This post is written by K.J. Cartnell, whose book, Gospel of Thomas: Revelation, was released yesterday.
My stories come to me as waking dreams. I see a clip, an excerpt, like a movie trailer.
Back in 2009, it was a dream about a boy and a girl, holding hands, walking down a street in a neighborhood where I used to live. The girl is pretty, with blond hair and blue eyes, but at first glance, I don’t know anything else about her. She smiles eagerly, showing how excited she is to be with the boy. But when he leans in for a kiss, she pulls away and says, “Take me somewhere only God can see us.”
I knew right then that the girl was an Evangelical Protestant. She was a pastor’s daughter who attended a private Christian high school. The boy she was with was someone from the neighborhood, but he went to public school. He didn’t go to her church, either. He was completely outside her circle, which was why she was so afraid to be seen kissing him.
Maybe the boy doesn’t believe in God at all, I thought. If I name him Thomas, then he could be Doubting Thomas, and this could be called The Gospel of Thomas . Wouldn’t that be a cool name for a story!
I was raised as an Evangelical Protestant. During my teen years, I was very active in a large church with private high school attached to it. As I participated in church activities, I befriended the children of the pastors and deacons who attended that school. In Bible study meetings and new member outreach, I got to see the pastors who ran the youth program up close. For a few years, I sang in the choir, and I performed at services that ran all through the day on Sundays.
I was a hard-core believer in those days. I had a New International Version Study Bible, with full color maps and long footnotes on every page, giving me insight into each passage and verse. I felt like an insider.
I was a smart, thoughtful kid who asked tough questions, like “Why are we cloistering ourselves off on this ‘Church on a Hill?’ Shouldn’t we be down in the valley, ministering to other kids and trying to help them?” I felt superior to the kids at the Christian high school, because I was amongst the “sinners” at my local public high school. By surrounding myself with people who believed differently than I did, my faith was tested every day. I felt I was doing God’s work by being there, as an example of a kind and earnest believer.
The longer I attended the church and mingled with the other young people, I found few who were as hard core as I was. Many were there because their parents made them come. The most cynical and cruel kids in the group were often the children of the pastors and deacons. They saw Faith and Salvation as something they were entitled to, not something to nurture, challenge and grow. This was a very homogenous group. There was no room in that Youth Group for outcasts, freaks and weirdoes, interesting people whom I was naturally drawn towards.
When I was seventeen, my faith faced its biggest challenge: I fell in love with a girl who didn’t go to my church. The pat, simplistic teachings I received regarding teen relationships were burnt to a crisp by the hot, hormone fueled fire of teenage lust. Her beliefs and experiences, subtly different from my own, made me question all that I had been taught by my parents and pastors.
By nineteen, I had stopped going to that church. My old beliefs were burnt away, slowly replaced by a thoughtful, passionate agnosticism. (Folksinger Dar Williams describes a very similar transformation in her song “Teen for God.”) I found myself incensed at the backward thinking of my former associates, particularly their treatment of women, homosexuals and transgender people.
I wanted to write a novel that followed the journey I had made from believer to skeptic; a story that could filter and process my experiences into something from which others could benefit.
In my late teens and early twenties, I was too hurt and angry. I needed time to heal, time to gain a sense of objectivity. On that early morning in 2009, I knew the time had come. The Gospel of Thomas would be that novel.
This post is written by K.J. Cartnell, whose book, Gospel of Thomas: Revelatoin, was released yesterday.