I have an interesting history with religion.

I grew up Lutheran- Wisconsin Synod- which is the most conservative synod of all the Lutherans.

My dad was a pastor, and my mom is a pastor’s daughter. I grew up walking next door to church every Sunday, going to Sunday School, and attending a parochial school. Along with that, I went to almost all of the church functions.

I remember being a kid, listening to the pastor (or teacher,) and actually thinking about what he was saying. I remember it making me happy.

We were taught that what we believed was the most important thing in the world, and that it was the literal truth. It wasn’t just some tradition to keep going.

I remember being thirteen years old and losing a friend in a car accident. I remember relying on my faith to get me through that.

I remember a year later questioning everything I had been taught.

I remember asking my dad, a pastor, “Dad, how do we know that the whole bible is actually the word of God and that it wasn’t changed or something?”

His reply: “Well… see, it’s complicated. We just have to sort of trust that the church did the right thing in passing it down and that God wouldn’t have let his Word get changed.”

“Oh…” And I remember thinking how that wasn’t a sufficient answer for me. (In hindsight, I realize that my dad was simplifying the answer quite a bit.)

I remember my confirmation day. I was fourteen years old. I felt tremendous guilt for having such strong doubts, but I refused to verbalize them. Instead, I had to swear that I knew that the Lutheran Creed I was saying was the truth in front of a large group of people. At least I got a cake and presents.

When I was sixteen, my dad was asked to resign as pastor. My dad was in his 50’s with no job, no money, and we had three months to find a new place to live.

That year I started going to a non-denominational church. My faith was inspired again. I started attending church every week, reading my bible daily, and at one point I even helped start a prayer group at my public high school.

My freshman year of college in  Milwaukee I even helped to start a church.

But the whole time… I had these nagging doubts… doubts about the accuracy of the bible, the teachings of the Bible, the Christian Church, and a lot of doubts about the theology behind what I said that I believed. I was still attending church regularly (a church that I loved,) participating in a small group, and attending other church events. I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people really admired me for my “faith.”

Then one day… I just stopped going. I had usually looked forward to church, but one Sunday I just decided not to go. And I never went back. Throughout the course of the next few months I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t know, and that I had never really allowed myself to question my beliefs without feeling guilty… that guilt was instilled in my since I had been a child. It was such a liberating feeling- not because I thought I could morally do whatever that I wanted, but because I was allowing myself the freedom to really THINK without guilt, to acknowledge a lot of things that I had buried within myself so deeply for such a long time.

And don’t get me wrong… when I was in the hospital last month, at the lowest point in my life, I wanted terribly to choose to have that faith again. My whole family would come to visit me, giving me hugs and telling me how much Jesus loves me, how God has a plan through all of this. It made me so sad… being a Christian would have given me so much comfort at a time that I had needed comfort more than any time in my life.

But I couldn’t just force myself to believe something because it was convenient at that point in time.

Last night I went with my sister to her church. Mostly, I just wanted to hear someone talk that would make me think (not being in school is really getting to me!) Also, I wanted to spend time with my sister. And… I knew it would make my sister and mom really happy if I went.

The sermon was called “Just Do It.” The pastor basically talked about how we should just obey God and not question Him. He said that if we were stumbling in believing things in the Bible, we should stop questioning them and just take them as God’s Word (he had a much more convincing way of saying it.)

It reminded me of this John Steinbeck quote from East of Eden:

“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most important thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.”

It seems wrong to me to tell someone not to question what they believe. In fact, some of the “strongest” Christians I know seem to ask themselves the really tough questions. It also seems pretty convenient to teach people to not question it.

And… maybe most importantly, it really takes away from the value of individuality, of the ability to reason- two things that I believe are some of the best traits of humanity.

I could go on and on about religion- it is such a huge part of what shaped me. But I’ll stop here. This stuff is enough to chew on.