I grew up religious and a little crazy. Knowing plenty of people who struggle with actual mental illness I think it’s key that I qualify what I mean. To me, “crazy” is being unwilling to question beliefs and opinions. Such a state is often synonymic with “lacking imagination and humility” or “unable to have a reasonable conversation.”
On the other hand, sanity is characterized by the knowledge that I could be wrong.
I grew up without any belief that I could be wrong: I was Evangelical and Evangelical Christian was the only way to be Christian and to be right. (And I love being right.) Despite that firm belief, only one of my close friends growing up was also Evangelical in any sense of the world. All of my other friends were Catholic or atheist.
For some reason, I didn’t see any contradiction between my love for them and my belief that they were wrong. That’s a little bit crazy.
To be fair to my teenaged self, such cognitive dissonance is not that unusual, even in the adult world. So, like many people around me, I lived in that duality: loving people while also thinking they had gotten it all wrong.
A sampling of the people I viewed as especially in-need of the (re: my) truth:
- Catholics (you should believe in the Bible, not doctrine)
- ChriEasters (what, you think showing up twice a year is going to save you? I’m here for six hours every Sunday!)
- Baptists (it’s by faith you’re saved, not the dunk tank!)
- Anybody who couldn’t quote at least ten to fifteen verses from Romans or who thought the Gospel of Thomas was worth reading.
But I didn’t see the contradictions, the arrogance, or the dualism in my own opinions.
I saw that my church was my community that fed me, taught me, and sang alongside me. Even though I look back in horror at the insular nature of my thoughts, the taste of cream cheese on bagels in the church basement after choir practice somehow means more. The rickety blue wooden risers in the choir room, the laugh of our worship pastor, the darkness of the church stairwells we sprinted up and down between services.
The musty smell of those stairwells matters to me in a way that the bare truth of Evangelical forms of craziness never could.
I’m a lot less crazy than I used to be. But as my craziness has lessened, so have my ties to community. It’s cold out here, in the world of liberal Christianity. People don’t feel obligated to come to potlucks. Everyone I know is so busy deconstructing Christianity that they haven’t opened the Bible in months. Our prayers are dry, our singing is quiet, and our protests isolated from our daily communities.
What does it look like to be a liberal, to be a millennial, to be “woke”—and still religious? What is our role in the capital-C Church? How can we be religious—how can we love God, pray with fervor and hope in goodness—and not be crazy?
I’m a few months away from aging out of my time here at the post calvin, but I’ll still be exploring these questions on my own blog entitled “Religious (Not crazy).” If I’m honest, I don’t know yet what it means to be religious and not crazy. But I find hope in growth and conversations.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).