Editor's note: Andrea Palpant Dilley is the author of “Faith and Other Flat Tires.”
By Andrea Palpant Dilley, Special to CNN
During my junior year in college, I took a butter knife from my mother’s kitchen and scraped the Christian fish decal off the back bumper of the Plymouth hatchback I’d inherited from my older brother. Stripping off that sticker foreshadowed the day, a few years later, that I would walk out of church.
The reasons for my discontent were complicated. By most standards, I had a healthy childhood. I grew up the daughter of Quaker missionaries in a rural Kenyan community that laid the foundation for my faith. I spent the rest of my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, raised in a stable Presbyterian church that gave me hymns and mission trips and potluck dinners.
I was surrounded by smart, conscientious Christians, the kind of people who read 19th century Russian novels and took meatloaf to firefighters when much of eastern Washington state went up in flames in the fall of 1991.
When I started into my skeptic phase, my Christian community gave me space to struggle. They listened to my doubts about faith. They took my questions seriously.
And yet when I turned 23 I left the church.
Listening to a sermon at my older brother’s church one Sunday, I stood up, leaned over to my father and said, “This is bulls**t.” I made my way to the end of the pew and marched out of the sanctuary. The sermon didn’t sit right with me. The pastor was preaching about Psalm 91, saying in so many words that a person just needed to pray and have faith in order to be protected from suffering.
More than just that sermon, I was sick of church. I was sick, too, of all the spiritual questions plaguing me: Why does the church seem so culturally insulated and dysfunctional? Why does God seem distant and uninvolved? And most of all, why does God allow suffering?
These questions didn’t come out of nowhere. I’d spent time in high school volunteering in refugee camps in Kenya and in college working with families on welfare in central Washington. I saw hungry babies. I walked into homes that were piled with garbage and dirty laundry.
In an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi, I held AIDS babies and worked with disabled kids who’d been left at the front gates of the orphanage by parents who couldn’t afford to feed them. I saw things that I couldn’t make sense of as a Christian.
Walking out of church was a way of saying “To hell with it; I’m done.”
For two years, I skipped church. My Bible gathered dust on the shelf. The local bars became my temples. I indulged in the cliché rebellions of a Christian girl, smoking cigarettes and drinking hard alcohol. I got involved with men twice my age without thinking twice about it. I wanted a break from being “good.”
And then, strangely, I woke up one morning at age 25, climbed into my car, and drove downtown to attend a 10 a.m. church service. I won’t relate here the whole story of how I came back to the church. But if I had to follow the standard testimonial narrative for Christians, the script for my life story would go something like this:
Step 1: Grow up in a Christian church.
Step 2: Go off to college away from said church.
Step 3: Be exposed to the enticements of secular life.
Step 4: Try drugs and cigarettes and Pearl Jam.
Step 5: Leave the church because of aforementioned enticements.
Step 6: Experience epiphany; realize vapidness of secular enticements.
Step 7: Return to church with penitent heart.
Step 8: Reestablish faith, discover good living.
In reality, I left the church more because of my own internal discontent than the lure of so-called secular life. When I came back, I still carried that same discontent. I was confused, and still bothered by questions and doubts. I stayed in the back row and didn’t sing or pray. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be there.
And yet I sat there, Sunday after Sunday, listening to the pastor and the organ pipes and trying to figure out what was going on in my dark, conflicted heart.
Although I never experienced that dramatic reconversion moment, I did come to peace with two slow-growing realizations.
First: My doubt belonged in church.
People who know my story ask what I would have changed about my spiritual journey. Nothing. I had to leave the church to find the church. And when I came back, the return wasn’t clean or conclusive. Since then, I’ve come to believe that my doubts belong inside the space of the sanctuary. My questions belong on the altar as my only offering to God.
With all its faults, I still associate the church with the pursuit of truth and justice, with community and shared humanity. It’s a place to ask the unanswerable questions and a place to be on sojourn. No other institution has given me what the church has: a space to search for God.
Second: My doubt is actually part of my faith.
In Mark 9:24, a man says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” The Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor called this the foundation prayer of faith. I pray that prayer often and believe that God honors my honesty.
I also believe God honors my longing. The writer and theologian Frederick Buechner said “Faith is homesickness.” C.S. Lewis called it “Sehnsucht,” a longing for a far-off country. I feel that sense of unshakable yearning. It comes from the deepest part of my heart, a spiritual desire that’s strangely, mysteriously connected to my doubt.
Sitting in church every Sunday, my doubt is my desire – to touch the untouchable, to possess the presence of God.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrea Palpant Dilley.
There is power in pain. Stinks? Yeah it does. But even after loosing my brother to suicide in 1976 whan I was 11 and then follwoing his same thieving, lying, drugging ways, God had a better plan. Took me 40 yars to learn this and I pray that children in wombs now, will be born with an eternal relationship with God. (Psalm 78)
By the way, my 10 year old son lead me to Christ at the ripe old age of 10! How amazing is that?
Obviously, if a 10 year old has to lead you to anything, you are not capable of thinking for yourself. 2nd, if your bros suicide was part of god's plan, he sure comes up with some sinister plans!
Sounds like you found what you needed to stop being a miserable human being and now I hope you have the ability to raise your son. Good for you, but that still doesn't make any of it real or true, it's just a method of self counseling that worked for you. The human mind is a powerful tool.
....Moreover, her "doubts" were ridiculous: "More than just that sermon, I was sick of church. I was sick, too, of all the spiritual questions plaguing me: Why does the church seem so culturally insulated and dysfunctional? Why does God seem distant and uninvolved? And most of all, why does God allow suffering?"
She never was intelligent enough to actually doubt God existed, she just had doubts about his nature, and like most children was rightly impatient with boring church. Wake me up when you have a REAL doubt you simpleton. The "doubts" here are about on the level of a 5 year old.
It's called "growing up." Same happened to me. Good for you. I love my "imaginary friend" and life is good, really good. Pity those who suffer unnecessarily because they are "smarter than."
Funny how Cheesey assumes that atheists are suffering, and that only Christians have good lives. Not much evidence supporting that whopper!
I don't wish to offend anyone but this is what the bible says: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18
I'm not calling anyone a fool but the reason unbelievers do not understand the gospel is because one must believe in order to receive the Holy Spirit who guides believers into truth and understanding the Word.
it comes down to this ... I've tried those routes, they only work if you "want" them too and that does not make it real, (I don't want to insult anyone but) it's self delusion. Accepting the truth of our reality is a freeing and beautiful thing and you cannot ever hope to understand until you are strong enough to break the shackles of religious self delusion and know true freedom and peace.
@it comes down. Would you be offended if people preached to you and your children that their god will send you to hell for not believing as they do? Worse yet, they obviously feel it is perfectly justified. After all, they worship this god who they believe created hell.
Rule number 1 : believe or else.
First 3 of the 10 commandments are all about keeping the faith.
Several passages in the NT warn that you must believe or you will burn.
Why do you suppose that is? No belief = no power, influence, or livelihood for church leaders.
Who wrote the bible? Church leaders.
So what you're saying is that some people are so mentally weak that they cannot give their own lives meaning, so they need the crutch of religion to provide them with a goal. Got it.
yep! That's the moral of the story. And to think that Ghandi person is so interesting... when .. there's this story to be told. Things that make you go hmmmmmm..
Her story is more complicated than that. She also says that you have to be so weak that the first thing you do when you doubt is go make some stupid life choices and decisions, then blame them on not yourself but the lack of religion, then go immediately write a book about it and make some cash.
Great article on church. Greatest article on church written for CNN I have ever read on this site.
A brainwashed religious girl throws a rebellious temper tantrum, parties it up for awhile, and then goes back to church because she decides those were "secular enticements."
LOL. If you think that's deep I have some magic beans to sell you.
What's so great about it? Woman is indoctrinated. Woman becomes a tramp for a few years. Woman returns to church. Quick! Call Anderson Cooper.
I know! You just look at that chub face and imagine your bell end at the back of her throat and your sac smacking against her two chins....right! Praise the loards!
Christians like that!!!!!!
I am out of toilet paper at home and its Sunday so the religious controlled stores will not be open....what do I do?
Oh wait, I found a Book of Moron, a Koran and a Bible.
I'll be okay now!!!!!
As long as you are searching, that is awesome. If u are using the bible as toilet paper, Im excited you have touched it. There's power in there dude! Read a little. I guarantee it will mean something to you in some way. Check it out bro!
She may have left, like soo many others have. Problem is she never took off her indoctrinated shock collar. When you are able to remove that pavlovian shock collar you will know true freedom and be at peace with reality.
Eh, she never had real doubt in the first place. Just sounds to me like a brat that had to throw her emotional temper tantrum of rebellion and then get over it.
People who leave religion because they intellectually come to understand how much nonsense it is don't come back.
This is a journey that many have taken. Yet it probably has been repeated throughout history. There is a real struggle between the temporal and the spiritual that pulls in opposing directions. The"good life" always fades, even if it is just due to the reality that comes from aging. Ergo the over representation of the elderly in churches. My spirituality has given me the strength to handle situations in my life that money and power could not. I will always marvel at the Amish, whose children were murdered and were talking about forgiveness in the recent aftermath.
She looks like the kind of chick that could fit your whole sac in here mouth, while jerking your shaft and shoving her pinkie in your butt. What a champ.
Interesting story. And yet her valid questions still don't seem to be answered.
I feel so bad for her. She was so close to escaping. This kind of thing is why so many recovering drug and alcohol addicts will tell you they are still addicts even after ten or fifteen or twenty years clean. One small slip in a moment of weakness and you're right back into that destructive lifestyle.
It reminds me of someone who goes back to an abuse spouse...someone who lies to them and threatens them and calls them names.
It's very difficult the break psychological conditioning, especially the kind that has been practiced for centuries. This conditioning has evolved along with modern society. But you can look around and see that it's losing it's grip.
Look around – those leading destructive lives and filling up our jails aren't those who are sitting in churches every Sunday.
Do they have their own issues? Yes.
@Truth7 – Like Andrea Yates??
@Truth7 "those leading destructive lives and filling up our jails aren't those who are sitting in churches every Sunday."
Actually they are. 99.98% of the prison population is religious of some kind. .02% are atheists.
Get Real , you said ( on another page)
"God knows His own, and He will move Heaven and Earth to cause one of His sheep that goes astray to come back to Him."
An omniscient "God" would know *precisely* what proof is acceptable to each and every one of us individually.
An omnipotent "God" would be able to provide it.
An all-loving "God" would do so freely and abundantly.
'He' just doesn't care about some of us then...? – or 'he' doesn't exist as portrayed
O, God does exist, friend, and owes nothing to you and me to prove Himself to us. It is US who must prove ourselves to HIM!
But He doesn't operate according to "wisdom" of men. He does not display Himself "on demand" the way the world, especially american overfed brats demand it....
His INTENT IS to reveal the hidden things of each one's heart.
Those are His own world:
“...... My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
BUT IT SHALL ACCOMPLISH WHAT I PLEASE,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it"
And so it is, and so it shall always be! And get this if you don't' get anything else: God does not depend on opinions of men, nor is He impressed by numbers of votes for or against Him! HE IS THE LORD.
Do you understand that?
We're supposed to be created in his image. He's supposed to be a loving father. What kind of loving father creates a place like hell, knowing his children will be going there? NUTSO god you have there pal.
lord of nothing. Fear no man made boogie deity. Gods of any religion hold no power, for they do not exist.
Edwardo, if God created Earth,we wre the ones who made it Hell.
Eduardo, we were created in His image, and He is a loving Father.
God did not create Hell for human souls, but for satan and his fallen angels.
But God gives us the choice whom we will follow. Those who choose to rebel against Hi hav no other option but to go to the place where their father, the devil is.
You need to understand, not everyone is a child of God. Not everyone WANTS to be His child. Is this hard to understand, seeing the posts of mockers and blasphemers even on this blog?
We were created in His image but because Adam and Eve chose to sin by giving in to the temptation of disobeying God we inherited their sin nature separating us from God. The good news (aka the gospel) is that we can return to Him by acknowledging our sin nature, repenting, and receiving the forgiveness offered through Christ. Simple enough for a child to understand, and do. Your choice – remain a child of Satan or become a child of God.
" HE IS THE LORD. Do you understand that?". I don't understand it. I believe that gods came from man's imagination. However, I recognize a lot of people believe in gods and all the lore associated with them.
I assume it makes them feel good to think an all powerful creator of the universe loves them.
Their beliefs and values are aligned with god, therefore they must be right.
When they die, they get to go to heaven for eternal bliss.
Finally, they have the satisfaction of knowing all those who doubted them will suffer god's wrath.
In the end, religiousshe life is really all about I, ME, and MINE.
"Do you understand that?"
- I understand that you *believe* that.
"O, God does exist, friend, and owes nothing to you and me to prove Himself to us. It is US who must prove ourselves to HIM!
But He doesn't operate according to "wisdom" of men. He does not display Himself "on demand" the way the world, especially american overfed brats demand it...."
- But you said that 'he' would move Heaven and Earth to get us back?! Many of us non-believers wouldn't require anything quite so drastic, although that sure would be spectacular!
- There is no verified evidence for supernatural beings, including gods, angels, devils, ghosts, pixies, sprites, fairies, gnomes and leprechauns. You (and the primitive Hebrews) cannot claim to KNOW anything about them.
Get Real, I want to respond to "– But you said that 'he' would move Heaven and Earth to get us back?! Many of us non-believers wouldn't require anything quite so drastic, although that sure would be spectacular!"
I have no time to do it now but I'll try to come back later....
You said " But you said that 'he' would move Heaven and Earth to get us back?! Many of us non-believers wouldn't require anything quite so drastic, although that sure would be spectacular."
God did! He sent His son, Yeshua, the Christ whom we call Jesus, who came to declare Him and explain Him. He became one of us, so that in all things He would be LIKE US, except in sin. He was the sinless, spotless, perfect Lamb who came to redeem us. He told us that God so loved the world(us, people) that He sent Him, His son, that whosoever believes on Him, would not perish but have eternal life, forever with Him, in His presence.
When Christ taught the people and has done many miracles, crowds gathered around Him. But when He was convicted, and draged before the Sanhedrins, the same crowds that He fed and taught yelled "crucify Him!"
You see, friend, God has done His part.... Now it is up to us, whether we will accept and believe His testimony, or not.
So, these are the things given to us by God,so that we will not be able to claim it is His fault if we turn Him away:
* In every human heart God has imprinted the knowledge of Himself, the ability to know the truth, and to know the difference between right and wrong.This is this thing called conscience. No other creature on earth was given the kind of abilities we human have. So, to say that we are no more than evolved blobs or apes, it is a great insult in face of God who created us.
*God deals with every human being on one- on- one basis. The only time God dealt with people collectively was the nation of Israel of Old testament. But the old Testament was a foreshadow of the New, and all things that were hard to understand then, being shrouded in mystery, were fulfilled in and by Christ. We are no longer under the bondage of rules and regulations of old. Christ is our deliverer, our Passover from death unto Life , giving us newness of life NOW, even in the present life..
* But SIN is what separates man from His Creator. We all have a terminal disease...we were born with it. Christ came to heal us, to set us free. But one sin is most damning of all sins: it is the SIN OF PRIDE. Pride says, I don't need God. Pride says, I can live a good life without being "religious". I am a good person.
Prideful man does not acknowledge his poverty, his lacking nor his need for God who gave him life.. He does not thank Him for what he was given, he boasts himself of his own accomplishments, not recognizing that all he ever had, has and will ever have, belongs NOT to him, but he was given them by his Creator. So in the pride and arrogance of his heart he says, "who is God that I should thank him and give account to Him?"
Is this not evil? Judge for yourself! You see many even on these blogs that have this mindset, and out of darkness that's in their hearts coem insults and blasphemies. And then they blame God for what's coming to them?! How dare they?!
So, Do you really think that God should make an attempt to prove Himself to this kind of person? Would you, if you were in His place? You should take and example of earthly parents. Should they bow before the demands of their obnoxious brat, and give in to his demands? No parent who has any backbone would! He should be taught a lesson of life the HARD WAY.
God's worrd says He is nigh to the humble of heart, but the proud are detestable in His sight.
And finally, Gods people are not super-saints living their lives without ever committing sins. His people are those who walk humbly before their God acknowledge their need of Christ's righteousness, stumbling daily through the obstacles of life but having their eyes on the author and finisher of their faith, Lord Jesus Christ, our risen,living savior. The story of the person in the article is a very familiar story that hits home to all of us who know our Lord. And Yes, He will move heaven and earth just to bring one of His wondering sheep back.
But He will also move heaven and Earth for one LOST sheep...one that hasn't Bern found yet... the one who seeks Him with his or her whole heart, and will not settle for no less then REAL ENCOUNTER with Him. This He will do for everyone who seeks Him this way. But ht boisterous crowds, the self serving, overfed, ego-tripping brats, NO, EH will not appease, but let them go their own way, til they hit the rock bottom... and then perhaps they will look up, add in desperation cry out to the one whom they spurned and rejected. This in my humble opinion is very fair JUSTICE! And I believe that it is in line with the Word and the spirit of God!
I know my post is very long, but there is much at stake , and I didn't only write it for you, but also for the sake of others. If the things I wrote here didn't speak to you more then just words on white background, I have no further thing to say to you.
I wish you all best!
Often your tasks will be many,
And more than you think you can do.
Often the road will be rugged
And the hills insurmountable, too.
But always remember,
The hills ahead
Are never as steep as they seem,
And with Faith in your heart
And climb 'til you reach your dream.
For nothing in life that is worthy
Is ever too hard to achieve
If you have the courage to try it,
And you have the faith to believe.
For faith is a force that is greater
Than knowledge or power or skill,
And many defeats turn to triumph
If you trust in God's wisdom and will.
For faith is a mover of mountains,
There's nothing that God cannot do,
So, start out today with faith in your heart,
And climb 'til your dream comes true!
Helen S Rice
Tell that to the millions of innocent babies and children who starve to death, die of agonizing illnesses, get their legs blown off in wars, or are raped and killed by psychopaths............
You can choose to have faith or not and support an unfortunate child. You also have a choice to live in misery not lifting so much as your little finger to help a child and talk about the miseries of the world. Atheists are famous for the latter, why?!?!
George Carlin is a good example of why having faith in something more than man is important.
And he's dead.
if you want to know why God allows suffering, ask one of Jehovah's Witnesses. They seem to have all the right answers to questions most of us ask. It's enlightening when these questions you've had all your life are answered USING THE BIBLE... not the cliche "we're not supposed to know", or "God is a mystery". THAT'S the B.S. God is not mysterious and he does care, which is why he's gonna do away with Satan and all who follow after him. I don't know all the answers yet, but I'm getting them gradually. PLEASE, ask one of J.W's and they will show you what the bible REALLY teaches.
Take a sip of J.W. kool-aid did ya? I wouldn't ask one of those freaks for a hair from their Anuss.
ya know I ask a JW once back in 1975 – told me the world was going to end in 1976, and I am still here just another apostate cult.
You can't say "failed prophecy" without thinking of JWs. Over a dozen end times prophecies over the past century and yet, here we are.
JW's know their bible like no other christians but that doesn't make any of it(B.S.) valid.
I did ask and they told me the world was ending but I am still here. What else are they inaccurate about hmmm
I am always disappointed to discover that the Belief Blog is often just an infomercial for some get-rich-quick Christian who is pimping their latest product, like Ms. Dilley is.
The only truth is that we are finite beings / Death and nonexistence is waiting for ALL of us. / God exists only as a fantasy created because our ancestors stood at the mouth of a cave and denied the reality of cosmic death as the fate in store for humans, just like dogs, cats, dinosaurs and fish.
You DO have the choice to find out. Ask God directly with an honest heart. Why do you insist that your belief in nothingness is right? Is that perhaps because you feel it in your heart? Sorry, but God is real. One day, you will see that. "Religion" has lead many astray, all types of religion. The relationship and learning, is to be directly with God, and Jesus is to lead you there.
Ask god, is anal ok? You will hear him say yes!
Andrea – It seems to me that you returned to the church because you wanted the community that it provides, even though you reject the church's beliefs and dogma. Perhaps you should seek out a place that gives you that community without the religion.
Much of what I read and hear from outspoken religious people assumes that you can only get morality through religion, as silly as that is.
Right, because secular morality (or lack of it) is certainly helping the world evolve into something better than what it is now.
The only reason that the majority of "atheists" plug reason and enlightenment is because they don't want Christian/Biblical morality imposed on them. That's not to say that all atheists are bad people, just that the majority claim "atheism" is the best thing that ever happened to them because they:
a) reject Christian morality
b) have false precepts about Christianity or any other religion
c) haven't approached religion with an open mind/heart, and have simply chosen to accept what society says about religion
d) have been blighted by a "Christian" (rather, someone who is hypocritically Christian)
e) read r/atheism
Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, dont you understand how brainwashed you sound. I was raised with religion in my life until I was a teenager. To me the bible was just a story told over and over and over.I never did belive any of it was actually real. I needed proof and still do.
Great article....True story for many
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.