Posts Tagged ‘Post-modernism’

I talked about this before in another post, but I didn’t feel like I articulated what I was thinking as well as I would have liked, so I want to try it again.  Also, it’s still on my mind so I still want to talk about it.

I feel like I’m on the verge of believing, but I’m holding myself back because I am extremely conflicted.  I know I’ve been over probably a dozen problems that were “the thing” that kept me from believing, but this is the one that’s bothering me right now.

I’d like to believe, and I’d even like to be a Christian, but I’m uncomfortable with having to see the whole world and all of existence through the lens of Christianity.  Its what I was talking about before when I said I was reluctant to take on a worldview, but I don’t think that expressed what I meant to express very well.  I don’t want to have to interpret everything I experience and think about in terms of its relationship to Jesus Christ.  I just don’t know if I’m cut out for that, and I don’t see how I can be a Christian without putting on Christianity-colored glasses.

I don’t always want to see everything in that color, that’s all.  And I fear that if I’m always looking at things through a Christian lens, that my life will be poorer for it.  That life and existence will be less nuanced and less

Like I said before, I’ll be getting my head into a Christianity groove, and then I’ll hear some cosmic, mysterious Moody Blues song or something and Christianity will suddenly seem so small, provincial, limited, and limiting.  I feel like there’s so much mystery out there and I’m not sure that Christianity is a perfect fit.  Since it’s nit a perfect fit, you wind up having to cram the  universe into the Christianity shoebox, where either the universe or the box gets broken and warped in the process.

I don’t know how to articulate it better than that, so that will have to do.  I’m thinking about disabling comments on this post, though, because I’m afraid that what I’m trying to explain will once again be minimized, misunderstood, and dismissed.

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I recently read Finding Faith by Brian McLaren.  It’s worth reading, though now it’s being published as two separate books under different names.

The thing is, I don’t know that I really want to be an atheist.  Kind of.  I’m torn in quite a few directions.  The reason why I would be an atheist is not because I’ve been logically convinced of the nonexistence of God.  Logic is great and useful and everything, but to me it isn’t the be-all end-all of existence.  I’m not uncomfortable with being nonlogical or even a bit illogical.  Logical arguments aren’t really going to convince me one way or the other.  I don’t really make any other decision in my life based on pure logic, so why should I decide what to believe (or not to believe) based on pure logic.

I’m not a mathematician, a philosopher, or a scientist anyway, so the sad fact is that other peoples’ logical arguments are likely to dazzle me a bit because I’m not trained to shoot them down.  That’s not to say I reject logic entirely- I even think I’m pretty good with it and I’m actually fairly consistent about being able to see holes and hidden assumptions in other peoples’ logical arguments.  But I’m not an expert, and I don’t claim to be, and I’m not confident enough in my command of logic to want to base really anything on it.  Especially something of this level of importance.

That’s not a new revelation or anything; it’s why I’ve not been totally convinced by anybody’s logic in the past, and I’m unlikely to be convinced by it in the future.

So, with reluctance to let my provisional atheism soldifiy into something more permanent, I’ve been trying to figure out what I can believe, what I want to believe, and what I do believe, in a way that is honest with and true to myself.  McLaren’s book was useful.  It’s not a recipe for instant monotheistic belief- I could probably refute many if not most of the points he tries to make.  The usefulness of the book lies more in McLaren’s honesty and authenticity.  He’s aclearly a guy who’s been spending his whole life trying to figure out life, the universe, and everything, and Finding Faith is basically just a structured set of observations that he thinks might be helpful to someone else on the same journey.  Even when he actively tries to persuade, he admits it up front, and he’s transparent about it, which is refreshing.

I don’t know that Finding Faith was my spiritual panacea.  I didn’t walk away from it suddenly believing in God.  But it did get me to start thinking about important things in some new ways, and it may have helped me get to a place where I think I can start believing again.

Also I had the chance to talk to McLaren at church on Saunday and thank him for the book, and to briefly tell him how it had been helpful to me.  He’s a really nice guy, and he’s speaking at church nexty Sunday, which I am eagerly anticipating.

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We watched this at church on Sunday, as kind of the prelude to the sermon. The lady who was speaking asked the congregation to say what they felt about it. One person said she thought is seemed ominous. I said it certainly was uncomfortable, but “ominous” isn’t the word I would necessarily use. It made me think of being on an almost out-of-control rollercoaster. The things of God are a little bit intense, and not everyday- they should leave us unsettled. Aslan is not a tame lion.

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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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I’d be lying if I tried to continuously assert that faith issues and spiritual experience issues were the only things holding me back from committed belief in anything. There are major parts of me that are reluctant to decide for God or for Christ because I don’t want to decide for God or for Christ. Simply put, I have a religious/spiritual fear of commitment.

I’m not talking about the stereotype of the unbeliever who is unwilling to change his life, so he chooses atheism in order to live a life of immoral license. For me, the hard thing about being a Mormon was never the commandments. I’m not saying I never sinned, but I generally wanted to do the right thing, and I was generally successful in repenting of major wrongdoings and staying on the right track. The hard thing was never all of the rules. It was always intellectual.

What I’m trying to say is that Mormonism was so intellectually complete that it was stifling to me. There was no room for the unconventional, or the speculative. That may sound strange in light of rampant “Mormon folklore” and elders’ quorum-style speculation about Kolob, but I assert that it was/is nevertheless so. Sure, there was “room for speculation” in one sense, but it was always limited to certain narrowly defined directions, and even then you’re encouraged to focus on the essentials and warned of the consequences of straying too far out of bounds (just ask the September Six!).

I don’t really feel like I’m articulating this very well, and I’m sure that be failing to articulate it well, I’m inviting well-meaning Mormons to completely disassemble what I’m trying to say.

I like the idea that anything can be true. I like being able to read science fiction and wonder if that kind of thing will really happen someday (whereas the Second Coming of Christ sort of puts a damper on the voyages of the Starship Enterprise). I like entertaining possibilities. As much as religion appeals to me, uncertainty also appeals to me. Freedom to be as heretical as I please is a precious freedom.

I want to be able to wonder if – or even wish that – maybe some crazy thing is true without worrying that it is somehow beyond the walls of my religious/belief system and I need to repent. I want to be able to entertain any idea without feeling like I have to dismiss it for being unbiblical or unbookofmormonical. Or whatever.

I don’t like the idea of saying “I believe x is true” because it shuts down the possibility of a through w and y and z. To me, that is almost suffocating. I know I want spirituality, a spiritual path even, replete with practices and a way of life, but I don’t know if I am even really interested in a worldview. I don’t want to have to interpret everything I see through the lens of Mormonism, Christianity, or anything else for that matter. Maybe it’s the postmodernist in me that wants to be able to hit the buffet instead of ordering just one thing off the menu. I don’t know. Maybe this kind of thinking is intellectually dishonest of me, but if I am to be personally honest, I have to admit that it might be the biggest thing holding me back from belief of any kind.

Thinking about this, is sounds to me like I’m begging to be a Unitarian Universalist, but I have to admit that I’m not interested in the UU at all. I actually like traditional liturgical Christianity, and even Christian theology. And besides, like I said, I’m not reluctant about a spiritual path or well-defined spiritual practices, or even scriptures or many aspects of theology (by which I mean the philosophy of religion). It’s a stifling worldview that I’m spiritually claustrophobic about. I know it has a lot to do with gorwing up Mormon, but I also know it’s not an unjustified fear, because I see it in other belief systems, even more so than in Mormonism.

So one facet of my spiritual fear of commitment is this panicky spiritual claustrophobia that I don’t know how to deal with, or indeed if I even want to deal with it, and certainly I don’t want to have to deal with it.

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I’m always thinking about religion, faith, and belief. At the moment I’m a provisional atheist, but I’m not excited about being a permanent member of the club. I may ultimately feel like I have no choice, but if I do, I’d just as soon be some kind of believer.

Anyway, here are some of the ideas I’m tossing around in my head.

I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell and thinking about the interaction between myth and the human psyche. I wonder if Myth is the process by which human beings process the unprocessable. There’s something out ther,e bigger than all of us, and to attempt to define it scientifically would probably utterly fail. It has to be tackled holistically, using all the disciplines and arts and sciences and philosophies that humanity has at its disposa, and even then we miss it completely. So maybe Myth is the way we deal with it. We conceptualize it in a way that we can wrap our minds around. We use Myth as metaphor for the deeper reality that we otherwise are completely incapable of communicating.

If that is the case, then theology is probably a lost cause- at least if we think that theology is somehow going to lead us to an ultimate truth. Narrative, on the other hand, becomes extremely important.

If that is the case, then to do something with this transcendant reality, humans need ot negage it in a way that is meaningful for them. Thus, different societies and cultures have different myths and religions based on those myths based on what resonates with their culture. For me, the most resonant Myth would be Christianity. Seen that way, I could envision myself believing in God and following Jesus Christ, but with the reservation that I knew full well that it was just the best way I know of how to get at the Ultimate Mystery of Existence.

I simply cannot believe in God, face value, as described by any one religion. And I feel like simply entertaining some vague notion of transcendant reality is not sufficient for anything approaching spiritual fulfillment. So if I am to believe in something, I need to find a vehicle for that belief, and keeping in mind the ultimate flaws in any human conception of the sacred/divine/spiritual is how I would avoid the pitfalls of dogmatism and fundamentalism and furthermore be able to feel intellectually honest with myself.

I realize that this sounds a lot like the liberal Christianity that I normally dismiss without another thought. I don’t know what to do about that except to say that it just might be the best I can do. I also wonder if this doesn’t sound awfully like Neopagan theology, except that I’ve decided to believe in Jesus instead of, I don’t know, Zeus or something.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind right now. I’m also trying to read Kierkegaard. From what I know about his approach, it sounds interesting and different, and maybe something I can get on board with. We’ll see.

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I prayed this evening in the shower, asking God to please make himself known to me if he does exist. I don’t deny his existence, and I don’t necessarily want to disbelieve, but I feel like I have nothing upon which to base belief, other than “because I’d like to,” which isn’t enough for me.

I realize that there’s a strong argument that belief in God is a conscious choice, a deliberate decision, as opposed to something that just happens based on an experience of some kind. But I have to have something to base that belief on. Maybe that damns me, but I can’t make myself do otherwise.

Actually, I can make myself do otherwise, but that’s exactly the problem. I’d be making myself believe. I choose to not do that before I even start, simply because I know at the outset that belief because I have forced myself to believe is not good enough. Furthermore, I think that a part of me would always know that I had made myself believe, and I think in the end I’d find myself right back where I am now.

See, I’m even praying! I’m doing what I can. I’m also reading Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, in addition to all this atheist internet crap. If I could be a Christian (or a follower of Jesus), then I think that’s exactly the kind of Christian I would be. Which is convenient, since I go to Brian McLaren’s church and everything.

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I met Brian McLaren today (here’s his Wikipedia article).  I haven’t read any of his books (I probably should), and I don’t know him or anything, so I was kind of awkward about it, but it seemed a shame for him to be there and speak and then be approachable and for me to not go shake his hand or something.  He thought our baby was pretty cute, so he has good taste in babies, at least.  He was very pleasant, personable, and charismatic, without having that sleazy snake-oil aftertaste.

McLaren founded the church we are currently attending, although he’s currently not actively serving as its pastor (instead, we have the absolutely wonderful Matthew Dyer), but is instead traveling the world, meeting with people and, you know, doing stuff.  But he was back for the Sunday and he spoke about the state of the church (the church at large, not Cedar Ridge), what he’s been up to, and what he’s seen on his travels.

He has a very good way of criticizing with love and respect.  For example, he talked about the worldwide trend in favor of prosperity theology (which makes me retch), but he didn’t come across as castigating or scathing.  He even complimented what he thought were the good things about it.  Instead of lambasting prosperity preachers fo, you know, being wrong and hurtful, he talked about the enormous potential that they have to do real Christian good.

Anyway, it was a good meeting.  I always enjoy the sermons at Cedar Ridge, and I think our intention is to keep going there for the indefinite future.  The kind of Christianity they preach there is definitely the kind that rings true to me.  Most importantly, we almost always walk away from the service there with a desire to be better Christians.  Also, I think it would be realy easy for Cedar Ridge to be a Brian McLaren personality cult, but it definitely isn’t.  He rarely even gets mentioned, actually.  The focus is definitely on Jesus Christ, and on his relationship to the community of saints (i.e. the Christian church at large, to Cedar Ridge Church as a community, and to us as families and individuals).

If I decide to be a Christian, which I probably will in the end, Cedar Ridge is definitely a place where I can be the kind of Christian that I would want to be.

Speaking of which, I am thinking more about Christianity, and trying to come to grips with it somehow.  I have ths nagging feeling that I am going to ultimately come to Christianity anyway, and so I’m wondering if I shouldn’t quit beating around the bush.

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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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