Strong beliefs in spiritual things are often seen as arrogance. Certainly, they can be. But the true arrogance isn’t in strong faith. The arrogance is when people hold to their faith so tightly that they fail to respect others’ beliefs; fail to ever question and explore their own; and assume they know all the answers.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness
Been a while since I’ve posted a drive-by scripture, so here we go, with Second Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16.
Much is made about how the word of God is infallible. In other words, the Bible is the final word and it’s not wrong in any way, shape or form.
I believe that. And I don’t believe that.
Having spoken recently on the translational issue with my post “Lost in Translation,” it should be clear that I have differing levels of regard for various translations. To some degree, even differing levels of trust.
I wholeheartedly believe that the structure of the Bible as it stands is pretty much inspired by God. The Catholics and the Protestants have a slightly different take on books that should or should not be included, but the differences are minor in the end. I believe there is value in some of the books that are not in the Protestant version, as well as some important books that are not in either Catholic nor Protestant translations of the Bible.
But at the same time, humans have had their grubby little hands all over the word of God, and mistakes, personal interpretations and the like are inevitable when human error gets brought into the mix.
But this, I think, can be a good thing as well as a challenge. While I believe that we can never truly understand God while we are in this world, tethered to our bodies and our carnal needs and desires, I believe we are meant to search for Him and seek Him continually, even if we are among the faithful.
Perhaps especially if we are among the faithful. For I believe that true faith and a closer relationship with God forces us to really think about what the Bible is trying to tell us, instead of expecting it to give us simple answers. And I think that truly coming to God forces us to question our faith, ourselves, and even the version of the word of God that we open to read.
So, as you may have heard, not only are we in a post-racial America now that Barack Obama has been elected president (yeah, right…), we also may be on the brink of the End of Christian America (cue up the ominous music…and go here if you want to read an article about this matter).
OK, so fewer Americans self-identify as Christians. More people identify as having no particular religious beliefs or profess to be atheists. And “only” a third of Americans think of themselves as born-again.
And I say: So what?
What is the frickin’ problem here? Why are so many Christians so up in arms about this? As a Christian myself, who is born again, this trend strikes me as neither a surprise nor, in fact, even a real issue.
I say this for two reasons: one of them political/social and the other biblical.
The Political and Social Aspect
Regardless of the ranting and ravings of the more froth-at-the-mouth conservative commentators, the United States of America is not a Christian nation, and never was. It doesn’t matter that our money says “In God We Trust.” It doesn’t matter that the Founding Fathers were either Christians or Deists. It doesn’t matter that the government added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, (62 years after the pledge was first introduced, incidentally). We are not a Christian nation.
The Founding Fathers expressly dictated that there should be no state religion. They were trying to escape the tyranny of a government that told them what to believe and taxed them from afar while giving them no say in the running of their nation. And even if they had put Christianity into the Constitution as the official religion of the the land—which they didn’t—they had designed the Constitution so that it could be amended later to change with the times and evolve. Even if they secretly desired everyone in the nation to be a Christian, they left open the intrinsic right—and expectation—that not everyone would be so.
If we are going to insist that this be a Christian nation because the Founding Fathers were Christian, we should still embrace other notions they had at the time, such as the idea that only white landowners should vote. We should therefore revoke voting rights from all women, most of the men in the nation, and all non-whites. If that sounds good to you, you scare me and should immediately hole up in your bunker until you starve to death.
In a nation that embraced immigration and encourages people all over the world to come and enjoy our “American Dream” by becoming citizens of our nation, or at least fans of it from overseas, it is ridiculous to think that we would remain overwhelming Christian. There is more than one religion in the world. And two of the other biggies, Judaism and Islam, come from essentially the same roots as Christianity, so we should expect them to stick around too and even grow.
I don’t want a nation to base it policies and laws on a single religion’s belief system. So, frankly, I’m glad that conservative Christians aren’t calling all the political shots and able to freely frame laws around their specific religious precepts.
The Biblical Take on Things
But beyond the political and social reasons why should neither be surprised nor frightened by a lessening of the “Christianity” of the United States, there is the biblical aspect.
Jesus and the writers of the New Testament have all told us, multiple times, that people will ultimately turn away from God for the most part. It has been made crystal clear that a time will come when Christians will not necessarily be in a position of prestige or even safety. “Men will become lovers of themselves and not of God.” Furthemore, “we will be persecuted for Jesus’ sake.” Need I go on?
If you’re Christian and you’ve read the Bible at all, you should expect that the world will gradually drift away from Christianity. We were never promised a world in which folks would mostly be praising God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost and just a few people would be lost. God would prefer that no one be lost, but the fact is that the world is supposed to go away from God’s away. That’s is what we’ve been told to expect.
To fret about gradual movements (or even seismic-level ones) toward that and to argue about how wrong it is strikes me a lot like complaining that teenagers often don’t listen to their parents or like their decisions. Sure, it’s a valid topic of conversation, but the core fact you’re addressing is only going to come as a surprise to someone who’s totally clueless about reality.
This doesn’t change the fact that we should be ready to share the Gospel with those who are interested or who don’t really understand it. But to be surprised that Christianity would fall by the wayside should be no surprise at all. That road was predicted more than 2,000 years ago for us.
Seems alot of folks really think (particularly as fewer and fewer identify themselves as religious) that to be religious is to suffer from a shortage of awareness. You must not be aware of (or respect) other religions than yours. You must be trying to ignore the fact that you should be aware of scientific advances and give up on that old-time religion stuff. You must not be aware of how damaging religion has been over the centuries.
I don’t agree and in fact I think that religion can be chock-full of awareness. It’s just that religion is designed around a really specific kind of awareness. An awareness of yourself and the fact that you fit into a world bigger than what we see. I’m aware that dinosaurs walked the earth before humans appeared. I’m aware that some nasty things have been done in the name of religion. I’m aware that other people have different faiths and realize that it’s certainly possible they might be right and I might be wrong.
But I’m also aware that I have a soul and that I am part of the plan of a higher power and that this Christian path I’m on is certainly the right path for me.
I’m going to say something that might strike a lot of you as silly.
If God came down and showed His power and said, “I am God, and by the way, yes, Jesus is my son”…well, I don’t think everyone (perhaps not even the majority of folks) would start believing in God or the way of Christianity.
Mind you, if Vishnu came down or Zeus or Buddha or anyone else, I think they wouldn’t get as much respect as you’d think, either.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit as people have chided me in believing in a God who won’t show Himself more obviously. I also read a very interesting novel recently called The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson, and the main character in it, who’s more than a bit of a doubter, writes at one point, something to the effect of: “Just one flaming cross in the sky that everyone can see at the same time. That’s all it would take.”
But that’s a lie, really.
Think about it. If a flaming cross appeared in the sky, would you assume it came from God? Even if there was a booming voice saying, “Respect this cross, for on it my one begotten son died for your sins”? Or, would you be one of the people who claims it’s some sort of prelude to an alien invasion, and that aliens created religion as a way to come back and wield power over us with minimal resistance?
Or might you be someone who would claim that some government or coalition of governments seeking to institutionalize religious precepts had made the cross and voice appear with some hitherto hush-hush technology created in Area 51?
Or might you think you had lost your mind and were hallucinating or in a coma or something, and everyone around you who saw this was just part of your imagination, too?
Or, hey, God Himself steps out of the clouds, not just some fiery lightshow. You might use one of the theories above, or maybe you’d say, “Shit, some numbnut was born with the ability to reshape reality, and now we have a crazy mutant near-omnipotent nutjob who thinks he’s God almighty.”
These are not silly notions; that humans would doubt so much even then. Many people don’t like the idea of a God in Heaven. They will not accept that idea no matter how hard you hit them over the heads. Some people don’t want to have a God in Heaven, and even if they are made to believe He exists, those people may quite well reject Him because they don’t like His way of doing things.
So, in the end, even if burning crosses appear in the sky, well…I think we’re mostly left with faith.
No surprise to regular readers that I have semi-regular discussions with atheists and agnostics on this blog and at others. I don’t try to covert them, because I’m not clinically insane nor masochistic, but I think it’s great to make sure we all understand each other. Much better than one side calling the other a bunch of superstitious idiots, while the other side is calling them narrow-minded secularists.
In fact, TitforTat and The Word of Me have probably been my most frequent foils lately (and I mean that in the nicest recreational fencing/dueling way possible). In terms of longer dialogs, though, TWOM had a conversation with me here with regard to a Mrs. Blue post here, and I’m trading thoughts with him over at one of his postsover at his blog right now.
It’s good stuff, and I like the conversations. As long as no one gets to calling me an out-of-touch looney-toon, all’s good (that hasn’t happened often, and most of those people I don’t even try to engage again). But I have been thinking a lot lately about what divides a spiritual believer from a non-believer, and it strikes me that as much as we intellectually can appreciate each other, it is hard to truly explain ourselves to each other. For both sides, it seems self-evident that our position is the correct one, and it troubles us on some level that the other side hasn’t broken through to our way of thinking.
This struck me in particular when TWOM recently posted in one of his comments something to the effect of “I’ve read the Bible and I’ve tried to understand it and believe.” I’m probably misquoting him a bit, but that was the gist as I recall. And it’s been said to me before by other agnostics and atheists that they have tried to read the Bible with an open mind and “just don’t get it.”
And this is precisely where the rubber meets the road: Faith vs. concrete facts. Intellect vs. surrender.
This is not to say that the faithful lack intellect nor that the doubters and atheists lack any kind of “spiritual” or moral core. Far from it. But here is the best example I can come up with as a person of faith:
Imagine a person who decides to go skydiving. There are a few likely scenarios.
She completely freaks out with fear and doesn’t go to the skydiving takeoff point at all. This would analogous, I believe, to someone who says “Yes, I’ll consider your points and/or read that Bible thing” but never really tries.
She goes to the site, freaks out, and just cannot get on the plane, or she gets on the plane but cannot get herself out of that seat until it lands again. She never jumps, but she at least went to where it would all start. I liken this to the person who does give some consideration to it, but never really turns off the literal/concrete parts of their brain. I mean, I personally enjoy and respect (and use) critical thinking, but you cannot think your way to faith.
She makes it to the door of the plane while it is in midair, but she cannot make the jump. She sees all that open sky beneath her and feels the excitement and fear in her gut. She has a visceral and emotional reaction, but making the leap is just too much. She goes back to her seat. Here we have a person who has managed to open their heart and might see a glimpse of what the faith believer sees, but on some level, the thought of letting go is too much. Whether because of fear that it might be true, and a desire not to find out and have to consider answering to a higher power, or whether fear that faith will lessen them somehow; reduce their intellect or spin them too far away from provable reality perhaps.
She jumps out of the plane and goes for the ride. This would be the person who does make the leap from purely temporal and rational thought to faith. It is a wild and scary ride sometimes, and the person might regret it in some ways. The person might even decide one day to reverse course and deny that faith she tasted or decide not to embrace it fully, but the leap was indeed made, whether for a short time or a lifetime.
None of this is to suggest that atheists or agnostics are cowards. Fear isn’t altogether a bad thing. And they, in turn, could accuse someone of me of being fearful of considering that there isn’t anything beyond this life; that there isn’t any intelligence guiding the universe. They would argue that I am afraid to let go of a comfortable superstition.
Myself, I don’t feel fear at the possibility there might not be a God. I have considered it. Hell, I spent most of my life ignoring spiritual things and the church and might as well have been an agnostic or even atheist, despite having been a baptized Catholic who occasionally went to church. I still find myself at a crossroads at times when I ask, “Am I spiritually delusional?” In the end analysis, having made the leap and feeling the swell of my spirit and sensing things beyond the physical and intellectual, I simply cannot conceive of there not being a God.
It is, to me, as clear and as unassailable as the existence of gravity. That doesn’t mean I don’t doubt some of the specifics of the Bible or wonder if my spiritual path is the right one. But for me, taking the leap wasn’t simply a transient thing. I live in a world where God exists, and I can no more deny Him than I can deny myself.