abtwixt

Doing things differently since 1984

It’s Time to Talk About Religion

Yes, that’s right.  I’m going to sit down and talk about religion.  Not in a scary way… I’m always trying to learn something, so maybe you can too.  Or maybe you can add something.  Why am I talking about religion?  Because people get curious, and I want to do it right.  I’m not even going to break it down into my usual list format.  Nothing as complicated as, “What are the world and all its people and all the invisible forces at work really like?” can be so logically formatted.  Sadly.  But I’ll break it up into little chapters, so it looks less daunting.  Yeah, this is mostly about me… but it’s about more than that too.

So, whatever you believe about religion and stuff, listen up.  Sit tight, because even just once, you must have noticed that more happens than you can explain or fully grasp, and you must have wondered if anyone has all the answers.

 

Chapter 1: Setting the Stage

The right choiceFirst of all, I operate under the understanding that no one has all the answers.  You can just put it down to statistics… Out of 107,602,707,791 people who have ever walked this earth, me or this guy talking to me is right, and everyone else is different shades of wrong?  Doubt it.  Apparently, among people who strongly believe in anything in particular, not many really get this.  It took me a while to come to terms with that.

I grew up in the comfortable confines of American evangelical Christianity.  I started calling myself a Christian at a young age.  For a while, I bought into most of it, though always with the understanding that there was almost a 0% chance that the version of God I was being taught was flawless or complete.  I even checked out the Catholic church for a little while, just to see what I could learn (the answer was “a good bit”, by the way.  Don’t knock Catholics.).  I figured, if any belief or faith couldn’t stand up to a bit of questioning, it wasn’t worth anything.  Expose it to enough questions, and the wobbly bits will fall, leaving only the good stuff.

 

Chapter 2: Shift Happens

I still remember the moment when my world shifted.  It was 2005, and I was in England for a one-year study abroad program.  An American-born pastor I respected was out on the high street doing Q&A for people who had questions about God and Christianity.  It was all going pretty well, until a Muslim walked up to the question-asking microphone.  “Why should we listen to you when your elected Christian leader is making war against our wives and children?”

Suddenly, all of the pastor’s theology didn’t matter.  Someone else had ruined his credibility before he even opened his mouth.  It’s worth noting that, at this point, basically all the American Christians I knew (though none of the British Christians, notably) were Bush supporters.  After all, Bush was a professing Christian who was against abortion.  What could be more important than that?

But that was the wrong question.  The right question was whoWho could be more important than our politics?  Oh, that’s right.  Everyone.  Suddenly I realized with horror that 98% of the Christians I knew had enthusiastically put someone into office who was demonizing the name of their Christ across the world.  I wanted to run past Bush and past everyone I knew, waving my arms, yelling, “STOP!!  Stop what you’re doing!!  Don’t you realize what you’re doing?!”  A lot of wobbly bits of my faith fell that day.

The American pastor could have turned his Q&A into a political debate at this point, defending our elected leader or refuting the questioner’s issues with him.  But, thankfully, he did what was his only decent option – he apologized.  “Bush does not represent Christ.  Christ mourns for your suffering, and all suffering that we bring upon one another.”

 

Chapter 3: Changing the Rules

When I permanently went back to America in 2009, I had trouble fitting back in to a church.  I wanted to learn more about truth and the real Jesus and the stuff that really matters, but it was like trying to go through the 300 licks to get the center of the tootsie pop.  Not to say the good stuff wasn’t there, it just wasn’t… featured.

For me, the rules had changed.  It wasn’t about having the right theology anymore.  It didn’t matter so much who was “right”, or what exactly may have been meant by some part of the Bible.  It was about people.  Do I have opinions about abortion?  Sure.  Do they matter?  Not as much as the people affected by it.  Do I have opinions about heaven and hell?  Sure.  Do they matter?  Not as much as how people are affected when I talk about it.  I noticed that I could get it “right”, but get it all wrong, all at the same time.

religion2Believers of all kinds of religions and philosophies like to talk to each other in this way like, “Here’s the right way.  There’s you.  You’ve got some work to do.”  But what’s supposed to set Jesus apart is he was more like, “Oh, you’re there.  Therefore, I’m there too.”  That, to me, is the most durable, meaningful point that any religion or religious person should be making.

It should be no surprise that some of our most beloved and admired people throughout history – Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, to name some more recent examples – exhibited this same approach.

 

Chapter 4: Inspecting the Damage

In case you’re curious (and you’re probably not), experience and logic have so far led me to conclude there has to be a God.  Furthermore, if such a God wasn’t loving and interested in us, we would have all been obliterated a long time ago.  I personally believe that Jesus came down with all the answers a long time ago, but our only version of what he said and did has come through the filter of many imperfect pea-brained people, the last of which being myself.  No amount of Biblical literalism or church-circumventing can fix that (my pea-brained condition seems irreparable).  But that’s just where I’m at.

As proud as I can be of my little conclusions, I’m still left with something far short of a complete answer, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me.  I have an extraordinary  amount of things hidden away in my “don’t know” box.  In the end, however, what I’m left with is the only thing I’m sure of:

People – all people – matter, in a pretty much equal sort of way.

Why?

Because they matter to Jesus.

And if you don’t believe in Jesus?

Because they matter.

And that, my friends, is the only way I can make any sense of the world.

religion3

 

 

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12 comments on “It’s Time to Talk About Religion

  1. Three Well Beings
    September 3, 2013

    i just had to stop and say that I read every word written here with a feeling my head should have been bobbing up and down in assent. I work in an evangelical Christian university and would tell you that I’m confronted daily with how I see the world, the role of Christ, and my personal faith with a very different lens from what I at least hear spoken. I recall the day we sent our first troops into Iraq and a community meeting was called. There was fervor and a sense of excitement in the room–for a just cause. I broke down in tears and couldn’t “get there” with the prayers being offered. My heart was breaking.

    “But what’s supposed to set Jesus apart is he was more like, “Oh, you’re there. Therefore, I’m there too.” That, to me, is the most durable, meaningful point that any religion or religious person should be making.” I have tons of questions, but I have peace that I don’t have to know it all. I feel challenged, but in a good way–most of the time. 🙂

    I read Sojourners magazine (Faith in Action for Social Justice)–the on-line version– http://sojo.net to provide me a little perspective and to even cause me to question a bit further. I would say that I don’t always feel “at home” with every position but often I think it’s because I have more questions that need answering. I appreciate the stimulation rather than getting bogged down into small disagreements.

    I really appreciate the honesty of your words and think it was very brave to put it out there. I think you express yourself so well–and on an often difficult topic. Debra

  2. abtwixt
    September 3, 2013

    Thank you for your kind words Debra — it’s encouraging to hear. Sometimes it feels like I rail on Christians more than anybody else, but it’s only because I feel they/we really should know better. It’s easy to get bogged down in trying to figure everything out, but as soon as I feel like I’m getting there, I turn into a know-it-all who mostly cares about having everything figured out! Thank you for the link, I will certainly check that out!

  3. aFrankAngle
    September 4, 2013

    Railing on Christians is easy because the loud, the righteous, and the all knowing make it seem they speak for all Christianity — which, as you know, they don’t. To draw a small parallel, Islamic terrorists don’t speak for all Muslims.

    Although there is much we don’t know, we put a faith in that belief system – a trust that is a common thread of goodness that runs throughout humanity. Good post, Alisha!

    • abtwixt
      September 4, 2013

      I love it — and I mean LOVE it — when I encounter Christians (or Muslims, for that matter) who are completely genuine people who destroy the stereotypes generated by their loud-mouthed counterparts. I have probably freaked these people out on more than one occasion by suddenly wanting to become their best friend.

      I honestly tried very hard to not make this post hypercritical of Christians, because there are so many good people that I’ve met whom I respect and admire, but with that really being my only experience I guess it couldn’t be helped.

      This was an unusually personal post for me, so I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      • aFrankAngle
        September 4, 2013

        You did well. Christians are a wide swath, and too many make the mistake of pigeon-holing the group … and this is true about any group. As someone said to me, “You are a Christian, so you must belief a literal take on Genesis creation.” Really? According to who?

        • abtwixt
          September 4, 2013

          Oh dear! While it’s true that most full-blown Creationists are Christians, it does not then follow that most Christians are full-blown Creationists. I’m afraid that lapse in logic is applied often and with brutal consequences…

  4. hyunhochang
    October 4, 2013

    The older I’ve gotten, the less I’ve been interested in theology of any kind–beyond thinking they’re interesting or symbolic–and focused on the more “tangible” parts of religion. The New Testament says things like:

    “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

    And:

    “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

    The eternal fate of my soul–whatever that means–the organization of heaven or hell, what in the world Revelations is talking about; not only are these things unknowable, I don’t really know how much they matter. But being a loving, forgiving, kind person, those kind of things *do* make a difference, and thing which *I* can control.

    Maybe there is some point behind the mysticism so commonly found in religion, but if there is I am convinced that is plays a far inferior role to how we treat ourselves and other people.

    • abtwixt
      October 6, 2013

      You touch on another point that I’ve long wondered about… As I see it, the right theology would be based far too much on where, when, and around whom you were born; whereas treating each other and God (however we may arrive to the concept) with the respect they deserve takes the same amount of effort from anyone and everyone. It seems a bit too unfair to reserve salvation and reward for those who were born into the ideal chances.

  5. hyunhochang
    October 6, 2013

    That’s actually really insightful.

    There’s a passage in my faith’s scriptures which says that God gives his word to *all* nations of the earth in language that people can understand. So why six-day creation in the Old Testament? Probably because things like accretion disks around proto-starts, evolution, and billions of years didn’t mean anything to the Israelites. I tend to view most theology that way–what it says is symbolic of a universal principle.

    • abtwixt
      October 6, 2013

      I couldn’t agree more! The Creation vs Evolution debate could really have no other conclusion, as far as I can see. Any God capable of being God would be way bigger than could fit into our little human brains, and thus would have to be “translated” to each individual in a way he or she could understand. If you can imagine one original text, with billions of translations, you can see how people would end up disagreeing (needlessly) on a lot of nuances.

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