There is a clear misunderstanding about what I believe. Grant it, the depth of misunderstanding is still limited to my relatively small impact. I live a simple life. I go to work, come home, help with the kids, repeat. Nevertheless, among those that know me, there is a misunderstanding. They question my beliefs or most often make assumptions about those beliefs. I get it. My journey has been one of at times radical abandonment, so I am sympathetic to this misunderstanding. And considering where I have most often landed, a place of ambiguity, this perception of “lost” is justified. However, it is also completely inaccurate.
Perhaps the misunderstanding comes from the fact that my “belief system” is fundamentally a rejection of a belief system. By that I mean that I have strived to make my beliefs secondary to my values. I have sought to refine and understand my values and allow them to guide me. I have strived to articulate those values in such a way that they allow for my beliefs to be agile. This is not a rejection of truth, but it is an acceptance that beliefs are hardly about truth either. Beliefs are convenient by nature. Beliefs allow for certain mental shortcuts that make life easier to navigate. Values, however, are personal truths that are reliable and predictable.
"I have strived to make my beliefs secondary to my values."
My value system is first a pursuit of articulating what I value. The result of this pursuit is that my beliefs follow. My belief in a God, for example, is secondary to my value of seeking truth. My beliefs about groups are secondary to the values that guide how I strive to understand and embrace others. The beliefs I do have are layered, complex, and developing, but inconsistent. My values, however, are consistent and can be explored and deliberately deconstructed because they are secured within my identity.
That identity–that thing by which I understand who I am–has been shaped over years, periodically deconstructed, but constant and secure. Areas of brokenness still present themselves as I uncover trauma and new wounds that emerge unexpectedly. Yet areas of strength, resilience, and goodness also are revealed. A core misunderstanding about my beliefs is that I dismiss the spiritual impact of that growth. My identity is evolving as well, especially as I learn about my privilege. Additionally, as I deconstruct and reconstruct, I am growing confident in expressing and accepting my own shortcomings, insecurities, and struggles.
Stories of man’s struggle with God have had the greatest impact on me, but only as I have been able to establish my values, embrace ambiguity, and deepen my understanding of my identity have I been able to see the impact of how psychologically fragile I am, how anxiety shapes my interpersonal communications, and how much I fear rejection. Through that journey, I have found something more significant than my shortcomings. My commitment to truth, ethics, and understanding lead me through my battles. My relationship with the Holy Other is my guide and my companion.
That relationship with the Holy Other has been a tumultuous journey in and of itself. What began with a passionate commitment to Christ quickly turned into an unhealthy relationship with the church. That identity that I now cherish was once lost in allegiance to an institution and a coping mechanism for brokenness. A commitment to lifelong ministry became lost in a calling that I did not understand. My calling gave me purpose, but the purpose was lost in the false identity of having a purpose. An institution that thrived on my insecurity threw me into a system of influence without proper counseling or training.
My enthusiasm turned toward self-righteousness which turned into indignation as I tried to navigate a “calling” that I did not understand. I felt exploited as I served the organization, but my deep sense of purpose was too entangled with identity and I quickly became lost. The doubt that had always been a part of me but was never accepted by the institution gained a foothold as I spiraled. My pervasive religious paradigm that was ill-equipped to deal with the deeper questions was driven by a fear of what might be revealed.
"My deep sense of purpose was too entangled with identity and I quickly became lost."
It was toward the end of my career in ministry that I finally began to allow myself to ask questions. Kierkegaard, Derrida, Caputo, Brueggemann, and more became my closest friends. I read feverishly. I strived to understand postmodernism and existentialism as much as I could. Things were finally coming into focus. I was still committed to ministry, but this new path was allowing me to experience it in new ways. Within a couple of years, I became the collateral damage of a new movement. More bluntly, I was fired. Grant it, the church that I served had recently fallen into the institutional trap that many churches fall into. After building a family life center in hopes of revitalizing a dwindling membership it was financially strapped and scapegoats were inevitable. As the college minister, my program and I were one of the first to go. But it was also clear that my challenges to the status quo had long since been welcome.
Full of resentment I went through an exhaustive deconstruction of the flaws of western Christianity. Then I moved to frustrations with Christianity itself. Then I moved to the (non)existence of God. That’s when things were no longer fun. While I never fully rejected God, I could no longer accept Him either. However, the doctrinal issues that I always doubted were now rejected. This path led to a complete collapse of what since of identity I had. Since that identity was still too grounded in things beyond my faith, as those things crumbled, so did I. I began a career in higher education and all but left faith behind for a time. But a philosophical paradigm and personal identity void of faith felt just as disingenuous as one I had before.
So, I reengaged, but in a new way with new norms. I embraced my Christian heritage but rejected the trappings. I asked new questions and established a new paradigm. My faith is more real than ever but at the cost of so much. I hope that by reading this you will find solidarity. Or perhaps after a friend reads this they will understand a little better. But regardless, this is my story now and one that I am proud to tell.
"This is my story now and one that I am proud to tell."
I am excited to be a part of the None community. I look forward to new relationships and engaging dialogue. It is our diversity of opinions that singularly unifies us so I welcome your feedback and encourage your challenges. And I thank you all for allowing me to be a part of your life.
Craig Morton is a contributing writer for American None. He has a Ph.D. in Higher Education but is famous for being a Master of the Grill.