At the kitchen table alone, after having a bite to eat, my emotions raging (again) … then and there is where I decided to “throw in the towel,” so to speak. Once and for all, I decided my Christian faith was not only gutted but dead, and so I also decided to bury the rotting corpse. This was a few months ago. The morning after felt strange but good; like an enormous burden had been lifted… Then came the “voice,” inaudible but clear: “Begin again, but this time without any of your books and learned-but-pathetic ‘knowledge.’ Begin again with the shortest, clearest, most straightforward gospel – the Gospel of St. Mark. Let it be the beginning of an entirely new journey, and who knows? You might end up meeting the totally unexpected … something; someone, perhaps, you’ve never before met.”
Well, so I began just like that: No books, and no wisdom or learning. I came as close to starting with a clean slate as I could – to be a tabula rasa – and I largely succeeded. And, yes, I was surprised many times upon reading through the synoptic gospels of Sts. Mark, Luke, and Matthew. For one very important example, I felt as if I were meeting Jesus of Nazareth for the very first time, and he was not (of course) the Westernized, evangelical-Protestant version of the Christ. Point in fact, he was all-too-human while being to a certain degree, at least, divine. And he was radical… Not that I’d never realized any of this before; it just came to me in a fresher, clearer … hmmm, what word to use? It came to me as an authentically, flesh-and-blood, dirt-and-grime, narrative, picture-story.
During this extended kind of epiphany, though, I also finally faced up to the fact that my faith had been dead for quite some time … if I ever had a real and vibrant faith! There were just too many questions, too many readily apparent problems for me to continue telling people I was a Christian, but then, I didn’t want to tell anyone I was not Christian anymore; it’s been a predicament up to this very moment, actually. So I will now change to the present tense and say, there are too many obstacles to traditional Christianity that simply cannot be exegetically worked out, or theologically patched over. For example, there really is an enormous difference between the Gospel of St. John and the synoptics. There’s marked difference between what is (academically) referred to as Pauline and Johannine “Christianity,” and just as much difference both of those Christianities and that of the synoptic Gospels… So, three different Christianities from which to choose. (And to the extent that I am still oriented toward this ancient faith-religion, I am far more Johannine.)
Furthermore, there really are two different creation stories, and both really are better off being interpreted allegorically. There really was not any worldwide, Great Flood… Yes, yes; I’d known this for many, many years; all of my adult life, really. It just happened that these realizations come along with others, such as: No good, historical evidence for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because if, indeed, they existed, then they were very simply unimportant in the grand scheme of the whole of the Ancient Near East (ANE). Which leads to another realization: Israel hardly made a blimp on the radar screen; it was a tiny kingdom even at the height of its power and glory, (supposedly during the reign of Süleyman.) And the “God of Israel?” This god paled in comparison to the myriad other deities of the ANE, which really does little to diminish the importance of Yahweh — or the Exodus, the Decalogue, the Temple, etc. — but still…
Questions came to mind, questions I’d refused to grapple with before this spiritual pilgrimage, such as: Why in the world would an all-powerful, singular Sovereign of the Universe require … no, command worship? Certainly not out of necessity, but then why would this deity command “his people” to commit wholesale genocide instead of giving the Canaanites an opportunity to repent, believe in and worship him? You know, kind of like he gave Nineveh an opportunity (because God didn’t want to destroy the people of that great and magnificent city.) And just what was Yahweh up to in all the rest of the world during Old Testament times? Or was he confined to the Hebrew/Jewish people … and, of course, the land? Was the Spirit of God moving and active among other peoples? If not, then why not?
For whom were the Hebrew scriptures written? (The answer is obvious, but I consciously asked myself anyway because I needed to openly, honestly answer this simple, straightforward question.) Whom did Jesus intend to “seek and to save?” What was/is the “kingdom of God?” Where is it; how is it constituted? Did Jesus of Nazareth accomplish all he intended to accomplish, or did he fail in his mission to bring about, or usher in, the “kingdom of God?” Moreover, just what did Jesus accomplish? I know the standard answers, but… Why the torturous death (murder) of the Son of God? And if salvation is the answer, (which still makes no sense of the tortured death of Christ), what of the millions upon millions upon millions of people who could not come to Jesus then in the time of Jesus and his apostles, down through the ages, all the way to this present moment? Hell? Oh, and really … hell? Even for the most sincere and devout Buddhist, or Hindu, or Muslim, who lives an exceptionally virtuous, peaceful, happy life? Hell? Because they didn’t “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior?” Hmmm.
Oh, and what exactly happens when one “accepts Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior?” Many different stripes of Christians give different answers: They are certainly justified before God, and maybe immediately filled with the Holy Spirit, or that may wait as a kind of “second blessing.” They are filled with “perfect love.” Their residency in heaven is secured from that moment forward … or maybe not! They should be baptized, even if they were baptized as an infant, or they need not be baptized again. They have the right to partake of the very real body and blood of Christ, and should exercise that privilege as often as possible. Or they should join a good, “bible-believing” Church, find out what their “spiritual gifts” are, and begin “ministering” in the church ASAP. And the list goes on, but I will not … I did not. Instead, the list went into file 13 never to be taken back.
Oh, but I could no longer ignore the deplorable state of the Church universal either: All of the divorces and broken families; pornography, teen pregnancy, drug abuse; the extremely fractured Church itself into thousands of denominations; financial scandals; sexual abuse of children; equating genuine faith with true patriotism; etc. But do you know that despite all of this (and much more), I’m still in a kind of “holding pattern.” Yes, because I do believe in “God,” the Spirit of Life, and I want to believe (finally) in prayer; I do not want to turn my back on Jesus of Nazareth, and thus far I have not; and I actually want to live out the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, the Beatitudes … that is, Light and Life, Love and Peace. Ah! But I can never, ever go back to the way things were, back to the turbulent days of spiritual insanity…
But what now? What do I believe?
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