview my parents had so carefully constructed for me. I needed to stop avoiding the jungle they had taught me to fear.
The jungle you see in the picture is supposed be both gorgeous and frightening (use your imagination). There are no signs, no roads, no outside guidance. There are certainly dangers, but there is also beauty beyond anything you could imagine if you had spent your whole life walking along that road. There isn’t even necessarily an endpoint; your destination is whatever you decide it should be.
I did find beauty in the jungle. I began to accept the sheer vastness of the universe and look at it with wonder. I became excited about the mysteries that surround us, and the ways people go about looking for answers. I discovered that compassion, empathy, and acceptance came much more easily when I concerned myself with whether people were hurting or happy, as opposed to whether they were following The Rules as Taught by The One True Church. I found that my most important values – love, compassion, and empathy – haven’t gone away. If anything, this process has strengthened them. I haven’t changed much, but I do think I’ve changed for the better.
Realizing I no longer believed in any god, Christian or otherwise, was not an epiphany. It was, and is, a journey. Questioning the existence of God was scary: What if I was wrong? Would he be angry? What if I died before I was sure, and it turned out he was real – would I end up in hell? It was that fear, more than anything else, that had kept me on the road for long.
I’m no longer afraid, but my journey is certainly not over. There’s still so much to sort through. I’m having to come to grips with the fact that so much of what I was taught was wrong. I know now that the answers to life’s questions can’t simply be found in a book that’s freely available in hotel rooms. Perhaps most unsettling of all, I’ve had to accept the fact that there is no all-powerful being waiting to help me solve my biggest problems. Realizing that my life is truly my own is both empowering and terrifying.
So that’s what’s up with the name. This blog is about critically examining the ideas I grew up with, about being an atheist in Christian surroundings, and about how I got here and where I’m going. In other words, it’s about finally exploring the jungle.