August 31, 2011

John Calvin and Me

Today, I tabled at our school's Club Carnival for my club, the University of Mary Washington Unitarian Universalists. It was fun to watch people's reactions - either then squinted at the sign, figured out it was a church club, and speed-walked away, or they made a beeline for our table because they already knew about UU and were excited to see us there, then hurried away to see all the other clubs.

I got to chat with a few people, though, and one was a new minister on our campus. He said, "We're very similar, but more trinitarian," which I think he thought was a funny joke. He asked if I'd grown up UU, and I answered no, I grew up Presbyterian. When he asked how I made that switch, I gave an answer that in retrospect wasn't exactly complete or satisfying, so I'm going to try again here.

I've always loved church as an intellectual exercise - so many interesting names to remember in Sunday school! - and as I got older, I also grew interested in the spiritual side. And I found the spiritual aspect of our high school youth group really fulfilling, but the intellectual side - the theology they taught us in youth group - got more and more troubling. I think it's fair to say that while our youth group wasn't anywhere near as conservative as some I've come across, it took a pretty strict Calvinist view of theology and had an evangelical flavor to it. My most vivid Sunday school memory is learning about the "spiral of depravity," wherein humans are inherently bad and everything we do, even our attempts to do good, only further our ultimate sinfulness, but there are some other gems, too. I remember tearfully hurrying to the front of the church to pledge that I would try to convert some of my unsaved friends (and further tears at my failures to convert my unsaved friends.) I remember being confused and conflicted as we learned that it was dangerous to associate too much with nonbelievers, when my non-believing friends supported me more than my church acquaintances ever did.

And I was learning about other religions at the same time my church taught me, more and more, that all of them were wrong. In Sunday school we did a series on "cults," which included not only groups like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, but Agnostics and Deists. Meanwhile, in school, I learned about Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, and found things that were beautiful and useful in all of them. I even met a Satanist girl, and found myself defending Satanism in Sunday School.

So that was pretty much the end of that.

I still find parts of Christianity valuable, and I understand that the way I was taught its symbols and beliefs isn't the only way to look at them, and that some are much... shall we say, friendlier. But for me, trying to reconcile what I'd learned and struggled with about Christianity to what I understood intellectually about faith and its place in life wasn't what I wanted. So I joined a church where I could keep nurturing my spirituality without feeling the need to struggle with my intellect, and it worked out!

This is the answer I wish I'd given the campus minister who asked me about my faith. Oh well, maybe next time.

1 comment:

Chris Casey said...

I liked that when home this summer you joined me at my church... The Church of Sunday Sleep Late!