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.
The author wrote: "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."
This is one of the main reasons why Christianity is in the dumps in this day-n-age. Many pastors, preachers and evangelists (especially the more popular ones) preach the self-fulfillment, "you can be wealthy with God's help", and "God has a great plan for your life" messages. This very popular modern evangelistic message is detrimental and useless to people who are really trying to seek God's truth. The very fact that many seekers (if not all) will not receive that wonderful life they are hoping, not in this life anyways. Listen (read rather) to the words of Jesus Himself: And he said to them all, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." – Luke 9:23 .......denying oneself is not self-fulfillment in any sense of the term; taking up your cross is in no way living a lavish and pleasurable lifestyle; and following Him means obedience to His words and commandments. Obviously, this type of message does not sit right with many. Let's further read on where someone came running to Jesus asking Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Luke 9: 57-62......it almost seems as though Jesus is discouraging these men to follow Him. But of course He would love for everyone to follow Him, but He wants us to know what to expect (and not expect), what we will be going through and what is the cost of following Him. Now, there have been people in the Bible that have been blessed with wealth and prosperity, but some also knew better not to put their faith in their wealth. This happens all the time.
It is a sad reality with modern-Christianity, but in reality, Christ Himself has said it in Scriptures regarding false leaders preaching false doctrine and leading some astray, "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” – Luke 11:52
Bold George is delusional, poor thing.
...and one more note to Andrea:
I just want you to know that God in no shape or form wants any of his true followers to be lingered with doubts. He wants us to trust Him completely even when we think something might not make any sense at all. You will UNDOUBTEDLY see the big perfect picture once God has walked you through a tribulation. If you fully trust Him and obey Him, you will then see what it was all about. I've had many of those "Ahhh, now I get it!" moments. God is trustworthy and faithful (even when we are not).
The author settled for faith, gave up the pursuit
of truth. Her questions are legitimate, and deserve
answers. And there are countless other questions
that go unanswered in the world of faith. Especially
when the answer is pointing to the conclusion that
there is no god. And life is what it is, and people
are responsible for their actions.
This is a retarded article.
"Secular Life" = booze, cigarettes, and promiscuity.
Thanks for perpetuating christian stupidity.
I'm beyond offended by this article. For all you believers out there, I'm raising a 4 year old daughter in a "secular household". I'm 100% sure she'll turn out a million times better than this idiot.
My money is on you!
@closetatheist – Yes, with a mother who refers to people she doesn't agree with as "idiot," I'm sure she'll turn out exactly as you'd like her to – just like you. Perhaps if you'd read her article, rather than closing your mind and picking words randomly out, you'd have seen she referred to it throughout the majority of the article as "...exposed to the enticements of secular life," rather than defining it AS secular life. Meh, I'm sure you won't let the truth get in the way of a good old fashioned righteous indignation.
@ Grace – That would be like calling molesting little boys an "enticement of Catholic life."
@ Adam – Thank you. Great analogy.
@ Grace – I'm free to call the author an idiot in an online blog. I don't use that language in front of my daughter. I'm a 34 year old male, FYI.
Closet atheist–how exactly does one measure "a million times better?" I fear for your child.
Okay, voice of reason–if the kid turns out only 999,999 (or fewer) times better you pay up? Oh, you want to welch?
It will be a sad day when all the believers die and don't realize there is nothing more because they are dead.
There won't be any realization though, too bad.
Tell you what: believe in whatever fantasy bullshyte makes you happy and keeps you out of jail BUT PAY YOUR FARKING PROPERTY TAXES on your crystal cathedral country clubs and billions in investment real estate instead of foisting that municipal infrastructure burden off on individual homeowners not buying into your self-serving, pederast-pastor-and-adulterous-televangelist-enriching Bee-Ess.
What does living a secular life have to do with drinking, taking drugs and being a wh.ore? Sounds more like being a girl in a catholic high school to me...
Rape, murder, burglary, baby punching is all in a day’s work for us godless heathens, and you know it.
The whole "god" & "jesus" thing! A total myth.
1. The earth is approximately 4.5 BILLION years old
2. Dinosaurs existed, just NOT with man. Lol
3. There is NOT academically accepted, peer reviewed proof that "jesus" ever existed.
4. MOST of christianity is LIBERALLY lifted from prior faiths, such as Mithrasian faiths, druidism, Greek/Roman gods, etc.
5. Believing in Greek/Roman gods is just as VALID and ACCURATE as christianity.
6. Evolution is a scientific FACT, get over it.
Most of the Jesus chacteristics were lifted from the Theogony and the myth of Dionysus, check it out. In defence of modern day evangilists, there is an unconfirmed report of a pastor living deep in the backwoods whose children have pet dinosaurs. One pet is named intelligent the other design.
Andrea! It seems you have struck a nerve. You are not alone on this pilgrimage.
Perfect example of an archaic mindset = pilgrimage.
What a complete waste of time. A perfect example of non-substantive christian fluff nonsense. I hope Ms.Dilley was not paid for this misleading piece of self-promoting crap. If she was, I would like to submit the following piece to CNN:
Why I Love My Dog
I sure love my dog. I am a better and more thoughtful person than you are. I love my dog because I love him.
Just send me a check.
That was better than the article.
Never has the human race seen such an adherence to theory than our age. You'd think that science had figured out all the mysteries of the universe and how it started from the claims here. You know, intellectual honesty goes both ways.
Never, at any time, ever, has science claimed to have all the answers.
However, claiming that God must have done something simply because we haven't figured out how it works yet has never gotten anyone anywhere ever, and it about as intellectually dishonest as it gets.
The difference between science and religion is that science is ever moving forward, it challenges and corrects itself, whereas, religion promotes just the opposite.
Name one thing that religion, ANY religion, has claimed to be true that was then later proven to be true. Just one.
Religion does not care about what is actually true, they just make unproven claims.
Science on the other hand does not claim truth until it is able to be demonstrated and replicated.
Science has never claimed to have all the answers...only religion does that. Also science does not deal in absolutes...again only religion does that. With science mysteries are still just that...mysteries. So tell me again.. how intellectually dishonest are we?
So by your logic, rather than reiterate what we have been taught science has discovered, it's best we simply concede and chalk it all up to the Christian deity, right? Jeez, talk about intellectual dishonesty!
One more day of this and Tom, Tom; n8263, Voice of Reason, Lin CA and the regular atheists will BELIEVE ANYTHING.
One more day of what? Reading your drivel?
There's no space between Lin and CA.
It is quite nice to see someone that is truely interested in God. It would have been nice if this article mentioned that there were many people that needed reassurance of their the existance of God, and their faith. Take Job for instance, he certainly at tiems doubted. that is why God asked him a series of questions that he certainly could not answer at which point he too had an epiphany and understood his place in Gods Kingdom. I like how the person in this article brought out that they had seen a lot of suffering and such. Some people think that this suffering is caused by God, Job certainly did. But God tells us in 1 John 5:19 "We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one". So certainly because Satan knows he has only a short time here on Earth doesnt it make sense that the bad that people see in this world is brought on by Satan himself either directly or indirectly? Still if we all put our faith in God and his son Jesus we WILL have everlasting life. the think that the author of this arcile did that i admired, even if they were a little off point was that they questioned why. We all need to question why, even a Psalmist did directly to God himself and what a reward he received from it. More notably thought God sought that it was very important to make sure it was incorporated into the Bible for use to read many centuries afterwards. If you are not actively seeking God. Why not take a moment to tal to the next person that knocks on your door and offers a bible scripture? You will be rewarded for your efforts, if not in this system of things certainly in the New Kingdom that God has given which will shortly come.
Take you demented, delusional mind and shove it!
you = your
God tells us in 1 John 5:19
But...God didn't write that verse, nor any in the bible! Man wrote it.
Commandment #11: "Thou shalt use paragraphs,"
Sometimes when u r not making any sense u must realise that u r not. When Atheists claim that Man wrote de Bible so it isnt a good book do they also notice that Evolution, Big Bang n other Science texts r man-written? Then canonisation is reviled but "peer-reviewing" of science papers is revered?
It is sad that when a fellow human finds solace in her misery u wud begrudge her the source of her comfort. If u r an atheist so what? Does that have to mean u can't love a theist as yourself? If u claim u can be good without God then yes you can love your enemy as yourself! Try it!
It is sad that when a fellow hu.man finds so.la.ce in her mis.ery u wud be.gru.dge her the source of her co.mf.ort. If u r an atheist so what? Does that have to mean u can't love a theist as urself? If u claim u can be good without God then yes you can love your enemy as yourself! Try it!
When Atheists claim that Man wrote de Bible so it isnt a good book
Utter ridiculousness. Who's not making sense? I said nothing about the bible not being a "good book", I said it was not written by God. Also, I'm not an atheist.
I once thought the same thing, as a matter of fact I argued about it for years. I guess that made me an athiest right? Well, not likely, like the woman who wrote the article above, I simply lost my way.
I am glad that you are willing to reason that The Bible is written by man. But let me help you see it a different way. Let's say you are an assistant to your boss, he/she calls you in to take a dictation. You do so and the print it out for everyone to read. Are those words yours or your bosses? Of course it is your bosses work and not yours. The Bible was created the same way, it was written at the direction of God. If you will read 2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for discipliningin righteousness." As you can see All Scriptures come from (inspired of) God.
I certainly hope that this helps you understand how we got The Bible.
The difference is that one could go to the boss for confirmation of the dictation. The same cannot be said for the bible.
The Bible was created the same way, it was written at the direction of God
Oh? That's the entire point: HOW DO YOU KNOW?!? You don't, no one does. Who told you it was "dictation"? Let me guess........the authors of the books themselves? But of course!!! If it was you who wrote the bible, wouldn't you want your work accepted as well? What better way to have your work accepted, than to tell everyone that God was speaking through you, and you're just taking dictation, so the words can be taken literally as the "word of God". Utterly preposterous. Are you that thick-headed?
the whole point god is trying to trick you he wants you to belive not know nobody deserves to go to heaven we are all sinneres no matter what we are all equal we have to have faith if we want the chance to go to heaven without faith we dont desreve anything at all
How would you know that God is trying to "trick" us? Doesn't that seem a little(lot) silly?
I have been concerned about the state of our country and society in general was searching for answers. I was given a copy of The Harbinger which connects the prophecys from Isaiah 9 and Spetember 11th. This has opened my eyes and given me a new view of what is happening in America today. I would recommend this book to everyone who is struggling and searching for answers. God is the answer.
It's the economy stupid.... that's pretty much the meaning of life... when the means of production and consumption are effectively managed using a combination of capitalistism and socialism EVERYONE MAKES A DECENT LIVING AND NO ONE IS POOR AND SUFFERING... no country has achieved this, but isolated pockets have...
You do not believe in religion because you honestly think it is true, you believe in it because you fear mortality or are seeking meaning in your life. It does not take a genius to figure out all religion is man made, so for humanity's sake, please stop lying to yourself.
Deluding yourself in religion does not change reality. Lying to yourself is probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning.
Ah, polly- wanna- crac'ker again!
Is it the bird brain that causes you to repeat the same thing over and over again?! LOL!
I notice the word "deluding".... You'd just love to pin it on someone else, hm?
No, you keep it...it fits you much better! :)
n8263, How is that you think you know why someone else believes in God? You said "believe in religion," but I think you mean God. Regardless, I believe in God because I know the sense of well being that comes from helping another person, and the sense of discomfort that comes from harming another. Compassion, love and empathy for other people are my examples of God's existence. The proof is in front of you, you just have to know how to look for it.
I Don't hate parrots, I've got one at home( well, similar to a parrot) to entertain me!
Say, dear, if you think my posts are hateful, how is it that you don't' call "hateful" the ones posted from your "camp", even so many are filled with profanities? Is it that your bird- peception -abilities can not take it all in?
This ladies world view seems a little skewed to me. She's lived a "church going" life then a "secular" life which for her involved getting wasted and sleeping around.
These types are sheltered from the real world. It's too big and evil for them to handle. They exist in some alternate reality that doesn't exist and claim all kinds of crazy stuff that only fits in their world. If you leave that world you are instantly carrying guilt for leaving and for some it's too much of a burden and they go back.
The MOST asinine implication from this article is that somehow you have to have church to have morality. What a joke.
On the contrary, the implication is that she already had morality, and so, sought God through her church. Thanks for the misguided and useless video. Not!
It's okay Bob, I know you're not smart enough to understand it the video even if you did actually watch it. Just simply attacking something because it is easier than being educated is about your speed it seems.
Wrong Aezel, you don't know anything about me. But I understand. For you, simply attacking something because it is easier than being educated is about your speed it seems.
That's great that you were able to come back to Xianity without a problem. I'm still away with all of my doubts and I believe this is the correct position for me. To not attend church, to not take the host, to abstain is also my protest against what protestant christianity is doing currently in our world. Maybe your church does good things for people but mine just gives vocal assent to a republican god and they support wars. They also do not help the sick, the poor. They're wealthy and happy and god loves them. Good for them. I can't hang out with them or attend their churches. I've been outsted and I stand outside in protest and I will until the day of Jesus Christ or until the church changes.
I could attend other churches and currently I find solace in catholic mass. I too was the daughter of missionaries. It's a lot more complex than the writer has made it seem. She won't detail her conversion here. And that's fine. But to write up a conversion in a few paragraphs and say "And the church won, I attend and am happy now" is to simplify this journey. I can't believe in Ms. Dilley's wandering away because her return was too easy.
how about getting some real theologians to write here with real ideas? this is just fluff for those sunday christians looking for a good time or a good feeling about giving up their sunday morning to sit in a pew listening to drivel which someone has elevated to divine. me, i'd rather sleep in and listen to the bells ring the sunday service than to sit in a pew where republicanism and american values are taught as if not only does god gives his assent, but god has ordained the u.s. to be the world superpower. i'm good, i can hear that on fox news.
atheists have many good points but one large one the big bang there was nothing and then bang everything in the universe just all of a sudden came into existance all by itself with no creator according to the laws of physics no matter can be created or destroyed which means that the universe couldnt be created unless god was there to create it it cant just come into existence all by itself something has to create it
Actually the big bang does not assume that there was nothing. Try again.
And now you are going to be told how houses paint themselves, the first step in the chain of evolution appeared in a vacuum, and believing in anything but nothing is stupid. Get ready.
Your understanding of physics is preschool level at best. Here's a tip: trying learning something from actual physicists not your pastor at church who lies to you constantly.
Educate yourself on the subject before assuming what you say is correct.
the big bang and evolution would not be such big things if they were not been shoved down our throat since elementary school. Thanks for public school and the 10th plank of the communist manifesto.
Ever study quantum fluctuations ? I'm guessing that would be no based on your comment .
lolol, you'd prefer to have had teachers tell you lies? Like "the earth is only 6000 years old, and dinosaurs coexisted with man"?
Idiot, evolution happens.
"the big bang and evolution would not be such big things if they were not been shoved down our throat since elementary school."
Religion would not be such a big thing if it was not shoved down our throat since birth.
There, fixed! :-)
Yes the Big Bang has to be the point at which everything came into being. And yes, it was a "supernatural" event....it had to be. But where is your evidence that the Christian deity had anything at all to do with this?? Ever heard of an "argument from ignorance?"
All it probably took was two or more "branes" "coming together" to start the event we label "The Big Bang".
No god is shown to exist because of it, nor can any god be shown to exist in any other way.
By trying to point to the "Big Bang" as your last line of defense for your god, you show that you have nothing closer to home, or do you have some sort of actual proof that a god exists? Of course you don't. Derp.
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.