During my first few years of undergraduate education, I decided to minor in Religious Studies. The majority of this decision came from my desire to reconcile my religious past as a reverend into my current questions surrounding that time of my life. So much of how people treated me after I left the church I’d worked for for years was not Christlike, and I wanted to better learn of the history of Christianity so as to properly senthesize what happened to me.
In 2005, I enrolled in a general education class that fulfilled a requirement to graduate. My professor was new to Bakersfield, and had formerly lived in San Francisco and attended Harvard for his Ph.D. He was far more liberal than most people in Bakersfield and was an avid supporter of gay rights. He taught us not to believe what he believed, but to be good students, to work hard, and to be open minded beyond what we may have been raised to believe. It was in this environment that I flourished and grew. My religious experiences with Christianity began to make sense for the first time since I left the cult, and I began to learn the history of Chrisitianity (both good and bad).
One class session, we watched the movie Saved with Mandy Moore. The way the “Christians” treated those who were outsiders in high school made me feel very similar to how the “Christians” I had worked with for several years were currently treating me. I started tearing up in my desk, so thankful that the lights were out and that people were focused on taking notes, and not on me.
When I left the class, I couldn’t help but break down and cry. I was in the hallway, sitting on a wooden bench when Dr. Campagna-Pinto, my professor, walked up to me to ask me if I was okay. I told him briefly about my experience with the fundamentalist cult I was part of and how several years of my life history seemed to be negated now. I explained to him how painful it was to lose hundreds of friends and what I considered “family.”
From that day on, Dr. Campagna-Pinto would meet me in the hallway when I’d be sitting on a wooden bench with tears in my eyes. He’d take the time to listen to me, and he’d take the time to explain that not all Christians are like the ones I’d had the experience of meeting. He’d also tell me that Christianity had a rich history, contrary to what the fundamentalists believed and taught.
As I learned more about Christianity in his classes over the years, I understood that Christian fundamentalism was truly very different than the historical, scholarly perspective of Christianity. Christianity was a religion that had a history of good and bad, but I was able to see the good in Christians for the first time in years.
I walked away from my classes seeing religion in a different light. I had a greater understanding of humanity in general, and a greater appreciation for religious communities worldwide. I sought to better myself by being open minded, which was difficult after being a close-minded Christian fundamentalist for years. I attempted to consider life as a journey on a path that I pave myself, rather than a road that’s already been carved out before me. And I tried (and still try) to earnestly see the good in humanity, and have hope that human beings can and will do the right thing–even when things in our future and history look bleak.
I continue to be gracious with myself, because the harder I am on myself, the more I fall back into fundamentalist thinking and guilt. I also continue to study and seek knowledge from a variety of secular sources, because I trust my own judgement and trust that my heart and mind are good things, rather than evil things.
My journey is only just beginning and like the Chinese proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”
Enjoy the journey and enjoy the questions.