Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Am I a Christian?

Am I a Christian? I honestly don't know. In the past months I've begun and abandoned multiple posts attempting to answer the question so today I'm just going to recount a story from my girlhood to see where it leads.

My father was a Congregationalist minister. His library was full of bibles and concordances, histories, philosophies, and theological treatises. As a teenager I took to pouring over some of these texts. I must have been reading a book that took a more skeptical approach to Christianity because I found myself in a conversation with my father about whether or not Jesus was real.

He told me that the first thing they told him at seminary was that there was insufficient evidence to indicate the historical reality of Jesus and that even if he did exist, it was almost certainly not in the form now familiar to us through tradition. I remember he used the phrase, "they pulled the rug out from underneath us." Why would they do that, I wondered?

He told me that it was to help the students, who had committed themselves to a life of Christian service, find what they really believed beyond the literalistic idolatry of fundamentalist belief. My father, who always said that doubt was as important as faith, said that a literalistic faith is weak. Because it demands a literal truth, it is easily destroyed by evidence to the contrary. And then he told me that in the end, it did not matter to him whether or not Christ ever lived. The story and the Truth it contained was enough. It is enough to believe that Tenderness, Joy, Mercy, Humility, Passion, and Peace will save the world.

So what if Jesus did not exist? Or what if he did live and teach but his message was not so uncompromisingly beautiful? What if it was all just a hopeful story dreamed up by his sorrowing people long after his death? Dad said it just didn't matter. He said the hope in that story was worth living.

Since that conversation there have been many injuries and disappointments for us within the Church. We came to find in our Protestant tradition a dysfunctional home in which too often a literalist interpretation of the bible led people toward arrogance, intolerance, and even hatred- all in the name of Christ. Twenty years after that conversation, neither Dad nor I call ourselves Christian. I call myself a Pagan and he calls himself an atheist, but when we talk about love, and justice, and joy, the word we most often use to mean all those things is still "Christ-like."

And we still believe.

3 comments:

kate said...

I've often thought that organized religion is a lot like the game 'telephone'; the original message is nothing like the message that makes it to the last person in line.
I find myself agreeing with your father. The message, Tenderness, Joy, Mercy, Humility, Passion, and Peace - matters more than whether the messenger ever existed.

Karl said...

I once read an article entitled "Holy Terror," which described and advertised an upcoming book by the same name.

The piece opened with a vivid description of a 700 Club broadcast where Pat Robertson had Pat Boone, Billy Graham, and Ronald Reagan as his guests. At some point in the show, Reagan, Graham, and Boone joined hands in prayer (what an image! I haven't been able to get rid of it for thirty years). At some point, Pat's eyes glazed over, then rolled-up into his head, and Billy held his hand tightly, and Reagan just looked blankly ahead, as Pat's body shook, being "slain in the Spirit" Pat came out of it after a minute, and proclaimed that God had given him a vision.

Yes, a wondrous vision where Pat B. saw Ronald riding a horse into Washington, and right up to 1800 Pennsylvania Avenue. Robertson then ejaculated: "1800 Pennsylvania Avenue! Why, isn't that the address of the White House?" "Indeed!, Praise God!" exclaimed another. But then, one of the show assistants walked up and whispered something into Pat R's ear. Robertson then flushed a little, and said "Uh, that address should be 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, but the prophesy is right!"

It was the third year of Carter's Administration, and I laughed, and thought "how can anyone be dumb enough to believe that happy horse sh..! (er Pferdenschei├če!)?" Well, I guess Barnum was right, "no one ever got rich by overestimating the intelligence of the American public." I wonder if Guns for hostages, or the October Surprise was part of God's plan as revealed to Pat?

I liked Kate's analogy of the game of telephone. In this case though, I think Pat Boone may have received and obscene call to begin with.

I like to think of "real" Christianity as you, Hystery and Kate, suggest in consensus - that what's important are those qualities ofcompassion,
"Tenderness, Joy, Mercy, Humility, Passion, and Peace, which were so focused upon in the gospels, yet so seldom practiced by Christ professed, prevaricating neocons, and their abortion and gay-hating, nominative Christian cohorts in mass manipulation.

If I sound Marxist in my assertions that religion is primarily a social control device, then I'm indeed Neo-Marxist. Karl Marx did say "religion is the opiate of the masses, but few U.S. histories include his conclusion "but it's the only heart in a heartless world."

Yes, I'm a liberal, Zen Buddhist Practiced, Kashmir Shavim, and Wiccan influenced, mystic experienced Christian - and I hate to define my sense of spirituality in such a narrow fashion. A Marxist too? Well, people are bundles of contradictions, perhaps that's why people hyphenate themselves so much these days, especially regarding Spirituality. I loved that blog you did a year or so ago on "hyphenated spirituality."

Warm wishes from your Celto-Teutonic-Zen Christian friend with a probable Pagan bloodline.

Karl

Lone Star Ma said...

Well, you know how I feel about it - Christian, Pagan, whatever - it's about the Light.