Recently, I've been feeling stuck. I began this endeavor by dismantling the religion I inherited, discarding the parts that were inconsistent, or flew in the face of my experience, my relationships, or my reason. This left the remains of my inherited theology on the floor in pieces, largely because that worldview was very monolithic - it came as a package, questioned either as whole or not at all (as always, I've got another blog post about that). What I've picked up so far is, in a word, love.
Love for others, a respect for the world we live in, an obligation to care for those who need it, a mandate to put others before yourself. All of this comprises a huge part of what Jesus had to say while he was on this earth. But when I try to take this and set it up as my theology and continue as a Christian, I run into a problem.
Namely that being a Christian, at least to pretty much everyone who cares whether I call myself a Christian, isn't about that. At least, that's what it appears to me. Don't get me wrong - it's a very important part of being Christian. It's what you do as a Christian. It's what Christ calls us to do, what God demands of us. I've got that part down.
But it's not what determines your status as a Christian. What makes you a Christian (where I come from, anyway) is having a ticket to heaven. Because you can very well do all of those things I mentioned and not believe in God - I know, because that's functionally what I'm doing. So what makes me think I am a Christian?
I don't know. As I try to put together any coherent vision of salvation, it crumbles when I realize, for instance, that I don't really believe in Hell. And it's not helped by the fact that to this day, I still have no conception of what it really means to "believe in God" or "accept Jesus" or even "pray". I know what all of that looks like from the outside, and I know how to "do" it. But there's no soul to it - no meaning, no actual understanding. It's like a life-size model car, that by all appearances is just like all the other cars, but has no engine, no drivetrain, nothing that makes a car a car. A fantastic illustration of this is the cargo cults left behind by World War II.
The upshot of this is that what tenets of theology, what faith that I do have, if you can call it faith, are things that are supposed to be the result, but I don't have any of the motivations or underlying beliefs that are supposed to produce that result. I have built motivations and support for that result, independent of faith, divinity, God, or religion, on a very humanist basic conception of common human dignity. So when I go to try to figure out what to do with God, it's all just theology and salvation, and I keep running into things and people that tell me I'm wrong, I can't have arrived at this conclusion the way I did, my motivations are invalid, I just don't understand. They say that because of that lack of understanding, my wrong motivations, I don't see that homosexuality is a sin, people like me are going to Hell because I didn't go about it the right way, I can't just ignore that, I'm veering off of the highway of Christianity and getting lost in the woods, I don't love Jesus, I'm losing my faith, that's a slippery slope, and by the way evolution smells funny.
The problem is, for those kinds of purposes, I don't claim to be a Christian. In reality, I never really have been, and I've come to terms with that. I can't veer out of what I'm not in. And trying to jump into that kind of (part of?) Christianity is exactly where I don't want to go, because I've been there, and it blew up in my face. But every time I try to approach God or spirituality, all of that flares up again, because it's the only way I know how to try to deal with God. And it's all hollow, and has no significance or meaning to me, and again, much of it flies up against what I do know and believe, and I can't put together a coherent theology, because I do too many things "wrong". It's a problem.
I've talked to my girlfriend about this, as she has a much different relationship with God - one that is grown out of herself, her own experiences and beliefs, and not encumbered by all of the trappings that I run into. Her advice was basically to decide what you're going to do - find some way to figure out how God fits into this, or strike out as a secular moral humanist - and do it. If I'm going include God, do just that - and eschew the rest of it.
And as I sit here, with all of the text and processing above, that sounds like a very good option. So I'm going to try it. Bascially, saying "God, this love stuff? I'm trackin'. Love my neighbors? Care for the least of these? All of the beatitudes? I can get on board with that. The rest of this mangled wreck that is my dismantled religion, from which I've salvaged those precious few tenets? Not so much, and I don't care. It's behind me now, and I'm starting over with nothing but love."
That sounds good. Am I personally capable of doing that? Maybe so. Am I allowed to do that? Frankly, I don't really care. It's a struggle as much with my own internalized religion as it is with any external opinions or forces. And I'm fairly confident that if I am able to do it, it will only be if I refuse to be held to that scaffolded religion that I came out of, refuse to be questioned by it, and stop trying to reconcile it. That may (and probably does) come across as arrogant, dismissive, wrong, horrible, even sinful and blasphemous. But that's not my intention. I simply don't see any other way to move forward, because the more I look at it, the more I realize that what I'm doing isn't working, and I don't see a way to make it work.
I think I'm to the point where I simply can't fit the pieces of my former worldview back together, because it's broken, it's missing huge portions, and it was never intended to be taken as anything but a whole anyway. I have to, as David Bazan so eloquently put it, "let go of what I know and honor what exists." In fact, that song (Bearing Witness) keeps getting more accurate in describing what I'm dealing with that I'm just going to paste the lyrics in here, to finish out this post.
I clung to miracles I have not seen
From ancient autographs I can not read
And though I've repented I'm still tempted I admit
But it's not what bearing witness is
Too full of prophecy and fear to see
The revelation right in front of me
So sick and tired of trying to make the pieces fit
Because it's not what bearing witness is
When the gap between
What I hoped would be
And what is makes me weep for my kids
I take a cleansing breath and make a positive confession
But is that what bearing witness is
Though it may alienate your family
And blur the lines of your identity
Let go of what you know and honor what exists
Son, that's what bearing witness is
Daughter, that's what bearing witness is
Listen to it, it's good stuff, and pretty much sums it up better than I ever could.
Pre-emptive reponse note:I know there are those who will read this and end up with the reaction that I am falling away from the faith, I'm giving up, I'm being pulled in by the deception of the world or Satan or Seattle or gnosticism. For the first couple, I can say that I'm not. This is the only way I can see forward, and trying to put pieces together that are horribly broken and were never meant to fit without the whole anyway is futile. To the last point? If you want to think that, you can. You could be right. And if you are, and if God really cares enough about all of the periphery and structure that I'm putting behind me, you can trust that he'll confront me with it eventually. But pointing out where I'm stepping outside the bounds of Christianity, or where the Bible says I'm wrong, simply isn't going to be helpful or useful. Because it's me and love, trying to find this God that everyone keeps talking about, and that's it.
I do plan to be reading the Bible on the way, but being very aware that I've been trained well in how to read the Bible "right," and am aware of how that colors, frames, and distorts what God is actually trying to say. One thing I have learned is that Biblical literalism, and many understandings of inerrancy, get in the way of understanding what the Bible actually is trying to say, and I intend to read it with that in mind.
While I was typing this post, TweetDeck popped up Roger Ebert's latest tweet: "If a good man is refused heaven and a bad one let in because of a technicality in church law, that doesn't speak well of God." Appropriate.