Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Penn Gillette says it much better than I.

So, what happened...

Well. How does one tackle the why and how of their spiritual lives? Some questions I'm constantly asking myself about my own are: How did I get here? How did I get so angry about my religious background? Why am I still angry at the Christian religion? How do I believe in anything after I've gleefully said "I don't believe" to almost all of the things I was taught as unshakeable truth?

I am happy where I am spiritually. Mostly. And where am I? I would say that at this moment (and I can be so mercurial that I may fall into wholly different categories a week from now, I'm sorry to say) I enjoy being undeclared in any religion. I'm a humanist, agnostic, slightly bitter, sometimes apathetic Gen X-er who cast off with joy the restrictive, superstitious, fear-based and prejudicial faith she was raised with and is now trying to decide where to turn for spiritual fulfillment. Restrictive, superstitious, fear-based and prejudicial are strong words to use in describing my childhood faith, I acknowledge.

[I'd like to add now that my parents are not to blame for my backlash against Fundamental Christianity. Though they did and still do have much more conservative views than I in terms of religion and politics and raised me according to those views, they typically do not let any of their beliefs keep them from treating those they encounter - however those strangers and friends may embody the very evils that make Fundies (Christian Fundamentalists) everywhere turn rather green - with respect, dignity, friendship and true love. For that example I thank them from my heart. They are much more compassionate than I, for all my posturing and self-congratulation about being more "liberal".]

So, like I said, strong words and not aimed at my parents. But I do harbor anger against Christian Fundamentalism in general - the leaders (especially of the political church. Focus on the Family, for example, or the Christian Coalition), schoolteachers, pastors and abetting congregants who all fashioned my world into a prison of rules that made no sense to me. I admit that I WAS allowed to question those beliefs. In the Fundie world doubting is encouraged - after a fashion. This kind of doubting (Exhibit A): "I struggle with the fact that we believe that homosexuals are destined for hell unless they cast off their wicked lifestyle. It seems cruel of God, but my ways are not His [HIS!] ways and I'll continue to live according to this rule and trust that God will reveal to me why it's just and fair in His own time." NOT this kind of doubting (Exhibit B): "I refuse to believe that a god who calls itself Love in its own scriptures would 1. have any problem with people of any sex finding love in their own way and according to their own preference, and 2. send anyone to eternal suffering [the existence of which I also question] because of an arbitrary rule against a lifestyle choice that harms no one. The burden of proof of the rightness of this rule lies with God. Not me." Or: "I don't believe that women should be silent in the church, abstain from spiritual leadership or live under the headship of their husbands simply because they are female. Either St. Paul is wrong in the Bible or our interpretation of what he said has long been skewed." Do you see the difference between the two kinds of questioning? One says "I don't understand and I don't like it, but I'm not able to fathom God's reasoning. I accept it as truth in spite of my misgivings". The other says "This rule goes agains my very heart and soul. I don't believe that it's truth simply because it's so alien to my own perception of love and goodness, which is presumably created in the image of God. Therefore I don't think God can possibly mean what we think God means."

Both kinds of doubting have their problems [I remind you that I'm no scholar of logic, philosophy or theology. So my examples and beliefs are most likely ignorant, one-dimensional and strewn with errors. But I can't wait to process this until I get smarter and apologize now for inevitable offenses.] Exhibit A is good in that it's a humble acceptance of things we don't understand, in contrast to the admitted arrogance of Exhibit B. Our minds are finite, undereducated (mine is, at least) and our sense of right and wrong is, although divine in origin (my opinion), still obviously faulty in execution. So we DO have to take things on faith sometimes and trust that greater minds than ours must make some moral (or whatever sort) decisions for us. However. The problem with Exhibit A is that it most importantly keeps people from using the brains god gave 'em. And if you think that isn't happening in the Fundie community here's a good smack upside the head. Not with ALL fundies, no. I'm talking about the seething masses here who jump when Dr. James Dobson (leader of Focus on the Family) says "boo!" and do his bidding - working to criminalize abortion and same-sex love relationships, render illegal the teaching of evolution, make our children listen to prayers to the Christian god in school, etc. When the only doubting allowed is of the former kind, license is given the masses to hate, name-call, shun and work against those they're supposed to love most in the name of Trusting in God. Responsibilty is laid solely on God, the Bible, and those who, often wrongly (my opinion again - oh, hell. This whole thing is my opinion. I'll stop saying it.), interpret both. That scares the bejabbers out of me. And my anger at the church is mostly borne of fear.

Casting off belief in the list of rules - that most Fundies swear doesn't exist but mysteriously still all manage to live by - was to date the most wonderful and scariest thing I've ever done. Wonderful because I could take a deep breath, look around and see things in a different light. No one was condemned, no one was sinful or unworthy or an abomination in god's eyes. I was no longer in trouble for hoping that Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or agnostics had as good a chance of reaping a pleasant afterlife as I. I could now fix my own soul on a morality that I could glean from my own feelings and thoughts, from the manifestos of nations and organizations, from other religions and other...people...instead of one source - The Bible. Wonderful! The world and the heavens were a kinder, happier place and love - real love - could come at you from anywhere. Scary because now I had to come up with an entirely new roadmap [thank you, M. Scott Peck] with which to view my world. The onus was on me to form what I believed and why. If I faced god at the end of my life and was required to give an account of myself Post-Liberation-From-Christianity, I'd need a good reason for casting off one set of beliefs and forming another.

Well, first off I borrowed the beliefs system of the Political Left. Easy to squirm into the wet folds of postmodern liberalist lip-service and be comfortably angry about lack of gay rights, the environment, censorship, America's current administration, racism. Feel "right". Liberal-minded. More accepting, more authentic, less prejudiced and accusatory. No need to do anything, mind you. It's so easy to watch the GOP screwing up the country and accept no blame. So easy to sit back and think that peace, love and understanding would solve the world's ills. But that hasn't been working. It felt like throwing away one kind of hate and adopting another.

More later...