Faith Unraveled

I wish I’d had this book ten years ago. I had questions the church couldn’t answer, and it was wrong to even ask them. Things in the fundamentalist sphere didn’t line up for me, but it was the only thing I knew, so I assumed I was just missing something. I wasn’t smart enough, or spiritual enough, or didn’t do enough for God. Though I’m past that initial questioning stage, I recognize the fear and curiosity in Rachel’s story.

I’d described her as a “former fundamentalist” before reading any of her material, but I think I’m wrong. I was waiting to hear where she’d ended up, what church was finally her church, but the answer never came. Maybe it’s better that way. This isn’t a conversion story—it’s a book of questions. It questions the things you’ve been told to accept. It questions the fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture. It questions where she belongs in this church, but she never quite leaves this church. She just tries to make sense of it, which I can respect.

Even when Jesus hung on the cross, when God had been insulted to the highest degree imaginable, left naked, humiliated, beaten, and bruised, he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

We had a lot of the same doubts: Like, it doesn’t seem possible that Baptists are the only ones in Heaven. Or, how can people who’ve never been exposed to the Gospel be saved? She realizes there’s a lot of focus on the afterlife and not much focus on this one, a theme that always unsettled me. She spends a lot of time trying to unravel these doubts, so I’d expected a big reveal at the end. The last section is titled “Change,” after all, so I was waiting for her grand answers. But there are no grand answers. Slightly disappointing, but also realistic. Any 20-something who claims to have all the answers is either delusional or a liar. The point of this book isn’t to lecture—it’s simply to explore.

It reads like one big blog post, understandable from someone who started as a blogger. It’s often entertaining, especially when she tells stories of the church’s evangelization efforts. (It’s all so… familiar.) I recall my own frustrations when she’s told “Be careful of what you say” when asking questions, and I laughed when she described the altar call and the droning “Just As I Am” in the background. This is someone who knows something is off, even if she can’t describe it.

Rachel was around my age, and died in 2019. Knowing this threw me into a weird loop as I was reading. She certainly knows the answers now, and it feels like I can just call her up and ask. I hope she knows the impact she’s had on many questioning fundamentalists.

The problem with fundamentalism is that it can’t adapt to change. When you count each one of your beliefs as absolutely essential, change is never an option.

Mashiach ben David

I’ve been reading this very informative (and often humorous) Q&A about Judaism, Jew Got Questions. It’s like sitting down with a rabbi and asking all the questions, from the purpose of keeping kosher to if it’s okay to get a tattoo (short answer, no). But I braced myself when I got to the chapter on the Messiah.

It’s interesting to learn who exactly the Jews are waiting for. Mashiach ben David, a.k.a. “the Anointed One, the descendent of King David.” Who apparently is not Jesus, because he must be born of human parents. And be something of royalty. And rebuild the Temple. It all just made me sad, but then I got to the part where they actively debate Jesus. Then I got mad over misinformation.

Let’s review!

1. Jesus was not a prophet
“prophecy ended upon the death of the last prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Jesus appeared on the scene approximately 350 years after prophecy had ended.”
Who says? Besides, if the Messiah is supposed to be a prophet, and prophecy is supposedly dead, then this argument is invalid.

2. Jesus was not a descendent of King David
Well, Joseph was a descendent of King David. Since Mary married into his family, this is a valid royal line. There are several woman present in Jewish genealogy for various reasons, so there’s no reason why this one wouldn’t count.

3. Jesus was not Torah observant
“Throughout the New Testament, Jesus contradicts the Torah and states that its commandments are no longer applicable.”
Quite the opposite! Jesus frequently urges the importance of the Commandments, and challenges people to not just follow the Law, but to follow it wholeheartedly. “I have come not to abolish [the Law] but to fulfill [it].” (Matthew 5:17)

4. Mistranslation of virgin birth

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
—Isaiah 7:14

The claim is “virgin” here really means “young woman,” rather than one who hasn’t had sex. I don’t argue that. But many prophecies have a double meaning, so both interpretations are correct. The unnamed young woman bears a child (there are many interpretations as to who this is), but its other meaning is literally a virgin—i.e., Mary.

5. God as Three
I admit that the Trinity is hard to grasp for non-Christians. But it’s not polytheism.

6. Man as God
“God is incorporeal… He assumes no physical form. God is Eternal, above time. He is Infinite, beyond space. He cannot be born and cannot die.”
This is all true. This point also argues that the Messiah will not be a demi-god, of which Jesus is not. He’s fully God, even in human form. He is eternal, for he’s still alive. If God is Eternal and Infinite, and He’s in everything, it’s not much of a stretch to suggest He can infiltrate humanity, His greatest creation.

There are other examples, but I spent this chapter saying to myself, “No, no, and… nope.” It truly makes me sad. It’s a very literal interpretation of prophecy, one that doesn’t allow for any leeway in what God may have said. This is the same God who demonstrated to Abram that human sacrifice isn’t necessary; He guided Moses into the unknown; He chose a scrawny shepherd to be Israel’s greatest king. Why not come to Earth as a human being? Why can’t there still be prophecy and miracles, when the whole of Israel’s faith is based on just that?

In this, I see how the Sanhedrin opposed Jesus. They were so dependent on their own knowledge that they allowed little room for faith.

Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor

I haven’t read a conversion story in a while, and this reminds me how much I like reading them. Even though we came from different backgrounds, the story feels familiar—Allen Hunt experienced that sense of “coming home” to the Church, much like I had, and this book explains how.

“As a Protestant, I had no idea what I was protesting.”

It takes a journey through a metaphorical house, describing what he found in the Church through its different rooms. I suppose it’s similar to Interior Castle in that sense, but more a basic introduction to the faith than growing deeper in it. Each room has its own theme: the dining room represents the Eucharist; the family cemetery is a reminder of the saints. “This house will take care of you,” he says, a reference to both his family home and the Church itself.

Though Dr. Hunt left the church he’d been pastoring—and the denomination all together—he remains respectful to his Protestant roots. He’ll gently call out when its teachings are wrong, but also offer the Catholic truth beside it. He often stresses the unity of the Church, that we’re to be “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

“When your churches divide and split and find new ways to disagree on a daily basis, you become accustomed to a model based on group pride, epitomized by conflict, and then followed by division… You can always just find other Christians who believe like you do and begin your own congregation.”

I wish it had delved more into this division and his experience as a pastor. He doesn’t talk much about what it was like to leave, which I’d hoped for when picking it up. How does a mega-church pastor leave everything behind and become Catholic?

There are “real life helps” at the end, things you can do yourself to strengthen your own faith. This is where I learned about Dali’s Sacrament of the Last Supper (which I may prefer to Da Vinci’s now), and was inspired to read the Catechism cover-to-cover (one day!). They vary from small things you can do at home to pilgrimages overseas, but all things that can inspire a deeper connection to God—especially for a new Catholic.