Q & R: I think I'm agnostic
Here's the [implied] Q:
The reason why I'm writing to you is because ... well, it's kinda hard for me to say, but I'm gonna say it anyway ... I think I'm an agnostic.
I can't pinpoint to one particular event that made me want to doubt God's existence; it's been a bunch of things that have been bothering me for years. For starters, [many ago I was told] I'm "often angry and resentful towards [my] environment" and "probably experience considerable sadness and anxiety" in my daily life. Well, I don't think anything has changed. The only difference is now, because I am supposed to be Jesus' ambassador, I feel incredibly guilty for being angry and sad all the time. I mean, aren't I supposed to be cured? Didn't I already participate in Jesus' death and resurrection? Ain't the old me supposed to be dead?
Also, even though I've met some incredible Christians who have inspired my faith (you being one of them), the holier-than-thou types still piss me off. I'm pretty sure you know all about that stupid thing [someone] said on his Facebook wall about effeminate male worship leaders. [He] sounds like he's the jock bully from high school picking on all the queer kids. If [this guy] was just another fringe preacher, it wouldn't bother me so much. But this guy preaches to millions of people each Sunday. What's that say about young Christians and how they will see the world as they grow up?
Maybe I'm just being too critical (both on myself and others). I would love see a new kind of Christianity, but sometimes agnosticism makes more sense.
Before responding, I should say the writer wrote me again a few days later and said he was feeling better and his earlier note had been written at a low point. But I receive notes like this quite often, so I thought I'd respond anyway ...
Here's the R:
Thanks for your note, and the trust you extended to me. I empathize with your feeling because when people use God's name to justify the unjustifiable, God seems less real and believable to me too sometimes. (Just as when people do wonderful things in God's name, God seems more real and believable.)
Your comment especially interested me because it relates so closely to my current writing project that has to do with Christian identity. I think a lot of people feel like you do - every time a Christian says or does something repulsive, it makes it harder to identify as a Christian because doing so seems to mean identifying with that sort of speech or behavior.
The problem is, of course, if we withdraw from every identity that is tainted, we won't have anywhere to go. (There are some nasty agnostics out there too - I encounter them quite often when I blog for Huffpost, Wapo, or other "secular" sites). And if sincere, good-hearted people like yourself dis-affiliate with Christian faith, it in a sense leaves the community to the meanest people. Perhaps there's a time and place for that, but we might say the same thing about human beings ... they say and do some pretty obnoxious things, you know?
Anyway, this brings to mind a little saying that goes something like this (it exists in many forms, was attributed to Mother Teresa, but was probably actually written by someone named Kent Keith):
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
I was glad to hear that a bit of hope and faith returned ... in the end, as you suggested, anger, resentment, anxiety, and depression will always be able to find things to attach to ... which is one reason I think spiritual formation is so important (as I discussed in Finding Our Way Again and Naked Spirituality). Spiritual formation is about developing a kind of inner character that isn't dominated by anger, resentment, anxiety, depression, etc. It's a long journey, and harder, I know, for those of us who are wired in certain ways ... but the sooner we get started, the better things will be down the road. I know you're on that journey, and I know despite some setbacks, you won't give up and let the "inner bad guys" (anger, resentment, anxiety, depression) win. Instead of feeling guilty for not being cured, I hope you'll be able to feel some legitimate pride in not giving up the struggle. Sometimes just hanging in there takes old-fashioned heroism.