Abandon Religion (and Save Faith)

No matter your position or perspective to this post’s title you have a response. You might be smiling: far-removed from Sunday mornings in the pew, a passed offering plate, a sermon, some songs, and that never-satisfied ache for something more. You might be wincing: feeling the nerve just pinched; palpably aware that what’s being espoused in your community of faith feels less and less relevant and has little to no impact or meaning in your day-to-day life. You might be shocked: convinced and committed to religion (and certainly the church) as the best (if not only) way to grow and sustain your system of beliefs and ascribed lifestyle with any degree of integrity, value, and worth.

All three of these make sense to me, are uniquely legitimate in and of themselves, and have their own profound history in my life. And because of such, with no second-guessing or residual regret, I can say this:

I have abandoned religion.

And even more, I can say this:

In abandoning religion, my faith did not abandon me.

I grew up in the church with steeped and loved familiarity in ritual, routine, and rhetoric. Summer camp with s’mores and altar calls. Christian college with weekly chapel services and late night study sessions peppered with theological musing. Missionary work in Korea and the humbling privilege of impacting others’ lives. Marriage to a pastor and the blessing/curse of being loved, esteemed, and looked up to by an entire community of faith. Seminary and a degree that invited me to feminist interpretation, Greek and Hebrew languages, and a culturally-sensitive critique of the church. Ordination and the honor and privilege of administering holy sacraments: marriage, communion, baptism. Providing Spiritual Direction and receiving the deep gift of listening to the stories of others and inviting them to new, powerful, and healing metaphors/understandings of god.

I no longer attend church. Ending the marriage to the pastor pretty well took care of that. Some early attempts in new places: the songs made me ache, communion made me cry, and the sermons made me mad.

But leaving church…and thereby religion did not mean that it left me. Belief endures. I still provide Spiritual Direction and am consistently stunned by the poignant stories of others and our shared hunger for a god that makes sense (while simultaneously remaining bigger and more mysterious than we can grasp or define). I am still ordained and if you ask me, I’ll offer you any sacrament you desire. I still look at old stories through the lens of original language, finding again and again that Greek and Hebrew are more poetic and profound than we could have ever imagined. I’m a passionate feminist who loves theology. (This is not a paradox, if you wondered). And I still eat s’mores.

Abandoning religion has hardly been easy; an arduous and life-long journey in many ways. But in turning my back on religion I have found belief and saved face faith.

Abandoning religion has:

  • invited me to curiosity, hard questions, and no easy answers.
  • provoked and provided  chosen system of beliefs (or lack thereof).
  • created space for something bigger than doctrine or dogma.
  • introduced me to people and philosophies I would have otherwise never known.
  • offered me experiences of relationship and community beyond compare.
  • sent me on a hunt for something new, something mine, something potent and passionate.
  • brought me back to ancient stories of women in Scripture who astonish me with their strength, their tenderness, their grace, their wisdom.
  • (re)introduced me to god; a god not bound by systems or structures, creeds or catechisms.
  • asssured me that I am not alone.
  • saved my faith. 

A faith of doubt, not certainty. A faith of hope, not reason. A faith of wonder, not apologetics. A faith of inclusiveness, not exclusivity. A faith in self, relationships, the goodness of humanity, the beauty of creation, the love of God.

So, I smile because I have somehow, amazingly, perhaps miraculously moved from depth to depth, meaning to meaning, grace to grace, and in all, experiences of God that are unbound and endlessly surprising. I wince because so many either swirl in confusion or march away in disgust, missing the gifts of shared story, shared hope, shared community. And I’m shocked that we’re not having better conversations that invite rich, provocative, curious, and full-of-life experiences of one another, of god, and yes, of faith. More than shocked, I am sad.

I believe we are ravenous for smart, sophisticated conversation about faith, God, beliefs, and spirituality in ways that don’t cause our skin to crawl or our claws to come out or our defenses to go up. That’s the conversation I’m hosting and the community I’m serving. Hungry? Take, eat.


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    { 16 comments… read them below or add one }

    Currie Silver March 29, 2012 at

    Brilliant, Ronna. So clear and deep. I am deeply grateful for all that your words cause to shift, move, and even awaken in me.


    Ronna Detrick March 29, 2012 at

    I’m grateful, as well, Currie. Thanks.


    Kim March 29, 2012 at

    I don’t know what to say, Ronna, except that every word of this post resonated with every fiber of my being. And I know that there are many more like me out there. I especially liked a faith of wonder.
    Kim recently posted..Mar. 28 – Spring Asparagus


    Ronna Detrick March 29, 2012 at

    I always have the sense that there are many of us who have similar stories, similar questions, similar longings. Now, to gather the troops and invite conversation that heals and encourages! SO glad you’re here, Kim.


    Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady March 29, 2012 at

    This is a simply brilliant post, Ronna. I can feel your soul speaking here – and I like what it says.

    I grew up in a strict Catholic household and although I never had a bad Catholic experience, church didn’t fit me. I find spirit in everything around me. The world is my church. :)
    Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady recently posted..Your Business Has A Soul


    Ronna Detrick March 29, 2012 at

    I love this, Theresa, and your experience is unique, right? Many who have grown up in the church have left it, but not in a way that has invited them to a new (or even new/old) experience of faith, of wonder, of spirituality, of “church.”

    And I am especially grateful to hear even this bit of your story. These are the ones we often leave untold…our religious roots…especially if we’ve “left.” To know of the heritage and depth and even richness of our background’s invites this gorgeous weaving of something beautiful. Thank you.


    Jackie Walker March 29, 2012 at

    Ah Ronna, I was reading this nodding and then, I got it, religion is certainty and there’s no need or even encouragement of curiosity, thank you. I love faith so much too, the kind you describe, true faith.
    Jackie Walker recently posted..Reason to Love Yourself #8 – You Belong at Home


    Ronna Detrick March 29, 2012 at

    So grateful for your presence, Jackie…and the head nodding. :-)


    Michelle Grant March 29, 2012 at

    Thanks for voicing what so many of us are thinking. Not so sure God wants us to put so much importance on ritual, stories and pomp & circumstance and I’ve got to believe that God may be wincing at the hypocricy that religion seems to breed. Is this what God had in mind? I don’t think so. Love, acceptance, & growth …. yes, I think so. The shift is coming, if not already here. Thank you, Ronna!


    Ronna Detrick March 29, 2012 at

    The beauty of faith – and god – is that there are so many ways in which me might experience such: for some, through ritual, stories, and even pomp & circumstance…just not at the expense of love, acceptance, and growth! And yes, a shift indeed. It feels significant to me, as well – and ongoing, never finished, continual, circular somehow. Love that you’re here Michelle. Thank you.


    Amanda March 29, 2012 at

    This is fantastic, Ronna, and has easily become my new favourite of your posts. I didn’t grow up with religion nor did I attend church. In fact, the first time I attended church was a couple of years ago with my husband’s grandparents.

    I didn’t like it. I felt patronized and strange.

    I love that this is a celebration of your commitment to faith and love. Makes me feel really, really good about my ongoing decision to forgo religion and continue my spiritual mutt tendencies.


    El March 29, 2012 at

    It makes me so mad and so sad all at the same time, the way the church does this … chews people up and spits them out! And causing so much pain in the process, that we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    I believe in a God who is bigger and more loving than the rules and condemnation of church. I believe in relationship, not religion. And I believe people are yearning to fill a God shaped hole in their heart with that love. That’s why I started The Itchy Soul, to help people ask questions of the stuff they were told in church, to poke at it, shine a light on it.

    And that’s why I adore what you’re doing here and this post :-)

    Love El x
    El recently posted..Are you stuck on the see-saw of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’?


    Minna Bromberg March 30, 2012 at

    I will admit that I found myself — as a rabbi who still serves a congregation — reacting defensively to this post at first. Thoughts like, “Well, maybe that’s true if by ‘religion’ you mean ‘Christianity’…” and the like. But then I started thinking about this in relationship to preparing for Passover — as Jews all over the world currently are.

    On Passover, we reenact the journey (our journey, everyone’s journey) from slavery to freedom. Your post resonates as a true tale of liberation from Narrowness (my favorite translation of the biblical “Egypt”) into the wilderness of possibility.

    In my own life’s story I abandoned the “religion” of academia and the new life that found me was a life of bringing more Jewish religious and spiritual practice into my life (of both the “organized” and the “unorganized” variety).

    And even before that, as a teenager, I experienced the earlier liberation of abandoning the “religion” of dieting and moving into the wilderness of loving my body as it is and finding non-dieting ways to be healthy.

    So, thank you, Ronna for sparking this line of thought for me today. And may we all be blessed to take the leap of abandoning what no longer serves to move into the openness of Infinite Possibility!


    Ronna Detrick March 30, 2012 at

    Minna: I love-love-love that you are here! Such an honor to be able to create context for interfaith dialogue! And oh, the allusion of the Passover event as movement from narrowness into the wilderness of possibility! Wilderness is a huge metaphor for me – one that I consistently invite as goodness and “home.” We’re so compelled to get out of it and yet, it seems to me, it’s the most powerful place for knowing of self and god.

    And finally this: “may we all be blessed to take the leap of abandoning what no longer serves…” YES!

    I’ll be celebrating Passover on Friday night. Will raise a toast in your honor!


    Rita March 31, 2012 at

    It has long seemed to me that religion is about faith in a church, not faith in God. I cannot see any real difference between the stories of the Bible and those of Greek mythology. I find both valuable in the way I find any story valuable–as guides, as though-provokers, as metaphors. I see all as attempts by earlier people to explain the (as yet) unexplainable.

    God, now: That is a whole different story. I cannot believe in the God of religion (though I have tried and once desperately wanted to). But I hold out possibility for a different God. It is so refreshing (and pleasing and hope-producing) for me to see a person of faith espouse this point of view.
    Rita recently posted..Break!


    Ronna Detrick March 31, 2012 at

    Love that you’re here, Rita. I am especially intrigued by your statement about god: trying to believe and even desperately wanting to. I have (more than) a hunch that you are not alone there; that this hope for a different god might actually be one realized. This is my hope, as well…and that which I hope I might at least begin to offer.

    I’m confident that god exists…waiting for us to understand, to see, to stop arguing, to stop feeling the need to get it right, to abandon religion, to step forward in expansive, arms-wide-open faith and into something beyond belief or imagining. Wouldn’t that be something?

    This is my hope, to be sure. Thank you for saying what you have; for articulating a reality strongly felt by so many.


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