PigTale 25 | Ray Gilford

Foreword by Megan Jessop
Ray has been through the whole Christian thing and came out the otherside. Ray went through a progression of his faith towards being what he now identifies as a "Jesus leaning Diest". The process of Deconstruction has brought many things to light  for Ray in terms of what we understand and believe about Christian culture. Perhaps there is a certain freedom that comes with leaving behind the religion and all that we have made Christianity within the confines of social constructs and instead, seeing Jesus for who he truly is and for what we have made him. You decide. 

A cat in a congregation of dogs

That was me. The whole time I was a Christian. I believed, but I've never been much of a people person. I fit in when and where I fit in, and I was not there more than I was there. My attendance was never a consistent thing. 

I was a solitary believer. And at this point, you could say I'm more or less a Jesus-leaning Deist with all sorts of Buddhist and Gnostic flavors and notes. Spiritually, I'm kinda like wine.

The journey of deconstruction and deconversion has been a lifelong undertaking. I tried early on to listen and follow. I did my best to embrace the conservatism, both political and religious. I learned to look at 'liberal' believers with disdain and mistrust. I learned to judge them. Over the years I let all that unravel.

I wasn't raised in the church. I had a secular upbringing around a mostly Christian family. At 18 I landed at UT Austin, and it seemed like I was surrounded by evangelical fundamentalists who were all grimly determined to save me. The main point of all those conversations was that if I died that night without converting I’d go to Hell. I eventually converted, and that was due in large part to the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. I left a path that was more or less spiritualist and was centered around metaphysics and transcendental meditation. I left a path that was also quite self-directed for one that was heavily not so. 

There was a growing disillusionment in me that probably started during my first encounters with Christians. I ignored it long enough to pray the 'Sinner's Prayer' and be baptized, but it has always been with me, and it eventually led to my walking away sometime in 2015. Over the years people would tell me that I needed to sacrifice my brains in order to serve God. Not only did I not dignify that with a response I found that the people who seem to have an easy time doing that don't have much to sacrifice. Later people said that I would always miss the mark if I tried to approach faith using reason. Well, that particular off-switch never worked very well, so I guess I missed whatever those targets were.

Over the 31-32 years of this journey, I've been a member of seven different congregations spanning four different denominations. I've been baptized three times. I felt a part of those groups sometimes but there were other times when I wanted to be somewhere...anywhere else. As an introvert community and the need for community just work differently for me. So while a dog is in a constant state of happy that you're around, the cat lets you know when they're ready for you. They're not all like that. But I prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings. I am always seeking silence and solitude, and it has taken some years for me to realize that about myself.

As to why I left, well in many respects part of me has always wanted out. I've both loved and hated being a Christian. My life has not been too dissimilar from anyone else. I wanted to get paid. I wanted to get laid. And I wanted to live long enough to enjoy it all. And the church was an oft-frustrating mechanism through which I was trying to filter those desires. There have been times when I wished I had been born ten thousand years ago and a million miles away from the peregrinations of Abraham. 

I liken deconstruction to carrying a large sack full of all the stuff of religion, and you're walking along, and something rattles to the top that you no longer have any use for, and it falls out. You keep walking and this happens every so often. Then years go by and you realize that the sack has gotten kinda light and you start to question whether you need it at all anymore. I'm a thinker. That's the lens through which I process everything in life, and I always have. I used to get chastised for not plunging headlong into each day by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This has always come from people who seem to want to have God involved with the most minute detail in every moment of their lives. I have never been one of those people. I thought my way in and I thought my way out. Faith was involved when I prayed the prayer. It was involved when I laid in the water and was baptised, and faith was involved when I realized a couple of years ago that although I had accepted it, had believed and followed it, I had spent decades in a belief system that was never really mine.

You see, Christianity has changed in America, and probably all over the world. Living in the U.S. I've noticed a money-grubbing, jingoistic, genocidal, anti-intellectual nationalism among many believers that I just can't deal with anymore. There are two Jesus 'memes' in the country that have gotten in the way of people finding the real Christ. One is the Big Money Jesus embodied in the Prosperity Gospel that began with the 'Name it and Claim it' preaching from 30-40 years ago and has reached a peak in the myriad-seating stadiums of the mega-church with its palatial-estate parsonages, private jets, and Rolls Royces. The other is the Collateral Damage Jesus embodied in what I call the Genocide Gospel. This has certain believers cheering on as the secular government sends kids overseas to kill other kids. It has pastors saying "good riddance" in the wake of a mass shooting because the victims were gay, and, while they violate liberally other parts of Leviticus, calling for the execution of LGBTQ persons by stoning. It is depraved and indifferent to suffering.

I don't know what this god is, and who these people say they're serving. I don't recognize it, and as a result, I'd rather go it alone and reconnect with Christ apart from man-made Christendom. People have made a completely irresolvable mess of that.

My path has always been one of leading and discovery, not following and dictation, and it's taken me over three decades to get that. I have a spiritual practice that is much different than it was just a few years ago. I've returned to the studies I was engaged in before I became a Christian. I'm still asking the Universe why Christianity needed to be part of my life during those years, especially since I've let it go now. I still don't have an answer to that. If I could go back and talk with 18 to 20-year-old me, I'd tell him three things:

1. You're probably not going to die tonight.

2. These people are just as clueless as you are.

3. The afterlife is overrated.

This human thing has an expiration date to it. All we know is 'now' and the rest is speculation...in many cases fervently held speculation. I'm the type of guy who'd want to see Jesus, George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Carl Sagan, Giordano Bruno, Terrence McKenna, the Dalai Lama, and Alan Watts in Heaven, and that perspective doesn't fit well with popular Christian eschatological ideas.

To quote Thomas Paine from The Age of Reason, "I believe in only one God; and I have hope for happiness in an afterlife."