I believe all of us are on a journey in life. How we choose to pay attention to this idea greatly impacts the way we live out our lives. Without the belief that our lives have some sort of direction, it can be very easy to get lost or refrain from taking daily steps. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Sometimes the moments in our life where we feel as if we’ve gotten lost are actually the times that can be used to define and shape us; leading us to new destinations and places we may never have experienced had we not been ‘sidetracked’ in the process.
Sinking into my couch and processing the sheer volume of thought, conversation and occurrences that have happened in the past few weeks is nothing short of overwhelming. This will be a very, very long blog.
Throughout my entire life, religious faith has played a very large role. As a child, I was raised in a fundamentalist charismatic christian family that believed in a literal interpretation of the bible, along with all of the topics that would follow such a belief; charismatic ‘gifts’ of the spirit, apocalyptic end times, hell, rapture, young earth, sexual restraint, ‘spiritual authority’ and many harsh consequences for those who strayed off the path of being a ‘believer’.
For many years, I accepted this belief system at face value, with little questioning or out-of-the-church thinking about many life issues.
Growing older, I began to have many doubts and personal revelations that not all of these teachings were factual, culturally relevant or believable. This caused a great deal of inner struggle, as I didn’t want the thoughts in my mind to create a salvation-tanking opinion that would sink the faith I so deeply believed in.
At the time, I was teaching a youth bible study through Teays Valley High School Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). I still have a decent number of the notes I used during teaching (Living as a champion – PDF) these students. Throughout my entire journey, I’ve always stuck to my guns that I still vouch for the lessons taught to these students, as they’ve remained applicable with or without religious beliefs.
I loved those kids. I really, really loved those kids. I still stay in contact with several of them. Every week, I would take them all to Dairy Queen and treat them to ice cream. It wasn’t an economically rich area and this little gesture was always well-received. At the time, I wasn’t doing very well financially. However, there wasn’t a single week where I wasn’t able to pay for the ice cream. A lot of the kids thought me to be doing much better, financially, than I actually was. To this day, not a single one of them knows there were moments where I had less than $50 in my checking account before paying for 5-15 DQ menu items.
Many of the topics we discussed had to do with practical methods of living faith, rather than just having it in our heads. The lessons were full of “Aaron Plaat Practical Application for Successful Living” – a term I used on many occasions. In particular, I pushed for hands-on application of faith; putting hands to the plow and sweating, rather than praying for supernatural miracles while remaining idle. “Get out of the boat” was a topic was discussed in endless formats.
It was the “out of the boat” belief that led me to leave Ohio and pursue opportunities in New York and Los Angeles. Saying ‘see you soon’ was excruciating. It was harder than saying goodbye to my own family (I couldn’t get rid of them if I tried…I joke…).
It was during the time period I moved to Los Angeles that my religious beliefs were put through the fire of logic, research, thought, and my own experiences leading up to that point in my life. I began to research many of the heavy-hitting topics in christianity; hell, Jesus, scriptural accuracy/origin, how the religion was formed – who, how, why, and the not-so-pretty atrocities that occurred – compared to what it has morphed into with modern times.
My findings rattled me. Rather than being led to believe further, I started to see countless holes in the religion that my mind prevented me from letting my heart accept as fact/faith.
“The heart cannot accept what the mind rejects.”
Engaging in conversation/debates with those who still believed was not pleasant. It’s very hard to engage in conversation with somebody who believes you to be wrong on topics they’ve done no research on.
To date, I’ve never met anybody who is aware the deity of Jesus was decided by a raise of hands at the famed ‘Council of Nicea” led by Constantine, with rampant persecution of those who believed otherwise (Arius / Arianism).
Many people I’ve spoken to about my discrepancies with the christian religion have trumpeted the endless fallibility of man, covered by the infallible and perfect nature of their god. To me, it has always seemed as a bit of a cop-out to say ‘people aren’t perfect….but they follow something/somebody that is…’ because it leads to the justification and acceptance of horrific acts of biblical proportions, such as genocide, infanticide, torture, judgement and earthly damnation of those who don’t whistle the same tune as the one sung in a church.
However, I’ve come to terms with the fact that human beings aren’t perfect. Horrible acts have occurred in countless arenas outside of religion. Rather than justifying, I think there is some peace to be found in calling a spade a spade and realizing horrific events are a result of human nature; not exclusive to the religious few.
Question Mark Vs. Faith
Throughout the process, I’ve had to systematically replace answers with question marks. I don’t know how long it took for the universe to [be] form[ed]. Neither do you. Yet, this topic is often the cause of many long debates that leave both parties red in the face.
Thus, much of the faith I maintained was replaced with a slew of question marks for things I’ve discovered I cannot discover a true answer to, no matter how many hours of study I dive into.
I found that replacing faithful certainty with a question mark can often be viewed as a lack of faith, rather than the reality there are questions we will never know the answer to. As somebody who takes a more intellectual approach to these topics, I remained quite torn.
It dawned on me that the proverbial question marks for these topics had turned into firm disbeliefs over time. The same criticism I had for those who stubbornly stuck to their harsh judgement on others was now being displayed in my own life. This led to a period of intense bitterness and anger that did little more than poison me from the inside, damaging relationships and influencing the comfort level of those around me to discuss their beliefs.
The following topics/ideas have been some of the key elements that have led me to the perspective I’ve maintained for several years, as well as some of the paradigm shifts that have occurred.
Others / Role Models
There were very few people I respected or looked up to during my childhood years. Simply put, they made the christian faith look like a miserable crutch they depended on because they weren’t willing to step to the plate of living their lives and making the most of them. I resented singing “History Maker” because I was consciously aware those around me were doing nothing to make anything of their lives. How could somebody change history if they weren’t willing to put in work on their own life? I desperately wanted to believe the words were true but was mentally held back by the [in]action of those around me who were more comfortable spending an hour on their knees, in prayer, rather than making a real difference to those around them.
Friend & Brother
After moving to Dallas, I met somebody by the name of Jon. While he doesn’t know this (yet) I had initially met him made a judgement call that he reminded me of a youth pastor I had in high school. This led to a quick labeling and notion that I had him ‘figured out’ and knew what he was about.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Jon showed (and shows) me true friendship without any judgement or criticism. His 100% transparency and sincerity has really impacted me. There was a time, earlier this year, that I called him and asked if he could swing by my apartment. After the initial small talk, I looked him dead in the eye and said “Jon, I need a friend.” “You got it, man!”
He really took me under his wing; frequently stopping by to say hello for no reason other than to be a friend. He re-introduced me to fishing, taking the time to explain the purpose behind every piece of gear that would fill my new tackle box.
They say ‘a prophet is without honor in his home’ which may be the reason why I wasn’t able to be as impacted by my own family as I was with Jon.
We’ve laughed and cried together, encouraged each other through the roller coaster that is self-employment, and have grown incredibly close as friends/brothers. It’s people like Jon who have continued to rattle and shake my opinion of the faith. He really lives it.
In 2007, my Father passed away from cancer. Processing his death through my head, rather than my heart, I came to the conclusion that I would “see him soon” and had little reason to mourn his loss. He was in a better place, after all. No more pain.
This caused a lot of internal barriers that prevented me from feeling a healthy range of emotions. Sadness and anger were simply not allowed to exist in situations where they should have been fully expressed. You can’t shut off one emotion without all others being impacted; empathy and compassion become a head game, rather than true expression of the heart.
It wasn’t until my rejection of religion that I truly grieved the loss of my Father. With the certainty of seeing him again now gone, it dawned on me just how much I had kept bottled inside for fear that releasing it would somehow weaken my faith or inner strength. This caused resentment and bitterness at the religious practice of ‘giving it to the lord’ instead of being a human being and feeling with our hearts the way we were supposed to feel.
I went through a very painful experience this year that taught me what it felt like to encounter cold rejection. I watched, with gut-wrenching horror, as all of the plans and dreams I believed would come to fruition were instead systematically dismantled and broken.
Because I had never experienced anything on this level before, it deepened my understanding of what it feels like to have somebody reject you. Looking back, it was one of the best things to have ever happened to me, no matter how painful.
“What if that’s how your creator feels about you?” I was recently asked. It floored me.
Creator / Created
When I look at the complexity of the universe, there isn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that there is a Creator. Logically, it makes sense. I’ve never seen a BMW get assembled after a tornado crossed through a junkyard. The human body/mind is infinitely more complex than a car.
This deep belief, which has never swayed, has led me to some very simply conclusions about our existence on this planet.
When I create something, I put my heart and mind into it. I would be a fool to spend months building a home only to set it on fire.
That analogy is the reason I fight the concept of hell (which has undergone routine belief changes as the centuries pass, beginning with its earliest descriptions derived from Inferno) I simply can’t accept that a loving Creator would doom countless human beings, nor do I believe that my challenge with this concept will cause me to go there, should it exist.
Chef / Dinner
Talking with one of my former FCA students, I stated my belief that a loving Creator could be likened to a meal. The christian faith is very nutritious and filling for some individuals, while poisonous and damning to others. E.g. many believe that gay men/women are ‘living in sin’ and deserve to fry in hell for all of eternity. I don’t believe this.
“Aaron, instead of criticizing the meal, why don’t you just learn to trust the chef?”
With so many imitators crafting poisonous meals that are only for a select few, it makes perfect sense that something inside of us craves the real and authentic meal, served by a chef we can trust completely.
To bring this very-long blog to a close, I’ll hammer out my final thoughts.
At the age of 27, I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced a great deal of life. Fleeing from routine mediocrity, life has been a twisting journey that has been instrumental in crafting a unique perspective, including that of faith.
However, I’m empty and hollow on the inside. I admit it.
I sincerely want to believe there is more to life than a random collection of atomic particles that clumped together as human beings.
With humanity consistently showing itself to be full of flaws, heartbreak and horrific actions, there’s a deep longing to discover something that isn’t.
Being unable to accept the christian religion at face value, because of mental blocks preventing me from embracing core fundamental beliefs, I’m in a position where my hands feel tied. Genuinely seeking something real and true, while being presented with man-made options my heart cannot accept or embrace as a true example of love.
If we can find beauty within the pain of a heartbreak, it seems plausible that the answer for the longing in my heart to have purpose will be met in due time.
I’m just getting started.
Featured Image From Deviantart