Quiet Quitting and Faith
On leaving religion and finding belief
This week, Medium opened up its own Mastodon instance for its users. I was already on the platform, but was excited for the opportunity to engage with a group of people with a more concentrated shared interest, mainly writing. The first couple of days were rather bland on the instance, but as of this writing, it has really picked up steam and is becoming an active community. (I’ve actually migrated to that instance from my previous one and if you’re on Mastodon and want to follow me, you can add me at https://me.dm/@coachjz# ).
Yesterday, I made a brief toot referencing a random memory I had from college that seems to have been a moment that led to my questioning my adherence to the brand of Christianity I was a part of at the time. Another user responded and shared a story she had written about why she had quit the pastorate a couple of years ago. Reading her story, I realized that I had never really sat down and just told the full story of my faith journey that led me to where I am today. I have told snippets and moments, but I have not taken the time to put the whole thing together as one narrative.
That is what I am going to do for you today.
I was raised in a conservative Evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptists. Up until I went to college, it was largely the only denomination that I had any familiarity with. I remember making some friends at one point who were Methodist and I felt like I was spending time with people who needed to be saved because they believed in and practiced infant baptism.
I think I might have been uncomfortable with feeling that way at the time, but it was pretty solid in my head that infant baptism was wrong and a false salvation. I do not recall anyone telling me this, but it feels like something that might have been implied in some way.
Then I went to college.
During my senior year of high school, I felt like God was calling me to be a youth pastor. So one Sunday, I went forward during the altar call time at the end of the service and told the pastor about what I was feeling. I began meeting with him and the youth pastor of the church and eventually was hired in as an intern. I signed up for college at a small Christian college in the area and then actually got hired at a small church near there as their youth pastor.
In college, I was exposed, as one should be, to different ideas and understanding of religion. Most were Christians, but the variety of beliefs was a whole new world to me. At the time, I began spending an exorbitant amount of time on really conservative Reformed Christian message boards. Boards that pushed rather extreme ideas about predestination and anti-Catholic sentiment. I was beginning to buy into the idea that you had to believe how I believed in order to be saved.
Then I had lunch at Denny’s with some random guy on campus. I was heading to eat and I asked if he wanted to come along. I do not even think I knew his name at the time. It just sort of happened. While eating, we began debating abortion, me, at the time, being adamantly pro-life. He shared his story, though, of having a condition that would be uncurable if not for stem-cell research. A form of research that I had been convinced was done by deliberately aborting babies. He schooled me, and not long afterward I quit frequenting the message boards and my beliefs on a lot of things began to shift.
At this time of shift, I was doing a paper for one of my classes on The Emerging Church and Emergent specifically. This was a rather underground movement of mostly liberal-minded Christians seeking to bring the church back into alignment with the actions and teachings of Jesus. A movement seeking to distance Christianity from its obsession with Republican politics.
I was absolutely enamored with what they were seeking to accomplish. The thought leaders of the movement were deemed heretics by the message boards so I read their books and blogs and found, actually, that they were more accurately portraying the teachings of the Bible than even a lot of what I had been brought up in were saying.
But there was also some damage done to my faith around this time as I got married and lost my job at the church in connection with that. For a while, I did not even go to church at all. I eventually found a Presbyterian church to attend and did so mostly alone, my wife at the time was not as interested in going to church as I was. But things were beginning to feel shakier and shakier. As my politics shifted toward the more liberal, my theology began to morph as well. I was beginning to see more clearly the odd marriage between Christianity and Republican politics. And it made me increasingly uncomfortable.
When my marriage ended, I could not do the organized religion thing anymore. I bordered on atheism for a while and really sought to find the flaws in the whole system (and there are plenty of flaws). But there were certain things I just could not seem to let go of. In reading texts from other religions and even fiction stories that had nothing to do with religion, I saw ideas that were consistent throughout with what I had come to believe about the way of Jesus and the Bible. I began to more clearly see the bigotry that runs deep through the version of Christianity I was raised in, but also began to see that I was not forced to be that way.
I came to understand that someone can be separate from the organized forms of Christianity and still have a vibrant faith.
I was dating an Atheist at the time, and when I’d try to talk to her about this inner journey I was on, she would try to convince me I was going about it all wrong. There were red flags about this relationship from the start, but looking back, these conversations were likely a big part of why she ended the relationship and ghosted.
Without that pressure to drop religion and spirituality, I was finally able to freely follow the path my mind was leading me down. I could clearly see not only the flaws in religion, but could also see the connections between them all and the good that can be accomplished if one just embraces truth wherever it may be found, which happens to be an idea that stuck with me from my days frequenting the message boards and reading one of their favored theologians, John Calvin. It could even be argued if not for Calvin, I would not have left Reformed Christianity.
In the last half of last year, one topic the news was constantly talking about was “quiet quitting”. This phenomenon, for lack of a better word, of low-wage workers refusing to do more than their specific role in the workplace required. Looking back over my own journey, I think it is possible, and often necessary, to apply the same action to religion.
Christians would benefit from a movement of quiet quitting the church.
Quiet quitting the structures that have been created that wind up undermining the whole movement.
It is possible (necessary?) to leave the confines of organized religion in order to find true faith.
And it is possible to do so quietly. TO quietly quit religion.
It means setting boundaries. It means limiting your beliefs and practices to only those that are required at the most basic level.
In fact, this is exactly what the Bible says with regard to religion.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6, NIV)
For context, what was going on at the time is that there were traveling religionists visiting the Christian churches that Paul had established in the non-Jewish world spreading a version of Christianity that was heavily influenced by Judaism. Christianity was, after all, born out of a Jewish religious revival of sorts. Paul was charged by Jesus in a vision with taking that movement to non-Jewish people. There was concern among the Gentiles (anyone who is not a Jew) over needing to be circumcised. But Paul taught that baptism was an acceptable alternative since these people were not bound by the laws of Judaism.
Along come these teachers saying that it did not matter that they were not Jews, to be accepted by Jesus meant they needed to practice the full version of Christianity, which included circumcision, that way they could be made Jews.
I have not delved into the origins of this movement, but I would guess it had to do with an interpretation of the statement that Jesus once made that he had sheep that were “not of this fold”, meaning that there were people who were followers of him that were not Jewish and he needed to bring them in. They likely heard this teaching of going to the Gentiles and interpreted him as meaning that they needed to make them Jewish.
These teachers were creating a new set of laws governing what it meant to be a Christian and how to become one. And Paul calls bullshit. He tells them that Christ has set people free from those kinds of rules and regulations in order that they may live lives of love and acceptance.
Paul is calling for a quiet quitting of religion.
One can still believe in something even if they are not practicing all the man-made rules.
One can be a Christian and not seek the advancement of Republican politics.
One can be a Christian and not use the King James Bible only.
One can be a Christian and not be anti-Trans.
One can be a Christian and not be a part of a specific denomination.
In fact, one must practice the quiet quitting of religion in order to find true faith.