Here's to the Heathens

What did you do after someone you trusted broke their promise?

I’m talking about the high-stakes stuff here, agreements made with your most intimate loved ones. We’ve all had to experience that moment, right? A parent misses our big game. A best friend tells our most private secret to the class gossip. A partner finds solace in someone else’s arms.

Growing up, we spoke of the covenants between us and God. We, the lonely and lifeless, the sodden and sorrowful. God, the origin, the giver, the redeemer. We established a covenant for both to keep. We hold up our end, and God provides grace to move forward.

And what is our end? We are to believe; that’s it. That is what is asked of us. Like Abram who heard God say, “Look up at the sky and count the stars - if indeed, you can count them. So shall your offspring be.”

The Bible says, “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness.”

Just. Believe. 

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, Acts 16:31. 

Rise and go, your faith has made you well - Luke 17:19.

Two blind men came to Jesus and he asked them, Do you believe that I am able to do this? Yes, Lord, they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, According to your faith, let it be done to you. And their sight was restored. Matthew 9:29

Whoever believes in me, rivers of living water will flow from within them. John 7:38

If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

So many promises for one simple act of pure belief. We were told: faith as big as a mustard seed is enough. Faith like a child will get you there.

I always believed. I believed these things exclusively. I believed in Jesus and, like, nothing else. I believed in the resurrection and the second coming and the flood and the virgin birth. I believed Samson slaughtered 1,000 dudes with nothing but a donkey’s jawbone and that Jonah lived for 72 hours in the digestive juices of a whale’s stomach. I believed three men walked away unburnt from inside a person-sized fiery furnace and that God got so mad at two cities he threw brimstone, whatever the hell that is, down at them from heaven. I believed in animals that talked, in disembodied hands that wrote messages on the wall, and in magic bread that spontaneously regenerated to match the size of the crowd that wanted to consume it.

I believed these things because every person I knew for the first 18 years of my life believed them. I believed these things because the promises were so good and the alternative was so undesirable. Who wouldn’t want to hang with Jesus in heaven, and have all the promises of health and happiness here on earth, too? And who wouldn’t believe if unbelief meant woe, separation, sadness, illness, and damnation?

Yeah - it was the promises that held me for so long.

It’s astonishing how earnestly we cling to a promise without requiring any evidence or delivery. To know what I mean, one need look no further than the subset of Americans who prop up the current president with unshakeable faith that the wall will be built, that their jobs will return, that their taxes will decrease while their quality of life improves, that America will return to their understanding of what makes her great. They suffer long while he fails them time and again, while he plots against them, while he obliterates their futures. They hold him up. They believe.

Am I comparing God with 45?

In so many ways, yes.

When I finally, finally released myself of the notion that the God I had known and loved and trusted was keeping the covenant we had made, it became clear that I had to walk away. That didn’t happen overnight. I’ve spent half my life trying to become a genuine heathen, and I’ve found it much harder than being a believer.

But a covenant is sacred. No one makes a covenant lightly. And when it is broken, when one party breaks faith with the other, there is no coming back from that. I mean, we try - we piece together shards of trust and faith and give second chance after second chance because we’re afraid of what awaits without the so-called security of that covenant. 

But when someone else breaks the covenant that we kept, 

when you believe and God disappears,

you either go on pretending God is still there, or you walk away.

Heathen tells the stories of people who walked away. We’re going to talk about why we made those choices, and what happened in the aftermath. Some people interviewed on this podcast have come to new types of faith, or made different covenants with different gods, or made covenants with each other. Some people have found hope and healing afterward, others still wander and wonder what’s to become of us.

This podcast is a dream of mine, partly a relief and an outlet for some of the questions and resentments and disappointments that I’ve been holding onto since becoming a heathen. It’s also a line tossed out into an uncertain sea for anyone else who wants to grab hold and pull closer to people who feel something similar, who have gone through the process of losing faith, and who still want a community to call their own.

I’m so happy to welcome you to Heathen, and I hope you find some godforsaken good here. Let’s do this thing.

Matthew Blake