Stories of Doubt is a Doubters Anonymous series featuring the reflections of members of the community. Stories are shared in a spirit of understanding and healing, and reflect the personal beliefs and experiences of the person sharing, not necessarily the group as a whole. We are always accepting new stories and would love to hear yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My faith has been in a perpetual state of transition, if not crisis, after leaving a “fundismatic” Christian cult where I spent nearly ten years. Despite this, doubt was a place I was determined to visit, not somewhere I wanted to live. I’ve spent the last couple of years as a somewhat closeted member of Doubters Anonymous, trying to put doubt behind me while keeping an ear to the stories of those who were in a place I was hopeful to call my past.
I came to Swiss L’Abri last fall with the hope of shoring up the faith I’d spent nearly 3 years (post cult) carefully reconstructing. It wasn’t very many weeks before the foundation I’d intended to reinforce revealed glaring cracks I was avoiding. I read a book that I thought would make me feel better about points of Calvinism that unnerved me. Instead, I was faced with all the reasons I’d objected to Calvinism at my first introduction to it when I was 15 years old. The questions I had then dismissed, now stampeded across my mind, unchecked. And the answers provided were far from satisfying. It seemed as though I was expected to just throw a little faith at the things I didn’t understand, embrace “the tension” and move on. The book triggered broader questions for me about justice, redemption and the nature of God. The pandora’s box I’d been sitting on came bursting open with all the grace of a jack-in-the-box, knocking me over with it.
I started to ask questions with my friends at L’Abri, many of whom are in various stages of questioning and doubt. We discussed at length what justice looks like. We talked about the problem of evil and danced around the pain fueling our questions. One of the beautiful things about L’Abri is that you are given ample room to ask hard questions and permission to reject the easy answers. Trite religiosity and clichés are not the norm around here, something for which I am infinitely grateful.
On December 4, 2015 I prayed for the last time to a god I no longer believe in.
I wrote down the hardest questions and penned a lamentation of my very own. From a bench on the side of a narrow mountain road I yelled into the rain at the god who was supposed to be my shelter, strong tower, protector and defender. I told him he failed me. I couldn’t believe that he had power to send me a passport but not protect me from evil. I gave myself permission to apply logic to the image of god that I was taught in Sunday School and he evaporated as quickly as my breath in the cold air. My faith burned up.
By January, I couldn’t say with any confidence that I believed in god, simply because I don’t know who “god” is. The image of him painted in children’s church and ten years in a cult were virtually indistinguishable and no longer acceptable. There were a few discussions among new L’Abri students about why they believed in God. My heart sank while I listened because so many of their points for belief were points against belief in my mind. I knew all too well how easily the things they said could be twisted and used to abuse people “in the name of god.” I wondered if I would ever find something to believe in.
Hope came for me after reading a borrowed copy of Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be. I discovered for the first time that the god of the bible did not only look like the god of fundamentalist evangelicals. I discovered that there were people who saw god in an entirely different light – one that exposed systems of religious domination and inspired people to radical love and non-violence. All of the devils advocates in my mind were silenced. In the light of Love I was completely disarmed.
My heart began a revolution the day I finished reading The Powers That Be. For years I’d worn a spinner ring on my thumb that said “He Died 4 Me + I Live 4 Him.” Even while my faith unraveled I kept it on for mostly sentimental and practical reasons (I’m a chronic fidgeter and the spinning helped). That night I sat on a bench with a friend and began ranting about the systems of religious domination I’d been a part of and the tactics of manipulation and shame that are commonly used to motivate people to religious service. The ring felt like a symbol of a religion that I suddenly found disgusting. It took up residence in my coat pocket until I decided what to do about it.
Nearly a month later, I held a “ring ceremony” that was anything but typical. I invited a dozen of my friends to walk with me out to the road where my faith burned up because I wanted witnesses to what I knew would become a transformative experience. Standing on the side of the mountain with snow quietly dusting my hair, my voice rang out.
“I, Rebekah Hope, hereby declare myself independent from any religious domination system. The death of Christ does not demand anything from me. I am free from cycles of religious obligation. I do not have to serve God because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I am free from the requirements of public confession and restitution. I am free from the scrutiny and criticism of those still under religious domination. I am free of others’ opinions regarding my eternal soul. I am free from the belief that the highest form of love is through correction and discipline. I am free of any sense of indebtedness-to God or man-for love. True love is a gift freely offered which by its nature cannot be repaid. I am free of striving to earn love, repay love, or keep love. I, hereby, maintain the right to speak out against the domination of others in the name of God. I maintain the right to ask questions and to challenge the system and its powers, no matter how established they may be. I maintain the right to lament the damage done by the domination system and to stand with those who have been wounded by it. Together we will turn the other cheek, absorbing in defiance that which was intended to shame. I, therefore, in an exercise of my hilariously free will, and in the presence of these witnesses, rid myself of this ring as a symbol of religious domination. To Life!”
As I shouted the last two words of my Declaration of Independence amidst the raucous cheers of my friends, I pitched the ring off the side of the mountain into the darkness. We all raised our glasses then took shelter from the snow in a hay barn. Together we drank and laughed, celebrating freedom. I received words of affirmation and sincere encouragement throughout the night, filling my heart to the brim. Once back at L’Abri each of them signed as witnesses to my Declaration.
I’m not sure I’ve fully realized the impact of sharing this experience with my fellow sojourners. I count it an incredible privilege to have had their support, honored that they would stand with me as I made a stand. The ring ceremony marked both an end and a beginning for me. It was the end of belief as I once knew it, the final death knell for an image of god I can no longer believe in. But it was the beginning of what I hope will be a lifelong journey of discovering the god who may be.
I don’t’ know what I believe or believe in these days. I’m now spending my final term at Swiss L’Abri trying to learn to live well in not-knowing. You could call it rehab for a lifetime addiction to certainty.
Over the last six months I have watched my faith in god disappear, while my faith in Love has blossomed in the most unexpected ways. Here at L’Abri I encountered love that did not want to change me, which has changed me forever. I have encountered Love in deepening friendships, dogmatic Calvinists, in hands reached for and held tightly. I have known Love through laughter at my own expense and tears cried on my behalf. Love has kissed me with freckles in the sun and snowflakes in my hair. This kind of Love… well, is there any other word for it than divine?