Monday, October 22, 2012
Skepticism, and Purging Wrong Doctrine
While atheism is a tenable position (the lack of belief in gods, NOT the faith statement that there are no gods), its conclusions leave a lot to be desired emotionally, and effectively end the spiritual journey. This statement has been the beginning idea for my current spiritual wandering. But in searching for a way out of this cycle of despair, I’m realizing that often times skepticism pulls me back in. Skepticism is easy. Anytime something looks bright, shiny, and new, skepticism is there to remind you of its faults, so that it is no longer attractive. And with skepticism as my dark passenger, when will anything seem worth the effort that I’m trying so hard to put into it?
I’ve been attending a Quaker meeting for about a month now, and it’s been a mercurial ride. Some days it seems absolutely meant to be, others I feel embarrassed to be there, like I’m fooling myself on purpose. Since I generally don’t believe in counseling (skepticism again), I try to self-reflect on what makes things pleasant or unpleasant for me. In the pleasant times, I feel like there really is a way out of atheist despair, something that is concrete enough to not be ridiculous, but open enough to allow me to wiggle around within it. In the unpleasant times, it’s like I’m back at Baptist church, or college, where there was a lot of showmanship, but very little acknowledgement of the difficulties with the consistency of what was being preached. There are a lot of issues I’ve been thinking about, and would like to write about when I can formulate things a little better (the issue of primary authority is a big one), but for the time being, I’m realizing that I have a lot of baggage from the faith of my youth. Ideas that need to be purged so I can move on from them and listen to/for whatever might be out there trying to talk to me.
Hell is first. The issue that started my departure from Christianity is still real to a lot of people I care about, including my mom. She said to me recently that she sometimes thinks about being in heaven without some of her kids being there, and it makes her sad. Well of COURSE it makes her sad. It’s a terrible thought! The God of love allowing His own creation to suffer forever over a faith decision sound like a petulant child that gets his toy taken away. Except for the universalists (among the few that seem to be taking the Bible’s original language seriously), hell is such an essential doctrine of most Christian groups that it would be hard to define them without it. And yet it’s such a simple issue to dispose of, in my opinion. If we make a few assumptions (there is a God, God loves humanity, God wants to be reconciled with his creation, and God is all-powerful), eternal hell is gone. But people don’t seem to want it that way. They cling to a silly notion that the free will of humanity (because going to hell is MAN’S decision, not God’s) is so strong, that even God can’t override it. God really really wants us all in heaven, but NOPE, human free will wins, so people stay in hell by choice. While this idea makes me angry, I need to purge it. It’s already done its damage to me, and it continues to do damage to the people that believe in it, and I need to let it go.
Second is the sin nature. The dreary religions tend to focus a lot of time and energy on what they perceive to be the negative aspects of humanity. Because Adam and Eve screwed up, every person for the rest of time is a despicable, vile creature, only allowed to take a breath because God is so loving, unless you don’t accept a very narrow faith structure, then it’s back to hellfire once this life is over. I don’t think the idea of sin nature is helpful to anyone. While protestants have largely avoided Catholic guilt by emphasizing faith salvation over works salvation, the damage is still done. People are still being trained that they are inherently despicable. I reject this is manipulative baloney. I much prefer the Quaker notion of there being the light of God in everyone (even there is no God - at least this belief gives us a positive starting point). I need to purge my anger over sin nature, and have sympathy for those that embrace it, not anger that it’s still around.
Lastly, for now, is exclusivism. Many of the world’s religions are not exclusive. They don’t claim that their way is the only way to heaven, or nirvana, or whatever the end result is. But in our society, exclusivism is everywhere. Dozens of denominations within Christianity, all claiming to be the using the Bible as their authority (yet somehow all arriving at different conclusions), believe their way is the only way. That God is so concerned with the details that unless every line of the creed is fully embraced, it’s not quite enough to earn Christ’s forgiveness. I can’t count the number of times I heard a youth pastor tell me that if someone really believes in X, they aren’t really a Christian because they haven’t fully accept teaching Y or Z that is clearly spelled out in the Bible. The idea that God, if she exists, is such a stickler for theology seems absurd on its face. Exclusivism divides people who would otherwise be a community. It creates “us” and “them” over something as silly as an idea conflict. I’d like to imagine that God is not so immature. Even this week, I’ve seen adults who should know better make reference to “the world,” as if the world is something separate from themselves, and they are above it. I need to purge exclusivism. I need to give away its power to make me angry so that I can search for the light without old wounds being allowed to distract me.
I write these things out knowing that a lot of my friends and family believe in them. I don’t intend to insult anyone. I wrote in my first entry that this blog is for my benefit, and it’s still true. I’ve spent enough time being angry about religion, and I’m doing my best to let these things go. Sometimes that means spewing the angry out so it can’t come back in.
My goal going forward is to find ideas I can accept, not just focus on things I reject. To this end, here’s a rare piece of positivity that I wrote to a friend on Facebook, who put out a general question about what beliefs mean to us:
“I think beliefs should be few and simple. Most things can be known, and don't require belief. But if something must be believed, it shouldn't hurt other people. If it does, a person should find a way to abandon the belief for something more loving.
For me personally, abandoning beliefs in exclusivism, hell, Bible worship, being-special-because-i-was-born-in-a-certain-place-or-with-certain-preferences..rejecting these things have allowed me to start over, which is one of the best things I ever did.”
To you, the reader, what ideas might you be needing to purge?