An old friend from high school and college just asked me some rather deep question about my religious experience and beliefs. I thought that they were interesting enough to share, both the questions and my answers. For reference, I was raised in an Evangelical Church (Presbyterian); became an atheist when I went to college; began practicing Buddhism later in college and developing it significantly in the Marine Corps, where I was stationed in Japan for three years; turned to Gnosticism later as a more symbolically-familiar system of mystagogy; and eventually returned to Christianity through the Episcopal Church, although with a strongly mystical/Gnostic outlook.
I have a question, in your switch to Christianity. I was wondering did you just one day say I believe. Where before it was the absence of belief.
When I was a child, of course, I never thought to questions the teachings of the Presbyterian Church. They were presented to me as fact by people who seemed very certain in their knowledge. But even then, it seemed as if something were missing. I remember once asking my baby-sitter (this was before I was in kindergarten) what it was like when she prayed. I tried to pray when the grown-ups did, but I never felt anything from it. They always looked so sincere, and I was sure that I was missing out on some special connection that everyone else had. But I wasn’t.
Later, in Junior high school, I started reading about Christian history. I found found all sorts of references to ritual practices (such as the celebration of the Eucharist), holy meditation, vigils, constant formulaic prayers, etc. But my religious “mentors” assured me that this was all evil stuff that true Christians did not participate in; true salvation lay in sitting in a pew once a week to listen to a preacher tell me how grocery shopping on Wednesday reminded him of John 3:16. Once a month, we had saltines and grape juice for no apparent reason (the passage about the Last Supper was read, but no one there was having saltines and grape juice, nor was any special significance placed on the congregation partaking or not). “Spiritual Development” seemed mostly to consist of feeling superior to others, who would go to Hell after death for participating in a long list of no-no’s which had no basis in the Bible… Even though the Bible was supposed to be inerrant history and the sole foundation of the faith.
It was my inability to reconcile the idea of a a God who was supposed to be all-good and all-loving, with a God who would condemn people to eternal Hellfire for betting on the outcome of a card game, which eventually led me to break entirely with the Church and declare myself an atheist.
One of the great problems that the modern Church faces, is that it has almost entirely replaced mystagogy (the actual spiritual development of the individual) with evangelism (trying to get more people through the door). Mystagogy is what develops the Gnosis Kardia, the wordless understanding of the heart. “Belief” is the vehicle of evangelism; it has nothing to do with mystagogy. My return to the Church, therefore was not a matter of “belief”; it was a process of development, as I discovered the (for me) rather neutral mystagogy of Buddhism, then eventually translated it into the far richer symbology of the Gnostic tradition, and from there to Liturgical Christianity via the Episcopal Church.
Did you feel an emptiness, or a search for something. I am searching.
Yes. There was always an emptiness, from that first question about prayer. Becoming an atheist didn’t resolve the issue at all; it just gave me an excuse to ignore it, or pretend it was something else. Something easy. I like to say, “Atheism is not the Truth; it is the abdication of the search”.
But I have a problem with organized religion, I believe there is a supreme being, but GOD as people interpret him and Jesus I don’t understand or believe.
One of the primary reasons I eventually joined the Episcopal Church is that they don’t have a theology. The Church exists as a vehicle for the Sacraments and the spiritual development of its members; reading and understanding the Bible is up to the individual. For example, the focus of every service is the Holy Eucharist, the physical expression of the Grace of God. Episcopalians do believe in trans-substantiation, with the simple explanation that “the Christ said, ‘this is My body’, therefore it is.” It is not a hollow eating of saltines and grape juice as I grew up with, nor is there a complex catechism of specific belief I am required to accept as with the Roman Catholic Church. I participate in a powerful ritual, and it is up to me find the meaning of it.
This, to me, is absolutely the perfect function of a Church.
Do you take the Bible at its finite meaning, as there is no room for interpretation.
THAT is a very complex question. Here is my basic answer: it doesn’t matter if you want to believe in the Bible, or you’re trying to disprove it. If you are reading it as a monolithic history textbook, you are wrong.
“The Bible” is actually an anthology–or, if you are a Greek primacist (you believe that the New Testament was originally written in Greek), several DIFFERENT anthologies. Happily, a basic linguistic analysis (or just a bit of common sense) demonstrates that the New Testament was originally written in ARAMAIC, as a collection known as the Peshitta. The Old Testament, although commonly read from Hebrew, was probably also written in Aramaic originally–but since Hebrew and Aramaic are essentially dialects of the same language, this isn’t NEARLY as important as recognizing the Aramaic New Testament.
The fact that the Bible is an anthology important, because not every book in it was written for the same purpose. While there are some historical references, the modern idea of “history” was not practiced in ancient Aramaic culture. Some books of the Bible are prophecy, some are mythology, some are codes of conduct for Aramaic culture. So, while I do accept the books of the Bible as true, that truth has nothing to do with historical accuracy or scientific validity.
The fact that the Bible is Aramaic is even more important. Aramaic, like all Semitic languages, is deeply symbolic. The Bible is full of idiom and cultural references which are vital to actually understanding the meaning if the texts, yet are lost when one attempts to read an English translation as an historical account (not to mention the translation differences and errors of translation from Aramaic to Greek–which is why there are so many Greek Bibles which all disagree with each other). Can you imagine one of the Apostles reading about a lightsaber? He would have no basis to really understand the concept, unless he also studied the language and culture which produced it. That is what happens when someone picks up a King James Bible and tries to use it like a textbook of science and history.
Reblogged this on Home of the Little-Known Blogger and commented:
One of the posts which established the current direction of my blog. Still pretty good.
“It was my inability to reconcile the idea of a God who was supposed to be all-good and all-loving”
I’ve studied the problem of evil a few different times under a couple different professors and this section of it always bugged me. It almost feels like skeptics are rigging the deck, as I was never led to believe that God was an all-good, all-loving individual. In speaking with my Catholic boyfriend, he’s never heard such a thing either. Does the Biblical text ever say this?
I totally get your critique of Presbyterian church, along with most other popular Protestant churches. I’m a Southerner, so I grew up around a lot of Protestants, especially Baptists, and a lot of what they learned as children was such empty, judgmental garbage – leading pretty much all of them to do a 180 in college and become atheists. Meanwhile, I could never be an atheist despite never having a formal religious upbringing. I don’t personally think I’ll ever feel at home worshipping anything, as the concept is just too exotic and strange to me having not grown up with it, but *belief* is a different matter. I will always believe in something.
So, your story is a very familiar one to me. One of my most religious friends (Presbyterian) actually turned out to be gay in high school, and his father nearly kicked him out. Meanwhile, my boyfriend’s family has semi-adopted this man they met 30 years ago named Steve, who is gay, into their family, because he has no family of his own. They love him like he’s their own son and they could give a flip who he dates. I guess it’s nothing more than an anecdote – but to me, it shows a broad scope of priorities that different sects of Christianity have.
I didn’t know the Episcopal church was so open on personal belief. I definitely prefer those sorts of churches, as I think the individualism of spirituality has been too watered down in favor of communal ideas lately.
I’m actually somewhat less-enamored with the Episcopal Church these days, because I have found that they are, in fact, heavily invested in Socialist politics. Which is really horrible for what is, essentially, the American Church.
But I’m not there for the politics. 😉
That’s the unfortunate thing about Baha’i to me. I love the whole “all Abrahmic religions are real” thing, kinda hate the whole “one world order/world without borders” stuff.
But my political leaning is Objectivism, which is atheistic. While I’m not an atheist, I do share some of their atheistic nature (there is no grand divine plan, we make our own fate, etc.). So I doubt I’ll ever find a faith that ties in with my politics. I guess they’ll just have to be separate!
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