I chiefly write this note for Christian readers in hopes they will take 5 minutes to read it all, but I know 5 minutes is much to ask, especially for what might be considered offense or arrogance in the following paragraphs. Read if you'd like.
I took a screenshot of facebook's "Religious Views" pull-down menu the other day and noticed that there are way too many choices. Then I realized how unbelievable it is that there are still this many variations of Christianity. Then I realized they're missing several thousand denominations. I didn't intend to make a long comment on this, but now that I have started thinking about it, I have to point out how glaring God's absence has been in the formation of different denominations, because I cannot see how anyone in the Christian faith (or in any other faith) can claim to know they are right and everyone else is wrong.
It is an utterly silly and uninformed opinion to claim such an exclusivity of truth, especially in regards to the amalgam of absurdities contained in the Bible from which the Abrahamic religions all draw their doctrines. I used to hold tightly to a Pentecostal interpretation of scriptures, and I have no problem being my own worst critic. I was ignorantly pretentious and thought I held the golden ticket. In my defense, you can't blame me for growing up in Springfield, MO, home to the Assemblies of God headquarters. We all believe what we are brought up to believe. I am just glad to escape it and have no problem criticizing its deep, deep flaws now that I'm on the other side.
Of course, a defensive Christian might say that denominational separations are due to human fallibility and that Jesus is the only truly important ingredient necessary. As long as Christians can agree on Jesus, the cross, and salvation, it's all good. But if all denominations reference the Bible as the inspired Word of God (meaning God directed what human hands would write so that we might know him) what a horrible teacher he is! A science teacher fails students who do not learn to interpret the contents and data of their class textbook appropriately. And if he's any good at his job, he will meticulously strive to make sure his students fully understand it so that their knowledge of the subject is increased. A large majority of A's and B's also reflect well back on the teacher :)
However, God is surprisingly silent on the issue of human misunderstanding (and I would argue he is silent, or non-existent, on every other human matter as well) with a gift that, were the Bible truly the word of the omnipotent God, should be so clear, so inspiring, and so endowing to human knowledge that it could not possibly allow room for any debate, any division within his church about who he is and how we should live. However, denominations arise because there is not a solid, agreeable picture of God to be seen anywhere in the Bible. We are torn between a vindictive, jealous killer of innocents in the Old Testament, and a secretive, meek, and gentle Jesus in the New Testament. And these are the same god? What sense can Christians make of this? (Perhaps I can be facetious here and point out that maybe they are the same god... after all, Jesus did not seem to be bothered by the god of the Old Testament. Matt 5:18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.") Alas, in reference to God as a teacher, Christians are all failing his class, and he doesn't give a shit.
It is for this reason that I beg you to examine the validity of God, or at the very least, the Christian god. Put away the enslaving theology and entertain every last skeptical idea. Ask yourself why you are not a die-hard, fundamentalist Christian. After you realize it is because you obviously think it is wrong to punish homosexuality (or any other offense to God backed up by scripture) via death by stoning, then note that your picking and choosing of what scripture seems to be "right" is based on nothing other than your own thoughts about what makes the most moral sense to you personally. Scriptural interpretation is an entirely subjective, emotion-based, and culturally-driven activity. Because of this, worrying about scriptural application is a complete waste of time, and I would argue it is a heavy detriment to healthy development of a mind.
Don't accept the answers you've heard growing up in church. Don't accept the fact that "God is unknowable" or that he "works in mysterious ways" (my most hated cliché in Christendom) or that it is "part of the Christian walk" to slowly have the book's truths revealed to you over time. These are all mutually contradictory places in which to find yourself. If God is unknowable, what use is the Bible for trying to know him? If he can slowly be revealed to us over the course of our lives, why is it that grown men had to dispute over which parts of the Bible were to be canonized as scripture? If we cannot know God, the pursuit is useless. And if we must wait to get to heaven to have full knowledge of God, we are doomed to failing grades on earth by fault of the teacher, because Lord knows we have been trying our best for centuries. And why wouldn't God want us to know him to the fullest extent on Earth? According to Christians, isn't his glory best portrayed to others when you are closest to him?
I would guess that many of my Christian friends still struggle with the denomination question as just one of many inconsistencies that perhaps they have brushed aside time and time again, maybe occasionally searching the scriptures in hopes of eventual "illumination". I write this in an attempt to save you the time. IT IS NOT WORTH THE STRUGGLE. Tough theological questions will never be answered to satisfaction, that is, if you are inclined to rational thought in the least. Rick Warren doesn't know anything you don't know. The God of the Bible simply does not make sense. I find a quote by Thomas Paine fitting, "Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true." When I was a child, I had a sense that something wasn't right about the answers all the adults at church (and my parents) gave me for simple, curious questions. But because I was a child, I believed every rationalization, every non-answer, every point of theological side-stepping whenever a real answer was unavailable.
Think back on all the questions you've had as a growing Christian and ask yourself: Is the answer to this genuinely fulfilling to my intellect? Do I really hear God's voice or have I become a master of my own deception?
I realize many of you at this point are probably firm in your reasons for believing in Jesus and living as Christians, and I would expect you to stick to your guns as adamantly as I stick to mine of non-belief. I don't think there are any good reasons for holding onto faith, but I will assume that you have found some and will not expect to change your mind. But if you are going through or have ever gone through a period of questioning your faith, ask yourself how deeply you investigated. If the question has never been "Is Jesus actually God?" or "does God really exist" then you have not gone far enough. Simple as that. If you did ask these questions and you searched for answers solely from Christian mentors, Christian literature, or the Bible, you have not gone far enough. And if you have never questioned your faith in the least, I don't believe you.
Once you realize that the Bible is the work of human hands and not the work of a deity, you will feel the comfort of tossing the ridiculous theological questions aside and thinking about much more productive and life-enriching endeavors. You will not worry about which denomination has the correct doctrine, which church to attend on Sunday (you can sleep in instead!) You will not feel perpetual guilt for your sins or the sins of your ancestors, you will not feel like rubbish for not reading your Bible more often, and you will not base relationships and decisions on false ideas of heavenly Will, direction, or providence. Your decisions will be your own and they will empower you. You will gain a new perspective on life that lets you see it as a much more fragile thing, because this life is the only one we have. There is almost surely no afterlife. And that will do a tremendous amount of good for your stewardship and love of other people. The Christian who says that a happy, fulfilling, and (dare I say) purposeful life must have Jesus as a foundation is wrong. Terribly, and magnificently wrong. Please look into it.