April 21, 2019
I originally wrote this on April 5, 2015. The “Indiana nonsense” was about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that had just passed there. Opponents of the law believed it targeted LGBT folks, and with good reason. I called it nonsense then because of what I believe to be true about Christianity, although it seems rare to see it actually practiced, at least in the public sphere. Ironically, today the only politician I see talking about Christianity the way I think it should be discussed in politics, if at all, is the gay mayor of South Bend who last week announced his candidacy for President, Pete Buttigieg. You can read some about his religious views here if you are interested.
At any rate, I’d forgotten I’d written this and thought it was a good time to republish.
With all of the Indiana nonsense that’s been going around lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to call yourself a Christian.
As I mentioned in a prior entry, I have a morning reading ritual with the objective of continuing to expand my spiritual worldview. I’m almost done with the book I was reading then, “The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith. I’m on the last chapter, “The Primal Religions”, which covers, among other things, aborigines. The preceding chapter was on Christianity. He saved the big one for last in term of major religions. Having been raised very, very Catholic, it’s the one I’m the most familiar with, but I still learned stuff.
The path I started on over 20 years ago that took me farther and farther away from organized religion is based on understanding the historical context in which things happened and my reading here took me there in a very satisfying way. One of the things I’ve become convinced of is that many Christian denominations have strayed far from Christ’s original message. When I notice questionable actions being taken in the name of Christianity, I always hear Margaret Cho in my head going “that’s not what I meant.”
There was one particular section of this chapter that struck me. It’s tricky to underscore its significance without repeating the several pages that came before it, which talked about how early Christians interpreted Christ’s message and changed the way they lived and behaved based on that interpretation. It is best summarized by this sentence: “It is not difficult to see how release from guilt, fear, and self could feel like rebirth.” At least based on what makes the news, I can’t say I witness a lot of Christians today who have been relieved of guilt, fear, and self. Ironically, the release of those things has been a primary goal of my own path. So I paused when I read that. “Wow, if that’s what it’s supposed to be, then maybe I am a Christian.” Then I turned the page and came across this:
“The only power that can effect transformations of the order we have described is love….God’s love is precisely what the first Christians did feel. They had experienced Jesus’ love and had become convinced that Jesus was God incarnate. Once that love reached them it could not be stopped. Melting the barriers of fear, guilt and self, it poured through them as if they were sluice gates, augmenting the love they had hitherto felt for others until the difference in degree become a difference in kind and a new quality, which the world has come to call Christian love, was born.”
And then I thought: that’s definitely not the kind of Christianity that makes the news. And that’s too bad, because I know it’s out there. And it’s also very similar to my own spiritual worldview. There’s a whole bunch of Christian theology that I don’t subscribe to, which is why I would never call myself a Christian, but there are certain things I do believe that don’t require my belief in the historical Christ, miracles, bodily resurrection and all the rest. I don’t argue those points one way or the other because they don’t matter to me. I long ago gave up the concept of blind faith – believing something that you’re told you must, especially when it appears illogical or unnatural – but have a great deal of what I’ve come to call experiential faith: I apply something to my life and see what results it yields. If it works, I am motivated to do more of it. And sometimes that turns into something that others interpret as me having lots of faith, like walking away from jobs that weren’t reflective of what I wanted my life to be about even though I didn’t have something else lined up. Which I’ve done twice, if you haven’t known me for 20 years. My ability to take those leaps was based on many small experiences that occurred prior which added up to the conviction – the experience – that I know I will be taken care of in the end. It might not always be pretty along the way, but experience has taught me that when I put heart and soul above fear, it all works out.
What’s my point? There are many things I believe today because when I’ve acted as if they are true, I’ve gotten positive results in my life, encouraging me to do more of it. While I don’t believe in religion, I do believe in God. I believe we are spiritual beings in search of a human experience, not the other way around. I believe that it’s possible for there to be a man named Jesus who was God incarnate because I believe that God in in All of Us, that we all have the ability to love ourselves and others in the same way because that is the only way God gets to be God – through us. I have a plaque in my office that says “There are no others”, my reminder that we are all one body, what I do affects you and vice versa. Do I live this perfectly? Absolutely not. But when I can bring it into consciousness in the moment it helps a lot with anger, fear, judgment, and all of those other lovely human qualities that get me into so much trouble. My experience is that my life works better when I’m able to apply these principles, and that motivates me to attempt it with more regularity. Which leads to faith, which leads to more practice, etc,. etc.
This life (and yes, I believe there have been and will be more lives) is such a tiny blip in the grand scheme, I believe we really have no idea how large and complex the game really is. I believe we are here because it’s the only way God can experience anything, and he wants to experience it all. We all end up in the same place in the end: there is no hell in a classic sense and there is no judgement because the whole point was free will. Who do you want to be?
Am I rambling? I feel like I’m rambling. I could write about the whole “spirits in search of a human experience” thing for a long time because it is probably the most fundamental idea of my worldview which drives and supports all others. But this is the kind of stuff I think about when Indiana happens. Or on Easter Sunday when I start seeing all the very religious messages show up on Facebook. Which is obviously what got me going today. (Because I’ve otherwise been successful at staying quiet about Indiana!) Why are we here? If there was a Christ, why was he here? And the answer to me is the same: to be who we want to be so that God can experience himself through us, and we can experience God through each other. And if, as the early Christians believed, God is Love, why is that so hard? It’s only hard if you haven’t been relieved of fear, guilt, and self.
Figure that part out, and the rest will flow.