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.
I feel sorry for the first humans who had to live in fear of velociraptors and t-rex. Must have been doubly troubling when his god made him bring them on the ark.
omg. Can you imagine! 40 days and 40 nights of having those two T-Rex living with Noah. I imagine he didn't get much sleep during that time.
sybaris: I hope you're being sarcastic since dinosaurs and humans never coexisted.
ReligionIs4Dolts, I know that dinosaurs co-existed! Haven't you ever been to the Creationist Museum. Jeeeeeezzzzz. You can see them side by side in the Garden of Eden display all peacefully munching on apples and grass.
Of course dinosaures and humans lived side by side. Haven't you ever seen The Flintstones?
When dinosaurs ruled the earth man's precursor was but a small shrew-like mammal. It was because of the mass extinction of those great beasts that opened the opportunity for those mammals to escape hiding in burrows and exploit the now far less intimidating and dangerous environment.
Oh sorry, [sarcasm]...........[/sarcasm]
I read your story with great interest. I am 80 years young, and still searching. I have been a Christian all my life; from the age of 2 years when my Mother and Daddy took the family faithfully each Sunday. I grew up in a small community, on a farm, in Middle Tennessee. I am still searching. I attend Sunday School as well as Worship Service. Yet now, at my age, I still continue to wonder. My husband of 62 years marriage recently died. That did NOT make me wonder about the existence of a "One and Only Holy God." It has, and continues on, made me question why not one person from the Church where I have been for years, has even been to see me, offered me drink when I was thirsty, gave me bread when I was hungry, and welcomed me into their midst. No, not even one person has been to check on me. The ones that took care of me are my Muslim Friends. They are of "One and Only True God" ...not 3 in one as so-called Christians are. Don't criticize me, I read and study God's Bible, also the "Torah", as well as the Quran. Read the Quran some time and see what they really stand for. They put family, friends, lonely ones in need, first and foremost in their lives.
I hope that some day you may find peace; you haven't and won't until you have lived many more years and really gone through life's trials and tribulations...you are but a 'babe' in God...you have a long way to go.
Your propaganda is quite touching! I had to pull out a Kleenex for THAT one!
I am sorry no Christian came to you. We are all flawed and I thank God that Jesus came and took care of our transgressions. I am glad you are getting care and will pray you will realize its not Jesus fault that his followers are weak. I will also pray that we become stronger.
WHO THE HELL CARES???????????????????????????????
RICK SANTORUM FOR PRESIDENT ! ! ! He's my hero ! ! !
Perhaps if the author looked into something other than cigarettes, hard alcohol, and older men, she might have found some fulfillment that didn't require sitting in pews listening to moronic sermons that truly are disconnected from reality.
"Wanting to touch the untouchable." I wanted God to make sense, but religion doesn't make any sense at all...so if I "accept" that it doesn't make sense, then I can believe it. Brilliant!
Look at all the silly religious people on here.
Ha, ha, ha,ha,Ha, ha, ha,haHa, ha, ha,haHa, ha, ha,haHa, ha, ha,haHa, ha, ha,haHa, ha, ha,haHa, ha, ha,ha!
You don't need church to believe in God. Gathering with a group is merely the social aspect. YOU ALONE decide what you believe.
Let's take it one step further or actually let's revert back to when you were born an agnostic........you don't need to believe in a god.
You don't need to belong to any cult at all to believe in a deity.
You actually do need some sort of social group to believe in god. Children do not naturally come to believe in god, they are told to by the people around them. Without the the social "church" aspect (even if it is just parents or peers) the idea and mythology of god would not be passed on.
While I have respect for practicing Christians who reserve the right to question their beliefs, this article starts to sound naive when it paints the "secular" life as nothing but cigarettes and hard alcohol. I may be a secular atheist, but I don't play these fabled games of self-destruction. No booze, no nicotine; the only drug I will put in my body is caffeine, and even that I'm trying to quit. I don't sleep around because I know I'm responsible for the risks vs. the rewards, not because someone tells me it's immoral–and I don't go to bars or parties simply because they don't appeal to me. If I could be judged by lifestyle alone, I'd be deemed a more wholesome Christian than most Christians I know. But I simply don't believe in things without evidence. Period. My mind is my church, my temple, and it gives me plenty of space to question everything that enters it without having someone else's context imposed upon it.
My idea of being a good human being isn't someone who just wants to live to be 100. Treating your own body well is a good thing but does that mean all of the soldiers, firemen, and many others who put their lives at risk to help others are not good people?
Well said, and I agree wholeheartedly. The article above describes nothing more than simple teenage rebellion. To embrace science, reality, and truth is exhilarating, life affirming, and truly life changing. To remove the "god glasses" does not mean you waste time in self destructive pursuits...it means that you see things as they truly are, and in that truth, all of the beauty and elegance of the world. I participate in my community, I enjoy my family, I create a loving home for my children, I am a teacher and a student, I continue my search for knowledge every day. And yes, I am an atheist. I live for today, this moment, and I do "good" and moral things not because of fear of punishment or hope of reward, but because they are right.
Right. She is confusing what sounds like a belated and rather exaggerated personal rebellion against suffocating strictures with an actual exploration of secular philosophies. In that sense, she returned to the church because she never left it. Her acting out was directed at the church and has nothing per se to do with secular life. Just because secular people don't call certain forms of self destructive or otherwise irresponsible behaviors sinful doesn't mean we don't view them as stupid, especially when taken to excess. I had my own alcohol and nicotine issues and freely admit that I needed some help and guidance getting over them, which I got from the medical community, not some god or the people who presume to speak for god. Alcohol-free, nicotine-free and god-free! Yeah, THAT'S the life!
That is nice Amy, but what happens when science fails you because it has no answer? I had God to ask for aid & I have normal bones now when the specialists could not do anything for them. The bones were permanently fused.
Please do not mistakenly think I did not have good doctors...They were, & still are, the best there is. We had simply done all that was humanly possible. My doctors were happy for me, one does not exclude the other. There are just times when science is not enough & it is time to call on something more powerful than that.
JP – Yes, we have similar DNA as monkeys. Think about food you eat – for simplicity, Mexican dishes are pretty much all the same with slight differences. When you 'create' a dish you use the same DNA material if you will. Why? Because it works! If you can't figure out how God can make us similar or different, if He wants, then you might want to reevaluate your intelligence. Are you thinking right now? Reading? Seriously I wish you the best on your quest, because you wouldn't be posting if you didn't have an interest in learning. Take care JP.
It is not about learning, it is about laughing at fools who believe in any sort of religion.
I am now a Christian because of that Mexican food analogy. God is to humans and chimps as Mexicans are to tacos and burritos. It's all so clear now.
We share 99 percent DNA with chimps. CHIMPS are APES, not "monkeys" moron. Neither were "created", they evolved. There is no god, "monkey" person. (All pontificating xstians use the word "monkey" when talking about this, it just proves your ignorance
We're just the only species unfortunate enough to have evolved with religion. Just because it came from our evolution, doesn't mean it benefits us. Natural selection makes mistakes until it gets it correct. Religion might end our species
Mark if you scroll down you will see your friend JP started with 'monkeys' so I did not correct him but thanks. :)
John – lol. Gotta make it fun to disagree or agree and I love Mexican food! ;-)
Greg, once you admit that DNA works and is the only thing known to work in constructing organisms, why not just admit that evolution works and is the only known way for massively similar but also critical distinct, non-interbreeding species to arise. If you want to hold fast to some creator god, look into Deism or Pantheism. I don't recommend them to all, just to people who clearly yearn for a creator. You can believe in a creator w/o falling for such palpable bunk as personal gods like Jehovah who is supposedly constantly meddling into the affairs of his creation from getting Joe into the college of his choice or teaching Joe an important life lesson by NOT getting him into the college of his choice to creating entire species, but for some reason being really into blue-green algae for eons and then creating a whole bunch of things that were once abundant and then disappeared and getting around to creating highly intelligent creatures that he could have created at any time only fairly recently. The real universe is not always beautiful. It is often quite ugly. But it is always amazing and awe inspiring. Appreciate the universe that really is. Don't invent fanciful invisible characters working scientifically undetectably behind the scenes.
RICK SANTORUM FOR PRESIDENT ! The pope can be his VP.
The pope should just die already.
I wish they would just nuke the Vatican already. That place is so evil. And they should do the same to all of those televangelists scammers too.
MY DOG IS SMARTER THAN YOUR god.
You can use the bible to clean up after puppies too!
The fool hath said "there is no God." That about says it all.
Do this country and humanity a HUGE favor. Go open a science book!
The fools are the people who subscribe to religions that divide humanity. Why are you calling other people "fools"? You really have no reason to. Your bigotry is what is foolish.
So Arlen, I hope you are worshiping every god ever invented cause you wouldn't want to be a fool.
I guess you found that little bit of wisdom in the "Bible"
Psalm 137:9 – Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. That about says it all.
The answer should be obvious to everyone. There are six Christian Gods: the Old Testament's Yahweh, the Jewish Jesus, the Christian god ‘God,’ the New Testament Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Satan.
Yahweh is a Conservative Republican. He believes in obedience to authority and merciless punishment for disobedience or hesitation.
Jesus is an Israeli patriot to the core. He wants all non-Jews and all secular forms of government OUT of the Holy Land. He wants a theocracy in Israel. He wants the Palestinians OUT of Israel. What happens outside the borders of Israel is unimportant and uninteresting to Him.
The Christian God is mute. He has said nothing, except through the mouth of Christ (not Jesus). We don't know what he wants.
Christ is a New Deal Liberal: help the poor, the sick, the powerless, the weak, the young, the old, the pregnant, and the disabled. He wants justice for everyone. He promotes the brotherhood of mankind. Every person in the world is our brother or our sister. Do unto them as you would have them do unto you. He speaks through the Church which He founded.
The Holy Spirit is Evangelical. The Holy Spirit wants us to slip into a hypnotic trance, dance with delight at the Glory of God and hold our hands up to the Heaven. Nothing that happens on earth matters at all. The Holy Spirit doesn’t even know that politics exists.
In former times Satan (CEO and God of Hell) promoted war and slavery, but he now supports the growth of global corporations, which are His latest invention. Global Corporations are, to date, the cheapest and most efficient delivery vehicles of Evil.
Since we Christians worship all of Them, we can pick whichever One we want to worship and follow. Christianity is a big buffet of beliefs. Pick the ones you like. Ignore the ones you don't like.
El Flaco, are you actually thin? No matter, your explaination is funny and thoughtful, thank you
I wonder if god could just tell all these religious types to walk off a cliff?
Wouldn't that be great! PLEASE!!!! PRETTY PLEASE!!!!!
The church's psychological conditioning worked and her Pavlovian response kicked in to draw her back into the cult.
The faithful just gloss over the psychology behind religion or have no clue in general.
It's an insipid programming of the brain that begins in childhood with Vacation Brainwashing School (VBS), Sunday School, guilt and other perverse methods.
There have been a number of Christianities, not one.
During his lifetime, Jesus imagined that God would destroy the monarchy, expel the Romans, and rule Israel. That would be heaven. Jesus was just a guy, not a god. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew and never anticipated founding a new, non-Jewish belief system. Christianity was invented after his death.
After Jesus was executed, his followers invented Christianity 1.0, which consisted of waiting for Jesus to return real soon. The Christian teaching of love and kindness was an interim teaching just to keep early Christians cooperating with each other until Jesus returned – something every Christian expected to happen in his or her lifetime. There was no Bible.
After three centures of Jesus being a no-show, Constantine invented Christianity 2.0, which consisted of being a member of the Catholic Church and going to heaven when you died. Faithful Catholics marched from cradle to coffin under the watchful and benevolent eye of the Church’s leadership. Constantine ordered the assembly of a Bible.
Martin Luther invented Christianity 3.0, with the Protestant Reformation, which consisted of being a good person and doing good deeds so as to earn your membership in Heaven. Protestantism was a big improvement over Christianity 2.0.
Modern televangelists and Evangelicals have invented Christianity 4.0, which consists of little more than dialing a toll-free number with one hand while holding your Master Card in the other. Most modern con-artists carry a Bible in one hand.
Do you NOT understand what Jesus meant by His returning on the "THIRD DAY"? One day is 1,000 years, you have to find that elsewhere in the Bible. We are just now in the third day. The problem has never been the different "versions", it's always been false prophets!
Most don't "hear" Jesus exact Words: "they are to be taught by God".
God calls those who deny His existence fools. It is not me. I might just call you monkeys because that is what you prefer to be called. But, my prayers are for your transformation. Sorry, we do not call it evolution. This one is possible. Criy out to God "please help my unbelief". With much love and prayers. Reference: Psalm 14:1 and above article by Andrea.
Wow, you are pathetic and weak.
I don't need your help, I just need your bible because we ran out of toilet paper!
Abate, we are not descended from monkeys. Monkeys are primates, like we are, but humanity is descended from apes. Monkeys have tails. Apes do not have tails.
"God calls those who deny His existence fools"
No, some Jews who made up that "god" say that the "god" they made up says that those who deny "his" existence are fools. Get it right!
And my "prayer" is that you do humanity a huge favor by opening up a science book. . .try reading something intelligent for a while PLEASE !
Look up the word "abate", Abate.
I'd rather listed to my dog...he at least exists!
I'm just going to wager a guess and say that the quality of the author's faith today is directly related to the honesty of her own rebellion. I mean telling your father that his faith is "bs" is a pretty ballsy move. I think this highlights a really important issue for christian communities: how to regard and sustain someone who is in a state of rebellion. Regardless, it has always been my opinion that by the time you're an adult, if you don't want to be in church you shouldn't be. It sounds paradoxical to people but Jesus' teachings are full of paradox. I think it yields the best results.
So, this woman is indocrinated from birth into a flavor of the Christian cult. She goes off to college and away from the daily enforcement of her cult's indoctrination. Colleges tend to encourage thinking and asking questions so a bit of reason and rational thought is implanted. Christianity has always taught her that the secular world is nothing but evil where everyone worships Satan, does drugs, kills babies, drink alcohol, etc. She gives it a whirl and finds it's not so fun and runs back to the cult and family. Sounds like what Amish kids go through.
The story of my spiritual search and eventual realization that religion is all BS!:
1. Grew up in a Christian family.
2. Had doubts as a child but was told that that was just Satan trying to convince me to turn away from "god".
3. Kept struggling with doubts until college.
4. In college, I gave my spiritual search one last BIG effort (the old college try). Sought numerous different denominations (maybe these guys are doing some magic incantation differently and therefore garner the attention of "god" more than the others I've been to so far???).
5. Still in college, finally came to the realization that I maintain to this day (15-20 years later)...that religion is all BS!
If one has to look THAT hard, then this "god" must (1) not exist or (2) not be worth a $h|+ anyway.
I sought earnestly and did not find. I left no stone unturned and did not find. Therefore "god" does not exist. End of story.
1) Turned 9 years old.
2) Realized that God and Santa Claus are pretty much the same thing.
Not knocking you. I had the advantage of not being raised to believe in voodoo.
As Humans, just like any other creature on earth, our lives will someday end. Life is shared on one planet with other people.
People will never be able to give you all of the answers about religion. The only way to find God is to stop looking. It is counterintuitive, but it works.
We all want answers. I work with orphans in Kenya every summer. Why did I grow up in such a well-off world and they grow up so poor? If you begin to question God in that way, and use it to question faith, I suggest trying the following. Go help those who you think are pure illustrations of suffering, try to give to those who didn't know what help was until you arrived in their lives, try to support those who only need an occasional pat on the back, and then try to save a life of someone who has totally given up.
Sorry, faithproof, but your comment, while good-hearted, is basically a nonsequiter. Most people don't question religion because "bad things happen to good people," but rather because it's a fairy story that makes no sense. And many non-religious people go out of their way to help people because they realize that suffering is not divinely sanctioned as punishment or somehow redemptive, unlike the Pat Robertsons and Rick Santorums of the world.
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.