i have a long and complicated relationship with the Christian faith and/or mythos…
i was born and raised in two belief systems – Christianity and the Democratic Party. and let’s be a little more specific – Southern Baptist Christianity. the older i get the more i find that distinction to be a necessary one. when i was coming up, it seemed, or at least i believed, that there weren’t many doctrinal differences between the Babtists an’ anyone o’ them other Protestant religions. yeah, the Church o’ Christ didn’t allow no musical instruments an’ the Pentecostals were the crazy cousins you never invited to the family reunions, but overall, us Protestants presented a unified front.
now the Cat’licks were a whole different kettle o’ fish, and it wasn’t until i was in my early teens that Smithville finally got a priest who wouldn’t threaten his parishioners with excommunication if they associated too much with Protestants, so they had their thing and we had ours, and surprisingly enough for a church kid, the subject of theology didn’t come up a lot on the playground, so i never particularly gave a shit whether a kid was a delusional Cat’lick or one of my fellow upright Christian Soldiers. felt kinda sorry for ’em, ’cause they could only attend on Vacation Bible School while we got to go to everybody else’s. Methodists, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran… hell, there was a whole month of summer vacation!
and then, in my early teenage years, i was, according to i’m-not-sure-she-was-joking comments from my maternal grandmother, demon-possessed. in a case of delayed cognitive development, my church startin’ hearin’ the question that grandmother had grown weary of years before.
and the church’s answer was pretty much “don’t you ask about that, you just go on and believe what we tell you to”, but i had this big issue with God givin’ me a brain with which to enjoy and, thanks to science, understand the miracle of His Creation, but He expected me to turn it off when it came to His bidness.
so i drifted away from the church, but still considered myself a Christian, and went to college and courtesy of a course called ‘the nature of religion’, born out of my desire for a theology degree, i saw how religions are made.
it’s like sausage and the law, peoples, if you love it, don’t watch its manufacturing process.
so i drifted into agnosticism, into atheism (albeit briefly, though i still end up there periodically, never for long), i worship the Hindu God of Surfing from time to time (http://jimreader.net/wp/?p=21), then i was an unhappy goth-emo-wannabe pagan for a while, then i lightened the fuck up, i was a pagan/unitarian for a while, then i wasn’t anything much for a time.
and eventually i wound up back at Christianity. some days i still have to flip a coin as to whether or not i believe in the Creative (my own gender-neutral term), and the Lord’s Prayer now includes a male and female aspect of God for me, but overall, i’m back. i believe there will always be mysteries, and imponderables, and out there in that region is the Creative, and if i’m lucky, i’ll get the answers someday.
my theology can best be summed up by paraphrasing Heinlein:
“The Creative split Itself into universes beyond counting, and then into myriad parts so that It might have friends to explore Itself with.”
and another far more verbose summation, several of my characters acting as sock puppets for me:
“Your beliefs are different than mine, but I wouldn’t say ‘so very different’,” he continued.”But the key word in your entire question is ‘belief’. The way I understand it, ‘faith’ is required for things that are not known, and by ‘known’ I mean provable. I don’t have to have faith that the sun will appear to rise in the east tomorrow morning, I know it will, barring some cosmic catastrophe. I don’t have to have faith that my car will run on gasoline. It does. It’s proven and repeatedly provable. The chemical and mechanical processes are well-known.
“But matters of higher powers and such … they can’t be proven and therefore can’t be ‘known’. They require faith. And to my way of thinking, if I can’t prove it, I could very well be wrong. I assume you would consider yourself Wiccan?”
“Yes sir, either that or for general use, simply ‘pagan’.”
“Alright, maybe you Wiccans are right. Or maybe some other pagan group is. Or perhaps the Muslims or the Mormons or the Hindu or the Buddhists have the truth. I’d say even the Scientologists have a shot at it, but I couldn’t keep a straight face if I tried. Since it cannot be proven, nobody ‘knows’ the truth. Maybe the only one who’s right is the old man who believes that rubbing blue paint over his chest in a spiral pattern is the one true way to worship … and he worships the Flying Spaghetti Monster … and I’m saying he could be right about everything, including the noodley nature of God. I can’t know, so I don’t discount anyone’s beliefs out of hand. Now, I have a real strong feeling that the Deity is good, so I have moral and ethical problems with beliefs that are hurtful or hateful to others … which has for many years put me at odds with the more vocal Christian contingent. But as I seem to remember that the Wiccans generally believe that anything you do comes back to you three-fold, I have less of a problem with y’all on that account than a lot of other religions. Y’all’ve got real incentive to act morally and ethically.”
“Yes sir, a lot of us find the ‘three-fold-return’ gives us pause in our daily interactions. Many’s the time I’ve smiled, or performed some kindness, when what I really wanted to do was the opposite, in hope of the universe paying me back in kind. Seems to me it does, most of the time.”
“See, real incentive to behave with kindness and gentility,” Harry replied. “Maybe more of us should take that attitude.
“For my own part, since it’s gotten so hard to tell Christians apart without a scorecard, I try not to make any assumptions about a belief system until I know what its basic principles are. I also try to avoid judging people by the label of their religious beliefs, as you could hardly judge the reality of me by the commonly accepted label ‘Christian’. I think of myself as a ‘Christian’ … but if you approach me expecting me to reject evolution, view women as inherently inferior, believe the Bible is literal in every regard and believe abortion is murder … well, you’re in for one hell of a surprise.
“Some days I find it hard to believe in any Higher Power … and if indeed there is one, I expect to have a long conversation with it about the way the universe is run … I have issues with pain and suffering and evil, especially when they’re inflicted on the innocent. I realize that religion has been responsible for a lot of that kind of thing … which is one reason why I refuse to get too close to any organized brand of it. Anyone can commit small, petty evils but it takes organization to do it on a really large scale. And if there is nothing after this life except the Big Dark … well, my religious beliefs allow me to focus on doing good and I figure if I can live up to those precepts, my life won’t have been wasted, no matter what comes after it.
“But most importantly, since I could so very easily be wrong … my religious beliefs aren’t worth persecuting anyone for … or hurting them for … or going to war over. And to my way of thinking, no one else’s religious beliefs are either. The only thing about any religious belief system that’s worth fighting for is the freedom to believe whatever you choose to believe.”
and i’m back.
i believe in mysteries and ritual – they serve an important function in our lives. they remind us of our place in the universe and tie us to our history.
i believe that contemporary Christian music is a tool designed to drive people away from the church. i find far more of the Creative’s glory in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s playing than in any ‘praise music’ ever written, and more in classical music, by orders of magnitude, than in any so-called Christian rock.
i believe in paying a pastor and his family enough to live comfortably, i don’t believe you hire the preacher’s wife when you hire the preacher, or the preacher’s husband, should that be the case. and i believe that pastors are human, and should be allowed their failings, and their humanity… but there are limits. if you pull a Jimmie Swaggart, you’re a shithead and need to get the fuck out of the business. i will hold a minister to a higher moral standard. (likewise i won’t hold a politician to any moral standard at all – the art of the possible, the business of compromise, doesn’t lend itself to moral standards)
i keep my eye on some progressive Christian blogs because if my faith is ever going to reclaim its name from the charlatans, prosperity-gospel shit-slingers, name-it-and-claim-it assholes, the Religious Reich, and snake-oil salesmen that have hijacked it, that reclamation is going to arise from the progressives. as long as big league evangelical Christianity and Republicans are in bed together, they’re both fucked, and not in a good way. the churches can’t evolve past their political limitations, and the politicians must bow and scrape to an ideology of exclusionism and entitlement. both would be better served by separation… and i don’t think that’s likely to happen so long as both are happy to remain where they are.
and so, back to where i was originally going with this, i find myself a stealth Methodist *, who’s really not comfortable in the Methodist church. and dear Creative please keep me the fuck away from my former denomination – somebody would die and there are more of them than there are of me. i believe there is a church out there somewhere that i can cope with, that could cope with me. unfortunately, i don’t think that faith community is anywhere close.
* “stealth Methodist” – a former Baptist who finds out his maternal grandmother was originally a Methodist, whose aunt and cousins are Methodists, one of said cousins marries a Methodist minister, and whose wife is descended from Methodists and has kinfolk who are Methodist ministers. i’m surrounded, so i have surrendered.
on the progressive Christian blogs i start hearing about this Lutheran minister… female, tattooed, curses like a sailor, recovering alcoholic, who started a mission church to minister to ‘her people’, the folks that would be scared away from normal congregations, no matter how welcoming those congregations might be.
so, i become a Nadia Bolz-Weber fan. a lot of progressive Christian blogs i read were saying very good things about her new book, “Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint”, and they were right – a wonderful book. the only complaint i have is that it should have been four times as long, at least. she talks a lot about the grace of God, something i also find very important, and most evident in the littlest of things.
i think that grace is key as a framework, a supporting structure for all of life. what we do, what we don’t do, all of ‘right thinking right action’, is interwoven with that grace.
so i grab her earlier book “Salvation on the Small Screen?: 24 Hours of Christian Television”, written shortly before her ordination as a Lutheran minister, wherein she watches 24 straight hours of Trinity Broadcast Network, bringing her snark, cynicism, and theological training (along with the viewpoints of a series of guests) to bear on the home of the 700 Club and other such programs.
number one, she’s a braver person than i. i’m pretty sure i’d be vomiting blood after less than two hours.
number two, surprisingly, she finds there is some worthwhile work going on there amidst the hucksterism, blind patriotism, and overwhelming conservative Republican/Christian abomination fest… not a lot, but some.
number three, after reading it, i cannot help but be reminded of my mother’s support of Kenneth Copeland Ministries – a TBN mainstay. also, i must note that my mother, who never enjoyed music per se, Loved Gaither-style Praise Music… which says a lot about its quality, or lack thereof.
number four, she raises the bleak thought that for many elderly Christians, TBN is their community, is in many ways their church. local churches aren’t reaching out to their members, not to mention the “shut-ins”, either at all, or enough – and so those people are finding a ‘community’ in snake-oil salesmen who address them directly through the television screen, selling them loads of bullshit in return for as much money as TBN’s Patriotic Prosperity Gospel shilling can get out of them. to me, this is a case of churches abandoning their flock to the wolves. and furthermore, churches aren’t doing enough to expose these slimy fucks as the profiteering scum they are… the church should be the first organization to police the televangelists.
number five, i would love to hear her thoughts on my personal favorite televangelist of days gone by, Dr. Gene Scott (Gene, Gene, the Preaching Machine!) (“I shall compare and contrast Jesus and Spider-Man.” – Robin Williams)
Here’s an interview with Nadia for “On Being” on NPR…
her church is not the congregation i’m looking for, but their attitudes are a lot closer than any other i’ve heard of. besides, they’re in Denver, CO. but their brand of “do it yourself” liturgy, open and welcoming attitude… i like that. a lot.
anyway… yeah. i’ll close this for now.
listening to: my desk fan and the dryer
mood: g’ddamn tired and smell like manure-pitching Russian tractor woman