Keeping the Faith, but Losing My Religion
Struggling to reconcile a decreasing attachment to traditions in the midst of a steady relationship to the Divine.
by Jarrett Hill
There are moments when I feel quintessentially millennial: when a friend of mine, a Gen-Xer, rolls his eyes when I refer to something or someone as “problematic.;” when I’m walking down the street, looking at my phone, not paying attention to what’s happening around me; when I ask Alexa to… well, do just about anything.
But in the years since becoming an adult I’ve found that a phenomenon that was occurring inside me is not just me but is something widespread amongst my peers: I’m falling more and more out of love with religion.
Now, it’s important to make a distinction here, upfront, very quickly. I distinguish faith and religion as two very different things. For me, faith is what I believe in, that there is God. I refer to God as God, as the All, a Divine source, it just depends on the day. I do not – at least, when I’m thinking about it – refer to God as male with male pronouns. I just don’t think of God as a guy (or a girl for that matter).
When it comes to religion, I think of it as the verbs associated with how I exercise, practice, or enact my faith. If the Bible is an instruction manual, I see religion as the actions I’m being instructed to do. And church is sort of the arena where we go to watch, to learn, to fellowship, and (for some) show it off.
That is, frankly, where things start to get hazy for me.
I’ve been a member of a church for nearly my whole life. I’ve almost always had a pastor, a preferred place to sit, and an impressive repertoire of gospel music ready to participate in most praise and worship moments post-haste. I’ve served in various forms of church leadership, sang in church choirs (two right now), volunteered in many of the ways. But the more I participate in church the more questions I have, many of which I don’t know have satisfactory answers. Some of these I’ve asked myself as far back as childhood.
“So we, the Baptists Christians, are the only ones going to Heaven? Really?”
“Why did God only use men to write the books of the Bible?”
“If the book is only by men, is it inherently sexist?”
“Why doesn’t church have more female leadership?”
“How much of this sermon is God’s language and how much is actually the messenger’s?”
“What’s with the church dress codes?”
“How is it that a church can changed the rules on what they believe?”
“If there are new rules, were the things that weren’t ok before always ok and we just didn’t know it?”
“God needs me to do something? But… why?”
“How is it that we’ve translated this into every tongue, then into endless interpretations, but then get specific about semantics, syntax, and language?”
I could go on for hours – ask my friends, I have – but I promised to keep this to about 700 words. I feel like the more I find myself in church, the more I find myself asking if this is a business that’s aiming to sustain its relevance and business model, or if it’s a divinely necessary practice to get in at the pearly gates.
“Are there like… actually gates? Why do we need security in Heaven? Is Heaven like… really a thing?”
And there’s data to show that I’m not really alone, as you may have heard. According to Pew Research from only a few years ago, the younger you are the less likely you are to believe religion is “very important,” to attend weekly services, or to pray “daily or more.” What’s interesting-er is that study also finds that all age groups have pretty similar responses on questions of their senses of wonder about the universe, feeling a sense of gratitude or thankfulness, and spending time in thought about the meaning and purpose of life.
Moreover, my faith and connection with God doesn’t seem to wain. I’m more grateful to God than probably ever before for all of the wonderful blessings in my life. I probably spend more time trying to express that gratitude than ever before. I find meditation to be a better form of prayer (for me) to connect and hear than standing hand-in-hand with a stranger.
While my parents are undoubtedly in fervent prayer by this point in this piece, and knowing it probably sounds counterintuitive to many of those in the community of believers, I think losing my religion is helping me keep the faith.