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Posts Tagged ‘Resurrection’

On the one hand, I’m sure it looks like I’m going ’round and ’round in circles with God and religion, retreading the same ground and getting nowhere. Sometimes I wonder if that is in fact what is going on, and if I can ever be satisfied and happy. Most of the time, though, I am pretty sure that I am slowly, carefully refining the issues, figuring out really what is at stake and what I think, and what decisions I really have to make.

At the moment, I think I have my religious question basically boiled down to the following ideas:

I’m inclined to think that there is a god, even though I have my doubts. I do not think that god is completely knowable by human beings. I also do not necessarily think that getting some (or even a lot of) things wrong about god is as big of a deal as human beings historically tend to. I’m not sure if god is personal or impersonal, or if god is maybe impersonal but with facets that can be personal-ish. Maybe. In any case, atheism does not suit me. I want both a religious identity and a path for spiritual development. Thus, I want a religion.

I really like a lot of things about Christianity. I find Christian theology appealing. I like the liturgy, the hymns, the architecture, the ritual, the idea of church, the liturgical year, the resurrection. I like C. S. Lewis, a lot. When I read C. S. Lewis, I want to be a Christian. Theoretically, I like the Bible, even though my attempts at reading it over the last two years have been most unsatisfactory.  I’m attached to Christianity as a religion, and am extremely bothered by the idea of giving it up entirely.  I even sometimes entertain the notion of going to seminary and becoming an Episcopal priest someday.

Unfortunately, despite everything I’ve just said, I don’t think I actually believe (in) Christianity. I like the idea of Jesus Christ as God incarnate quite a bit, but I don’t seem to actually believe that it it is so. I like the idea of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ’s supreme sacrifice, but I’m not sure I’m really all that worried about my sins, I find the idea of hell implausible, I don’t necessarily feel like I am in need of salvation (I feel plenty of wretched, just not necessarily wretched because of my sins or sinful nature) and I’m not convinced that this supreme sacrifice in fact happened. I think that the resurrection is plausible, but I don’t necessarily think that it means the whole package of Christianity is true.

I think I actually believe something a whole lot more like Vedanta, like the ideas expressed in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita about Brahman and everything, the world and people and you and me and God, all being really the same thing. I’m not culturally Indian, so Hinduism as a religion has no appeal to me whatsoever, and all of the New Religious Movements that have spun off from Hinduism in the west are, well, New Religious Movements. Pretty much they are to Hinduism what Mormonism is to Christianity (and Soka Gakkai is to Buddhism), and I am not interested in that at all. I’ve already done aa quasi-cult, thanks. I’m not really in the market for another one.

So I would prefer to read the Bible because I prefer the idea of reading the Bible, but in reality I find the Gita and the Upanishads so much more meaningful.

Also, I find various flavors of Paganism (neo and otherwise) extremely appealing: Asatru, Druidry, the Greek Gods, etc. I feel like all of that would dovetail a whole lot better with the Bhagavad Gita than it would the Bible. I’m European, not Indian, so actually becoming a Hindu is not interesting at all to me, but I think that the philosophy underlying Hinduism and tying it together can easily be applied to any Indo-European mythology.  I think that AODA Druidry as spiritual practice, Vedanta as philosophy, and European myth as a corpus of spiritual literature is an extremely reasonable combination, and probably a hell of a lot closer to what I actually believe than Chistianity ever will be.

But, Christianity is more appealing for some reason.  And for a lot of reasons, Vedanta+Druidry+Mythology, although it might actually be what I believe, is extremely unappealing.  There’s a lack of clear religious identity, for one.  There’s no Christmas.  Druidry as spiritual practice sometimes seems shallow and empty to me–it is missing the millennia of tradition that Christianity has.  There are the social and cultural problems with identifying as an odd religion.  Treading a new path means missing out on the guidance of people who have gone before.  There’s the worry that I’m really just cherry-picking the things I like.  There are issues about the source of morality and the source of values (that I am exploring in another series of posts).  And in my head, Vedanta+Druidry+Mythology just doesn’t have the same, I don’t know, pow! that Christianity has.  And it doesn’t have C. S. Lewis.

So I know what I probably believe, but it doesn’t happen to be the same thing as what I would like to believe.  But my desire to believe Christianity is subtly undermined by the things I actually do believe.  I’m not sure how to resolve this painlessly–there may simply be no painless resolution–but I think it is extremely important that I have arrived at (or at least I’m getting closer to) the central question in my search for God.

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One of the biggest obstacles preventing me from simply embracing Christianity is that I am not entirely sure what it means to be a Christian.  Specifically, I can not wrap my head around what it means to actually believe in Jesus, to the extent that belief becomes faith.  By any reading of the New Testament, faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely fundamental to Christianity.  But what does it really mean, and how do you know when you have it?

I have no problem with a purely intellectual belief in Jesus Christ.  By this I mean that I can see myself thinking that statements like “Jesus existed,” “Jesus died and came back to life,” and even “Jesus was uniquely one with God” are true.  But is that all there is to it?  If I happen to think that Jesus is God, then I’m a Christian, and I have faith?  If I think it a lot?  If I think it really strongly?  What?

Is the difference between faith and mere belief simply a difference of quantity, or altogether a difference of quality?  I don’t know, but my intuition seems to be that it is the latter.  Really believing in Jesus has to mean more than simply concluding that Jesus is true.  So what is it?  It can’t just be thoughts that translate into action, either (i.e., thinking it enough so that I try to change my life), because any thought can lead to action.  If I think Borders has the book I want in stock, then I will go to Borders and buy this book.  That can’t be the same thing as faith in Jesus Christ, can it?

Similarly, faith can’t just mean thinking something is true even though you do not have proof enough to be sure, since “proof enough to be sure” is basically impossible anyway.  You can never be one hundred percent sure about anything–it could always be the case that your perceived reality is a complex delusion and nothing is really what you think it is, like the Matrix or something.  So if thinking that Jesus rose form the dead even though I wasn’t there to see it happen is faith, then I also have faith by thinking that I am typing at my computer right now, since I can never be really sure.  And that means again that faith in Jesus is really just the same thing as thinking that Jesus is true–mere belief–and not substantively different from any other thing I think.

The problem with mere belief is that mere belief is subject to change for a myriad of reasons.  What I think about anything today may or may not be the same as what I think about it tomorrow, depending on a variety of factors.  If thinking that Jesus is true is enough, then what happens when tomorrow I change my mind and decide that Jesus is not as plausible as I thought he was yesterday?  Does intellectual honesty somehow prevent me from having faith in Jesus?  If so, I’m not interested.

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I would like Christianity to be true. I’m just not really sure if I believe it. I decided last year, after reading C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, that I believe in God. The exact nature and extent of that belief is properly the subject of another post, but it is sufficient here to say that it isn’t rock-solid, and it isn’t even enough to be what I call faith.

This summer, in the midst of reading most everything C. S. Lewis ever wrote, I decided that I wanted to be a Christian. As a Christian, I strongly identify with 1) everything C. S. Lewis ever wrote, 2) the Episcopal Church, and 3) Christmas. I find Christianity compelling. I find the liturgy of the Episcopal Church meaningful and compelling. I find the traditions and the institutions of Christianity compelling. And I find Christmas in its sacred aspect so compelling as to be almost hypnotic. I like the ideas of Christianity. But I have no faith, I have very little belief, and I don’t know what to do about that. I realize that “faith in Jesus Christ” is nowhere on my list of Christian assets. I’m not sure what to do with that. I tried to rationalize and make do with a hybrid kind of faith that had more to do with 1) an intellectual conclusion that the Resurrection probably happened and 2) a decision to recognize Jesus as the King of Kings, and thus to pledge loyalty and fealty to Him. But those don’t seem to be doing the trick. They’re not generating anything I can recognize as faith.  I’m no sure I even know what faith means, or what faith looks like.  I’m certainly not sure I know what it means to have faith in Jesus, or how to get it.

I have been struggling with how to move forward as a Christian, how to progress spiritually, even what I actually have to do to be a Christian (it’s so much easier in a religion like Mormonism where there is essentially a program laid out for you to follow). I’ve felt like a car with wheels stuck in snow or mud, spinning and getting nowhere, because I’m not even sure where I’m going.

Now, surprise, surprise, I find myself wondering what I’m even doing here. I find myself questioning again whether Christianity is the right thing for me, or if it even makes sense, and I find myself once again attracted by things like Ásatrú, Druidry, and Paganism. But then if Christianity isn’t the way for me, then I don’t know what do do with things like Christmas, C. S. Lewis, and the Episcopal Church, all of which are still so compelling, even if I really have no faith in Jesus whatsoever.

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O God, our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the comsummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-from The Book of Common Prayer

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