Required reading to understand this post: a blog post here, I read after my lovely cousin posted it on Facebook. I love her dearly and I'm glad I got to read this. I thought I'd write down my thoughts in the form of an open response. These days I just email myself my thoughts, but in the spirit of awakening this dormant blog - what the heck - I'll share these ramblings publicly this time.
In the authors article, he gently slams the religious culture he describes as "religious certainty. A sense of surety that I know all about God."
The undertone of the article is that all, or at least most practicing Christians (and maybe even all religious people) subscribe to that culture. Here's the thing I can't reconcile: As a card-carrying church-goer myself, I don't know anyone, of any religion, that feels so confident in their understanding of God. I certainly don't. I can imagine that if I did, I'd be pretty arrogant and also highly at risk of a huge landslide life crisis if I ever, heaven forbid, heard a logical argument that countered my "religious certainty" of "having all the answers." Yet, he paints a picture of Christians as people who walk around with a fake sense of "religious certainty," "having all the answers." The entire premise of his article is based on a bizarre caricature that anyone who would have been glued to my side for any significant portion of the last 30 years would know is simply unfair. Subsequently, his attempt to illustrate the contrast between his supposed Christian upbringing and his current freedom of mind and spirit is only applicable to his own unfortunate prior circumstances. Not broadly applicable, and not an accurate label of Christians I know.
Yes, I know there are many who read his article and think "Wow! he's really articulating my experience and thoughts. I can really relate to this." I know and love many of these people. I hope they are open to the possibly that the author's funhouse mirror reflection if Christianity isn't an accurate biopsy of millions of happy and critically thinking Christians. I'll explain where I (and millions I just mentioned) are coming from:
I've never heard the phrase "religious certainty" or even the notion that we/I/anyone knows "all about God" at my church attendance over 31 years and across four time zones. Because to preach that or believe it would be foolish. On the contrary, I hear the opposite sermon at church. One of uncertainty, trials, confusion, the need for charity (to give and received peer support) and the journey of faith.
Perhaps this "religious certainty" exists out there in arrogant, close-minded-conservative-Christian-land, but I've never seen it myself, certainly not in my church. The bottom line is, it's an inaccurate caricature to oversimplify an entire religious category (let alone all religious people) as dim-witted, close-minded brainwashees that are too fearful to embrace the larger truth: that there's a lot we don't know.
Well, here I am, openly acknowledging, as I have many times before this article was written: there's a whole lot I don't know. Just like everyone else, I don't even know what I don't know. I'm surrounded by mind boggling mystery. And I love that. This acknowledgment doesn't contradict my religious faith. Anyone who thinks it does knows nothing of my faith. Perhaps they have mis-caricatured all of us in a subconscious effort to simplify their judgements and rationalize their new ethos. I happen to like the author's new ethos. It doesn't need an enemy to be true. His yin is not proved undeniably awesome only by fabricating a universal yang in Christian culture.
As I continued to read the entire article, I realized that although I identify as a Christian, I cannot identify with any of the teachings the author was burdened with before he gave up his supposedly Christian religion. Although I am a Christian, my religion couldn't be further from whatever religion he was brought up in. On the contrary, as I read his article I found my religion to actually be very compatible, and even totally in line with his new, more enlightened, less-burdened mentality he's found sans his childhood theology. Take his #4 point, for example (read that before reading on if you haven't already). Of course if you can't figure out why something is wrong, then whatever religious "wrong" you're being taught is not going to fly for a critically thinking adult. Yet here I am, a critically thinking, church-going adult. Could it be that his current philosophy actually doesn't contradict my religion? In fact, could it be that his new-found religionless philosophy is actually - gasp - a doctrine of my Christian religion? Fancy that. He had to give up his childhood religion to get that particular point of #4, while here I am, agreeing whole heartedly with him and discussing that principle with friends at church on Sunday. Everyone has their own path. Happy for you!
Several of his recollections of his unfortunate Christian education start with "I was taught that..." or "I grew up learning..." or "In my youth..." He was obviously taught a dumbed down, somewhat skewed, steeped in cultural tradition version of what "Christianity" supposedly is. In some instances, I was too. Here's the difference: What I know now, as an adult, is that I had to figure out the real, adult version of my faith. That kid version wouldn't/couldn't sustain me through the questions, challenges and free-agency of adulthood. It's not supposed to. I believe it's simply supposed to carry us to the edge of the woods where we are dropped off, having been taught a bunch of fundamentals, and we need to figure out how to actually survive. If you're lucky and you do it right, you don't just learn to live with those childhood fundamentals, you learn a lot more to augment and clarify them, and you do more than survive - you thrive. The religion I practice puts a great individual, personal responsibility on us to seek God ourselves, as adults. Not rest on the laurels of Sunday school teachers we had when we were 7, or 12, or even 17.
A theory. To be offended that you weren't handed the God-given faith of an adult without putting in the man hours of faithful testing is to not understand what it takes to be a Christian adult. Nobody could or should rest alone on the Christianity they were taught as a kid. Especially if it was some sad version the author seems to have been taught. What they may not want to admit is that it takes more than just doubting, uncertainty and walking away. It takes investment and testing to learn how to believe as an adult. I'm still working on it myself. We call it "enduring to the end" sometimes, but it's not as uncomfortable as is sounds.
I'm not done reading, but so far, I just feel bad that this guy was subjected to such an unfortunate interpretation of Christianity as he grew up. That's all he knew, and it's a shame if he thinks whatever his bubble used to be is what all other Christians are also being taught. It certainly isn't. No wonder I, a Christian, sometimes identify more with my Jewish and morally courageous agnostic friends than some defensive, narrow-minded "Christians."
Okay, I finished reading his post. As I nodded along to his seventh and final point, it sealed it up and tied a bow on top: My religion sounds way more like his newer non-religion and almost nothing like the supposed religion he left behind. Just goes to show that there's truth everywhere. But it also goes to show that there's stark fallacy in his underlying assumption that you have to leave religion to find those truths in life.
What's left? In conclusion, I am bummed that people think Christianity is as he described it. It's not the version I know. As a result of my faith, I have what he has, but so much more. That doesn't make me better, just stupid lucky, I guess. If you'd ever like to learn more about why I'm so happy in my church - even with some unashamed uncertainty on some topics - I'd love to have you to dinner. I'm glad to just answer any questions you have - I don't want to impose anything on you. Open invite to those that are sincerely curious and respectful. And I make a good pizza. As much as I love pizza leftovers, it's more satisfying to know more of it was enjoyed at the first serving, by more folks. Hot off the stone. Come get it.