When you are deeply immersed in a religious faith, there is always the guilty understanding that falling out of your chosen religion reflects your own inner weakness, a moral failing. Many religions are predicated on an “all-or-nothing” ideology, which implicitly separates “unbelievers” from “believers.” This segregation always bothered me, as a Christian. I could never reconcile the gritty lines carved between religions, forcing us to declare who was wrong and who was right. After a prolonged, painful struggle, I decided to leave my religion.
Immediately, it was like being unmoored in a vast, dangerous ocean. In an increasingly secular world where religion is no longer in vogue for young people, it seems like abandoning religion is an easy thing. Yet, what had always drawn me to religion was its capacity to comfort. It was an answer to the loneliness of the soul in a sprawling universe. It was the assurance of someone else being in the driver’s seat. So the abrupt disappearance of that after leaving Christianity was terrifying to me.
Then, one evening after work, I found myself standing in a circle of 20 strangers in a church in Washington, D.C. I was at the monthly meeting of The Sanctuaries, a self-described “spiritually diverse and creative community committed to personal growth and social transformation.” (I had heard of the group when it was featured in a CBS News documentary, “Faith, Spirituality & the Future,” a preview of which is seen below, and embedded above is a music video made by members of The Sanctuaries.)
The leader of the monthly meeting, a cheerful man who introduced himself as “Rev Erik,” seemed intent on assuaging away all awkwardness. “Why don’t we all just close our eyes,” he suggested gently, “And whenever you’re comfortable—only if you’re comfortable—feel free to say aloud the being or force that guides your life.”
The silence stretched. I peeked open my eyes. A girl across the circle in a hijab saw me and smiled.