Washed Up Preacher
How to survive an existential crisis of evangelical proportion
By Alex Willmott
Up until a few years ago I would stand at lecterns with a Bible in my hand at conferences and churches across the UK. With the passion of the Welsh Valleys and an unquestioning commitment to uplifting rhetoric, my sermons were popular within the tiny and peculiar pond of evangelical Christianity.
I’ll never preach again.
I recorded podcasts that reached number one in iTunes for Spirituality and Religion and was twice asked to apply for ordination training in two different denominations. However, looking back on my 14 years as an evangelical Christian, I am met with an array of feelings – shame being most prominent.
To think that I spent almost a decade and a half entrenched in an ideology as provable as fairies at the bottom of the garden, with more historical flaws than the flat earth theory, is truly humbling. I was convinced that despite there being tens of thousands of religions and ‘gods’ out there, evangelical Christianity just happened to be the right one. Yes, and I was fortunate enough to have stumbled upon this treasure of truth. Hallelujah.
It was somewhere between hearing hundreds of church leaders describe how ‘God speaks to them’ and me being told that questioning God ‘leads to blasphemy against the holy spirit’, I refused to paper over the ever-present crack in my religious understanding. And like many of my back-slidden friends before me, as soon as I dared to look at the actual evidence for the New Testament and the actual make-up of the cosmos, as well as the wonderful enigma of consciousness, the crack in my understanding created a sinkhole. Rhetoric disappeared into it, religious conviction fled to it, and all I was left with was the raw human experience. And for want of a better phrase, thank God it happened.
Moving on from a narrow evangelical worldview is like trying to pull yourself from an overturned canoe in a current. It hurts, and at times you’re not sure you’ll be alright.
So how do you survive an existential crisis of evangelical proportion?
Take some fucking responsibility – specifically in these four areas:
Some of the bat shit that gets spouted within evangelical Christianity belongs in a secure facility where psychologists are on hand to guide the god-people to reality. And when the seemingly intelligent individuals keep repeating the same religious rhetoric at every given opportunity, the mind begins to want to believe. And before you know it, you’re mumbling ‘amen’ like you know what the fuck you’re on about. ‘Yes Lord, move this generation into revival times’ you mutter – like someone has slipped high potency acid into your squash. And for a time, you forget that only 2% of young people in the UK identify with the church of England, and that for every 1 person who comes to faith from a non-faith background, 20 religiously-raised people leave for good. You start to believe the bat shit. The worship songs that promise the ‘days of Elijah’ and bellow out how ‘Our God is bigger’ begin to provide a soundtrack for your days. And after one too many beers (in the unlikely situation that your Christian friends allow such behavior) the hound inside you dares to turn on the master, and you’re face to face with an eerie silence. So you stuff your brain with thoughts that reaffirm the message you once tried to believe. You stuff it and stuff it until you feel saved again.
So, in short, fuck that. Get yourself listening to Brian Cox, Lao Tzu, Richard Carrier and Russell Brand (Yes, that Russel Brand). Your brain needs a good old reality check, and those are some of the thinkers who have helped reboot mine.
Put the fork down. Seriously, put it down. Think about your relationship with food. In all my time as a Christian, I believed the lies of strangers, simply because they took the time to tell me something. I was told that we had dominion over animals and that meat was simply part of God’s plan. The arrogance in that ideology epitomizes the evangelical message that we are the chosen and we can eat what we damn well please. I’ve completely restructured my diet and have found solace in the Pescatarian community. I’ll be writing more about this in the coming months, but suffice to say, I’ll never go back to meat.
All you are is a conscious awareness wrapped in matter that fails to exist on a quantum level. That’s all you are. But don’t be afraid, it’s a cosmic miracle that you’re aware and reading this at all. Never lose sight of this unfathomable reality. You are here, so breathe it in. Breathe in the awareness and let that be your truth. Don’t clamber for fables and doctrines, tampered manuscripts and untested claims. Just breathe slowly. Meditation is the natural response to processing reality. It’s not religious. It’s not anything really. It’s simply breath, and simply wonderful.
The instructions for life are simple in evangelicalism, and it’s one of the very few things I missed most after I escaped. Unless I felt that ‘God’ had endorsed my next step, I wouldn’t move forward at all. And if my leaders told me something was not ‘God’s plan’, I wouldn’t go near it. How fucking insane is that? Adult men and women trapped in an eternal uncertainty, awaiting a stranger’s voice to give them the green light to live. You don’t need to feel something is worth doing to do something. And the mumbled assurance of religious strangers is the last endorsement you need to do something. So go and do something, test the doors of consciousness.
Final thoughts from a washed up preacher...
I would add that you should expect to lose the people you once called ‘brothers and sisters in the faith’. You see, when you open up the question box and your understanding shifts from religious certainty to conscious reality, the god-people will lose their fucking minds. They too will be forced to accept their total lack of evidence, but most will paper over the crack immediately, as you once did. Don’t be afraid. If the prerequisite to friendship is carbon copy belief, then seriously, it’s not real friendship. One of my two best men actually handed my wedding invitation back to me as I walked away from the faith that he still clings to like a pillar in a hurricane. I only wish we’d never met so I wouldn’t have the regret of knowing such a shallow, conditional friendship structure.
Anyway, you may know someone who has, or is going through an existential crisis. Feel free to send them my way if they need a chat and a pint. I can’t promise anything but truth, bad language and beer.