Doing things differently since 1984
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
First 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 who. Who 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.
Believers 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.
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.