Well, I’ve come to a crossroads in life. This post will serve as a sort of “Where I Stand” at the moment, as well as where I think I’m heading and what I’m leaving behind.
Truth be told, I’ve been carrying a lot of religious baggage, and it’s taken so much effort to maintain and defend that baggage it finally hit me that it just doesn’t make sense anymore. I’m tired of having that “What about this odd little scripture?” talk. If something is absurd, then tell it like it is. Let’s call a spade a spade. If the emperor is naked, he’s naked. End of story. Defending his beautiful new wardrobe choice is just too far fetched and laborious and I have better things to do with my time, especially if I’m ever to arrive a realistic idea of something divine. Something worth being called God.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
When I was in bible college, about eight years ago now, we learned all about the Jesus Myth Hypothesis. I heard about it at school and at church for a few weeks running. More to the point, what I actually got at church and at school was a five minute version of the weakest points of the theory, and then a ten minute rebuttal that made the entire thing look ridiculous and unacademic full of ad hominem attacks and snide, Christian-eze remarks about those foolish “historians.”
I felt good. Justified. I felt confident in my Jesus, in the historicity of his existence and miracles, and even if I didn’t get it completely, I had faith. I felt better than I ever had about this religion thing. Birds sang and dolphins kissed and the whole world seemed right.
But I inevitably began to encounter the non-watered-down elements of the hypothesis, the really hard stuff, so of course, my defenses had to be sharpened. I eventually allowed contradictory ideas to remain true when it suited me and the defense of my faith. Ideas like:
Jesus may have looked like an archetypal messiah figure [sharing similar elements with the ‘myths’ of Zoroaster, Krishna, Dionysus, Herecles, Glycon, Horus, Ishtar and even the Buddha, to name a few]; but this was all because God wanted to send what the people wanted and expected already. God didn’t need to be original, humanity had made the choices for him.
Jesus was despised and rejected and eventually crucified because he wasn’t what they wanted or expected.
The more “evidence” I was faced with, the more creative and nuanced my defenses had to be in order to cope with apparent reality. I’d seek out books that defended what I already believed, what I wanted to hold on to, and books that bashed those darn overly-historical pictures of history.
As if that’s not enough baggage to carry around….
I was watching afternoon TV once when it clicked with me what I was actually doing with the Old Testament. In defending an over-bearing, abusive, malevolent image of God in the OT, you know, just chalking it up to his sovereignty or inscrutability or whatever, I was acting like the stereotypical abused girlfriend in bad movies. The one who knows she needs to move on but just can’t, because as bad as her boyfriend has acted in the past, he’s changed, he’s different now, and he says he loves me and it won’t happen again. All that stuff he should rot in jail for, well, I forgive him. I mean, he says he loves me, even if he doesn’t act like it.
But inevitably, the girl is pushed to extremes and finally musters the courage to leave the guy, who then threatens her or chases after her, and you can choose your own ending from there.
Point is, I realized it was futile to defend such a mountain of evidence against this OT image of God. Taken one at a time, sure, I can wade through here and there and do a decent job of defending scripture, but on the whole, there is just too much crap.
The real kick in the pants, however, is when you start reading for yourself from differing viewpoints and find out guys like Origen and Augustine didn’t take much of the OT literally. And neither did the Jews. You know, God’s chosen people. I went to bible college to get an education about the bible and for some reason no one thought it would be a good idea to tell me that. I’ve gone on defending the historicity of myths like the conflicting versions of The Creation Story in Genesis 1 & 2, The Great Flood and Jonah and The Whale. I mean, a story can’t mean what it never meant. Fiction cannot become Non-Fiction just because it backs up a worldview I want to defend. If these are teaching stories and myths historically, then I must allow them to remain so.
But let’s push it one step further, in case I haven’t made my point perfectly clear. I also had to ask myself; Do I believe in witches, zombies or fire breathing dragons? Or how about curses in the name of the Lord that incite she-bears to maul dozens of children?
The simple answer is No. And I never could come up with satisfactory defenses of these scriptures, so I just turned my brain off and relegated them into the “I’ll just have to ask Jesus when I get to heaven” category. Well, my brain is on and it realizes that’s all just another load of baggage, too, and it’s time I get rid of it.
So I’m wiping the slate clean, as it were. Or… well.. I mean that literally, too. I’m starting up something called The Clean Slate Project. I imagine it will have a few posts like this in the beginning, to get it all on the table and identify what we need to get rid of and why. I’m really interested, first and foremost, with investigating the idea that we can’t be moral without God’s help. I don’t think that’s true because I see moral people as well as immoral people, but I don’t see God helping or intervening in any way. If some people are doing it, they’re doing it of their own volition in my mind.
But more to the mater at hand, when it comes to Theophiliacs, I have to be honest when I state that I am beginning to think debating theology is almost pointless. We’re basing so much on scriptures that often never meant anything remotely close to what church tradition has decided they mean now. We’re arguing with an arsenal of opinions and viewpoints and writings and polemics, all to further our own ideas that, when you boil it down, are based on one of two basic things; what we were raised to believe, or how we have reacted to what we were raised to believe.
I’m stepping out of that ring. I don’t care anymore. I’m concerned with how I should live my life and lead my family. If there is some good advice in the Proverbs or elsewhere in the Bible, good. If there is some good advice in the Koran or the Tao, bring it on. As for the rest of it, I’m doing what any rational person, what any good scientist does, when faced with contradictory ideas. If something is obviously wrong in the face of new evidence, you let it go and don’t look back. Doing so only hurts for a moment, which is a lot less than a lifetime spent not understanding and wishing things made more sense.
To use a term our friend George Wood has made me familiar with, my cognitive dissonance is being resolved through this process, and you know what? I’ve never felt better. Once again the birds are singing, dolphins are kissing, and who knows, I may even go for one of those long walks on the beach.