“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.”
—Losing My Religion, REM
I always liked that song, mainly because of its odd lyrics. Plus, you can make up almost anything to go with it. That’s me in the kitchen… That’s me in the bathtub… Anyway, I like it, but it has nothing to do with this post.
My seminal blog post on Radio Preachers, plus several recent events, got me thinking about my religion or-more accurately-lack thereof. What I call religion is the basis of one’s particular faith: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc. Each of these has its own subsets. Christianity alone gives us Catholicism, Episcopalians, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Mormons, Pentecostals, and many, many others. There are Calvinists and Arminians. Snake-handlers and faith-healers. Evangelicals. The Dutch Calvinists actually reformed their church, although I’m not sure what was wrong with it to start with. Islam and Judaism, too, give us many different versions. As with politics, I am sometimes asked: “What are you?” Hmmm.
I consider myself Christian. Pretty weak response, huh? What if someone asks me if I’m married, and I respond: “I consider myself married.” The listener will think: “Is he married?” “Is he gay?” “Is he widowed?” “Why does he just ‘consider’ himself married?” It doesn’t sound like I’m very committed, does it? I’m not, and that’s the problem, if there is one. Of course, I’m talking about the religion thing, not marriage. I AM married. Let’s make that clear.
The 20th Century was the Golden Era of Christian Apologists. Now, don’t get your back up. No one was apologizing for being a Christian. Rather, there was a great deal of writing in defense of Christianity. C.S. Lewis, known to many for The Chronicles of Narnia, was the heavy hitter of the apologists. His book Mere Christianity is the best book I’ve ever read on religion and Christianity, in particular. It’s better than the Bible as far as explaining it. Okay, all my devoutly Christian friends, I’m sure that raised your hackles. If you don’t know what hackles are, trust me–yours are raised. Settle down. Lewis wrote of the Christian Trilemma, which was a kind of framework which apologists used for a lot of their writing. It goes like this:
The two other Abrahamic religions, Islam (Lewis called it “Mohammedism”) and Judaism, recognize Jesus only as teacher, all round good guy and prophet. This can’t be, and here’s why:
- If he is what he says he is, he’s the son of the living God and the Messiah. Strong stuff.
- If he isn’t what he says he is–but thinks he is–he’s insane. Thus, all his teachings and prophecy are questionable, at best.
- If he isn’t what he says he is–and knows he isn’t–he’s a liar and con man. Why believe anything he says?
I never could buy into options 2 and 3. So, I stuck with No. 1. Not very inspiring, huh? I’ll be the first to admit that I over-think these things. Thinking too much is the mortal enemy of faith.
This post is only about Christianity, because that’s the only religion I’ve ever had the least bit of interest in. I tried my hand at church. Really, I did. I wasn’t “raised” in church, as some like to say. We went to Sunday School periodically. That’s about it. As an adult, I gave it good shot and attended church fairly regularly for a while. I even got baptized. Then, just about at the point of really getting into it, I lost interest. Strange? You bet. Nevertheless, I’ve held on to some of it and discarded the rest.
I don’t know why I’m writing this post. Maybe to get it off my chest. Many are likely to be offended, but that doesn’t bother me. It would, however, be a mistake to believe that I want you to believe my view of things. I don’t. If I’m the only one, that’s cool. Wouldn’t be the only time I was right and the rest of you were wrong.
I learned to read some. I read the Bible quite a bit. I can’t understand all of it, but I reckon I understand a good deal of it.
–Karl Childers, Sling Blade
I’ve drawn a lot of wisdom from Karl. Plus, he’s fun to imitate. His view of the Bible sums up my take on it. Surprisingly, I’ve read the Bible cover to cover. I’ve studied it. I’ve read books about it. I understand a lot of it, but it still puzzles me. The Old Testament God was a vengeful force. He didn’t hesitate to engage in smiting and punishment. The Old Testament itself is a violent, sexually-charged series of books which touch on almost every vile subject imaginable. Genocide, slavery, child abuse, rape and murder are all frequent topics. Bad stuff.
Marcion of Sinope was a bishop of the early Christian Church. So horrified was he by the Old Testament that he repudiated that God as being anti-Christian. For this, he was excommunicated. Oh well.
I identify with Marcion. He lived in the 1st Century. There were probably people who knew a lot of about Jesus the man still around. I also can’t reconcile the New Testament God with the vengeful, smiting God of the Old Testament. Old Testament God raged until he went silent and left the raging to his prophets.
The Old Testament urges us to kill our children if they are disrespectful, yet it is surprisingly tolerant of slavery. Killings, beatings and all manner of debauchery were the order of the day. No one wonder God goes silent toward the end of the Old Testament. He’s worn out.
We want to believe in the vengeful God when we want vengeance, the kind God when we want forgiveness. No one wants to do all the burnt offering stuff in the Old Testament, but a lot of folks like the eye-for-an-eye. Me? I read the Old Testament for the entertainment value and the New Testament for the Christianity.
Pray to God, but row away from the rocks.
That pretty much sums up my prayer life. Of course, since Hunter Thompson shot himself, maybe I should find a more centered theologian. Prayer is the one topic where I have heard the most divergent views, even from those I consider devoutly Christian.
I pray. I do. Sometimes I’m not sure why or what I’m praying to, but I do it anyway. I’m not supposed to say that, of course, but it’s the truth. Why do I do it? Because, for me, it works. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t have the ability to call down God to take care of all my woes. For example, if I’m really behind at work, I can’t ball up in the floor and have God show up and take care of everything. I have to row away from the rocks. I also can’t call in God to heal all my relatives and keep them alive forever. Wish I could.
People tell me that you can pray for money and get it. You can pray to be healed from otherwise incurable diseases and be cured. You can pray to protect people, and they’ll be protected. You can pray to elect someone to political office, and they’ll be elected. The list is endless. You can pray these things for yourself or others. Check out Facebook, there are calls for prayer all the time. If you’ve had these experiences, I’m happy for you. I won’t argue with you about it.
I’ve made people very angry talking about prayer when I tell them that I never have change in circumstances. I can pray until my knees are bloody for God to protect our troops overseas. Someone of them will die anyway. Many others will be maimed for life. In the past, I prayed for people’s health and then watched them die. Well-meaning folks say that it just wasn’t God’s will. Hard to argue with that. But, if not God’s will, praying for it to happen won’t do any good, will it? Likewise, if it is God’s will, does he only respond if I ask him or 10 people ask? That’s all too complicated for me.
What I get is a change in ME. I come to accept things the way they are and try to do the right thing in all circumstances. I’ve had folks on the other end of the spectrum tell me that’s just a placebo effect. Maybe so, but I like it. In my world (where I alone dwell), being able to call down God to fix all my problems would really make me God. That would certainly be a dangerous situation for the rest of mankind.
I’ve had many folks bristle at my description of prayer. They tell me that God healed them and their families. He saved them from dire circumstances. That all may be true, but it is not my experience. Plus, I’m a cynic. I once saw an interview with Oral Roberts’s brother. He said something very simple and without any apparent malice toward Oral. He wondered why, if Oral had the power that he claims, Oral didn’t spend all his days in children’s hospitals. (Note–please resist the urge to browbeat me over this. It’s a valid point). Indeed, why wouldn’t he?
Jesus gave an example of how to pray, the Lord’s Prayer. It’s pretty simple, basic stuff. He doesn’t ask for money or health or boundless good luck. Basically, he says your will be done, give us our basic necessities and forgive us to the extent we forgive others. The End.
Hey, Mama! Look at me! I’m on my way to the promised land. I’m on the highway to Hell…”
–Highway to Hell, AC/DC
I’m a Hell agnostic. I just don’t get it. A loving God sends his son to die for mankind and then tortures a good number of them eternally. I know, I know. It’s not God punishing them but Satan. I get that part. Still seems pretty harsh.
Jesus didn’t dwell on Hell like a lot of his followers do. If I had been Him–and I’m not as far you know–I would have added this to the Sermon on the Mount: “Now, pay attention: If you don’t follow me and believe in me, you’re going straight to Hell when you die. Burning, weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth–the whole shooting match. It’s going to be awful. Trust me on this. If for no other reason than to avoid this, you should pay close attention to what I said today. Thanks!” That would sure have cleared up a bunch of stuff.
Make no mistake about one thing: When people ask you if you’re “saved” (they ask that a lot in Kentucky, by the way), they mean saved from Hell. My typical response is “I’m pretty comfortable with my status.” A piece of advice: Don’t borrow that. It never works. It just leads to more questions and the inescapable conclusion that the yawning mouth of Hell awaits.
Carlton Pearson is an interesting fellow. He’s a minister, but I guess he calls himself a bishop of something. He’s a former protegé of Oral Roberts. He doesn’t believe in Hell. It’s that simple. I’m not sure I agree with all he says, of course, since I don’t agree with almost anyone on any subject, but it’s a fascinating ministry. As you might expect, he’s also considered a heretic in some circles, which likely condemns him to the Hell in which he does not believe. He operates from a simple premise: No one really knows what happens when you die. Wow. That’s some strong stuff for a preacher to say, but I agree. I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. Now, some folks have great faith in Heaven and the same faith in Hell. I don’t have faith in Hell.
Here’s where I lose faith in Hell. I’ve known lots of good, fine people–some in my own family–who either weren’t Christians or were Christians in the loosest sense of the word. I just don’t see these otherwise fine folks burning for all eternity in misery. Ghandi? Hell. The Dalai Lama? Hell. Thomas Jefferson? Hell. All the people who never heard of Christianity? Hell. Hell’s bells, indeed. God doesn’t drive that hard a bargain.
Now, there seems to be a consensus (with the likely exception of the Westboro Baptist Church) that small children don’t take the rocket sled to Hell, but I’m not sure why. Probably because it just wouldn’t be decent. A Hell crammed full of kids just seems mean. No kids allowed.
To believe in God is impossible. To not believe in Him is absurd.
By now, you’re probably saying: This guy is some kind of atheist. Sorry to disappoint, but no, I’m not. There isn’t “some kind” of atheist. Atheism is an all or nothing game. You believe in nothing. In my youth, I pondered whether I was an atheist at one point, until I realized that atheism requires the utmost, unshakable faith–absolute certitude. I can never get there. Christianity–and religion in general–has a lot more wiggle room. A mustard seed of faith, as Jesus noted, is all one needs. That won’t cut it with atheism. You can’t say: “Hey, I’m willing to believe that there is no God. Tell me more!” Atheists don’t allow doubt.
I’m told that the Earth was formed like 60 bazillion years ago by a big explosion out of nothingness and that life started and evolved over billions of years. I can’t really argue with that, because I just don’t know. I guess I believe that, but it takes a big leap of faith to do so. For my mind, it’s no easier to believe that than it is to believe in God.
If you ARE an atheist, I don’t care. It doesn’t offend me, and I’m not going to try to make you believe what I do. Like Thomas Jefferson said, it doesn’t harm me if you believe in 20 gods or none. Carry on.
A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there
I’m a back slider, as the Baptists say. I don’t like going to church. That’s not a good thing, I don’t suppose. Just a fact. I’m not sure why. I think it’s just boring to me. Again, I’m not all swelled up with pride over that, either. I’d like to have the enthusiasm for it that I see in some people.
I don’t care if people at church are hypocrites. Isn’t the church where they SHOULD be? Seems to me that we should want all the worst sinners to show up every time the doors are open. It’s probably where I need to be, too. I’d like to get into it, but it never took. I didn’t lose my religion as much as I just had a tenuous grasp on it. I’m lucky to have held on to any of it.
Could be that when we die, we meet God. We might look around and see Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians of all stripes–everyone. I would say: “Uh, God, what’s the deal? How’d they get in?” I imagine God saying: “Look, since the Tower of Babel, I gave up on you people being able to do much together. I knew if I gave you only one way to get here, you’d screw it up. So, I gave you some alternatives.” But, I’d have to ask: “Ok, but what about the ones who, you know, didn’t believe anything?” God would say: “Oh, them? They went straight to Hell, of course. You all weren’t wrong about EVERYTHING!”