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Posts Tagged ‘Modernism’

Kate Douglas has written an article for the New Scientist on what the “ideal religion” would look like:

What form would the ideal religion take? Some might argue that instead of redesigning religion, we should get rid of it. But it is good for some things: religious people are happier and healthier, and religion offers community. Besides, secularism has passed its zenith, according to Jon Lanman, who studies atheism at the University of Oxford. In a globalised world, he says, migrations and economic instability breed fear, and when people’s values feel under threat, religion thrives.

Jacobs lists off four categories or basic functions of religion (sacred party, therapy, mystical quest, and school) and describes how most of the existing world religions do one of these very well and ignore or fail to excel at the others. Jacobs’s ideal religion would excel at all four:

While each appeals to a different sort of person, they all tap into basic human needs and desires, so a new world religion would have a harmonious blend of them all: the euphoria and sensual trappings of a sacred party, the sympathy and soothing balms of therapy, the mysteries and revelations of an eternal journey and the nurturing, didactic atmosphere of a school.

Numerous festivals, holidays and rituals would keep followers hooked. “Rites of terror” such as body mutilation are out – although they bind people together very intensely, they are not usually compatible with world religions (New Scientist, 19 December 2009, p 62). Still, highly rousing, traumatic rituals might still feature as initiation ceremonies, because people tend to be more committed to a religion and tolerant of its failings after paying a high price for entry.

The everyday rituals will focus on rhythmic dancing and chanting to stimulate the release of endorphins, which Robin Dunbar, also at Oxford, says are key to social cohesion. To keep people coming back, he also prescribes “some myths that break the laws of physics, but not too much”, and no extreme mysticism, as it tends to lead to schisms.

With many gods and great tolerance of idiosyncratic local practices, the new religion will be highly adaptable to the needs of different congregations without losing its unifying identity. The religion will also emphasise worldly affairs – it would promote the use of contraceptives and small families and be big on environmental issues, philanthropy, pacifism and cooperation.

I’m not sure about downplaying the value of mysticism or the necessity of pacifism, but the interesting thing (as pointed out by Sannion over at the House of Vines) is that Jacobs has basically described ancient Greco-Roman pagan religion.

As Apuleius Platonicus pointed out, Jacobs’s description is lacking in a few other areas as well. Such an ideal religion ought to honor human sexuality and celebrate reason and learning.

But these are honestly quibbles that could be worked out in the long run, or better yet, there would just be room within this kind of big-tent religion for different viewpoints. Most importantly, however, as pointed out by paosirdjhutmosu is that this kind of article and this kind of thinking undermines the notion of religions progress that people like Rodney Stark sell so hard, and that so many people seem to accept as a given, the idea that the course of human religious history has somehow been a linear progression from a darker mirror to a clearer one, and that therefore modern religions are necessarily better than older ones. Like all notions of progress, this is an extremely suspect assumption, with very little to back it up other than plain-old-fashioned massive bias in favor of the current status quo. Now must be better because it’s now. That’s nonsense. Social and cultural change happen for a host of reasons, and there’s nothing in the process that makes sure that the end-product is more functional or healthier for human beings.

I don’t think articles like this are going to turn people towards the old gods in massive numbers or anything, but I like that we see this kind of thinking more and more.

I also definitely want to point out that while this “ideal religion” describes ancient Greco-Roman polytheism fairly well, it wound not specifically have to be Greco-Roman polytheism. I for one would gladly welcome an open, mystical, transcendental, green Christianity with room to give proper honor to saints, angels, ancestors and local kindred spirits of the earth.

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Since I started looking for a church, the one that has appealed to me the most has been the Episcopal church.  I liked the Lutheran church, too- in practice it was very similar, but I wasn;t excited about it having Luther’s name attached to it, and I felt like a British church was slightly more culturally relevant to me than a German church, although the preference is only mild.

Anyway, when I look for a direction to go, a way to follow Christ, Anglicanism (and since I’m in the US, that means the Episcopal church) continues to beckon as an attractive and meaningful path.  In all honesty, the odds are decent that this is the direction that I will eventually go, once I get all of my issues sorted out.

Of all the mainline Protestant denominations I am familiar with, the Episcopal church appealed to me the most for several reasons.  I like the liturgical aspect, and I like the communion/eucharist-centered service.  However, my concerns with Episcopalianism/Anglicanism that I am going to express in this post also apply to the rest of mainline Protestantism  So keep that in mind.  In general, I am more interested in older Protestant denominations, though, i.e., the ones that came more or less directly out of the Reformation.

Anglicanism’s via media is very appealing to me.  In theory, it has the good parts of Catholicism- the meaningful liturgy and ritual, an ordained clergy that can trace apostolic succession, and a lot of tradition, coupled with basic Protestant theology, a lot of tolerance, and (in theory) a tradition of latitudinarianism that allows for a pretty theologically diverse bunch to all be united in one communion.

I also really, really like Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  If allAnglicans were like him, I would join the Episcopal church without reservation.  He is intelligent, creative, insightful, and he is able to maintain the same kind of balance between theological orthodoxy and progressive social action and an inclusive attitude that Brian McLaren advocates.  Except where McLaren is kind of adorably fumbling about it, the Archbishop does it all with such elegance.  Unfortunately, it seems that instead of a church of Rowan Williamses, the Anglican communion is more a church of John Shelby Spongs and Peter Akinolas, tearing at each others’ throats, and I want nothing to do with either of those types.

First I want to address my Bishop Spong problem, and it’s really not a problem with Spong per se  so much as it is a problem with theological liberalism in general.  But given how outspoken Spong has been, and the kind of “Christianity” he has advocated, he’s kind of my lightning rod for everything I think is wrong with that side of the theological spectrum.  In my opinion, theological liberalism is dross.  Why be a Christian is you don;t really believe in the empty tomb, the incarnation, the resurrection?  Why bother?

As Rowan Williams put it in his eloquent (if slightly academic) response to Spong’s 12 theses, back when Williams was the Bishop of Monmouth,

For the record: I have never quite managed to see how we can make sense of the sacramental life of the Church without a theology of the risen body; and I have never managed to see how to put together such a theology without belief in the empty tomb. If a corpse clearly marked ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ turned up, I should save myself a lot of trouble and become a Quaker.

If Jesus is just a mortal philosopher, I see no reason to bother with Christianity at all.  I realize that accepting Jesus as God means having to deal with some hard issues and maybe living with some serious paradoxes, but I see it as the only way to be a Christian, and I want to be a Christian.

My point is that mainline Christianity in general and the Episcopal Church in specific are so riddled with theological liberalism that I don’t know if they’re really worth bothering with, or if I’ll just be frustrated all the time.

At the same time, I think religious fundamentalism is equally ridiculous.  Both religious fundamentalism and theological liberalism are the bastard children of modernism, and are in my mind the chief case for why modernism was horribly bad for Christianity.

If the Episcopal church could find a way to be progressive without compromising the essential beliefs of Christianity, it would, in my opinion, be the best of all worlds.  Unfortunately, at least the American Episcopal church seems to be doing a whole lot of compromising.

I have other concerns with the Episcopal church, too.  Chief among them is that so far, I haven’t seen much in the way of authentic community.  Juice and cookies in the undercroft do not a community make.  I imagine that part of this is a matter of finding the right parish, and also of persisting- real community is like a living thing, and living things don’t usually spontaneously spring fully grown into existence.

There’s also a teeny tiny bit of stigma attached, since becoming an Episcopalian would mean pretty much embracing the ultimate expression of WASPishness.  But I guess I can deal with that.

Next, I think the worldwide Anglican Communion’s current shenanigans over homosexuality are shameful.  Don’t get me wrong- I think Christianity’s attitude towards homosexual people has been decidedly un-Christian.  However, I think that by stepping out on its own to ordain gay bishops and bless homosexual unions, the American Episcopal church pretty much pissed all over the idea of unity within the Communion.  It was rash and reckless, and probably (if also unfortunately) too soon.

At the same time, the response of the Northern Virginia parishes has been tantamount to “taking our toys and going home” when the game doesn’t go their way, which is equally disrespectful to unity and togetherness.  And Peter Akinola’s response, to actually promote the schism, has been the crowning deed of the whole affair, completely un-called-for and inappropriate, displaying a kind of scorn and derision to the Anglcian Communion as a whole that completely undermines everything that it is supposed to stand for.

Whatever it turns out that God really wants, I’m pretty sure it’s not recriminations and schism.  The actions of both sides of this debate betray a disregard for Christian unity and brotherhood/sisterhood that makes me very sad.  Kudos to the Archbishop for dis-inviting both sides to the Lambeth conference.

Now, as a non-Anglican, it can be argued that the whole thing is none of my business.  But at the same time, I’m considering becoming an Anglican, and so the situation is important to me.  I’m not excited about the prospect of joining up and then being caught in the ultra-liberal faction of a schism that never should have happened in the first place.

But I have to weigh that concern against the incredible good that I see in Anglicanism.  I feel the sense of authoritative-ness that I’m looking for, both in the clergy and in the institution.  I feel that there is so much room for spirituality and even mysticism (especially with Rowan Williams in the Archbishop’s seat), and also Christlike life and social action.  The churches and the liturgy are beautiful, and they bring a sense of holiness and connection to God.

In any case, this is the situation where I am seriously torn.  I want very badly to go down this road, but I am afraid that the obstacles are simply too great.

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When I read Emergent writers like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, I find myself nodding and agreeing with so much of what they say.  I find the emergent conversation compelling enough that I actually sought out the church that McLaren founded, and that’s where my wife and I go every Sunday these days.

There’s a lot about the emergent conversation that I really like.  But I also have some problems with it that I would like to discuss.   These problems are interrelated and difficult to make really distinct, so they don’t really lend themselves to a bullet-point list in order of importance or something like that.  Instead, I’ll just pretty much tackle the whole thing at once, starting wherever and typing until I feel like I’ve said all I have to say.

One problem I have is that I see, for the most part, the emergent conversation/emerging church is really a child of evangelical Christianity as opposed to Christianity as a whole.  In a way, it seems like a kind of mini-Protestantism, emerging from fundamentalism and evangelicalism the way Protestant Christianity emerged from Catholicism.  The thing was, in the fifteenth century, Catholicism is all there was, so the Reformation was a big thing- its adherents were birthed from the entirety of western Christianity.

By contrast, the emerging church is mostly just the product of evangelicalism, which is only a small slice of current Christianity.  Thus, I feel like it rests on many evangelical assumptions, despite trying its best to be ecumenical and “generous” in its theology and outlook.

In short, I feel like emergent Christianity (and I knowingly use the terms “emerging” and “emergent” interchangeably, Mark Driscoll’s opinions notwithstanding) begins by making evangelical assumptions, finds problems there, and simply assumes that the answers can’t be found anywhere else in Christianity.  Even in McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy, which is a great book, and you should read it, the hat-tip he gives to the rest of Christianity is largely superficial, and betrays his deel evangelical/fundamentalist roots.

Why do I care about this?  Well, for one thing, I have some concerns about evangelical Christianity that the emerging church doesn’t really resolve.  Second, recent things I’ve read make me wonder if the emerging church isn’t really just trying to reinvent the wheel, while rejecting the possibility that the wheel has actually already been invented and refined if not perfected.

I just finished reading Rowan Williams’s book Where God Happens.  Rowan Williams is the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion.  I plan on posting something lengthy about Anglicanism in the near future, but suffice to say for the moment that Anglicanism is one of the paths I am seriously considering in my journey towards Jesus Christ, but I also have very serious doubts and reservations.

Where God Happens is a short book about the Desert Fathers and the relevance for people today of their teachings, sayings, and way of life.  Interestingly enough, the concepts that Dr. Williams pulls out of the sayings and practices of the Desert Fathers are in many ways extremely similar to the theological ideas and concepts of the emergent church.

This was an extraordinary discovery for me.  Until that point, the emergent conversation had been my oasis, the shining example of what it seemed like Christianity should really be about.  But here is the Archbishop of Canterbury invoking the fourth-century Desert Fathers (and Mothers; let’s not leave out Amma Syncletica) and the result is basically the same message!  In particular, the ideas about community and relationship and Christian discipleship are startlingly similar to the theological ideas of McLaren et al.  But more importantly, this same message is in a context that lends it so much more authority- or at least that makes it so much more authoritative– than the hemming and hawing we’re-just-regular-guys McLaren and Bell even come close to.  This is completely steeped in the fullness of Christian history and tradition.

The result is that I start to wonder about putting too many of my eggs in the emergent basket.  If they’re just reinventing the wheel, they’re doing it in a humble but arrogant way, assuming that the wheel hasn’t already been invented and highly refined just because they don’t find the wheel in their narrow evangelical and fundamentalist backgrounds.

If all of the things that I like about emergent theology are there for the discovering in historic orthodox Christianity, then maybe emergent Christianity isn’t as great asI thought it was, especially considering my other concerns with evangelicalism that are carried over into the emergent conversation.

Another concern I have with the emergent conversation is in terms of the practice of worship.  While one stream of the emergent conversation is concerned with reworking and refining theology, there’s another, maybe more major stream that is concerned with new and relevant ways of worship.  I am not as excited about this stream, although it is generally seen by the rest of the evangelical world as the more acceptable facet of emergent Christianity.

These new ways of worship often involve pairing religious innovation with recovered ancient Christian traditions.  Once again, my problem is that this is completely from an evangelical standpoint.  The ancient traditions of worship and spirituality are not lost; they have merely been abandoned by evangelical Protestantism.  They are still easy to find and access in many Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and even traditional Protestant churches and communities.  And when the emergent church “recaptures” these traditions, they always seem so much more… superficial than they do when seen in practice in their traditional context, in something like an Eastern Orthodox Liturgy.

Furthermore, I’m not necessarily always excited about innovative worship.  To me, it assumes that the traditional ways have been fully mined for meaning and there’s none left, so we need to make up something new.  And I challenge that assertion.  I think part of the problem is a media-soaked culture that has forgotten how to be still and reflective, how to take time, to be thoughtful, and to let spiritual things penetrate deeply.  I think if we could recover contemplation, then the traditional ways of worship, the ones that have proven themselves relevant to human beings for up to twenty centuries, will still be just as relevant as they have always been.

I think there is room for thoughtful innovation in worship, but I think it is a thing that should be done carefully and deliberately, not recklessly.

My final criticism of the emerging church is its concern with being relevant to the postmodern person, and its general marriage to postmodernism.  As a postmodern person, it seems great, but at the same time, I long for a faith that stands outside of and independent of philosophical trends and momentary (compared to the continuity of human history) ways of thinking.  Christianity existed before modernism, and I think embracing modernism was the worst thing that could have happened to Christianity (I’ll post more about this later, but in my opinion, embracing modernism means either taking the path of theological liberalism or the path of theological fundamentalism, both of which make Christianity look foolish).  At the same time, I have no real confidence that people won’t say the same thing about postmodernism in a few hundred years.  Postmodernism may be a new way of thinking and a refreshing alternative to modernism, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve “finally gotten it right.”  Down the road, postmodernism will be outdated and will be junked with all of the other antiquated philosophical frameworks that humanity has consigned to the collective cognitive dusty attic.

I think Christianity should be able to stand outside of passing waves of philosophy- it should be something that endures apart from and independent of “the way people think.”  It should be an alternative to the current philosophical trend, not just one more manifestation of it.  It might make Christianity difficult to the individual who is hesitant to set aside his conventional philosophical framework, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.  I believe that there are ways in which Christianity should be difficult.  When Jesus Christ said his yoke was easy and his burden was light, I really don’t think he meant that his way meant not having to change the way we live and think.  In fact, I’m fairly convinced that he meant the opposite.

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I’ve been thinking about truth and reality and the existence or nonexistence of objectivity. Here’s my conclusion (this may not be groundbreaking or novel or anything, but that’s not to point- it’s what I have settled on). Objective reality almost certainly exists. It’s out there, and we live in it.  However, from the human perspective it is purely theoretical, and for the purposes of our day-to-day lives, it is almost meaningless.

From the moment a stimulus enters your body via your senses until the moment that it leaves in the form of a response, the information is constantly being corrupted by faulty perception, being filtered through lenses of experience, worldview, culture, point of view, coping mechanisms, random neuron firings, insanity, and who knows what else.  There’s no point inside the system that is objective itself- the main processor is the brain, and the brain is the very culprit when it comes to putting a spin on reality- and so at no point is it even possible for a human being to perceive the world in a completely objective way.  Ever.

Certainly there is some level of consensus to reality, like if there was a fire, we’d pretty much all see it, feel the heat, maybe be scared of it, and we’d all probably burn and die if we were consumed by it.  That seems to be pretty objective (with maybe an unusual exception here and there), but that’s not what I’m talking about.  The difference is that we’re all perceiving the objectively identical fire from a different standpoint, both internally and externally.  We’re all ascribing different shades of meaning to it.

Objective reality probably exists, but we are completely incapable of accessing it because the only means we have of accessing reality by its very nature distorts reality as it accesses it.

What does this mean as far as religion goes?  It means that as I search for truth, the best I’m going to get is a subjective kind of truth, because even if objective truth exists, I have no way of apprehending it.

Why do people insist on objectivity, when everything we know about the human experience suggests that for all intents and purposes there’s no such thing?  Why do religious people in particular so often insist on the existence of knowable absolute truth?  I wonder if it has something to do with controlling other people.  I mean, if reality is largely subjective, then “sharing your religion” pretty much stops at “sharing.”  But if you can insist on Absolute Truth, then you are justified in being a little more belligerent.  It’s probably not fair to assign that kind of motive to so many people, though.  The more likely explanation is that many people simply aren’t comfortable with a lack of meaningful absolute truth.  It seems counterintuitive and it messes with one’s head.

For me, though, it means that I am looking for what is true for me.  Part of me still thinks that sounds lame after a lifetime of being an Absolute-Truth-Insistent Mormon, but at the same time, it only makes sense.  The only way I can sense and process and interpret reality is through my body and my mind, and those both have an inherent problem in that they severely warp anything they perceive.  So absolute truth may exist, but it’s impossible to find it out.  Therefore, the search for absolute truth, especially when dealing with things like “meaning” that stray from generally consensual aspects of reality, is a relatively futile one.

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One of my biggest frustrations with Mormonism is that I feel like it has left me spiritually crippled.

For example, on the one hand, I’ve spent my whole life believing that the only  valid way to find truth was through mystical experience.  That’s become a fairly deeply-ingrained thing.  I find myself virtually unable to accept religion or spirituality of any kind unless it comes with a spiritual experience to back it up.  Any conclusion I come to or truth I think I uncover, I’m not satisfied with it unless I’ve “received a testimony” of it.  Even if I rationally think that approach is not useful, we’re talking about an instinctive response, the result of a lifetime of spiritual dogmatism.  The other side to this unpleasant coin comes from the fact that because Mormonism claims that spiritual experience is the only validator for truth and that anyone can and should receive such an experience, Mormonism often goes to great lengths to define the most subtle emotional state as “the Holy Ghost.”  The approach is so inclusive and the Holy Ghost gets defined to broadly that it’s pretty much impossible to tell the missionaries about a good feeling you’ve ever had about anything (other than something that’s straight-up sinful) without them concluding for you and trying to convince you that it was, in fact, the Holy Ghost confirming the truth to you.  Because I am aware of that, I’m uncomfortable with looking too hard and trying to define mystical experiences into existence, because I know for a fact that if I set out having already decided that I’m going to find a mystical experience, I’m going to find one by definition if nothing else.

So on the one hand, I am extremely skeptical of mysticism (especially subtle mystical experiences), and on the other hand I feel like only mysticism can show me the right way.  The result is spiritual paralysis, absent a mystical experience that is unrealistically grandiose and unlikely to happen.  and it’s because of Mormonism.

There’s more- Mormonism has left me with a legacy of looking for the “one true church.”  I’ve spent my life in a logical framework where such a thing can and does exist, so it’s hard for me to get away from that way of thinking.  I rationally think that probably there is no One True Church, but my instinct still tells me to look for it.  Not because “I know deep in my heart that it’s true,” but simply because it’s the way I was brought up to think.

Mormism, an extremely demanding religion, has also left me with another paradox.  On the one hand, it has left me skeptical of a faith system that isn’t demanding, because it seems to me that a real faith system, one that is True, must be one that demands virtually everything.  At the sae time, my expericnes with (and in particular with coming out of) Mormonism have left me with an intense fear of spiritual commitment.  The result is again a paralysis.  I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of diving into the deep end and being one hundred percent committed to something, because the last time I did that it turned out to be in many ways a sham, and in the end I ended up walking away.  At the same time, I am completely unimpressed with wishy-washy belief systems that pick and choose or are too vaguely-defined, because I grew up with a very concrete dogma that is now my standard for religious truth.  Mormonism promotes all-or-nothing thinking, so I have a hard time feeling like anything in the middle is even worth my time, but at the same time, my experiences with Mormonism have left me extremely fearful of and very adverse to dogmatic extremes in any direction.  So I may rationally conclude that the reality is somewhere in the middle, but my conditioning rejects that.

There are other examples, I’m sure.  Essentially, I have all these preconceived notions about what religion is supposed to look like, but I’m fearful and averse to religions that look like that.  D’oh!  What am I supposed to do?  Honestly, I blame Mormonism for most, if not all, of my spiritual angst over the last year.  Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of good in Mormonism.  But I feel like leaving it has left me spiritually crippled.  I guess the only way forward is through all of this mess.  To mull things over, work through what I can, and look for those few spiritual aproaches (or nonspiritual approaches) that I can work with for now, and move on to more as I work through stuff.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to do now.  I couldn’t really even bring my belief in God and Jesus Christ out of Mormonism with me, because they were so entangled in the thought matrix that I had grown up with that I really couldn’t extricate them and have anything left to work with, no matter how much I wanted to.  Thus, leaving Mormonism meant a long, slow spiral into atheism.  Once I got to atheism, I decided I didn’t really like it there , so if I wanted to get anywhere else I really had to start from the ground up.

I guess another way to look at it is to see it as a positive thing.  It means some angst and frustration now, but in the end, as I work out all of the knots, I get to completely start over fresh and build something up from nothing.  Maybe that was the only option other than just returning to Mormonism.

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So I have issues with Christianity.  Last night, while I was out grocery shopping with my lovely wife, who is a committed Christian, I tried to articulate them as well as I could.  I felt like I was able to get it all out in a satisfactory way, but now I’m not so sure I can remember them all.  I’ll do my best; here they are in no particular order:

1. The Jack Chick problem.  Encountering Fundamentalists and many Evangelicals and other Christian-Right-types and their viewpoints completely turns me off to Christianity in general.  Without going into too much detail, there are some popular and vocal approaches to Jesus out there that I find actually repulsive, not to mention preposterous.  When I read such a viewpoint, for example, it sours me on the whole of Christianity.  I do not want to have anything to do with a movement or a religion that spawns that kind of garbage.

Intellectually, I know that those apporaches to Jesus are not exhaustive, they do not by any means necessarily represent the  bulk of Christianity.  I also know that just because people do ugly things with Christianity, that does not mean that Jesus was wrong or a fake (in fact, there is plenty of scriptural evidence that just saying you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you know Jesus).  But those are intellectual qualifications, and my reaction to ugly Christianity is an emotional one, so the intellectual justifications don’t dispel my reservations.

2. Exclusivity.  By most accounts, Christianity is exclusive.  Jesus is literally God, and he is literally the only way to return to the Father.  All other approaches (whether they be Christian heterodoxy or a completely different religion orspiritual path) are either lies or tragic mistakes.

I am of two minds about this.  On the one hand, I grew up Mormon, so a literal and exclusive approach to religion is a familiar one, sort of my default setting, and not easy to break out of.

On the other hand, it just doesn’t feel right.  For one, the weight of opinion is against Christianity- far more people are and have been something else as opposed to Christians, both now and throughout history.  Now, if Christianity is True, then that theoretically shouldn’t matter.  If there is such a thing as objective truth independent from peoples’ minds, then that objective truth would probably not be subject to majority decisions.  However, it seems a little convenient that the One True Way just happens to be the majority view of the culture I grew up in. Especially when there is no real decisive objective evidence to commend Christianity over any other religion.  Maybe there is an objectively True Way, but who says Jesus is it?  I feel like claims of objective truth should be backed up by some kind of objective evidence, at least to differentiate them from competing claims of absolute truth.

I also have this sense that applying Christinity to the whole world is not just like trying to make a square peg fit a round hole, but it’s like trying to make a multidimensional polyshape peg fit into a round hole.  It seems preposterous.  It imposes a simple worldview on an incredibly complex world.  I have a hard time swallowing it.

3. Personal Exclusivity.  This one is trickier to explain.  I want a religion or a faith system that fits all of me.  I don’t mean that I am unwilling to change- I certainly would go to great lengths to change my behavior for what I believe.  However, like all humans, I am extrordinarily complex.  I feel like a religion should speak to every aspect of human existence in a fitting and compelling way, without oversimplifying that which is in no way simple.  What I am not willing to do is to abandon entire facets of existence that are irrelevant to a belief system.  I will change, but I will not amputate.

I don’t necessarily feel like Christianity “explains it all.”  I don’t feel like it fits me like a puzzle piece.  Of course, I haven’t found anything else that does, either.

4. Not feeling the Jesus.  Finally, I do not feel spiritually compelled to follow Jesus.  I find Christianity intellectuallyand even emotionally appealing, and I even find Christianity reasonable, but to me that is not enough.  I want to feel a spiritual pull, and I don’t feel it.  Furthermore, I do not want to purposely cultivate a spiritual experience in the pursuit of Christianity, because that’s what I did with Mormonism.  Having already decided that Mormonism was true, I then went about specifically seeking a spiritual confirmation of that truth.  They say “once burned, twice shy,” and that is appropriate here.  In the end, I fell away from Mormonism.  The connection that I built was not a lasting one.  Honestly, I don’t want the same thing to happen ever again.  I am not about to head in any direction that I will just abandon in eight months or eight years.  And so far, I have nothing to indicate that a decision on my part to commit to Christ and to Christianity will indeed be a lasting one.

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Well, I might have lots of problems, and maybe one of them is bigger than this one, but for now this feels like my biggest problem.

It is this: I am still holding out for a Testimony of the True Church.

I have already concluded at least for the meantime that I believe the Mormon church is not at all what it claims to be, and thus is not, at least in the way it claims, “The True Church.”  So that’s not what I’m talking about.

This is hard to articulate, and I expect that I will miscommunicate it terribly.

I have this mental block.  I can tell myself all I want that it doesn’t matter what church you go to, as long as it brings you closer to Christ.  I even believe it most of the time, intellectually.  It makes sense to me, in light of the way I understand Christianity and the teachings laid out in the Bible.  I can accept it into my schema.  In fact, it actualy makes a lot more sense to me than any kind of denominational claim to exclusive Truth.

On days when I am feeling less Christian, I can apply the same reasoning to religion in general.  What Jeff Lilly and Malaclypse the Younger say about it seem completely reasonable to me: that all religions are “true,” and that it is simply important that you commit to a belief system in which you grow and draw closer to God (however you choose to personify him/her/it).

The idea that one religion, much less one denomination of one religion, has a singular claim to absolute truth seems immeasurably unlikely, if not naïvely arrogant.  I just don’t buy it.  No religion seems universal enough to be universal, and those few that do are generally not very credible anyway.

So my course should be obvious.  Depending on whether I decide for Christ or not, I should pick a denomination or religion that rings true to me, that meets my needs and seems closest to the truth as I understand it, and go with it.

So why can I not do that?  I have several good candidates in mind (Episcopalianism/Anglicanism, Quakerism, and emerging Evangelicalism are all comfortable and appealing in different ways, and if I wasn’t going to be Christian, I’ve got Asatru, Druidry, and perhaps Buddhism after a longer more serious look); why don’t I just pick one?

I feel like I have a mental block, a stubborn thing laying around in my brain that I can’t get rid of.  It’s like a little goblin in my head that insists on Absolute Truth.  It won’t let me pick a good religion; it will only let me pick The True Religion.  I try to tell this stubborn mental block that there is no True Religion, but this stubborn mental block doesn’t seem to care.

Even worse, this stubborn mental block will only be convinced of Absolute Truth when it is presented with some kind of Incontrovertible Mystical Experience.  And it can’t be logically flawed, either.  I try to tell the mental block that logically airtight Incontrovertible Mystical Experiences are not only really hard to come by, but in the end they aren’t as good a foundation for religious belief as deliberate faith and commitment are anyway.  But the mental block does not seem to care what I say or think.  It stubbornly insists on only accepting a church that is proven Absolutely True by Incontrovertible Mystical Experience, with no logical flaws.  End of discussion.

Do you see my conundrum?  What am I supposed to do?  I have a standard for religion that is completely unrealistic, and one that not only guarantees that virtually all churches will fail, but that probably won’t result in a lasting commitment anyway.

Why is the mental block there?  Why won’t it go away?  It clearly smacks of Mormonism, which is no surprise since I have been a dedicated Mormon for most of my 28 years. But what does it mean?  Am I simply so conditioned by Mormon-logic that I am more or less ruined spiritually, since Mormon-logic ensures that no other church could ever possibly pass its rigged and biased “test” for authenticity?  Or does it mean that something in my soul, deep down, knows that Mormonism is true, and will thus never really be satisfied until I come back?  But the problem with that is, now Mormonism even fails the mental block’s test, since my mystical proof is not at all incontrovertible, and I feel like Mormonism is completely  full of holes, a veritable theological/philosophical swiss cheese.

When I was still an active member but my brother Racticas was in the process of leaving the Church, I supported him on the grounds that since Mormonism is absolutely and exclusively true, he would not find spiritual fulfillment anywhere else and so he would eventually come back.  Is that what this is?  Am I proving my own hypothesis?   Or is spiritual fulfillment waiting for me somewhere (or even everywhere), as soon as I’m willing to take a leap of faith and plunge in instead of perpetually wetting my toes in the shallows of religious commitment?

Or is it merely a case of “once burned, twice shy?”  After years of Mormonism followed by the life-changing crash of walking away from it, maybe I’m just too timid to easily pick a new religion and start again.  Is my mental block really a Mormon-flavored manifestation of a very reasonable fear of religious commitment?

In any case, what do I do?  I know I have no reason to rush things, but the more I think about religion, the more frustrated I get, and I’m afraid that if I don’t pick something and stick with it, I’m eventually going to throw my hands up in frustration and walk away a “committed” agnostic.  And I don’t want that.

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