an open letter to jesus christ

January 30, 2022


I'm told that you know who I am, so I will write this letter in a familiar tone, since you are quite familiar to me.

You have indirectly affected my life to an unfathomable degree. I am unable to remember a conscious state in which I did not know your name. I have no memories of a “first time” hearing about you. You have always been with me.

I did not ask for that; it was thrust upon me. Yet, no one gets to choose their first worldview, so I do not feel resentful about this. I certainly do not resent you for it, and I do not resent my parents either.

I know a lot of facts about you. Or rather, I know all of the things about you which are taught within the religious tradition that raised me. I'm grateful for that knowledge.

I'm also deeply familiar with the entirety of the Protestant scriptures, some of which you also studied in great depth. I also possess an incredibly thorough understanding of the theologies taught by a particular permutation of the religion that sprung up in the aftermath of your time on earth.

The American evangelical Christians are very confident that they are your truest followers, but so is everyone else. I think you would be fairly disappointed with the current state of things, to be honest. So I won't dwell on that. I just want to tell you about the impact you have made upon me.

I became very disillusioned with Christianity when I found out that some of the things I had been taught as rock-solid indubitable truth did not actually correspond with reality. I was taught these things by good-hearted, well-intentioned people who loved me dearly. I loved them too, and still do; in fact, I love them more fully now than I ever did before, even though they now understand me less than ever before.

They picked too many battles, insisting on an unnecessarily suffocating commitment to biblical literalism. Unfortunately, this backfired because truth (as correspondence to reality) is not on the side of hardcore literalism. Dying over and over on that many hills requires a mighty suspension of disbelief which I could never quite muster. So instead, I died over and over rolling down those hills, dizzy with cognitive dissonance.

When you are inside the cave of conservative evangelical Protestantism, there is a pervasive ingroup/outgroup mentality. It is Us Versus Them, the believers and the unbelievers. There is some uncomfortable gray space reserved for Christians of slightly different persuasions, but it's considered gauche to look too closely at that space — better to leave it blurry and undisturbed.

In the cave, everyone huddles around the fire, sharing light and warmth. It's a comfortable community for those who embrace it wholly and stay close to the fire. Some people live their whole lives there in quiet contentment, and that's very good for them. Sometimes I wish I could do that.

Exploration is frowned upon. Why would you leave the coziness of the fire to look at the shadows dancing on the wall behind you? Why would you want to know what lies in the other corners of the cave, when we have everything we need right here? And above all, God forbid that you stray out of the cave, away from evangelicalism entirely. There is no fire out there, no heat, no light, no truth — only endless weeping and gnashing of teeth.

However, something different is reported by those who leave the cave. There is light and warmth outside. There is, in fact, an even bigger fire — one that hangs in the sky. There is something called Day, and there is also Night. There is evening and there is morning. The outside is beautiful, full of indescribably more layers of aliveness.

Yet these layers are just that: indescribable. How do you explain the sun to someone who has only seen a campfire? It's a kind of beauty and truth that cannot be shared with those who won't look away from the spellbinding flames of the fire in the cave.

I know that you are the Son and that you understand what I mean. I wish I could share that sunfire with so many people, and burn away the fear of eternity that cages them. If only they could meet God and, seeing how Good he is, understand that there is nothing to fear from men, hell, or monsters.

So I find that you have been bringing me full circle, in a manner of speaking. You speak through fires everywhere, large and small, like you did in Egypt 3,300 years ago.

I needed time to explore and broaden my worldview. In doing so, I have found that the religion that raised me is a subset of what I can embrace. In order to understand the truth within Christianity, I first had to understand the falsehood in it.

I do not know whether I will call myself a “Christian” again, but I do know that I am ready to love you again. You told me to pick up my cross and follow you. In your time, you tried to share the light of the Son and you were rejected by the religion that raised you. That is a heavy cross to bear, but I will follow if I can.

I don't know how often you will hear from me. You will not find me in church every week (or every month), but I know you aren't concerned about that. Those kind of services aren't for you, anyways — they're for the benefit of myself and others, insofar as they are found to be beneficial.

I do plan to stay in touch, though. I'm currently making plans with a friend to study through the gospels. Your friends wrote some really good books about you.

I'm happy to hear from you anytime you have something to say to me.


Ben Ratkey