Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.
~ 1 John 4:1‒3 (RSVCE)
It’s painful for me to even consider writing this piece—as I know it may be deemed heretical in the eyes of many of my most devout Protestant and Catholic friends and family alike—but over this past summer, I have been experiencing severe psychological, emotional and spiritual burnout. Although I will add that I have been mentally planning to write such an op-ed as this one for at least a year’s time now.
But just a few months prior, many were expecting me to take a magical leap of faith as I had finally decided to go to my very first Confession in a Roman Catholic setting—despite being raised a Pentecostal Protestant. Of course, if Confession wasn’t intimidating enough, then taking the Eucharist should be even more so. Because if there is one thing Catholics are doctrinally right about, it’s that they earnestly and honestly look at the Host (bread) and wine as more than mere symbols of Christ’s body and blood.
THEY ARE HIS BODY AND BLOOD.
Jesus Himself [יֵשׁוּעַ] allegedly says, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19) in one of the most famous of scenes in the Gospel accounts; as well as “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)
As a child in Sunday school, I can still vividly recall a church elder or two teaching the class that Christ’s death was the fulfillment of the words He spoke to His disciples at the Last Supper—and in my young mind, it had made complete sense that these were symbols—because living in the early 21st century, it is clear that science can explain nearly everything.
But looking back at these Biblical scenes again as a young man and soon to be graduating from UC Berkeley in a few months’ time—I can’t help but feel more like a doubting Thomas than a Peter or Paul or John the Beloved.
The reason why I say this has to do with both my (fundamentalist) Pentecostal upbringing, as well as disputes with the clergy over social justice issues such as alleviating poverty and LGBTQ rights, to name two as examples.
In a nutshell, I too went through the motions of every worship service and summer camp I attended as a kid. Hands raised, tears streaming down my cheeks, I too had earnestly prayed and cried to God to heal me of my disabilit(ies)…
One girl next to me at one of these summer camps even confessed to me all those years ago, “Don’t cry, Josh. God will heal you…”
I have long forgotten what I had said in response, but I do remember thinking “I hope so…” in my head. I was 8 or 10 at the time, so I don’t blame myself or her for experiencing church like that. After all, I was indoctrinated in it and I had trusted it to be a second home to me, as well as an emotional safety net.
Most of these sentiments have changed shortly before, during and after high school—but I have already talked about this era of my life at length in posts on my Quora profile and elsewhere, so I’ll spare y’all the details and cut to the chase. I might write a book one day about all the shit I’ve been through though. You’ll just have to wait and see….
Anyways, the main reason why I’ve wanted to write this piece is to officially make it clear to everyone that I remain a Christian (Christ follower) in belief, but that I’ve grown sick and tired of the polarization, the scandals and the overall anti-intellectual atmosphere within many denominations. Simply put, I just cannot fathom or comprehend why so many Fathers and ministers—as well-intended as they try to sound and act—are so quick to judge and rebuke any who “fall out of line” if even just one person thinks something kooky about concepts like sin and salvation.
For quite some time, I have come forward and disclosed to several friends and priests alike online and in-person that I now often think and feel like an “agnostic.” This is to say that I often doubt God and His Presence, while often feeling like He’s distant or absent in my own supposed relationship with Him.
Simultaneously, I’ll readily defend the very idea of a God existing until I’m an elderly man myself—telling stories to my future children and grandchildren.
Therefore, the word finally resurfaced in my mind that I’m probably a Deist at this point alongside guys like Thomas Paine and Charles Darwin. Of course, this isn’t to say that I don’t believe that the supernatural does not intervene at all—unlike what classical Deism suggests. Rather, from my many years of personal soul searching and studying comparative religions, I have come to an understanding that I’m not as cold and calculating as the most hardcore atheists out there are (e.g. Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking). But I’m also nowhere near the religious zealotry of televangelists like Benny Hinn and Billy Graham anymore either.
I’m somewhere in the middle at this point in my young adult life; and quite honestly, I am content with trying to figure out what lies beyond this physical realm on my own terms than to just sit in the pews on any given Sunday and listen to a clergy-person rant about Heaven and Hell to me.
Alternatively, you could say I’m spiritual but not religious.
In all seriousness, we should and must honestly be able to separate Christ from Christianity for just a moment here…
Flashback to 2012 starting now:
Until next time,
P.S. I’ll be checking out Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason during my downtime.