It was probably a reactionary-type thing. Most of the decisions I make are, at core, a reaction to being hurt in some way. This applies to religious decisions too, if there is such a thing as religious decisions.
It was probably (though I hate to admit it) because of a girl. Girls tend to drive me either toward or away from church, depending on the situation. For example, I was once in a relationship with a girl when I was also suffering from a major clinical depression, and perhaps I put unrealistic expectations and hopes on the situation with this girl, like she could “save me” etc.
But what happened was this girl ended up falling for the music leader at church, and not exactly dumping me, but more like ignoring me (i.e. not returning calls), which is, of course, a crueler and more cowardly thing to do than actually dumping someone, in my opinion. So this girl left me for the music leader, and it was at that moment that I began to become hyper-aware of all the reasons why church is stupid and backward and hypocritical and retarded. Like, for example, how the aforementioned music leader seemed more like he was performing at a pop concert or musical, instead of leading churchgoers into some kind of “worship” or “praise” experience when he was “leading worship.”
And so shortly after being dumped/ignored/let down by aforementioned girl, I made a personal decision to never again set foot in that stupid fucking church again.
If you asked me why I stopped going to church, I would give you a laundry list of perfectly justified-seeming reasons: the conservative closed-minded ideology did not “gel” with my particular intellectual/artistic values, the Bible was a flawed and not too reliable basis for an entire worldview. I had studied textual criticism and often pointed out the fact that the so-called “messianic” prophecies in the Old Testament (a term I found offensive from a Jewish perspective) that Christians liked to point to as “proof” of the Bible’s divine authority actually referred to socio-political events from Israel’s history and therefore not to Jesus Christ. Plus there was the whole philosophical problem of knowing anything with certainty, especially non-physical spiritual things. It seemed to me that the appropriate response to the question “Is Christianity true in the capital-T True sense?” was a shrug of the shoulders.
These are some of the reasons I would give if you ever asked me why I stopped going to church. What I would not tell you was this: “My heart was broken.”
And so it was that seven years later, the night after a girl I may have loved (a different girl—the aforementioned girl from church was now married to aforementioned music leader and had a couple kids and lived in a house in Fullerton with a 30-year mortgage and a minivan) told me, “I don’t think we should date. I think we should just be friends” that I found myself waking up at 8am on a Sunday morning and walking to church--a time when I would normally be passed out after a night of moderate to heavy drinking, perhaps passed out semi-naked in the bed of a girl I did, or did not, really like. Another one of the reasons I did not go to church those days was because I’d been up very late the previous night drinking large amounts of alcohol and/or engaging in casual (as opposed to committed/serious) sex and was therefore so tired and hungover and demoralized that the possibility of waking up for church was not a possibility.
I was, in fact, a little hungover on that particular Sunday morning. The previous night I’d imbibed three cans of Budweiser beer and three vodka cocktails. But still, I awoke alone with a profound (albeit conflicted) desire to go to church.
What the girl had said to me was this: “I don’t think we should sleep together anymore.”
To which I replied, “Do you mean ‘sleep together’ as a euphemism for ‘have sex’ or that we should never literally sleep in the same bed?” The reason I required this clarification was because we had only slept together in the euphemistic sense one time (the previous night) whereas we had literally slept in the same bed together (a little cuddling, kissing, but no funny business) maybe five times.
To which she replied, “I don’t think we should literally sleep together,” and then added, “I think we should just be friends.”
To me this was a crippling blow, because I really did like (maybe love) her and since the night of our first and only “sleeping together” I had felt a slew of emotions ranging from guilt and sadness to excitement and anxiety, to other feelings I could not name—feelings I interpreted to mean, “I like this person in a more than casual/friendly way.”
There was also fear, because I had neglected to use a condom and had instead used the “pull-out” method, which at the time seemed like an okay idea, but in retrospect seemed like a really fucking stupid idea. And I’d spent a whole afternoon on the internet, reading about the ineffectiveness of the “pull-out” method, the sperm count of pre-ejaculate, etc, and basically convincing myself that the girl was pregnant, an occurrence I felt totally ill-equipped to deal with—emotionally, psychologically, financially. Would I want her to get an abortion? Is abortion wrong? What about adoption? Was it as fun and quirky as that movie “Juno” depicted it to be?
It was in the midst of this silent, internal, anxious worrying that I’d had an epiphany of sorts, which eventually led me to church.
The epiphany was this. I came to actually accept the idea of this girl being pregnant and having the child and me caring for the child and loving him/her. Maybe I would marry the girl and my life would change completely. I would be less free, but I actually began to be okay with and embrace the idea of having a family and real familial-type responsibilities and commitments and all that, like I almost wanted this to happen.
And one other thing happened. That very same week, the writer David Foster Wallace (my favorite writer) committed suicide, which really affected me, so much so that I’d written a eulogy for the man and read it to my parents and cried as I read it.
And but so all of these things: the (probably unfounded) pregnancy fears, the idea of family, the death of David Foster Wallace, all of these things created a matrix of thoughts in my mind that amounted to something of an existential crisis: Who am I? How do I relate to other people? Am I basically a selfish person? What does it mean to love someone? What is family? What is my purpose? These types of questions.
These questions, combined with the growing sense of emptiness I felt about living what was basically a self-centered, pleasure-seeking life, and the bankruptcy of such a life—all of this compelled me to wake up on this particular Sunday morning and walk to church, despite my long-held reservations.
I did not continue going to church for long. In a sentence: it was too cheesy for me. But I think all of this was the start of a new direction in my life, one it would take me a very long time to explain.