"Jesus was not a Christian. He is not the founder of Christianity. Christianity is a religion created in the name of Jesus, and is much different from the actual truth that Jesus taught. Were Jesus alive today, I don’t think Jesus would be a Christian. Jesus is still one of best-kept secrets because his truth has been grossly distorted by those who claim to speak for him. There is a religion-free Jesus who belongs to all of humankind. Christianity does not own or have first rights to Jesus. His truth has universal significance. It’s often the case that you have to disentangle Jesus from institutional Christianity in order to uncover his truth."Jim Palmer describes himself as a "Religion-Free Jesus Follower." Here is a recent blog post the offers some insight into his spiritual journey.
- Jim Palmer, Notes from (Over) the Edge - (a new book-in-progress)
October 25, 2013
I began sharing my faith journey as an author in 2005, publishing Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the unlikely people who help you) (2006). The book struck a nerve, and my Inbox was flooded with emails from others who were trying to untangle their lives and faith from religion. Ordinary people, mainly from a Christian background, they had come to the end of their rope with faith and God, but felt understood and validated through my story, and inspired by the possibility that it could be different.
Seeing that people often got stuck in their disenchantment with religion, my follow-up book, Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity (2007), gave a glimpse into what it might look like to live a religion-free relationship with God. I also noticed that many of these people in the throes of spiritual crisis chose to abandon God and Jesus altogether. My third book, Being Jesus in Nashville: Finding the Courage to Live Your Life (whoever and wherever you are) (2012), spoke to this issue as I shared my story of discovering a religion-free Jesus who finally set me free from my religious pathologies and led me forward in my spiritual pilgrimage.
People often take issue with and object to people who are “shedding religion” to know God. I decided to identify and address some of the most common objections I hear.
You don’t go to church anymore
If a person’s involvement in a church feeds and reinforces a message and perspective that hinders their knowing God, then it makes complete sense not to involve yourself there anymore. Many Christians receive their understanding about God through the institution of Church and when they discover this understanding is deeply flawed and they see how this flawed understanding has damaged their lives, they remove themselves from their church. The reason most people object to this is because these confuse leaving one’s church with leaving one’s faith. Research shows that “church leavers” grow stronger in their faith, as opposed to digressing in their faith. The issue is also controversial because people wrongly equate “church” with their specific form of church. There are an endless number of forms of church ranging from highly organized to practically no organization at all. Many people who leave organized church eventually connect in smaller, more informal types of community, which may not comply with the letter of the law when it comes to institutional church but fulfills the true spirit of “church.”
You are reading some really weird books
Many Christians in the “shedding religion” process will read books that: a) looks at their Christian faith with a critical eye, b) promotes spirituality over religion, c) offers a different and fresh view and perspective on faith and God. Shedders will be drawn to authors who offer something beyond institutional Christianity and offer the prospect of knowing God and following Jesus as a way of life as opposed to check-list Churchianity. many of these authors, including myself, get hammered by the Christian establishment. If you mess with city hall, you’re going to pay for it. People criticize such authors as having “bad theology.” In my opinion, many of the criticizers have “bad theology,” and so I’m not sure where that argument ends. People who are “shedding religion” are also drawn to books that promote and speak to spirituality over religion or books that focus on nurturing your inner world. You’d be surprised to know even how many church-going Christians secretly read Eckhart Tolle books but would never admit it. For some people, reading one chapter from The Power of Now was worth more than one year of sermons. This is also the reason why some Christians become interested in Buddhism and Eastern spirituality; these seem to speak more deeply to the root condition of humankind and one’s inner spiritual world as opposed to the focus of a lot of pop-Christian writings. At first, some people are not aware that there is a rich Christian tradition of contemplatives and mystics who lived a very robust Christ-centered spirituality. A few contemporary examples might be Thomas Merton, Ricahrd Rohr, Bede Griffiths, and Flora Wueller.
You are in danger of going off the deep end
Perhaps one of the most annoying things (to those who judge them) about people who are shedding religion is that they begin thinking for themselves. Some Christians have come from churches where the idea is fostered that congregants should only expose themselves to church-approved leaders, teachers, writers, musicians, politicians etc…because doing otherwise would be the equivalent of purchasing a one-way ticket to the flames of hell. Apparently, only a very select few people are capable of discerning truth on their own, the rest of us are ill-equipped for doing so and would be easily lured into all kinds of error if left to our own. I know this may be difficult for some to believe, but people are capable of being exposed to all kinds of differing views of God, and can discern for themselves what truth is present in these views, and what of these views seems inconsistent with truth. I have a Buddhist friend; i have detected truth is things he believes but i did not become a Buddhist. I have an Atheist friend, and I totally agree with this person’s views on all kinds of things, including some of their objections to God, but i did not become an Atheist. I have a N.Y. Yankees friend, i agree that the Yankees have some of the best baseball players but I did not become a Yankees fan. People are truly capable of doing this sort of thing.
When people begin thinking for themselves and base their opinions on firsthand personal experience, they realize that the world doesn’t fit so nicely into all the labels and boxes that religion is sometimes prone toward imposing on things. Religion and politics seems to share a difficulty in disagreeing with others without demonizing them, and wants to slice up the world into the “us” and “them” camp or the “right” and “wrong” camp. I’m not talking about turning a blind eye to evil in the world, or pretending that one’s beliefs doesn’t fuel such evil. All religions, including Christians, have justified evil in the name of God.
You can’t give a straight answer
Lots of questions aren’t so easy to answer anymore for Christians in the “shedding religion” process. For example, questions like: “Are you a Christian?” or “Do you believe in the Bible?” or “Do you go to church?” or “Do you believe in the gospel?” are no longer “yes” or “no” questions for a person who is “shedding religion.” He or she is immediately wondering what is your definition of a “Christian,” and what is your interpretation of the Bible, and how you delineate what “church” is, and how do you understand the “gospel?” By not answering “yes” or “no” it is not a sign that the person is “dodging the issue;” they legitimately cannot answer with a simple “yes” or “no.” It would be better to ask more open-ended questions like, How is Jesus Christ relevant to you?
[My disclaimer: Some people say I am “too hard” on the “Christian establishment.” Let me be the first to say that I know many people who identify themselves as “Christians” who are deeply spiritual, and not guilty of the things I described above. Some of these Christians have had a big influence on my own journey. I also know there are organized forms of church that promote true and authentic Christ-centered spirituality, as well as open, honest, and authentic relationships. I know many Christian churches that are wonderful expressions of love, compassion, and service in the communities where they exist. Since my personal experiences are in some cases related to churches (including my own) and Christians (including myself) that were guilty of the above judgments, I am prone to speak of it. Based on my experience the last several years as an author and spiritual director/coach, I have encountered countless numbers of people who have a similar experiences. I mainly wrote the above post in hopes of encouraging more understanding about many people who are in “shedding religion” mode.]