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Faith (5.11.2002)

The Journey...

5.11.02 - Minneapolis, MN.

The last several weeks have been significant ones for me. starting in early 1990 the underlying foundation of my life was Christianity. i was never one to back down from the tough intellectual questions that following that faith brought with it, yet every day certain notions dogged me. i went through a variety of tough life circumstances and they challenged the very essence of what i believed.

i think the thing that started to turn me off in the first place was simply observing Christians. the people i saw in church were a bunch of closed-minded, scripture quoting robots. now, i don't mind people who will tell me something and then be prepared to debate the merits of what was said but FAR too often the underlying premise behind their arguments was simply "it's in the Bible, that's why".

i felt that my friends, and even myself, were judged by these people. i have friends who are gay, lesbian and bisexual. recently i have befriended some people who are gender-neutral (or maybe gender sharing). Christians are very quick to judge these people and not give them the time of day. however, it has been my experience that when the chips were down it is that motley collection of friends who were there for me... while the church goers weren't.

now, i have been blessed by God with a very intelligent and logical mind.  i grew up learning the Scientific Method: if you have a theory that does not hold up to observation and experiement then that theory must be either modified or discarded. science wasn't my God but it did force me to think very closely about anything and everything that i was going to claim as being something i believed.

while strong in my Christianity i learned how to defend aspects of my faith in the stickiest of scientific debates. how can the Bible claim a young (4-6000 years) universe when science sees stars that are billions of light years away? when i was on that side of the debate i was consistently finding Christians who simply wanted to latch on to evolution and the big bang theory. the funny thing was that i could give them an answer that didn't require more faith than what they wanted to believe. taking the Bible litereally wasn't good enough for them. they had their notions that contradict scripture and were okay with that. yet when i ask hard questions such as the whole "predestination vs. free will" thing i get the answer spit back in my face. "There are just some things we'll never know until we die". while there are some exceptions, the vast majority of Christians i know make me sick in their inability to think for themselves. if i am to judge the fruits of a faith by its followers then i would never be a Christian.

if truth is truth, and assuming that this truth, by its very nature, desired to be known, then why is it so difficult for many the most intelligent people to accept Christianity if it is indeed the truth.

now, given the whole "all fall short of the glory of God" thing, i know that Christianity and Christians are two completely different things. it's possible that every single Christian in the world could misinterpret the Bible and yet Christianity, as defined in the Bible, could still be true. the merits of Christianity come not, then, from purely observing Christians but from the very source of what they claim to believe, the core teaching of Jesus Christ. the message portrayed in the new testament is one of a personal God, a scenario where God speaks to His children, answering their prayers. His children will be persecuted for what they believe and they are expected to endure. the promises are great, the price sometimes severe to the point of death. so what of it?

i can take all of my head-knowledge but it means nothing to me unless it is relevant in my life. so what is my experience of what i'm supposed to believe? i spent twelve years as a Christian and i took heart in the foreknowledge that i would be persecuted or ridiculed for my faith. this DID occur and i took it in stride. the whole 'personal' thing, however, just never seemed to work for me. i cried out to God in my joy and in my angst and failed to hear a word. the couple times i thought i DID hear a response i was quickly shown to be wrong. maybe i just couldn't hear Him but i sure did try, over and over again.

my next oberservation was that it was difficult for me to believe in the power of prayer for others, even if i couldn't see it in myself. people pray for things. sometimes different people pray about something from both sides of the same issue. can both prayers be answered? impossible. where two or more are gathered prayers are supposed to be honored. there have been many noble causes where hundreds of people have prayed for something to no avail. and then there are the prayers that ARE answered. these bring great joy to people and reaffirm their faith. they take the good but overlook the bad, the times where their prayers fell short and challenged their faith. but my observations (and this is from memory, not a thorough study) seem to indicate that the percentage of times that things work out due to 'answered prayers' isn't all that different from the percentage of times that things work out for non-Christians who aren't praying at all. is 'answered prayer' simply an interpretation of otherwise normal statistics?

does prayer make no difference at all? i don't believe this to be the case, however i do think that the effects of prayer do not necessarily manifest themselves in the way that most people think. there are stories about dying people who pray, and hold on to that prayer, that they will live. then, miraculously, they survive. doctors can't explain the change, did the prayer help? again, in my non-scientific study, i think that prayer HAS had an effect but one of a purely internal nature. was it God hearing a prayer and then reaching down and touching someone to heal them? or was it a difference inside one's own spirit that gave them the strength to keep fighting, sometimes against hope, to hold on to life? i think that, whether or not the former is true, the effects of the latter cannot be dismissed.

oh yeah, i might should mention here that i have had formal training in physics and since then have continued to amuse myself by reading up on the latest theories on quantum theory and the quest for the ever-elusive "Theory of Everything". I have spent hours upon hours considering the nature of the very fabric of space-time, the notions of causality, the possibilities of time-travel, and the information all of these observations might suggest about a possible divine Creator who exists outside of, yet somehow also inside, our created universe. black holes and tachyons, coupled with the previously mentioned topic of predestination/free will, make it very difficult for me to believe that mankind could possibly have free will if God can indeed affect or direct the future. however, even if He didn't influence the future, our understanding of Him existing outside of our own universe also means that He exists outside of time itself (thanks to Einstein for illustrating that time isn't as constant as we used to think it to be). If He exists outside of time itself and somehow created it then i have to think that He knows all about what He created. which sort of involves the fact that He knows what will happen and when, thereby rendering it impossible for things to happen any other way. this locks in our future and we are no longer able to claim that we have any choice in affecting our own futures. this is not an appealing thought. i could go into more physics here but now is not the time.

c.s. lewis argues for an absolute standard of truth. while i sort of agree with him there was one point in time i also agreed in the notion of a black and white truth. that is, on any given matter there is hard-and-fast best way to handle it or make decisions. since i released my grip on Christianity (or was it the other way around?) i've given myself freedom to consider things in ways that i previously didn't allow. and the most comforting position that i've come to is that while truth itself might be absolute, the application of this truth often times relies heavily on the context in question. the two topics that i've recently had challenging disucssions about involve abortion and the 'sacredness' of physical affection.

i recently had a chance to talk with a woman who works at an abortion clinic. now, i am not one who supports the notion of people getting abortions out of convenience. however, i'd always been troubled by what i thought were grey areas. what happens if there is a high probability that the mother would die if the child was carried and/or delivered? what happens in the case of a rape pregnancy where the first nine months would be hell, knowing that the seed planted inside her was one from a deranged madman? and then after the birth of the child the very child would be a mixed blessing and reminder of a traumatic event. what of poor, uneducated people, perhaps married and attemtping to use birth control without the awareness of how to be successful in such things. the couple is poor but they love each other. they don't want a kid because they can't afford even to live just the two of them on their own. yet, a child is conceived and they are forced with a choice: abortion, or a horrible atmosphere for a child to grow up in, long hours, the potential ruin of their own two lives. in this last case i am not endorsing abortion. but neither am i condemning it. i am simply saying that i am no longer black-and-white on the matter and that i personally do not know where to draw the line.

the other topic ties in a little bit. i was speaking with a friend about her limits of being 'friendly' with people she wasn't dating. and she told me that her body was completely not important to her, that the important thing was the notion of being able to offer love and commitment from within. this was something i had previously considered and dismissed as being an easy way to justify being able to do whatever you wanted, whenever and with whomever. then she told me why she felt that way and it sucked all of the air out of my argument. what comes from within must be given. this is also something i suggested applied to sex and physical acts of affection. she proceeded to tell me that the very first time she had sex was not a gift, she was raped, while yet an innocent, in another country. this sex was not given by her, it was stolen from her. the only thing she could GIVE that could not be TAKEN originates completely within. i haven't completed my thoughts on the matter but i sure could see her point and it further encouraged me to think about truth in ways other than black and white.

so.... all of this said, this provides a snapshot into my thoughts. there are many more thoughts that i haven't included here. they might follow, they might not. where i am left is in a position that gradually led me from being a Christian to being something that no longer qualifies to bear that label. is this scary? leaving anything that you've clung to for 12 years almost can't be otherwise. the important distinction, for me, is that my 'decision' to leave wasn't really a decision as such. when the moment came for me to decide if the label fit there was no more changing to be done, i had eased to where i was, inch by inch, thought by thought, over the past several years. i was completely out of the circle before i realized i was even leaving it. so if you've known me in the past couple of years you will find me not much different in any way except a label and the solidification (or lack of) of my world view.

lastly, while i invite intelligent debate i do not plan to sit placidly and be preached to. i didn't come to this position lightly and i have read the Bible many times. i know all of the verses that you could throw at me and they will not break new ground the next time i hear them. i'm not saying that i'm never going to consider Christianity again. what i AM saying is that my quest for truth will no longer be limited by predefined constraints. if i seek truth and that truth wants to be found then my journey will never be in vain.

-- dan