Monday, January 6, 2014

Should I walk away from Christianity?

So, I've been at somewhat of a crossroads with my faith. This is nothing unusual, as I kind of always am. This time, it's a battle between nihilism and despair, and faith in Christianity. I can't know that Christianity is most certainly true (see my blog on this here), which distresses me because I want to be certain. I have to use faith. And sometimes Christianity doesn't seem worthy of my faith. Angels and demons and heaven and hell? Human fingerprints are all over these notions, and they're beginning to seem simply ridiculous. And then there's the added benefit that there are so many loud Christians who are incredibly hateful and ignorant.

So what's keeping me a Christian? Well, for one, Jesus' teaching is so profound to me. It is a perfect, counter-cultural alternative to the systems of this world that will forever fall short. At the very least, I guess I could adopt a very liberal understanding of Christianity as a paradigm for social change.

However, there's also the personal God of Christianity, with whom I believe I have experienced genuine intimacy. But was it really genuine? After all, the human mind is a fragile thing. For all I know, those experiences could have simply been an opiate.

So, what if I do stop being a Christian? Well, I'd still have to deal with the loud, hateful, ignorant Christians. Leaving Christianity wouldn't make them any easier to deal with. I would also lose an objective reality to at least believe in, and would have to simply accept my inability to know truth as an ontological given that can never be overcome. I can never know truth, and what's the point of believing in anything if I can't know it's true? Nihilism. Which, for me, will inevitably lead to despair.

But what if I leave Christianity, and the personal God comes chasing me? Like, let's say I have an intimate experience with him again. Couldn't I simply explain that as a by-product of the despair I experience as a result of my recently developed sense of nihilism (another opiate)? Reasonably so.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to faith. Is Christianity worth the faith? It's exactly like the end of Life of Pi, where [spoiler alert!] you have to decide if the boy was with the tiger the whole time, or if it was fictionalized, mythologized history. "And so it is with God," he said.

Walter Brueggemann says that the systems of this world are fairy tales, so if Christianity is a fairy tale, that puts it on a level playing field with the other systems of thought in the world. So if we say fiction vs. fiction, we have only to decide which is more worthy of our faith.

Cory suggested to me that I can decide whether or not to stay a Christian by deciding if I can or cannot see meaning in anything without it. My friend Andrew also suggested that I should look to what is better for me as a person.

My fear is that the God I pray to every day, the God I spend my life attempting to have a relationship with, the God to whom I am dedicating my entire life's work (i.e. biblical studies, ministry)--doesn't actually exist. I don't want to be in an ignorant bliss. I don't want to be a Christian simply because I'm too scared to walk away. I don't want to be a Christian because I'm afraid of death, or of despair and nihilism. I don't want an opiate. I want to be a Christian because it's real. 

My wife told me I of all people shouldn't worry about being in an ignorant bliss. She said this because I doubt everything, and because whatever worldview I'm in will never actually be bliss, partly because of the frequent doubting. Cory agreed and said, "all you can do is honestly pursue knowledge and question so as to make sure you're going down the right path."

Does Christianity give life meaning?
Is it better for me to be a Christian?
Is it worth my faith?
I think it is. We'll see. 

4 comments:

  1. Thank you. You found words exactly for what I'm going through. Born in a strict pentecostal family, I had no choice but to become one too. I've tried and tried and tried... You know, to speak in tongues (always doupting if i'm making it up), not to put shame on my family with my behaviour, to deny my affection to a boy I love because he's not christian, to build a relationship with an appropriate pentecostal young man, to stop fallling in love with another men, to be a leader in the church, to become a mother because it'll bring me closer to God (they said), to pray when the baby was just crying all the time and I just burned out... (and nobody from the church ever came to help me. Ever.)

    I've even tried to let go; to stop trying and to let God show up (because that's when the magic happens, they said). What did I finally manage to do? I stopped crying and praying, I started to curse and grind my teeth. I was unhappy, because I could not stop believing. Now I'm sorry, because I can't believe even if I wanted to.

    I guess the biggest problem was the church. People are starving, there's violence, there's sex trafficing... And what does the church do? Does it care about the slaves in the factorys of Asia? Is it willing to help the AIDS orphans in Africa? Does it support the persecuted believers in the Middle East?

    No. It just keeps telling DO's and DON'T's. Don't get a tattoo. Don't drink wine. Don't have premarital sex. Do this to get more money. Do this to get rid of your addiction to porn. Don't let them have their gay marriage. Do tell everybody to do things the way our church believes...

    I'd like to see the church that would be anti-pornography because of the sex trafficing, not because watching porn is dirty. A church that would have a modest temple and lots of room for the homeless. A church that would teach it's members that you should't buy such toys to your children that were manufactured by a child younger than the receiver... A church that would tell people that throwing food away, polluting the environment, consuming unethical things and wanting to have more and more money is actually a sin.

    I've not found such church. I wish I'll find God if he really exists. I wish I won't die and go to hell. I wish I won't live this unhappily ever after life. Oh God...

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    1. You sound like many of the laments in the Bible. This is really good stuff that you are voicing right now. Voicing pain is a key to truth-seeking. I will be praying for you. I hope you find what you are searching for.

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  2. Thanks for sharing. Honesty is good. A contemplated life is good.

    A few words:

    Homo Incurvatus in se.

    One of the best images for me of what "sin" is I heard from Timothy Keller, who quoted Martin Luther, who himself was quoting Augustine. Essentially, thinking of sin not in terms of "do's" and "don'ts", but rather, the image of a man turned in upon himself instead of focusing on God. Being overly focused on oneself, or his own situation, one's own methodology or theology, or even his own ministry can become an "idol" that weighs us down. Our own concerns turn into worries, that compound into anxiety, that leads to paralyzing hopelessness. Doubts are natural but if we feed them, we must expect them to grow.

    If we want to walk in faith over the abyss, we are given so many images in the Bible of what that means. One of my favorites is Peter walking out to Jesus on the water. When Peter focused on Jesus, his faith let him do the impossible. When he started to doubt, and look down, and focus on himself, he began to sink. It really is that simple.

    If you are sinking (as I have felt recently), what are you holding on to that is causing you to sink? Jesus was a teacher and an educator, but he was also a healer. He told us we should focus on loving one another and meeting the needs of our neighbors as though our own. Are we focusing on our theology, or are we clothing and feeding the sick and hungry? If "faith without works is dead", then how can we expect our theology, which has had all the life and practicality boiled out if it, to be of any actual use when we need it?

    There are no easy answers, and good for you for trying to seek the Truth. Just remember to recognize that there are limits to the human capacity for understanding. At some point, we have to have faith in something. If our faith is in ANYTHING other than Jesus, (even "good" things like family, ministry, etc.) then it will fail. Scholarly pursuits are noble, but they have limits. Remember the wisest man who ever lived said, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" (Prov. 3:5).

    We all doubt. I have had my moments lately as well. The following passage was of some comfort to me today:

    Hebrews 11:1-3 "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."

    God bless.

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  3. Hi John, Is "nihilism" your only option? It might seem that way after being held in the all covering/smothering blanket of a complete religious worldview. But there are other options. You can continue to ask questions. There's honesty in continuing to ask questions since so many pop up in religion and philosophy, especially concerning the biggest most abstract questions.

    You seem emotionally conflicted. Just remain calm and not that no one is forcing you to make any choice at all if you don't want to. Unfortunately, emotional conflicts are common when it comes to making zillions of choices in our lives. Eventually the choice is made or not made or made for us due to a wide variety of connections with others, with ideas, with nature.

    The story of my own journey is one of many in a book I edited, as well as online: http://etb-former-fundamentalists.blogspot.com/2012/04/edward-t-babinski-if-it-wasnt-for.html

    But I will leave you with a few added thoughts as well, not to convince anyone to choose, but to illustrate some of my own questions:

    Given the world we know (the world that Christians believe God put us in) with its headaches, backaches, toothaches, strains, scrapes, breaks, cuts, rashes, burns, bruises, PMS, fatigue, hunger, odors, molds, colds, yeast, parasites, viruses, cancers, genetic defects, blindness, deafness, paralysis, mental illness, ugliness, ignorance, miscommunications, embarrassments, unrequited love, dashed hopes, boredom, hard labor, repetitious labor, accidents, old age, senility, fires, floods, earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes, to mention many of life's "painful punishments," then what kind of a Mind would conceive it is also perfectly just that everyone deserves “eternal punishment” as well?

    And besides all of the above, religion comes along and says we ALSO have to worship and pray because apparently that will help us in times when we are feeling down, insecure, confused or in pain, and maybe it will lead to God blessing us or our nation, at least not cursing us or our nation.

    And on top of all the painful punishments built-into the world, plus having to believe and practice certain things to make God happy, we also have to fend off temptations from Satan and/or demons who are seeking to devour us? (Why God made the world like it is, painful, confusing, filled with second-hand stories and opinions, and demands for worship, and even Satan and demons wandering around seeking to devour us, rather than them being put in an eternal prison where they belong, is anyone's guess.)

    Lastly, Christians are told by God to spread their beliefs and practices to the whole world, so they have to become "salespeople," metaphorically speaking, and sell their church and or its beliefs to others, to keep generating more salespeople ad infinitum.





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