Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Am I a Christian?

I'm a self-identified Pagan (because I venerate nature and utilize a variety of Pagan and Neo-Pagan religious symbols and metaphors to assist me in my spiritual growth). I am a post-Christian (because I reject the history of the organized church almost in its entirety from my context in a multicultural, post-colonial, postmodernist world), a spiritual feminist (because ecology and gynocentric spirituality are deeply connected), a Goddess-woman (because although "God" is no more a woman than a man, the development of the metaphor has healing properties), a freethinker (because like Lucretia Mott, I accept Truth for Authority and not Authority for Truth).

I write this because it must be said. You have to know that I'm "that kind of person" before you can answer my question. My other blog entries begin to grapple with these labels. I am playing with theologies and thealogies, with linguistics, history, philosophies and theories here. I have written at length about all of these labels and will do so again. But not this time. Let's see what happens when I don't.

1. I am not a Christian because I don't believe in the special divinity of Jesus of Nazareth.

2. I am not a Christian because most people who call themselves Christians would certainly exclude me from the definition given my devotion to and interest in the above mentioned beliefs and affiliations.

3. I reject and do not wish to be associated with the lion's share of orthodox believers in any Abrahamic religion not just because they do not share my view (which is not a problem) but because they pronounce them inferior, dangerous or even evil (regardless of their understanding or lack thereof).

4. I do not wish to be associated with a religious perspective that has used monotheism to justify devastating those with whom it disagrees. I'd rather cast my lot with non-theists, polytheists, pantheists and complex monotheists who are open to more (and even conflicting) varieties of truth.

So why can't I leave it there? Why does THE QUESTION plague me still? Why when I answer, "I am not a Christian" does a little part of me wince?

1. Because the teachings of Jesus remain the center and foundation of my values.

2. Because despite my fascination with and knowledge of other spiritual perspectives, I judge all things as good only if they do not disagree fundamentally with his teachings especially related to love (agape).

3. At the end of the day, my love for him is somehow different than my admiration for any other historical figure. The thought of him still brings me to tears regardless of my belief that he was "just a man." My brain may always deny his divinity but I believe my heart would leap in his presence.

4. I know that many Christian individuals and groups do/did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God or otherwise specially divine. Heterodoxy is not the same as unbelief or disinterest. That orthodox people exclude me does not mean that heterodox people would exclude me. Should I exclude myself?

5. My relationship with his teaching and with his history, his mythology, his people is undeniable, deep, permanent, and emotionally significant. He remains at the center of who I am as a spiritual person. His story lies at the center of what I believe and who I am.

So am I a Christian? God only knows.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hello Hystery,

Thanks for sharing your spiritual journey and your passionate concern in these last couple of posts.

I've had a very different life journey, but am seeking as one of the readers of you blog, to listen deeply to you and your thoughtful reflections.

As a backpacker, Sierra Club member, etc., I find some things in Nature to appreciate. I think the big difference between us is I find the dark side of Nature much more troubling. I would imagine you, too,struggle with natural evil such as the tidal wave that killed over 200,000 in Indonesia. And there are the terrible diseases such as the one which killed my dear aunt.

Where we may sometimes cross paths is with rejecting "the history of the organized church..."

This last month, I have been so devastated by my experience with a Christian church, that I am seriously considering returning to my stance I took for a while in the 70's where I didn't call myself a Christian because so often the word "Christian" means nearly everything I most oppose.

I am a follower of Jesus, a friend of him because in his words such as the Sermon on the Mount I see the "the face" of God.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi, Hystery,
The more I read your blog, the more I love to read it! You have a talent for tackling head-on the questions I also must wrestle with, and also (and even better, to my polytheistic little heart) you do so from a different angle than I might, so I learn something I never can from my own thoughts and perceptions!

When you say that "My brain may always deny his divinity but I believe my heart would leap in his presence," that seems terribly significant to me. An aspect of my own religious experience that is really essential is what Hindus call "bhakti"--the experience of deep love and devotion for the god as beloved.

Beyond ideas, beyond, intellect and reason, there's that place of simply falling in love with a god. And I know that that weighs nothing in terms of those whose concept of religion is creedal, but it is such an important part of my own experience of God and religion that I don't care how out of fashion it is in the West, I just think it deserves special recognition. It's important dammit--who we are called to love.

Daniel, your comment reminds me of a relative who used to remind Peter and me that nature is "red in tooth and claw." I know that, when I've seen Peter grieving, and the only words of comfort the Goddess spoke to him were "Why should I treat you differently than any of my other children?" I felt pretty unhappy.

Oddly enough, I find the acceptance I have of Nature and Nature's gods as part of a universe in which the AIDS virus can thrive while puppies and small children die, reflected in the Biblical account of Job. I know there are a lot of ways that that story can be read--and I know that Marshall M., at least, differs with my reading of it quite strenuously. But I find comfort in MacLeish's play based on Job, and on Job's wife's comments to him near the end of the play.

"Sarah: You wanted justice, didn't you?
There isn't any. There's the world...
Cry for justice and the stars Will stare until your eyes sting. Weep,
Enormous winds will thrash the water.
Cry in sleep for your lost children,
Snow will fall...
Snow will fall...

I loved you.
...You wanted justice and there was none--
Only love."

It's not MacLeish's intent, I'm fairly sure, but I find, in Sarah's words, all the justification for the God of Israel or the Gods of Nature I need. Sarah in the play is speaking only for herself, but to me, she speaks also for the divine.

I do not ask there be justice--provided there may be love. And I am convinced (particularly since becoming a Quaker) that there is.

For me, it is enough.

Hystery said...

Dear Daniel and Cat,

You both have been pushing me away from cynicism. I've been treading more gently in my own mind because of your kindness.

I am working on a blog entry now related to my thoughts about Darkness and the brutality that exists both in the natural and social worlds. This is a critical topic for me. In fact, it is a primary topic of concern for me. For these past many years, I have made the study of darkness, sin, evil, death, etc. a special project (not in some kind of goth way but as an academic topic). I laugh at myself. Maybe it is because I'm a Scorpio. Maybe it's all those Calvinist clergymen in my family line. Could be genetics. :-)

Cat, I'm so pleased that you picked up on and expanded upon the theme of the passionate love of the divine figure. I fell in love with Christ when I was a little girl. I adored Aslan. I pined for Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar and still become tearful and thrilled by various devotional songs especially when sung from a woman's perspective. I read devotionals, and attempted to pray unceasingly. I dreamed of going to seminary from the age of 13 and began reading my father's concordances and commentaries in preparation. I'm probably one of the few Pagans who has surrounded herself with literally hundreds of books on Christianity. I count four bibles in my sight right now as a I type! lol The think is that I firmly differentiate between Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ. They are not necessarily the same "person" although the history of the Nazarene serves the myth of the Christ. What makes me a non-Christian is that I don't believe that Jesus' service to this Myth was unique.

My love for the Christ has strong romantic overtones and always has. I identify strongly with Mary Magdalene and as I aged, I grew deeply interested in Christian mysticism, particularly as expressed by women. It interests me to read how others throughout history have utilized the powerful metaphor of romantic love for the divine. The Bible is full of it. So is the history of both the East and the West.

This romantic attachment fits very well with my interest in Pagan mythologies. When I see images of the Green Man or other male dying/rising gods, my devotion to this male energy intensifies. But it is certainly not maleness itself that I adore (although men and boys are adorable). I do not believe that divinity is especially attached to the male form. Gnosticism, Neo-Pagan Goddess spirituality, and Hildegard of Bingen are all helpful in making this point.

My spiritual experience hints to me that humans have been experiencing the Divine in our very bodies and relationships from our beginnings and since then, we've been telling the same passionate story. When I stepped outside of my Christian background, I was surprised to see the God of my childhood was not contained in any one religion, in any one gender, in any one metaphor, in any one story. I grew more amazed.

So I never rejected the story of the Christ. I just began telling it in different languages. Truth be told, I think the Christ story is the best told because it combines the ancient tale of birth, death and regeneration with a poignant story of selfless love. I see these elements in other mythologies but not so well and carefully joined. (I think the NT writers really benefited from their literary and cultural context.) It is Christlike passion and compassion combined that draws me close. This is an energy that exists in me, in my embodied female experience. It is an energy that despite its power, despite its ability to make me feel humble and even shy, is still intimate and available.

Lone Star Ma said...

For me, too - a heterodox Christian/pantheist who doesn't think the Divine does disasters or rescues - just Love.

Bright Crow said...

Friend Hystery,

You speak my mind with graceful clarity and exactness, as if we knew each other intimately.

Thank you.

Your four "I am not a Christian..." points resonate with my concerns; your five on loving Jesus, even more so.

I've been reading my way slowly through Frederick Buechner's sermons in Secrets in the Dark.

Buechner is a master at preaching very honestly out of doubt and discomfort. Most recently he caught me by surprise with this passage:

"Even when you are not sure who Jesus is or what you are supposed to believe about him--even when you have never been very good, God knows, at following him, whatever that means--even then, I think, you can't help loving him in at least some half-embarrassed, half-hidden way." (243)

You take me by surprise, too:

"My spiritual experience hints to me that humans have been experiencing the Divine in our very bodies and relationships from our beginnings and since then, we've been telling the same passionate story.

"When I stepped outside of my Christian background, I was surprised to see the God of my childhood was not contained in any one religion, in any one gender, in any one metaphor, in any one story. I grew more amazed.

"So I never rejected the story of the Christ. I just began telling it in different languages."

Are we twins? :-)

Cat goes right to the point with bhakti and the MacLeish passage. Thanks, Cat.

And thanks, Daniel. My only hesitation comes with your phrase "natural evil."

I don't believe that disasters and suffering which arise from Nature are evil. They just are.

My take on Eden myth is that humankind was created mortal but fell into labeling pain and suffering and death as "evil." The Creator "expelled" humankind in order to protect us from becoming immortal while we still labor under this false belief.

Anyway...thanks, all of you.

Blesséd Be,

Amaya Fernández-Menicucci said...

Hello, Hystery. My name is Amaya (from Spain)and you just gave me goose-bumps with your list of beliefs. It's soooo good to know that someone out there is on a journey so very similar to mine.

Another Pagan/Christian(???)woman.

Hystery said...


Thank you so much! Perhaps I am a Pagan/Christian. What I am looking for is not a syncretist faith born out of feel-good consumerism but a more conscious and conscientious synthesis of the best of Christian and Pagan ethics.

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