So, for the past couple years, I've pretty much been rethinking everything. And I've done a lot of thinking - a lot of talking, reading, some more thinking. And I'm not nearly done yet.
But I did just recently finish Mere Christianity, one of the books on the long list of books to read. Next up I think is Waking the Dead, although I don't know if I'll be in the right place to read it, but I suppose I'll check it out anyway.
Cause see, here's the problem.
So I came into college, and like most of the rest of the world, realized that I have no freaking clue why I believe what I supposedly believed. I don't know how my experience compares to others, but I basically was play-acting up until that point, which made me pretty good at appearing Christian, but it didn't make me one any more than we can resurrect Hamlet from the dead by putting on a play.
So I looked at what I supposedly believed in, and realized I had all kinds of problems with it. Mostly related to me being fiercely and primarily logical.
And over the past couple years, I've mostly dealt with the problems I had. I've realized that the Focus on the Family brand of Christianity that I was raised in is most definitely not for me, but (most importantly) that's okay. It may be okay for some people - and those people just tend to frustrate me, but that's beside the point - but I needed something else.
Now I'm at the point where I have pretty much built something, a framework, or at least a vague idea of a faith that I could believe in, that I don't think is heretical. There's not a lot of solid points yet, because I haven't really done anything with it. But most likely, it wouldn't involve young-earth creationism, would be terrified of legislating morality, would realize that we aren't a Christian nation, and would have its feet firmly planted on this earth.
But now what?
Mere Christianity was a great book, and there were a lot of things I liked about it. Surprisingly enough, I enjoyed (and I think benefited from) the second half more than the first, which surprised me. When he prefaced it by saying basically that these are Christian issues, I thought since that's not where I am, they wouldn't apply. But what it ended up doing is either confirming my restructuring, validating what I had come up with, or making me slightly uncomfortable and pointing out possible problems with my framework. And it made me think.
The first half was mostly (as far as I remember, it was a while ago) semi-logically ramping up to a reason for God existing. As I had been told previously, it was more of a literary, sociological-type argument, which wasn't terribly gripping to me, and definitely didn't make me a convert on the spot. Sorry, all.
And that's where the problem is - I have this framework that I could probably work with, and plenty of knowledge of how it's supposed to work from my eighteen years of play-acting, but am sitting here without a reason.
Is there a reason for that? A reason for not finding a reason? I don't know. One of the things that I've wondered when pondering this, and something that came up a lot reading Lewis, was pride. In fact, Lewis says the following:
"The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."
Well, I was going to separate the Mere Christianity insights into a different note, but I'm leading into them, so I might as well go into it now. I'm going to kind of go backwards, because it works best that way.
The chapter "Nice People or New Men" had a lot of things that caught my eye. To start the context, I'll just quote him:
"There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so."
Of the two categories, I would obviously fit better into the latter. Later in the chapter, he elaborates on the vast array of Christians there are, and the vast array of backgrounds from which people come to Christianity. And I spotted myself. Right in the middle of the chapter, he says:
"Now quite plainly, natural gifts carry with them a similar danger [to being rich and finding happiness through wealth]. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. 'Why drag God into it?' you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easy to you . You are not one of those wretched creatures who is always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness."
I'm not bragging or being all self-righteous and crap (that's not the kind of pride I'm worried about) - I love the parenthetical "between ourselves" that Lewis added - but after looking up dipsomania (turns out I'm not an alcoholic), that's pretty much where I am. Which, as it turns out, isn't exactly the best of circumstances. On the next page he writes:
"There is either a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person -- if virtue comes easily to you -- beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God's gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee."
And this is where we find the rub. Because one thing I've never liked about the whole Christianity thing is the distinct lack of personal achievement, as I see it. Everything is from God, nothing is us, we have to be eternally grateful to him, we're nothing. I know that's a pretty pessimistic and negative view of it, but I'm an engineer. I'm an ENTP. I find my worth in what I do, what I produce, the things that I create. That's what I strive for, that's what I enjoy. Also, I see my supposed saintly behavior as simply the best way to get along with people. Heaven knows that I've been doing it for years now, and it's been pretty successful in making my life happy and generally good.
This is where I see my pride, where Lewis pokes me a bit. Or a lot. Because I don't want to attribute everything I am, everything I've done to God. I've done a lot of it myself, dangit. And so I'm at a bit of an impasse - I don't have a good enough reason to make that leap, to sacrifice my accomplishments and pride and attribute it to some greater being that I've never seen, heard, touched, or felt, physically or otherwise.
And I'm not sure how far I have to go - I know that some people (such as the aforementioned Focus on the Family types) tend to attribute EVERYTHING to God. I got an A on a test? Thanks, God. I manage to somehow survive the harrowing drive to and from work every day, just like thousands upon thousands of others, Christian and non-Christian alike? God must be protecting me.
Obviously, that annoys me. I hope it's just an extreme, opposite of attributing everything to ourselves, and isn't how it's actually supposed to work. Because I need a reason to live, to do things, and if it's not even my doing, why do it?
So that's my hang-up. I don't want to give up myself, my pride, without a good reason. He sums up the difficulty well in a previous chapter:
"The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self -- all your wishes and lamentations -- to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call 'ourselves', to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good'. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way -- centred on money or pleasure or ambition -- and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exaclty what Christ warned us you could not do."
There was a lot more after that, but I won't just go quote the whole book. That little section reminded me of the parable of the young ruler, a story I had always just looked at and thought about how giving away all your money wasn't a great idea. But that's not the point of the parable, I realized. Money isn't my vice - it's not my centre, like it was for the young ruler. My vice is ambition - I shudder much more at the thought of giving up all of my accomplishment, my inventiveness, my engineeringness, than I do at giving up money. That was a new thought for me.
Lewis had a few words of encouragement even for me though. For one, he followed up the above-quoted description of myself (the dipsomania one) with this:
"Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are 'rich' in this sense to enter the Kingdom."
Okay, not the most encouraging passage, but to me it says that there may indeed be a point where I see a reason. Sure, it may be painful, but it'll be a reason. Cause I'm don't like this limbo place I'm in right now.
And a more wholly positive remark that I saw myself in was a few chapters back, as follows:
"When a young man who has been going to church in a routine way honestly realizes that he does not believe in Christianity and stops going - provided he does it for honesty's sake and not just to annoy his parents - the spirit of Christ is probably nearer to him than it ever was before."
I honestly see myself in that position - I'm not doing this whole thing to just rebel or be annoying or because it's the hip thing to do. I think that I honestly am questioning all this because I need to.
After all that, where am I left? Still pretty much in limbo. Because I could just throw my arms up and be a Christian full-on, but why? I'm pretty content with where I am, and where I'm headed. I don't see any sore lack of fulfillment in my life, or a big hole. And yeah, I know, that's what Lewis said I'd say. But remember, I can't just take Lewis' word as gospel. If I did, I would have to take Stephen Hawking and Tom Robbins and all the other atheist writers out there as gospel, too, which obviously wouldn't get me very far. I have to have a reason, so I can explain myself to the rest of the world.
And as of yet, I don't.
So I'm holding. Waiting for a collapse of my self-image, for my world to come crashing down on me? Maybe. In any case, that turning point hasn't come yet. I keep filling in holes in my framework, my ideas, my understanding, but nothing conclusive.
I don't write these things because I want advice. The reason I write them is partially to keep those who are wondering where I am informed, and partially to force myself to dump what I'm thinking on a page, because I have to think about it that way. I doubt that a one-off comment on my note will have much of an effect on me in the long run, and I won't be offended in the least if you don't comment. If you want to chat with me, do so. I'm on IM and Facebook pretty often, and will be back at school pretty soon. I don't mean any offense or to be bristly, I'm just saving you some effort.