Three years ago, I’ve stopped going to church. Not that I’ve lost my faith in God (because my personal relationship with God is an impenetrable connection that goes way beyond religion and nothing can change that) but mostly because I have lost faith in the members of the clergy and the system that makes up the entire church. This is the very same church which I have come to love and where I was literally baptised. This is where I have decided to accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. It took many years of prayers and contemplating in order to come up with such a decision. It took me a lot of tears and pain before I was finally able to walk away from the old facade that I used to call as my second home. But for years, I have felt sick witnessing these so-called religious people spread hatred, division and confusion among people through their blatant hypocricy and lies.
I was born in a highly devout Born-Again Christian family in a beautiful city of a hundred thousand people called Calapan, some 30 kilometres away from the famed tourist town of Puerto Galera, Philippines. Born-Again is a local denomination of the Protestant (evangelical) movement in the Philippines. As I understood it, the phrase “born again” refers to the “spiritual rebirth” due to the atonement of one’s sins following his acceptance of Christ as his own Savior and the repentance of his own wrongdoings. The bible reference can be found in the book of John 3:3-5 NIV. My parents were church workers and my sisters used to assist kids in Sunday schools. As a young man, I started serving the Lord as a Sunday school preacher and was an active organizer of my church’s Daily Vacation Bible school when I was 15 until I was 21 years old. As a member of my local congregation’s music ministry, I also sang and played instruments in countless masses and church occasions. As a small group leader, I’ve facilitated many prayer meetings and prayed with different groups of youth in many different occasions. As an outreach gospel preacher, I was part of a youth group that went to remote provinces and towns braving rivers and mountains to tell people about the word of God and also giving out religious fliers and newsletters. Having said that, I know exactly how the concept of religion and congregation work because I grew up in it and surrounded by it.
I have also been to many Christian churches —big and small, rural and metropolitan, and those what we call “little funded” and “heavily funded” ones. I have witnessed Sunday services ran by multimedia engineers (as many as twenty of them) dabbling on the keyboards of their Mac computers inside a glass-covered control room and I have attended one that is so stripped of money they can barely afford a microphone or a pulpit for their preacher.
I have also attended star-studded services. Yes, one where Sarah G., Piolo Pascual, Christian Bautista, Daniel Matsunaga, Rachel Ann Go and the likes all seated in the front row that people find it hard to focus on the sermon because most of them are busy scrutinizing the outfit of the stars.
I have witnessed pretty much all kind of services, from the classic, serene and mostly piano organ accompanied Baptist services to the powerhouse drums-driven and concert-like Born Again praise and worships. (I loved listening to Hill Songs and Planetshakers.)
I have also seen people giving tithes of what seemed to me as a hundred thousand in cold cash and even counting the bills in their hands mid-way to the service for other members of the congregation to see (why else would they count the money there or expose how much they give to the church when they can just discreetly hand an envelope to an officer of the congregation?) Yuck!
I have watched members of the church cry buckets of tears in their prayers and during praise and worship inside the holy church only to hear them utter profanities and see them hit their children when they get home a few hours later. Are you fucking kidding me?
I have also listened to pastors who used their designated hours of sermon to talk about the politicians they support and how the members of the congregation should also vote for their candidate of choice. When did the church start to have a say in who I should vote? I find it very ridiculous. I find it “kagaguhan” (go figure) when the church start to influence members of the congregation on who they should vote and not vote. I don’t like being a puppet of my church. Nobody tells me who I should vote. That’s fucked up!
Most importantly, the church I have come to love preaches of the great love of God to mankind that He gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. And yet the church condemns LGBTQ people for being themselves. The church is blatantly and unmercifully opposing gay people for something we did not even have control about. Where is the love in that?
I remember one occassion at the local church I attended where one of our pastors (yes, we have a lot of pastors because it was a fucking corporation err they have to accomodate our growing congregation cough cough), in the middle of his homily, started blasting the LGBTQ community and how they will never get to enter the kingdom of heaven if they won’t turn themselves to “straight men and women” right away. The pastor spoke using strong words and he sounded so angry that the whole church seemed to shake at the sound of his voice while he stood there at the pulpit humiliating gay and lesbian people. After a few minutes, I heard a commotion from the front rows followed by the silhouette of two men walking past the crowds and towards the exit door. As they get near to where I was seated, their faces became clear and I could see one of them got tears flowing down his face. Both of them were tall but one of them was foreign looking —European perhaps. They held each other’s hands while they continue their stride to the exit and out of the church. We looked at the pastor who only gave a hand gesture that seemed to say “oh well. Bato-bato sa langit.” I could sense the scorn from everyone in the room but I could not tell if it was directed to the pastor or to the gay couple. But it only took a moment before another gay couple stood up from the third row and walked away. They were followed by more people, most of them alone but undoubtedly members of the gay community. A community that I also belong. They cat-walked out of the church like models in America’s Next Top Model with fierce but disappointed expressions on their faces. Some of them walked quietly with their heads down. Harmless, beautiful people who are good citizens of the country. The pastor did not tell them to stop. He just paused for awhile and then continued with his sermon. After that, the pastor ordered for silence and prayed for the sinful soul of gay people. Everyone was dumbfounded. I myself was deeply hurt by what the pastor had said. He made it sound like we chose to be gay because we wanted to have sex with every good looking guy we meet. He was so wrong. He was the most disrespectful “preacher of God” I have ever encountered and I’ve felt so miserable listening to him that day. I wanted desperately to stand up and join my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ but I did not have the guts to disrespect the pastor and my church. Yes, I could not walk out on him even if he was disrespectful of my sexual preference. Anyway, that was the last time I have ever attended a mass.
Most people will judge and even condemn me for leaving the church but we all have our different opinions and beliefs and we live by those beliefs. My personal beliefs include practicing what we preach and staying truthful to ourselves and to God.
And so slowly and surely, I have drifted away from the church. I chose to avoid it. It is no longer helping me become a good citizen of the world. In fact, it came to a point where the teachings of the church had confused me so much that I didn’t want anything to do with it. I honestly think I am on my way to secularism but for now, I’ll leave it at that.
Most people will judge and even condemn me for leaving the church but we all have our different opinions and beliefs and we live by those beliefs. My personal beliefs include practicing what we preach and staying truthful to ourselves and to God. When we say we love God and God loves us, it means we are capable of loving everyone —regardless of their color, race, sexual preferences etc. When we say we are sons and daughters of God, we accept everyone without hesitations and we welcome them to our homes with open arms. When we say we are Christians, we are pure, honest, and kind in heart and deeds not just in public but when nobody else is looking. Sadly, most if not all members of the congregation are fake Christians who are either confused about their faith or just there for a sense of belongingness (LOL!). I cannot stand these people. I abhor their fake lives and their fake faith. I cannot tolerate arrogant preachers for their hypocricy and audacity to claim they are living prophets of God but do not even understand the real meaning of love. The LGBTQ people are harmless people and like everyone else they deserve to be treated with utmost respect and be given rights similar to what their “straight” brothers and sisters enjoy. We did not want this. We were made like this. We were born this way.
Faithwire.com and born-again Christian writer Jenna Shackelford made a point when she said in her article, “we are living in a time in which people are leaving the church frequently due, in part, to intellectual questions that are unresolved and doubts they may have, many of which seem to spring up or be nurtured in more secular environments, whether it is a social media or discussions on college campuses.” You can say I am one of those who left the church due to its primarily authoritarian structures rather than a more democratic structure. In my case, it was more than intellectual questions. It was a question of integrity and truthfulness of the congregation.
In the same article titled, “Why Katy Perry’s Rejection of Her Childhood Faith Should Concern Every Bible-Believing Christian,” Shackelford added, “we (referring to born-again Christians) should not wait for people to leave the church to realize we have a problem. We need to equip ourselves to answer questions, so that we can equip others to grow in their faith as well.” It seems to me that the church has always been ready for a rebuttal no matter what topic. The real score is whether they are being true to their goddamn selves. Are they walking the talk? The answer is no. Most of them are not. Even if they were believers. Sometimes, non-believers appear to be more Christ-like in thinking, in words and in deed. And this creates the confusion that makes good Christians leave the church.
Others may argue that I simply stepped in to the wrong congregation and that not all preachers are the same and I agree with that. I have encountered a very honest and loving congregation of true Christians. I knew a bunch of unbelievably good pastors and preachers of the Word. But this is not just about my encounter with a few congregations or some preachers. This is more about how fucked up the concept of religion is to me —how it fools most people and make them believe lies after lies in order to make a living out of them.
In the book of Romans 3:10 under the New International Version (NIV), the bible says, “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Indeed, nobody has the right to judge other people for they know nothing of the battles these people had to deal with. There is a story behind every single person; there is a reason why they are the way they are. Think about that before you judge someone. Shame on you if you are a pastor / priest who preaches of God’s love but spreads hate and bigotry and causes confusion among us. Shame on you if you are a priest who condemns homosexuality but engages in sexual relationship with another man (or woman for that matter). Shame on you and all hypocrite judgmental people who go to church on Sundays. You people should hear yourself talk.
I am neither an atheist nor an agnostic person. An atheist do not believe in the existence of God, I believe that there is a Supreme Being who created life and everything. An agnostic individual neither believes nor disbelieves in a god or religious doctrines. I only believe that some teachings of the bible may be true and worth following but at the end of the day, the bible for all its worth is still a work of many men whose past time was to write and create stories based on their own realities and superstitious beliefs. There were no internet back then. People needed something to do. I do respect the intellectual and spiritual teachings of these writers but to claim there were divine intervention in their works, that’s another story and that’s something that has long been refuted by scholars. When it comes to the bible, I honestly take the ones that I can use in my daily life (mostly the verses about love, friendship, family and being a good person) and ignore the ones that question my own relationship and faith in God. And I do not intend to demean or argue about religion either because I believe every individual should be entitled to their own beliefs. Let me be entitled to mine.
I still pray to God every day and my faith is stronger than ever. I may not read the bible as often as before but I do carry with me the most important teachings it has ever taught me;
1 John 3:16-18 — “16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or a sister in need but has no pity in them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words and speech but with actions and in truth.”
Proverbs 10:12 — “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongdoings.”
1 John 4:7 — “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Mark 12:31 — “The second is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than this.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 — “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails but where there are prophecies; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
Matthew 23:8 — But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.”
Luke 6:31 — “Do to others what you would have them do to you”
Religion has led this world into so much hatred that led to wars that led to divisions. Religion is still the root cause of the chaos in many parts of the world. Instead of coming to church and adhering to a certain religion, I choose to let the above teachings become the very foundation of my core values. I am no angel. I don’t claim to be an all-knowing person. I am not a perfect man either. I sin, I fall, I swear, I commit mistakes, I make bad decisions but I do try to live by these core values and try to remember them every day, wherever I go and whatever I do.
I’m not saying people do not need religion to grow their faith but to each his own and eliminating the concept of religion in my life worked for me. To clarify my views about the bible; I agree with some of the great teachings of the bible but I must admit that most if not the rest of it are entirely irrelevant to my time and should not be justified or exaggerated by preachers in any other way just so it will appear valid and applicable to the present time. The Lord has blessed my life so far because my faith in Him is rock solid and no religion can break it. He has been my Provider and I couldn’t ask for more. With regards to the 10%, I make sure I give back to charity and the community. Not that it’s better than giving your ten percent to a corrupt church but that’s just “my way” of giving back. But I don’t need religion to tell me how to love my God when preachers, pastors, deacons and most religious people I know do not present as a good example either. Please, just admit most of you are there for the money and stop confusing people.
Have you been astray? Have you ever considered quitting religion? Did you do it? How was the experience? Tell me in the comments!
—King Ray, the Ninja