My dream has been to live a comfortable life as a Christian family man with Christian friend groups in a nice suburb. Being a professor became part of that vision in the last couple years. Living in the vicinity of great natural beauty would be nice as well.
The kicker: one could say I have “betrayed” myself, my loved ones and the faith. Yes, apostasy is betrayal. Yet as I see it, I have risked all those things (“crucified my flesh”, to use biblical language) in my pursuit of truth and my aim to obey my conscience. By saying the tenets of Christianity cannot be proven and are difficult to believe, I have risked and am risking my friend groups, my potential desired mates (conservative Christian women mostly), and my future dreams and plans. I am actually taking the claims of Christianity very seriously, probably moreso than many of my peers at divinity school. Inevitably some of them will find themselves in my shoes in the future, only they will have a ministry, a church at stake. I hope they can be true when that time comes.
I said I have crucified my flesh; I could have said “lost my life for [truth’s] sake” as well. I am not using these flippantly. In a context of cultural Christianity, perhaps forsaking all for the sake of truth, or even Christ, looks exactly like what I am doing. How else could I know how committed I am to truth than to risk all the external forms of Christian-ness in a culture where being a Christian — going to church, having bible study friends, upholding “Christian” values, claiming the Christian god — is the norm, the status quo? (I’m speaking specifically of my own Christan sub-culture here, but contrary to popular conservative Christian belief, Christianity is even a dominant way of life in our wider public sphere. Trust me. Living abroad or becoming an agnostic will show you how dominant Christians are in the American public sphere.) When put like this, the title of Peter Rollins’ book — The Fidelity of Betrayal — actually makes some sense (though I have yet to read it or know its contents in the slightest). Do not Jesus’ words about hating mother and brother and father for his sake make more sense in this light as well?
Shusaku Endo’s Silence is about this idea in my read: The greatest expression of the protagonist’s internal commitment to Christ comes ironically through externally denying Christ. Endo writes a historical fiction about the life of a Portuguese priest who comes to 17th century Japan to provide leadership to a persecuted underground Catholic church. Through Endo’s fascinating book, the relationship of Christ and Judas becomes a motif. If I have it right, Endo provides a beautiful read of what happened between them. Christ commands Judas “What thou doest, do quickly” knowing Judas must do it, and wishing for Judas’ pain in his action to be as quick as possible. Though it looks like Judas spurns the love of Christ through betraying him, in fact, he obeys Christ in a way that is necessary and that breaks both of their hearts. Prima facie, it seems Christ then dies “on the tree” (Gal. 3.13) for nothing. Does the reader not have similar misgivings about Judas’ death on a tree, that he dies a miserable failure, misgivings that might belie the truth?
I seem even to myself to be a traitor. For most of my life, Christ has been in some way real to me and my relationship to Christ has been central to my self-understanding. Right now, I do not affirm Christ’s resurrection. Nor do I deny it. Perhaps before all is through I will deny it. And perhaps, much as I wish to the contrary, Christ didn’t resurrect. I think the takeaway is that what I am going through is a difficult process of discerning who I really am that highlights what my deep-rooted values are and how much I can risk in allegiance to those values. Not that I have ever once narrated my life to myself through the story of Wolverine (eyebrow raise — doubtful frown), but like him I am a survivor who has endured much. The scars are invisible to others, remembered only to me. They remind me how much I have taken and that I can still take more. Though I wish to come through this by being a Christian again, believing in Christ again, I will be glad that I have been true to myself and risked much of what is dear to me towards that effort regardless of my future positions on faith.
People are awkward.
Several weeks back I saw someone at the church I’ve been attending who I wanted to get to know better (read, was physically attracted to said person). We’ll call this person Jordan. At a church social I introduced myself, got talking with Jordan and their friends, and before I knew it was scheduled to go get coffee with Jordan and some friends of theirs. The day of the coffee outing came, we went and I had a great time. I got to ride there and back with Jordan and found they have some personality/character traits I really appreciate/connect with, we have some things in common, and Jordan still floors me physically.
Naturally I Facebook friend Jordan and others I went with, writing a short sincere message in friending Jordan.
Immediately Jordan’s friends accept my request and write back. Jordan has yet to accept the request or respond. It’s been a month, and I can tell Jordan’s been active on Facebook. If that were the only thing that’d be fine. And to be fair, I’ve only been to church/outings with Jordan’s friends two/three times since the coffee outing. But Jordan also has not approached me in church during passing the peace and hasn’t made it easy to say hi before or after the service. People can converse with friends in such a way that they are ready to expand their conversational circle, or they can stand pretty closed-off-like which is mostly what I’ve seen. I haven’t really heard anything back from Jordan’s friends since then either.
Well, this hurts. I get it that Jordan is not interested. That’s been made painfully clear. Was it necessary to go so far as to just reject me as a person? I am the new person at the church, I reached out and then I got shunned. Or at least that’s how it feels on a rainy day like today.
Giving the benefit of the doubt, I know interacting with people you have recently met or hardly know can be awkward and difficult. Perhaps no one is really to blame here. Or perhaps it’s all my fault. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so shy and should just try a little harder to include myself in that chatty circle of friends after the service? Perhaps I should not care about how the situation feels and just make sure to say hi to Jordan and chat if we can? Or perhaps I should never have introduced myself, should have known they have a significant other (which I still don’t know), should have known they aren’t into people of my sex (which I don’t know)?
You can probably tell I’m a verbal processor (hmm, not a computer processor: I am a processor of words… I weigh them, spit them out, receive feedback and repeat). My hope is that through writing about this, and getting responses, I can understand the situation better and more clearly discern what I should do now and should anticipate in similar future circumstances. Do you know what I mean?
It’s been a while. Here’s a brief update of where I am right now.
Still pretty happy in my agnosticism. It took some philosophical hits recently as I was thinking about the ontological and cosmological arguments for God, which I know have their problems but also have some merits. Meaning in language/behaviour and the intelligibility/order of our world – these things too have given me pause. But I think I’ll need sufficient reason to return to faith, and these things, even as a cumulative case, fail to give it.
Depression is moody. I mean, some days are good, some are not. As said in my last post (Rough day – for what it’s worth the following Wednesday was great!), I’m coming to terms with the lifelong daily battles I will have with it.
I also have come to think of myself as having Modernist objectives in a postmodern context: I want some kind of absolute objective Truth in an intellectual world where that whole enterprise has been laughed to scorn, and rightly so. I feel as if I am for the first time running up against the fish-tank walls of my existence and recognizing them for walls, knowing they limit my perspective and capacities for problem-solving and can never be transcended (O, to be a fish with wings!). Up to now, I was swimming in the same tank but blissfully unaware that I was in a tank. You might ask how I can know I’m in a tank – touche. All the same, I believe there are limits to my understanding and reasoning based on what “respected academics” tell me about the world I inhabit. (Is this a reductio ad absurdum within post-modernism? That if one’s perspectives are limited and socially-conditioned, she may be unable to perceive those limits and that conditioning?)
The following quasi-verse (quasi-poem would suggest I actually went to the trouble of reading it back to myself after writing it) intimates what I have been discussing decently well. Bear in mind, I have freely borrowed many phrases and lines here.
Pulling the curtain back, and going through.
Beyond the man frantically at work behind the curtain.
Beyond the machine that makes him more than a man.
Beyond the table, the incense, the ark and its mercy seat.
Going still further back.
“I’m breaking through, I’m bending spoons, I’m keeping flowers in full bloom, I’m looking for answers from The Great Beyond.”
Why must I hunt this wily snipe, chase this wild goose, pursue this damned chimera, as if answers are there to be found?
I don’t know what I think.
I am aware that I am not fully aware…
Damned red pill. Can’t I go back to conservative evangelicalism or even fundamentalism and stay there?
The issue of homosexuality has been a major stumbling block in my faith since coming here.
I’m coming from a background which has not historically accepted any physical-sexual practice outside of marriage between one man and one woman. I believed that tradition’s teaching and was comfortable with it. (Perhaps I believed it because I was comfortable with it?) I’ve entered a place where some of my peers are homosexual and in homosexual relationships and practicing Christians. Anymore I don’t know what I believe although I have to confess I’m not fully comfortable with Christian homosexuals (or non-Christian homosexuals). (But I still want to be friends!) I’m sure it’s part of my upbringing and preferences, just like I was verbally and non-verbally raised to avoid parts of downtown because there were “blacks” there, probably “with guns”. I won’t even completely pass the buck — I continue to entertain thought and affection patterns which reinforce my biases. If only I didn’t!
I am glad that it’s not up to me to solve this issue for everyone. But, it’s an ambiguity I may need to solve for myself before committing to any philosophy.
Jesus has heavy words for both those who would try to lighten his followers’ loads and those who would try to bog his followers down. Check it:
“… whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” –Matt. 18.6
“[The religious leaders] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger…. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.” — Matt. 23
Which side is right? Certainly none of us want either option, do we? We don’t want to be condoning something wicked in God’s eyes that could disrupt or jeopardize others’ relationships to God. Nor do we want to force someone to deny themselves in a soul-crushing way. More to the point, we don’t want a millstone tied around our necks and we don’t want the charge of wrongfully morally burdening others.
I hope this post hasn’t been insensitive (though with my luck it probably has). I just want to share one of the hang-ups I have when it comes to faith (or ethics pursued outside of faith). Can anyone relate? What words would you share?
Other questions: To what lengths will we go, and what “biblical/theological” means will we employ, to justify fulfilling our desires or stay in society’s good graces?
It’s been shown, by people like Peter Enns, that Israel’s laws were not particularly unique when compared to those of surrounding Ancient Near East cultures. For example, the Bible speaks to a context in which slavery was accepted; Israelites and early Christians happened to view it as God-ordained. In our world today we reject slavery. Should we also reject “traditional” (heterosexual — etc., etc.) romantic love as the only acceptable kind?
I don’t quite know
How to say
How I feel
Those three words
Are said too much
They’re not enough
— Chasing Cars, Snow Patrol
How do I feel? Do my feelings really matter?
A friend recently saw through something I have known for a while. My questions and philosophizing about faith are pointless.
Everything hinges on the resurrection. Either it happened (for which there might be decent arguments), or it didn’t (for which there are decent arguments). I have decided I cannot reason my way to God, I can only Jesus my way to God, meaning I can either historically and spiritually accept Jesus’ resurrection and arrive at Christianity or historically and spiritually deny Jesus’ resurrection and arrive at non-Christianity. This seems to fit Jesus’ words on the subject (“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” — John 14.6). A third option for now would be to continue as an agnostic.
But the point is, all these “intellectual” questions I’m asking are not going to accomplish anything. Philosophers have both “proved” God’s existence and God’s non-existence. As mentioned in my post “Miracle?“, I think Donald Miller is right on about people not converting for intellectual reasons but for emotional ones.
“Emotional reasons” may be too much of a reduction. Our relationships (as I argued last week), bodies, wills, locales, education, hobbies, habits and choices surely factor in as well. How arbitrarily and complexly we are formed!
Henceforth I want to examine these non-rational issues regarding faith and life. I want to look at the intersection(s) of feeling and thought and belief and decision, etc. If mental disorders have taught me anything, it’s that many pieces constitute the whole given whenever someone drops the question “How’s it goin’?”. The same goes for “What are you thinkin’ about?”.
What are you thinkin’ about? Does this make any sense? Should I give “reason” another chance?
It would be worthwhile to explore the effect community is having on my beliefs even while it is happening.
I mean this:
I came in as a conservative, inerrantist-leaning believer. Then I found Christian pluralism and the silence of God in my life too hard to reconcile with my presuppositions. So I dropped belief and became a skeptic and agnostic.
Skepticism provides no m.o. so I have defaulted to certain patterns. To name them, I would say I am operating under pragmatism, self-interest, and Christian-informed ethics.
My skepticism allows me both to question the point of divinity school in general if there is no god, but also opens me to the idea that, if there is a right way of believing and practicing, Duke — with its mainstream, sola scriptura sed non nuda scriptura (idea I take from Daniel Treier, that Christians best use Scripture as the only divine authority but not divorced from tradition) approach to scripture and tradition, historical-criticism-informed biblical interpretation, and narrative based ethics — might have it. (I should probably drop the idea there is one right way of doing anything…)
If I do not come into contact with communities I can trust and identify with that hold different belief systems, I will probably eventually accept some version of Ducal Christianity. It would be the only option I have; there is nothing else before me.
In fact, I’m calling it now — I am going to become a Christian believer again. Considering my background and environment, the community of friends I most identify with here, I just see it so plainly before me. And that excites me; I’m happy about it: frankly, agnosticism/skepticism, while eradicating much of my guilt, have a metaphysical emptiness resulting in an existential sadness.
But I’m not at that point yet, and I also find this fated “return to the fold” sad, a failure on my part to push the skeptical envelope.
What could I do to avoid merely “becoming who I hang with” (to paraphrase dear old Mum)?
1) Drop out (problems here — I need a job, I want to teach something in university someday, Mum and Dad would not be happy).
2) Study somewhere else for a semester (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), for example – I could be comfortable in that environment if simultaneously frustrated with the foreshortened scholastic inquiry. However, now that I’m in Durham I don’t want to move).
3) Temporarily associate with a church or religion quite foreign to me (I don’t want to do this).
Questions: What other options do I have? Should I reconsider any of the above three?
How can we avoid being conditioned by the ones we most trust into the beliefs we have and hold?
If we can’t, how can we really believe Christianity is truth?
If people’s beliefs are determined by those they most closely associate with and if Christianity is truth, how can people growing up in non-Christian societies be faulted by God, a long-held soteriological position?
How are you in love? Tell me about that. The big Nikki love. Tell me about it, I wanna understand it.
Silver Linings Playbook, dir. David O. Russell
Look at me. I am Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) in Silver Linings Playbook. I am hot. I am angry. I have been running after you and I want to know what it is I am missing.
Replace “Nikki” with “God” in the quote.
American Protestants talk a lot about God’s love, as though they feel it. They talk about their relationship with God as if God talks to them.
I used to claim similar things: “Jesus loves you. I know it – because he loves me.” “I think God’s trying to teach me __[humility, trust, patience – insert Christianese term here]__.” Those kinds of claims sound hyperbolic and largely meaningless to me now.
What did I mean by “I know Jesus loves me” or “God’s trying to teach me ___”? At the time I honestly believed in God’s love and instruction. I believed it because of my church’s (and my own) interpretation of the Bible, because I trusted the authority of my spiritual parents and predecessors, because I had certain aesthetic, emotional and/or psychological experiences I interpreted as being ordered somehow by God.
But in the last few years I stopped making these kinds of claims and tried to speak more accurately about my experience of faith. I stopped positing most claims of “Yes, I felt God hug me this morning” or “God made me miss my bus so I could meet an old lady at the bus stop and help her on”. I began to say only what I could derive from the Bible (sometimes tradition). This allowed me to maintain my integrity of proclamation, be true to my experience, say things I thought were true, still engage in Christian conversation, and challenge unfounded notions about the activity of God in our world.
I think many of my friends cause themselves to believe that God is communicating or acting in ways God is not. And I think this is dangerous. There is a reason Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac fills non-Christians with terror while inspiring Christians with hope. The Christians celebrate Abraham’s trust in God’s wisdom and sovereignty. Non-Christians fear what filicide or other tragedy will happen next by someone claiming they hear the voice of God.
I imagine my friends who say they talk with God and feel His love think those interactions are really happening but are misguided. I do not want to project my former (believed) experience of God on others: I simply may not have had that “touchy-feely” kind of relationship with God. I was what might be called a “wintry Christian”. Because of psychological issues I distrust my emotions and try to separate emotional responses from my beliefs.
Perhaps I am all wrong: perhaps my friends really do hear from or feel God and God just never willed that kind of relationship for me (for which I would be pissed, but that is for another post).
So: “Tell me about it”.
Christians, would you say God communicates to you? How? Do my friends sound too mystic regarding God’s communication? Do they sound too restricted, Bible-based? What quality/quantity of communication indicates a person might not have a relationship with God? What quality/quantity of “communication” indicates a person might be imagining things?
Post-Christians, did you (like me) discard the moniker “Christian” because of the “silence of God” in your life? Were there times you thought God was communicating with you? Do you still think God formerly communicated with you?
Non-Christians, have you ever thought it was possible a transcendent being was trying to communicate with you? Why are so many people convinced a transcendent being communicates with them? What criteria should they examine to determine whether they are right or not?
Coming to Duke was a weird experience.
I was coming from a quite conservative Protestant background and, not to mention thinking practiced homosexuality was sin, thought even ordaining women was problematic. Funny thing for me to end up at Duke then – a place where both acts receive varying amounts of approval (and disapproval, to be sure). I knew this would be the case however, and came because I was tired of the standard conservative discussions of the Bible I was privy to, discussions which I thought read Jesus into every passage and made conclusions based on doctrine rather than what was present in the text at hand.
Duke has been a change from that. I appreciate the close reading and thoughtful discussions encouraged here. However, being here has taught me that my former “opponents”, “the liberals”, actually do care about and read the Bible (much to the chagrin of conservatives who would say they do not).
This presented a problem: if the people here are trying to take the Bible seriously, why do they come to so many different conclusions? Is there not “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”, to cite Paul? Why is there the plurality of belief and practice?
There are at least two (perhaps a plurality of) perspectives on this question’s answer. One, God somehow inspired the many voices making up the Bible, and loves and guides the various expressions — of diverse peoples, languages, backgrounds, politics, etc. — of the Church (while graciously allowing some errors, explaining discrepancies in doctrine/praxis). Another perspective, there is no god, only clever people trying to patch together a system of belief, which thus explains the inconsistencies within the Bible and within the religion Christianity.
The second perspective appealed more to me after initial consideration though I am currently undecided.
Christians, the plurality within Christianity seems microcosmic of the plurality of world religions – if true, does this complicate claims about the unique truth of Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life”? How do you reconcile this plurality with the singularity of truth that you claim?
Non-/Post-Christians, there seems to be a surprising unity within the Bible considering its drawn-out time and myriad places of composition. What case can be made for the Bible’s origins being solely human?
One of the best outcomes of my move from Christianity so far has been ditching guilt.
As a Christian I was constantly measuring myself up to some Christian superhero I thought I had to be. I was supposed to pray (briefly if necessary, but best on my knees and for a significant amount of time) and read my Bible (spending enough time with it to generate or receive some significant insight) every morning. I had to express my love to God somehow through worship too; this meant me thinking towards God “I love you! You are great!” I had to look at fewer persons lustfully than the day before and avoid touching myself. The list goes on.
I had concluded that feelings of spiritual inadequacy and guilt were feelings I was going to struggle with my whole life, because I indeed was spiritually inadequate. And I was resigned to this: everyone has his own cross to bear. I may continue to struggle with a notion of being inadequate or not good enough through my life, but for now I am so glad to be (relatively) guilt-free!
Some of my Christian friends celebrate with me my drop-kicking guilt to China (well, somewhere else, anyway). I know many good Christian people who want others to live guilt-free. I think it is possible to live mostly guilt-free as a Christian. I do not think I felt guilt because I viewed God as a Judge waiting for me to make a mistake. It is possible the guilt I felt (and may feel again) is more related to psychological issues (e.g. self-loathing).
Whatever the reason, since calling myself an agnostic I have not stressed about the following – praying, reading my Bible, worship, my sexuality, evangelism. And that has been great! It has been so freeing.
Questions: A) Here I have used “guilt-free” as an antonym for “guilt”. What opposite emotions/terms might you posit for guilt and why? B) If I still believe some acts I commit are wrong and believe god might exist, why do I feel so little guilt after my wrong-doing right now? C) Christianity could cause someone to feel more or less guilt than she currently does – how would you persuade a person to convert when she lives fairly guilt-free and has no wish to adopt a system which could add guilt to her life? D) Where do we draw the line between healthy guilt and unhealthy guilt in one’s life?