Although I grew up believing in God (it’s nearly impossible to grow up in the American South and not to be affected by religion, sort of tantamount to growing up in China and never tasting rice), I went through a period in which I truly, truly had doubts about this belief. During that time, if you’d asked me, I probably would have said, “Well, I’m not sure I’m an atheist, but I don’t know. Maybe I’m an agnostic.” Then, sometime in my late twenties and early thirties, I decided there was just way too much in this world that people couldn’t explain, mysteries that filled me with wonder, things that helped me tap back into the joy of being a child and not caring that I didn’t know everything, accepting that not everything had an explanation that I had to know just yet. I’m sorry. Science is amazing, and I love it, but it can’t answer all the questions someone with an imagination like mine poses. I still want explanations to be there somewhere, though, and believing in a God who has them just makes sense to me. Believing in a God who has them, is a loving parental figure, and who will care for this child who needs guidance in a world she loves but can’t understand makes even more sense to me. Here are some other things I do and don’t believe pertaining to this.
I believe in:
1. the Trinity. After all, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have many, many facets to his/her being. Why should God only have one? Although I don’t believe God has a gender, it’s hard for me truly to imagine a genderless being. God, as presented in The Bible, strikes me as more of a father figure than a mother figure. The Holy Spirit strikes me as being feminine, so I call God “he” and the Holy Spirit “she.”
2. trying to live life the way Christ taught us to live it. The first time I read The New Testament all the way through I was blown away by how much of what Jesus taught is what modern-day psychologists tout as the secret to good mental health. Think about it. Talk to a psychologist about the need to forgive in order to feel at peace, the need to simplify one’s life, how unhealthy worry is. If Freud had lived in 30 A.D. and had seen sinners casting stones at another sinner, he would have called it “reaction formation.” It’s the same thing, though.
3. God has a fabulous sense of humor, that he had lots of fun creating the world, and that, like a novelist, he’s constantly amazed by the things his creations choose to do – sometimes they make him laugh and sometimes they make him cry.
4. that if you look long and hard enough, you can find passages in The Bible (especially when taken out of context) to support any argument you want to make. That’s what makes it such a magical, but also extraordinarily dangerous, text.
5. love really does conquer all, which is why it’s at the core of all the major religions to which I’ve been exposed.
I don’t believe:
1. in a literal interpretation of The Bible. Although much of The Bible is historical (and is rich in historical detail), it’s history as told through the eyes of one population of people. As such, it’s flawed. The rest of it is myth and legend (or call it “fiction” if you want). But, then, I believe much more truth is found in fiction than in nonfiction, and how can I not love a God who speaks to us through fiction and metaphor? I will note a couple of the reasons I think The Bible is so very, very cool. If you read the first (for those of you unfamiliar with Genesis, there are actually two) creation story in Genesis close enough, keeping in mind that we have no idea how long a “day” could possibly have been before there were humans defining it, it lays out a very neat argument for the theory of evolution. And Jacob was experimenting with some pretty interesting early biotechnology when he was raising sheep.
2. God sweats the small stuff at all. He’s got way more important things to worry about than whether or not I swear up a storm or drink a glass of wine with dinner or if two women who love each other pledge to take care of each other for the rest of their lives and would like to have the same legal rights as a man and a woman who decide to do the same thing. However, I’m pretty sure he cries buckets over the fact that so many wars have been fought in his name; that we do so much to destroy his creation; that no matter what he does, we don’t seem to be able to live peacefully together; and that so many of us have so much and share it with so few.
3. this life is just a weigh station, a place to prove ourselves worthy or unworthy of some sort of reward in an afterlife. I definitely believe in an afterlife, but I’m not sure exactly what that means. One thing I’m pretty confident about, though, is that if I could learn to live life the way Christ taught us to live it, I’d be “self-actualized” and would find a peaceful heaven right here on earth.
4. Christianity is the one and only way to know God. It’s what works for me, and I’m fully-aware of the fact that 90% of the reason it works for me is probably because it’s the faith in which I was raised. Because I don’t believe it’s the only way, I absolutely, positively believe in the separation of Church and State. This does not mean I believe politics should be left out in the parking lot when one walks through the doors of a church. Jesus was nothing if he wasn’t political. Oh yes, and I’m pretty sure God isn’t too pleased with that little “In God We Trust” you’ll find on American money (money! The love of which is the root of all evil. Has anyone else ever seen the irony in that?).
5. God thinks in black and white. That’s why he sent Jesus to say, “Well, yes, I know I told you not to work on the Sabbath, but use some common sense here. If by not working on the Sabbath, you’re doing harm to others, then, by all means, work on the Sabbath.” (I don’t think he expected these creatures he created to take everything so literally.)
6. The words “progressive” and “Christian” are antithetical. If he wasn’t the most, Jesus was at least one of the most progressive people of his time, encouraging extraordinarily radical change.
I used to be, because I associate with so many intellectuals in my line of work, one of those people who never talked about her Christian beliefs. The word “Christian” has come to have such negative connotations among the intellectuals I seem to know. Then I read the book Stealing Jesus by Bruce Bawer (written by a homosexual Christian. Horrors!), and I found myself thinking “Dammit (God especially doesn’t sweat it when I swear on his behalf), I’m going to stop hiding the fact I attend a wonderful, inspiring church full of terrific people and that I believe in the teachings of Christ. Maybe it will prove to others we’re not all out to condemn anyone and everyone who doesn’t follow some very rigid set of black-and-white rules, people who know we have all the answers, and who completely lack humor and humility."
Then, Bob went to Union Theological Seminary in New York, home to the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Neibuhr, as well as, more recently, James Cone, Ann Ulanov, and Larry Rasmussen. These are all intellectual giants, who leave my tiny little brain spinning. I find myself thinking, “I should be proud to be amongst these sorts of believers.” And I am (although being very aware that “pride goeth before a fall”).