Animal House

My first three years of college, spiritually, represent a pretty logical outgrowth of my last two years of high school. I went to a conservative Christian college (Asbury, in Wilmore, KY), decided to major in Biblical Studies and Theology, and planned on becoming a youth worker in the Church of God, or possibly some other conservative Wesleyan denomination.

I embraced the Asbury way of life thoroughly, which was a lifestyle of rigorous spiritual discipline: daily scripture readings, prayer, community service, regular church worship, abstinence from sex, drugs, alcohol, staying up too late, etc. In a lot of ways, there was some significant element of utopianism involved in that period of my life, because I believed strongly in the need to build a sort of alternative Christian subculture, which Asbury seemed to be committed to. (Strangely enough, I think that sort of countercultural impulse was the same thing that earlier had attracted me--and currently attracts me, albeit less so--to the punk and alternative music scenes). There was also definitely a real element of spiritual quest there. I've always believed in the need to pursue truth, and I thought that I'd found it in the sort of straightforward faith that I was learning. Thus, I tried to live out that faith as fully as possible. Mine really wasn't the average American university life, though it probably wasn't too dissimilar from most small Christian college experiences.

By the end of my third year of college, however, several significant developments had begun to make me seriously question many elements of the faith I'd grown up with. Towards the end of sophomore year, my two closest friends both lost parents, relatively unexpectedly, and I experienced a lot of empathetic pain on their behalf. Both of them, I think, developed problems with God as a result, though in different ways. For the first time, I was also forced to deal seriously with the real challenge that pain and suffering pose to Christian belief in a loving God. I had also been in contact with a good friend who was/is more scientifically astute than I am, and during this period he finally convinced me that the creationism that I was being taught in church, and even at college, was, for lack of a more apt expression, bullshit. As a result, I could no longer accept my basic belief that Christian scripture was "revealed by God", in a fairly easy to understand way.

Also raising questions for my faith was the girl who I had been dating since late in my high school career. She'd been raised as a nominal Catholic, and though she converted to an evangelical faith, she never accepted many of its central tenets as easily or fully as I did. She spent a semester studying in Australia at the end of our junior year, and her eyes were, in a lot of ways, opened to the truth present in other religions and cultures. I also spent a month visiting her and traveling the Australian east coast, and our experiences there went a long way towards loosening up the tightness of my faith. I learned to see that my own faith was wrapped up in my midwestern-American culture, and that many elements of it genuinely didn't work in a larger world.