Earlier this week, God answered my question.
Specifically, he (or she) posted a comment here on Growing Up Goddy offering words of encouragement in my exploration and noted that there are many paths, not just one, that lead to "God." I'm a bit skeptical, though, as God left a home page URL that wouldn't resolve correctly. I suspect it might have been a friend making a point rather than the Deity Eirself, though to be fair it that might just be IP6 transition issues.
What was going to be a relatively simple reply -- a genuine thank you for the encouragement -- grew into something more as I tried to explain where I'm at right now, and why I'm not simply adopting a "lighter" form of the Christian faith that I grew up with. In a lot of ways, the answer is simple: I took Christianity really, really seriously. That much should be obvious given some of the background I've already shared on the blog: I out-did my parents in seriousness in many ways, arguing for example that evolution couldn't possibly be true, lest all of Scripture crumble into lies. (I've always had a fair bit of fighty in me, to be honest...)
The people I learned from made it very clear that there were two kinds of Christians: the ones who were serious about God, and the ones who were just warming pews. The former -- the Real True Christians -- took Scripture at its word and dedicated their whole week to Him, not just the Sunday mornings. Even as I embraced Christian youth culture and the idea of new media ("Imagine the power of Cyber-Evangelism!") it was understood that the goal was a more intense and all-encompassing faith, not a trendy one.
I grew up understanding that the "Cultural Christians" in our nation were not fellow believers, but another mission field: people who thought they had been saved because they checked a box on a "Religion" survey, but were really cut off from the Truth. Socially and politically liberal churches were part of the problem: they were preaching a false Gospel, and were even worse than those who simply didn't believe. My parents, to their credit, rarely echoed the theological hard line. Coming from a Charismatic background, they actually took flack from the doctrinally conservative Christians around them. But the climate of We're-Real-Not-Those-Posers was all-pervasive in the circles of faith that I knew.
I took all of it very, very seriously. Rigorous deconstructions of jumbled liberal theology and the "social gospel" left me with a deep suspicion of trendy relief organizations like World Vision. Warnings about the deadly dangers of "Cafeteria Christianity" were taken to heart -- I knew that Christianity was an all or nothing affair. Anyone who's known me can see the conclusion of this story coming. When I began to truly question my faith, there wasn't much room for middle ground either.
Though I grappled with doubt for a long time, embracing the experience of it as an essential part of true belief, it could still only accept one sort of answer to my questions and still remain what I believed to be a Christian. Although I can intellectually acknowledge that there are many strains of Christianity, and that many of them have less rigid perspectives on the issues that I grappled with, at the end of the day I took the rigid kind of faith far more seriously than I knew.
I suppose that I'm still a fundamentalist at heart. Any sort of Christianity that would take me and my beliefs as they are, says the theological bird on my shoulder, wouldn't be Christianity at all. I don't say that ruefully: I say the same thing about theologians like John Spong, who step away from all of the faith's traditional doctrines but still use the label.
Perhaps it can be a lesson to those who believe that an exclusive, restrictive faith is essential to prevent believers from drifting away. if just anyone is let in the door, after all, there's no meaning to it. But reeds can bend while oak trees break: a fundamentalist who questions his faith has nowhere to go but very, very far away.