Monday, January 02, 2012

Christian No More

I often get asked the question as to whether or not I consider myself a Christian anymore. This is sometimes asked with curiosity, but more often than not it is asked with concern or chagrin. The concern part, in its better moments, is based on a fear of my spending eternity roasting... and since the person asking the question likes me, they would rather that fate not be mine.

However, it never ceases to be comical to me how often the question is founded in chagrin - the questioner is frustrated that I do not seem to find compelling or conceivable a position they have claimed. My choosing a stance that is contrary to the one they cling to, somehow, gets translated as a criticism.

Quite confounding.

The short answer to the question is no. I really don't consider myself a Christian anymore. Somewhere along the way (to be explained in more detail in a future blog post), I realized that the claims of my religious beliefs had no more inherent validity than anyone else's. Once the light bulb goes on that your group sounds to every other group the way every other group sounds to yours... and that REALLY sinks in... well, it's all up hill from there.

I tried to explain my perspective to a relative recently - that scripture has become to me a sequence of testimonies by people I don't know, having been retold and then copied by people I don't know, in a time with different values than mine. Not that it cannot give valuable perspectives, but it can't help but be hearsay. Given that, it is hard for me to know what to think of God - in 28 years of pursuing him, I've never heard from him.

The response? - Of course you have! It's in the bible!

Sigh....

So where does that leave me now? I could probably be best described as a hopeful agnostic. Sure, I hope we go on. Who wouldn't? But for right now, what concerns me most is impacting my world around me - loving others, making the world a better place for everyone, and giving my life to friends and family.

I read the following quote in the book Good Omens this morning and I laughed out loud. In a way, it captures how I feel about the unknowable reality of God.

God does not play dice with the universe:
He plays an ineffable game of His own devising,
which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody],
to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker
in a pitch-dark room, 
with blank cards, 
for infinite stakes, 
with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, 
and who smiles all the time.

18 comments:

LAST ROADS SANCTUARY & ANIMAL RESCUE said...

As much as I would love to hear from God in an automated form like in Bruce Almighty I don't believe we ever Will. But that is not to say that He dose not communicate with us. I believe we as humans have to make is so much complicated that it really needs to be. Talk to me God or I wount believe you exist. I belive that to be a flaw in human nature. Just as if I would say to my spouce, say you love me or I wount believe that you do. I don't needbto hear her words of love to know I am loved, any mpre then I have to hear the "direct" voice of God for me to believe.

Bob said...

Thanks for your candor Andrew. Happy New Year to you and your family.

Kevin Dudley said...

"But for right now, what concerns me most is impacting my world around me - loving others, making the world a better place for everyone, and giving my life to friends and family."

This is where I have been for 25 years. I get a lot of satisfaction from service. That is why I do community theatre, cook great meals for my extended family and many other things. Life has so much richness now that I think it is a shame to delay it for a hope something else will exist.... that is highly unlikely.

Bruce Gerencser said...

Thanks for sharing this. I remember you being warned about hanging out with apostates like me. You have proved them right, but of course they are always right. :)

Keep to the path. It is your journey,embrace it and enjoy it.

Bruce

Don said...

I absolutely loved the quote. You read my mind, my thinking, quite well.

Michelle said...

This is exactly where I am--having to answer people's questions and then hear their circular reasoning. Sigh.

I LOVE Good Omens. :)

Kay said...

My favorite Terry quote! (Was my blog tagline for a while.)

With your recent Youtube postings on Facebook I was going to ask you the very question that inspired this post - do you still consider yourself a Christian? And now you've answered it. :)

Wesley Ellis said...

Dude, you're totally going to hell...

Haha, actually I really appreciate your honesty and articulation here (I'm not a fan of Hell anyway).

You said,
"Once the light bulb goes on that your group sounds to every other group the way every other group sounds to yours... and that REALLY sinks in... well, it's all up hill from there." You're implying that if only I (speaking as a Christian now) knew what you knew, I'd go the same direction... that somehow my claims are subject to your experience.

That's interesting, because you also said "the claims of my religious beliefs had no more inherent validity than anyone else's." Do you see my beef?

The truth is, as far as I can tell, I have dealt and am dealing with the reality that we're on even playing ground, that we carry the same degree of validity with us because we are interpreting our experiences from different narrative vantage points. Although this means that I cannot necessarily correct someone in their own narrative experience, I can offer the invitation to folks to enter into my narrative and I can make corrections and suggestions to others from my own interpretive framework (is this not at the heart of philosophical ethics?). This has actually strengthened my sense of Christian identity. It has "REALLY" sunk in and yet I have come to a different conclusion than you have. And that's ok.

I am really not trying to be argumentative (sometimes it's easy to read the wrong tone in writing). I do see where you're coming from and I share many of your sentiments. I truly enjoy your blog. It's a breath of fresh air.

-Wes

Wesley Ellis said...

P.S. I have described myself as a hopeful agnostic or an agnostic theist too.

Andrew said...

Wes - I meant that portion to be much more rhetorical than, upon further reading, it may have come across. I would go back and edit it for clarification, but I have discovered that just messes up people's comments. :)

I say 'I meant it to be more rhetorical' because I recognize that I come from a highly exclusionary sect of Christianity. We viewed everyone outside of our group as deceived, antagonistic, or blind (and we sat as the center piece, so I could probably be accused of still exhibiting that tendency)No one was an "honest" holder of another belief. When it really hit home to me that there were folks who were just as sincere, just as convinced, just as 'right ' as I was within a different belief structure, - when they started pulling my own evangelistic moves on me... and the tables were turned... it upended my world.

But that effected me the way it did because I was brought up in an exclusive Christianity. You seem to hold your Christian identity in a different way than I did... one that does not require the other to capitulate.

It makes me think of my move from Michigan. I am a Utahn now, because that is where I live. But in living here, I do not reject Michigan. Perhaps someday I will live elsewhere. Folks in Michigan do not get offended that I am no longer a Michigander and they are happy to have me visit. However, in most of Christianity, I was getting nastiness and offendedness for merely questioning if there might be other places worthy to 'live'. But a decade ago I would have reacted the same way... it was my Christian narrative.

All that to say, I understand that someone can get where I am coming from AND be solid in their Christianity.

Last Roads - I think that only comes off as a flaw if it is assumed that the Judeo/Christian God is the default position that everyone just "knows". However, I don't think it is remotely that clear. As with any faith claim, it is reasonable to ask "Why?" Why should I believe A any more than B when neither will answer my question?

Bob - Thank you, a great year to you and yours as well!

Kevin - I highly value your friendship. You are a man of integrity and generosity. Knowing you, and the tendency of much of the religious community to paint Atheists in a negative light, was one of the splinters that would not let my mind rest where it was.

Bruce - Heh, yep! That is how it will be seen by many! Thanks for your encouragement!

Don - I am about a third of the way through the book and am loving it. Honestly,I think the blank cards and rules bit is due to religious projection. To 'the ground of all being' I choose to attribute the smile. :)

Michelle - I think some of the time, people give us circular reasoning because they really weren't listening when we were explaining. :)


Hi Kay!! Where are you blogging? I am afraid I have lost you again. ;)

Michael said...

If Jesus is indeed who Christians think he is, then I'd bet he's more pleased by someone taking your agnostic stance on doctrine and living the life you described, rather than following standard Christian doctrine in your head but not your heart.

Steve H. said...

Wait, does that mean if I get you to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior sometime in the future that I get bonus points? Like a bonus round in pinball?

Pinball...I'm really dating myself now

Bruce Gerencser said...

Pinball? Yes, you are dating yourself old man. :) I fondly remember doing to the pool hall as a kid and playing pinball by the hours. When my Dad found out he had me banned from the pool hall. Evidently Ohio law at the time forbid kids my age from being in a pool hall. I have tried the video game versions but I miss the old days of rocking and banging the machine...

Bonus points for Andrew......hmm, interesting thought. :) Sometimes I think people think like that...I will have Christians come after me and I think do they think they will get a special award if they bring me back to the fold. Does God have a point chart?

Chad said...

Will you still let me come visit when I come to town?

Andrew said...

So long as you are ok breaking bread with an apostate Chad. ;)

OneSmallStep said...

**I could probably be best described as a hopeful agnostic. **

Here I stand. I can do no other. :)

Jon said...

This is a great post Andrew - I like your honesty and no doubt some of your original fellowship will find this very confronting. But tghen reading your blog they have obviously found you confronting already.

It's interesting to think on what labels we apply to ourselves. To my understanding you are very "Christian" in at least two ways - you show Christian compassion and passion for justice, and your framework for thinking about this derives from Christ's teaching. Unfortunately in our society (even more in yours than mine, I think) "Christian" has come to mean something other than that so it makes sense for you to reject it. Perhaps its like Bonhoeffer wanting to find a way of talking about theology without using the word "God"?

Like a Child said...

"I tried to explain my perspective to a relative recently - that scripture has become to me a sequence of testimonies by people I don't know, having been retold and then copied by people I don't know, in a time with different values than mine. Not that it cannot give valuable perspectives, but it can't help but be hearsay. Given that, it is hard for me to know what to think of God - in 28 years of pursuing him, I've never heard from him."

I feel much the same. Thanks for sharing.

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