Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Evacuating the Elephant

"So then. Since we're on the topic. Do you think I'm going to hell?"

There. I did it. I threw it out there.

I waited. He thought.

"I don't know."

"But what do you think?"

"Well...I mean, one day I hope that you'll experience God the way that I've gotten to. And, uh... I guess I used to worry about you more, but...I guess, not so much now. Because I trust you, and I have to trust that God's got you where you're supposed to be."

"Ok, and that's fine. But still: I no longer consider myself a Christian. Say I died today. What would you assume?"

"I...I don't know. And I'm not trying to dodge the question, I swear. I just...I really don't know, I don't even know what I think about that. I mean, there's the whole debate about whether...you know...'once saved, always saved'...and...well, I guess don't really give a whole lot of thought to either heaven or hell anymore."

I took his hand and felt him relax a bit. I know this isn't any easier for him than it is for me. Perhaps easier for me, now, since I've wrestled this out for myself already. It's one of the upsides to the way I deal with things. It isn't that I don't worry about the questions, he told me once before, it's just that...I don't think I have the same drive to deal with them all right away like you do. You get new information and you can't rest until you've assimilated it all. And he's right. I get that. There are downsides to my way, certainly. Like the two solid years I spent feeling like I was losing my mind. There's something to be said for the ability to set a matter aside for a while, let the dust settle. To be able to live in peace with a bit of inconsistency. To make a few allowances for being human.

What can I say? I'm fucking stubborn. I don't know when to quit. It's my greatest strength and my fatal flaw.

"Let me rephrase, then. Would you send me to hell?"

"Well. No."

And I didn't know if this would be crossing a line, but, well...we were already here, so I went for it:

"Does that bother you at all? To know that you're more merciful than a God of supposed infinite mercy?"

He didn't answer. I didn't force it.

"Just a thought. It was one of my crumbling points, though. That realization."

He nodded.

I squeezed his hand. "Look, ok? I know the theology. I know what I would have thought about someone like me, years ago. It's okay. For the record, I don't think I'm going to hell, if that helps. I'm not looking for reassurances or answers, so...no pressure. The question's sort of irrelevant, really. I lost my faith in hell a long time before I lost my faith in God."

He smiled a bit. "I know."

"I was just curious, is all."

We lay there awhile.

"Anyway, thanks," I said.


"Listening. For being someone safe. And especially for...well, for taking me at my word, instead of re-framing everything I say to fit your theology and your terms. It's more courtesy than I would have afforded someone like me, years ago."

I thought a bit; laughed.

"Funny," I said.


"It took me leaving my faith to realize you were never the asshole Christian I was."

This time he squeezed my hand. We lay there for a while. When we spoke again, it was of easier things.


atimetorend said...

Nice conversation, sounds peaceful for such high stakes.

Fiat Lex said...

I salute both you and him. It's a rare partnership that can withstand the strain of being, as some are fond of putting it, "unequally yoked." And it's the kind of conversation a lot of would-be proselytizers don't ever have. Cause your darlin' is way more understanding than they are! And on the flip side, it's a conversation a lot of "new atheists" wouldn't have, either, because they wouldn't give the religionist any room to breathe and actually think it over.

Thank you, thank you for posting this. And for being cool. :)

The Woeful Budgie said...


It was, but I know we wouldn't have been able to have this conversation a year ago. And not because of him, either. Getting to a place where I'm comfortable with my lack of faith has helped me to not be so defensive and insecure when topics of faith do come up. That alone has been a huge relief.

@Fiat Lex

Thanks. :) Before you give too much credit, though, keep in mind that not all of our conversations have been this, um...nice. Especially since I've got a bad habit of going from "sincere inquiry" to "full-scale interrogation" (mainly when I'm scared) and so, wasn't always able to give him room to think. I was too busy pouncing on his inconsistencies and picking them to shreds. (Though to be fair, I was only treating him the same way I treated myself. If I didn't give myself any breathing space, why should I give him any?)

And of course, I only did it because I was certain that if I let up for even a second, he'd do the exact same to me. I think that was partly good old-fashioned projection, but also partly my experience: as far as I knew, Real True Christianity valued capital-R Rightness above all else.

Also, I was afraid that if I couldn't defend my beliefs (read: win the argument), I'd forfeit my right to hold said beliefs. I don't know where I got this idea, but it was largely unconscious. It was this horrible place of limbo where I was terrified of leaving, but terrified of being sucked back in.

Anyway, dropping my faith has meant that I don't have to defend myself on church terms, so I've been able to relax considerably. And that's helped a lot.

Though he is more understanding than I ever expected of him...like I said, I'm amused that I had to lose my faith to find that out. I've actually learned a lot more about him during my deconversion that I don't think I would have had the opportunity to learn otherwise. And not just things about his faith, but things that never quite made it into the faith narrative before---little basic human things that always had sort of secondary value to me before feel like small treasures now. Unequally yoked as we may be, I feel closer to him now in a lot of ways. I'm sort of grateful for that. Especially since, for a long time, I was afraid that losing God would mean losing him too.

Maybe it's just rationalizing, but every time I turn around I seem to find a new reason why leaving Christianity has been all kinds of good for me.

Anonymous said...

{Fiat's boyfriend here)

Your dude sounds awesome to me. Great conversation, and I applaud you for posting it. I've read it many times since it's gone up.

The Woeful Budgie said...

@Fiat's boyfriend:

Thanks. That's nice to hear. Or...read. Whatever. :)

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Woeful

I am here from ATTR's post on you.

That was very touching post I love the technique of saying, "Would you send me to hell?" -- I will have to try that sometime.

Also I loved the line where you said, "It took me leaving my faith to realize you were never the asshole Christian I was."

Since blogging, I realized that there are a huge varieties of ways Christians hold their beliefs and I often assumed they must hold them like I did and have been rightly corrected by many Christians that they don't.

The Woeful Budgie said...

Hi Sabio, welcome.

Let me know how that works. My guess is if you asked, say, some casual acquaintance whether they would send you to hell, they'd deflect with some variation of "our thoughts and ways are not God's perfect thoughts and ways, so my opinion here is irrelevant", and then continue to talk around the question until you gave up.

The difference is, hubby knows he can't pull that with me. ;)

The truth is, though, I don't think most Christians would send us to hell, if the decision were left solely up to them. Certainly not anyone I know.

Huh. Suddenly, this whole aspect of Christianity is looking like a vast, cosmic Milgram experiment. "I...I don't want to push the button, but the man in the white coat says it's necessary...and I don't really know the whole picture like he does, so..." *BZZT*