Confident

2 July 2010, Friday - Leave a Response

I believe I’m finally confident enough to tell my family about my agnosticism–but I think I’ll leave it up to them to ask. I had a chance a few months ago, when my mom asked what my problem with church was, but I was caught off guard and only said, “I just have too many questions.”

This time, I feel ready.

As I write, my parents are on the other end of the room, watching the news and checking their e-mail. I love them so much. I hope things don’t change so much, even if I tell them.

By the way, Ron Rosenbaum has a clear (if a bit mean) agnostic manifesto over on Slate.

Hello again.

6 April 2010, Tuesday - Leave a Response

I’m rarely home and never know when I’ll next get the chance to hop a budget flight back to my hometown, so I seized upon the extra two days off last week (God bless you, mostly Catholic government) to make it to some special occasions, apart from Easter, for my family.

Once these occasions were over, though, I was cranky, mostly because we had to spend so much time preparing for, going to, and extricating ourselves from the church where I grew up. Okay, so it was Holy Week. Of course we were going to attend a lot of church services. Plus my family’s always been right in the thick of church stuff, with both my parents on the council and my brothers and I serving as liturgists/ushers/readers since we could see over the top of the pulpit, so of course I couldn’t just beg off (I was reader twice and usher once last week, ha). And of course it would take a bit of chitchatting with the pastor and elders and such before we could get back in the car afterward and leave (even as a believer, this part always made me feel as impatient as a five-year-old). But like I said, I’m rarely home, and I’m posting this blog entry on this community site right now, so you can imagine why I just wanted to burrow into the walls of my home and soak up the being-homeness instead of sitting through another rambly sermon about something I find really hard to believe.

But, I’m glad I went on Good Friday. On that day, I rediscovered Christianity.

Well, sort of.

While listening to the series of brief messages on Jesus’ seven last words, it hit me that a favorite line I had when it came to fiction (sorry; I forget who said it first) applied to the Bible as well–that just because something was not completely factual did not mean that it was not true. Though the events in a short story or a novel do not actually happen, though the people in them are just made up, I can’t deny that from these works, I still glean truths about what makes a human being and what living should be. And I can still find truths like these even if I disagree with the author’s perspective; for instance, a cynical story can still drive me to hope, perhaps even more anxiously than an optimistic one can.

So, although I very much doubt the factuality of the Bible, I cannot deny that parts of it still serve as a pretty good guide to being a decent human being.

Though I question not only the factuality but also the religious necessity of Jesus’ gruesome trials and death, I can still grasp the truths in the powerful making a sacrifice to save the powerless, in giving up oneself for the people you love, and in the concepts of friendship and loyalty (hey, Peter).

Though the resurrection bit is foggy, it speaks to a very human longing for immortality and, in my case as an agnostic, hints at the importance of making the most of life, because I don’t know whether it’ll be the only one I’ll get.

I also see that Jesus was a good teacher, leader, friend, brother, and son–many things that few people ever really know how but still try to be. Whether “son of God” is actually also on that list doesn’t really change, for me, the value of his example. Whether he was real doesn’t change that either–I mean, I know that Wolverine is a comic book character (and definitely more flawed than Jesus), but he’s still a hero to me.

My favorite theology teacher in college was a bit of a liberal in that for him, “the way, the truth, and the life” meant to live Jesus’ way–not necessarily to praise his name, to pass it on to those who don’t know it, or to condemn those who won’t worship it; just to be an excellent human being. So that’s what I mean by having rediscovered Christianity. I’ve reaffirmed its influence on my life–the values that I learned as a kid in Sunday School and that continue to influence my choices, the traits I look for in the people I meet–and will not discount the value of the book upon which it is based. It is still relevant to my life because it is still truthful in parts. Some people will learn these truths from their own religions; a lucky (blessed?) few will get them from their own philosophizing. I’m not shelving other books or ways of thinking, and I won’t be completely dependent on Christianity and the Bible to form my own philosophy. But this is just to say, I’ve rediscovered a place for them in my life.

It makes me happy, because it means that I will no longer be so cranky about having to attend church and, even better, I don’t feel so disconnected from the family I attend (and occasionally serve) with. They still don’t know, but then telling them doesn’t seem so important anymore. Not for now, anyway.

Thorns

4 February 2010, Thursday - Leave a Response

One notion I have retained from Christianity is that my body is not me; it is just a shell that will empty when I die. It’s the main reason I would rather be cremated than buried; I would rather not have family and friends gathering regularly at a grave to visit me when I am not there for anyone to visit. I take care of my body because it allows me to do things I love, but at the same time, I don’t let it stop me; I know that I could do many of these things even if I was fat instead of thin, tall instead of short, etc.

But for T, things are not like this. He feels that his body and what it has gone through have helped determine what he has become. Since he was a teenager, the loss of some bone in his leg meant that he could no longer do something he loved, which was sports–and he was a force to reckon with on the court, so he tells me. He has often said that if he had not gotten sick, he would never have become a writer; he would be something else. I would have to agree and even venture that perhaps he would not have become the young man I fell in love with. So perhaps some good has come of all he went through years ago.

But that doesn’t quite erase what he has to go through now. Things increasingly look as though the normal life that took him years to build cannot last, that the physical and psychological process he went through then to be as strong as he was last month, before the injury, will have to be completed again. And perhaps in another six to ten years, again. And again. And again.

He is angry because when he first went through it, he believed that it was once and for all. Just when his whole life is before him (T is turning 25 this year), he learns of the possibility that his body and its problems may continue to interrupt that life. It’s a maddening idea, and it scares me. To me, T has not changed so much. I look at him and beneath the anger, I can still see the man I love. I believe in his strength, and I believe that he has enough of it to pull through. I also believe that he can find a way to be happy regardless of what happens to his body. But I am scared because his body might make things go the other way, might drive him into bitterness forever.

At this point, I would have gone (or a Christian friend would have sent me) to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, the part in the Bible where Paul talks about an affliction that cannot go away. But it’s difficult (and masochistic, I might say) to delight in pain when you feel that someone so good shouldn’t have to deal with it in the first place. It’s awful to be told that God would repeatedly allow someone to get hurt just so he can prove how great he is by making it all right again. If T’s situation, and the similar situations of others, are supposed to bring glory to God, it doesn’t make me think of heavenly glory, but of the glory a supervillain hopes to gain by pulling strings and endangering the city, just so that he can swoop in at the right moment and look like a hero. It’s cheating. It’s unfair. It exacts too great a price on the psyche and on the body.

The strength T needs now is from whatever the surgeon will put in his leg so that he can walk normally again, and also from the belief that he can take whatever the universe and its invisible heroes and villains, if they are there, will hit him with. But I’m with him in wishing that he didn’t have to keep taking these hits in the first place.

Three inches off the back, please.

21 January 2010, Thursday - Leave a Response

I may have written before that I’d reached a point where it felt wrong to go on attending Bible study group meetings without some action on my part. Either I had to come clean and tell them that I doubted (optional to tell them I’d been dating a non-evangelical for almost a year), or I had to make up some reason to stop going altogether. Continuing to attend and sit quietly, to listen to things I only half-believed with people who thought otherwise, had always felt dishonest, and this great lie of omission gnawed at me every other Thursday in the church nursery.

You know, if I had met some of them outside of church, removed from the context of believers banding together to study the Bible, as simply one human being sitting across from another, we would have become friends naturally. The very simple fact that I liked them and had something in common with some of them was what kept me going. But the fact that they met as members of a group with an agenda, to encourage one another in a faith I didn’t quite share, and not merely as human beings hanging out with one another, meant that there were minimum requirements for continuing to hang out with them that I couldn’t meet.

I’m thankful that I got to meet them and doubly thankful that I didn’t have to lie. When I told the group leader that I had to stop going because my schedule had changed, it was the truth. Since T’s injury, we haven’t spent as much time together because of his new scheme to make mobility as easy and inexpensive for him as possible. Some days he’s in town, to teach his classes. Some days, he’s not. The few times I do get to see him happen to clash now with group meetings, and when it comes to priorities, T trumps everything.

While knowing that I no longer have to pretend to church folk is a relief, the act of saying I could no longer go felt neither good nor bad. It was as clear and painless but also as necessary as a haircut. A simple snip-snip, and my last ties to evangelical church life are severed. We sweep up the cuttings and carry on.

Hey, Jude.

18 January 2010, Monday - One Response

16 Jan

This morning, I felt like reading Jude again, if only to see what other wise words he had to say besides my second favorite verse, Jude 22, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” I was saddened to find, I hadn’t retained the rest of the letter, which actually shifts the verse into a context different from the one I liked.

Jude writes of malicious, unholy folks among the believers who prefer to create their own morality and are therefore immoral. (According to the traditional Christian view of morality, humans can’t have morals other than those from God, and you can’t have morals from God unless you are Christian. Thus, if you decide on your own morals, you are doing something proud and misguided and will be mired in immorality as a result.)

Here’s the verse in which Jude mentions these unsavory folks:

For certain men whose condemnation was written about [OR who were marked out for condemnation long ago] have secretly slipped among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (4).

So from my understanding, these are people who claim that they can do whatever they like because God forgives them, and they don’t believe in Jesus Christ.

That’s not me. I doubt Jesus’ divinity, but I am not arrogant enough to claim that I have God’s grace; how can I turn what I don’t have into a license for immorality, much less a license for anything?

What troubles me about Jude is that he seems to have conveniently lumped all unbelievers in with the debaucharers. And he furthers this assumption with the following details:

Though you already know all this, I want you to know that the Lord / Jesus delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe (5).

… these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authorotiy, and slander celestial beings (8).

… these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals–these are the very things that destroy them (10).

Dreamers (not the good kind) who engage in vices, rebellion, and slander. Unreasoning animals. How can a doubter like me hope to put across to a Christian that I came to doubt through a long period of careful thinking and that I continue to subscribe to the values I learned from Christian teachings, if the Bible paints me as incapable of doing so?

What’s worse is that Jude seems to say that we cannot be friends:

These men are blemishes at your love feasts… (12).

And unbelievers cannot do good:

They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead (12).

Unbelievers are pretty much jerks:

These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage (16).

What then of my favorite verse? Here it is in clearer context:

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (22-23).

I’m chewing on it now, and it tastes like, show mercy on doubters by bringing them back into the fold, quickly. To “others”–to Jude’s credit, here seems to be a finer distinction between unbelievers–show mercy, but keep them at arm’s lenght. We don’t want to get cooties now.

Jude makes me sigh the same sigh I keep for misguided Christians who think that all unbelievers are immoral. He does have one thing going for him, though I’m afraid it might just get overwhelmed by all his anti-unbeliever stuff; because it’s sandwiched between his pictures of licentiousness, banality, and arrogance:

Yet even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (9)!

The Lord rebuke me, and no one else.

I guess I need some new favorite verses now.

Don’t Romans 8:28 me now.

14 January 2010, Thursday - One Response

Last week, T broke his leg. I thought this was just a matter of putting it in a cast and then taking it off after a few months, but this is a case of surgery and then three years of rehabilitation. It’s a process that T already went through when he first had problems with his leg (I don’t really want to go into the details right now), and he does not look forward to doing it again.

After he explained the injury to me, he said, “You know how they say that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle? I think Quentin Tarantino said something about how it’s great to have the strength, but you hope to never have to use it.”

27 December 2009, Sunday - One Response

The meaning of Christmas seems lost to me now. Yes, I know that it’s the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ; yes, I know that Christians are celebrating the birth of the long-foretold Messiah. But it doesn’t seem to mean anything for me anymore.

Last Christmas, I was tearing up at church because I wanted so much to believe, so that I could share in the celebration. This year, it seems as though I’ve given up hope that I will ever believe again.

Do I still hope to regain my old beliefs? I don’t think I ever will. What I really hope for is acceptance in the community whence I came, that it will be okay with people that I no longer think like them.

Initial thoughts on Ken Daniels’s “Why I Believed”

6 December 2009, Sunday - One Response

I’ve been reading “Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary,” by Kenneth Daniels. Two things repeatedly cross my mind as I read: there are things different about my faith that have allowed me to keep it, despite my doubts; and, maybe it’s time to tell people that I am no longer an evangelical Christian.

The things different, is actually maybe just one thing: I am okay with the uncertainty, or at least, more okay than Mr. Daniels was when he began to seriously doubt. I don’t mind not knowing the answers because I believe that God is beyond human knowing. It does not bother me that I cannot know whether such a God cares and cares personally for his creation (if he created it). I pray to him anyway.

I have not yet gotten to the part in Mr. Daniels’s book where he tackles some of the things that allowed him to hold on to theism for so long. I hold on to my own scrap of belief by some of the same things, and I am a little afraid of what will happen when I am done with the book. But you can’t know how strong something really is until it’s tested, so I am pushing through.

As for telling people, it is more that I am no longer afraid of being judged by believers. The timing of an actual telling is tricky. I would rather tell my parents in person, but the only time I get to fly home and see them is during special occasions. And for my parents, any time I am home is probably special, considering how far away I live and how rarely I get to fly home. The simple happiness of reunion is just something I don’t want to spoil with the idea that their only daughter and eldest child is going to hell.

What I really want is for someone close to me and who is still evangelical to know what I am going through and to show me understanding. It is no longer enough for me to just talk to T, because (as I said in the last entry), he comes from a different branch of Christianity, so he doesn’t get some of it. Ken Daniels at least had his wife, who loved him and listened to him even though she still believed. I don’t have anyone like that from evangelical life, and it feels sad.

Linux user, or Reformatted

4 December 2009, Friday - Leave a Response

Yesterday, I found a secondhand copy of “The Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right,” by Robert Lanham. So far, it’s funny, though some readers might be confused as to whether some statements are sarcastic or just plain mean and biased. It’s also discomfiting that this book is about the people who presumably control not just American politics, but evangelicalism around the world. Much of what was taught at [that church] came from the very preachers discussed in the book, so I wonder what the author would say if he knew that these guys’ reach goes beyond American shores.

Anyway, while I was reading the chapter on Rick Warren, I came across this Warren quote:

The Purpose Driven paradigm is the Intel chip for the twenty-first century church and the Windows system of the twenty-first-century church.

And the first thought that came to mind was, But I’m a Linux user.

I started to laugh. This is a bit of a simplification, but letting go of conservative Christianity was kind of like dropping Windows for Ubuntu. I learned a little more about the paradigms behind each operating system (one proprietary, exclusive, and with a tendency to lock users in; the other free and open-source) and then chose the one that made more sense.

I’m not saying that Ubuntu is the OS for anti-Christians (there’s actually a Christian Edition); I’m saying that, like stepping out of conservative Christianity, choosing an OS different from the one that most of the world is using entails a shift in worldview, albeit largely confined to views of how software should be. So, choosing to give up conservative practices and beliefs happened after a change in my views of how following God and becoming a good human should be.

I can do the same things with Ubuntu that I used to do with Windows; it’s just that how they’re done–with open-source software–is based on different principles. In a similar way, I say that doing good deeds is just as honorable for a non-Christian as it is for Christians; it’s just that the principle behind it–for goodness’s sake, rather than to prove oneself by “fruits of the Spirit”–is different.

Also, the only reasons I’d likely to have for returning to Windows are superficial: I can’t play The Sims on Ubuntu. The reason I have for keeping ties to conservative Christianity (semi-weekly Bible study) seems less so–the community feeling is nice–but is still superficial because deep down, I know the community feeling is based on their false idea that I am like them.


I think I’ll lend T this book, as he’s had a bunch of questions about evangelicalism of late. When he asks me these questions, I feel a bit torn. I want to answer honestly, but part of me also feels the need to defend evangelicalism for the good it can bring. I won’t deny that people turn their lives around because of Jesus, and I won’t deny that meeting Jesus (through Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life,” ironically) and truly becoming born-again changed my life five years ago. If nothing else, evangelical Christianity taught me some real values; I only turned my back on it when parts of it seemed to clash with those values.

So, there is some part of me that wants T to experience all this for himself, if only for him to understand where I came from. And some sliver of me is hoping that if it takes to him better than it did to me, watching him might show me what I’m missing.

Faint Markings

3 December 2009, Thursday - One Response

I’ve finally gotten around to rereading Mark, but nothing grips me. I’m supposed to be amazed at God become man, but nothing convinces me that he is God. It occured to me in the middle of Chapter 4 or 5, This man is supposed to be the Son of God, but Mark doesn’t really say this directly. There is the dove in the beginning, and there is Peter’s confession, but I want to know what convinced Peter so that he could make such a confession.

No, I get it. Having witnessed all these miracles and heard this man speak, Peter believes that Jesus is the Messiah. But for me, this is a story. There is truth in story, of course (Jesus used parables), but we are talking about texts that Christians are supposed to take as fact in order to believe. Two millennia after this man’s life, death, and supposed resurrection, how can I know that this story is not just true, but factual, particularly with respect to his divinity?

I’m no scholar, but I would think that Mark didn’t take all these literary liberties as Matthew, Luke, and John did with their gospels in order to let the story of Jesus speak for itself, let the reader decide who this man was (is) to them. Yay, Mark.

An old question has come back also. If Jesus was the Son of God, why didn’t he want anyone to know? He healed people in secret and told demons not to talk and never told the crowds the whole story.

Come to think of it, though, that actually jibes with the image of God I do have. He does his thing without our knowing and never tells us the whole story or gives us a clear answer.

Maybe Jesus was so secretive because he wanted people to come to faith on their own. No, “There is no other name under heaven by which you will be saved” from this guy. None of that kind of teaching (until later, but I’ll get to that in a bit). Just “Take up your cross and follow me.” Follow him into faith, maybe.

Yet even their testimony did not agree.
Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
- Mark 14:59-62

When I first read this today, 59-61a made me think of how the different Christian teachings do not agree, and God (as far as I can tell) remains silent on whose testimony is true. (Of course I’m taking the verse out of context to draw a parallel.) But if you were to ask him himself, he may speak for himself.

Dunno about this business about clouds, though.

It also occured to me that Jesus chose to say just this in order to further incense the Pharisees into killing him. He knew he had to die, didn’t he? Why not help things along?

For those collecting contradictions, here’s the one where Jesus makes a claim about the timing of end of the world and then says he doesn’t really know when it’s gonna happen.

Another thing; that part at the end that “the most reliable manuscripts” do not include. That’s the part where Jesus himself condemns everyone who doesn’t believe in him. I’m inclined to believe that this part was made up, not just because it’s not in the “most reliable manuscripts,” but also because it’s not in any of Mark’s gospel until this part. What does stick out to me is when he tells his followers not to stop the good works of a non-disciple. Sounds like tolerance to me. I keep thinking of what I read about the Jesus Seminar, so whenever Jesus speaks, I ask myself, would he really have said these things?

What’s more important to me, though, is the answer the the hinge question: was Jesus the Son of God? If he was (is), did he really say everything attributed to him? Is he keeping mum on the testimonies for him as well?

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