June 14th, 2011 | 9 Comments
What in the world am I trying to do with this site? Who am I writing for? Who do I expect to come away with something of value?
I ask myself these questions periodically. Am I a “faith” blogger or a “skeptic” blogger? The posts I write criticizing aspects of evangelicalism are the most popular, and are quite common given that those beliefs are most often the object of my own undeception; on the other hand, I make no bones about my own abiding faith. Yet in observing those who encounter difficulties with the Bible, especially in the blogosphere, it seems things too often go in two diametrically opposed directions:
- The Disillusioned: The Bible is acknowledged to have deep flaws. Discussion develops around criticizing the Bible’s flaws and sneering at the inanities of Christians who deny them.
- The Defenders: The Bible is perfect. Any discussion of alleged flaws in it is stolidly defensive; more often, it is outsourced to apologists.
From there both camps trudge along their separate, well-worn paths. Typically the more bitter of the Disillusioned become the Deconverted. I come across many deconversion blogs, which isn’t surprising considering that disillusionment and deconversion are so emotionally repercussive. Their communities and survivors’ groups form very easily, commenting and linking to one another as a form of mutual support.
There are plenty of blogs by those militantly confident in their Christianity as well; the Defenders remain happy where they are…at all costs, seemingly.
Comparing the content of the blogs from those groups to mine, you’d see many more affinities between me and the Disillusioned. Indeed, because I spend so much time discussing the deep flaws in the Bible and in the forms of Christianity championed by the Defenders, my blog attracts mostly the Disillusioned and the Deconverted. But I do not count myself among either group. Rather, I am a part of an increasing number of believers no longer confident in either the pat answers of the apologists or the knee-jerk reactions of the self-styled enemies of Christianity. Even upon realization that our pursuit of God and His truth does not terminate in Scripture or systematic theologies, we do not find enough grounds to repudiate that pursuit.
I know that both the Defenders and the Disillusioned/Deconverted would consider me and the growing numbers of people like me to be living in an untenable state of cognitive dissonance. They would say I am the unreasonable, illusioned defender, denying the fruits of the doubts and disbelief I have uncovered and at times trumpeted. Their premise is that without an inerrant Bible that tells us exactly what to believe we have no good reason to believe in anything resembling the God of the Bible. I reject this premise as reactionary as I rest hopeful in a conviction that a good God, and one that bears more than a coincidental and passing resemblance to the God the Christians have always worshiped, actually exists. Why is this?
Please do not think that I offer the following as any sort of philosophical treatise, but as a statement of my current stance given my own analysis, based on my own experience, constantly and repeatedly judged against the various philosophical ideas I encounter in my reading. Crucially, none of it is proof: in a universe in which proof is impossible, we are all, to a person, left choosing what to believe.
I believe in God because I believe in goodness; I believe in God because I believe in beauty; I believe in God because I believe in justice; I believe in God because I believe in non-arbitrary meaning. I choose to believe in these absolutes not because of proof, of which there is none, or because of overwhelming evidence, of which there is precious little; I realize that it could just as well be that there is evil, ugliness, injustice, and/or chaos at the bottom of the universe. But I will not worship those things, even as far as to grant their absolute existence or entertain the notion that they will have the final victory. I will worship what is good and right and lovely, and grant it all the honor of believing in and even worshiping its absolute existence as the Ultimate. We are disappointed to have seen those ideal virtues violated or at least imperfectly modeled in other people; it makes sense that this is in part because there is actually a Person in whom those virtues are embodied perfectly. I find that the God of Christianity coincides with these expectations to my satisfaction.
I cannot help being convinced that certain absolute ideal principles exist regardless of any prevailing cultural sensibilities. Loving concern for a child: always right. Torturing a child: always wrong. Looking out for the interests of women: always right. Raping a woman: always wrong. Showing honor to an honest man: always right. Slandering an honest man: always wrong. These evaluations are grounded in the existence and primacy of Goodness. Evil – what shouldn’t be – doesn’t have an independent existence, but is an often quite palpable negation of what is good – what should be. The question inevitably comes: why is there any negation of should-be? Isn’t that reason enough to doubt such a thing as a should-be?
Another attribute of the Ultimate that I did not mention is also responsible for my continuing faith: it is mystery, the consort of the Ultimate’s transcendence. It is that which does not allow me to declare with as much certainty as I would like that those ideals I place my hope in truly exist; it is what does not allow me to conclude that the existence of evil, ugliness, injustice, and chaos in this world is a defeater of my hope in goodness, beauty, justice, and meaning; worst of all, it necessitates the humility that we as humans resist to the bitter end. But unlike those other attributes, mystery is not eternal: my Christian hope is in the eventual resolution of this mystery/transcendence, the closing of the gap between heaven and earth, the eventual elimination of shouldn’t-be from the midst of should-be. And it is this hope that I lay down before the perfect object of my worship, the one of whom I have been fathered from a young age and who has given me peace and joy to spare, but more importantly, a deep-seated concern and empathy for others.
There are many who imagine that they are caught up somewhere above the mystery into the very certainty of God. Doubt, which may be thought of as an intentional filling of one’s lungs with the air of mystery, is thought by these to be a denial of the God whom they have experienced. This is how certainty is achieved for the Defenders.
There are also many who can no longer pretend that they are experiencing the certainties promised them beyond that yawning gap of mystery; these are often troubled, hurting, and angry by this revelation. It seems only natural that those in the painful throes of the transcendence of God, mistaking it for His absence, cling to the firm ground and renounce all else. This is how certainty is achieved for the Disillusioned.
And then there are some of us who seek to keep our feet planted in reality, unflinchingly seeking out truths that the Defenders disavow, but who, inhaling the mystery, strain to reach that transcendent-yet-imminent Goodness of which we catch vivid glimpses. We deny that certainty is anything but an illusion. Our faith is not about maintaining beliefs, but about fervently striving to bring the Goodness we have known closer to the waiting world. While valuing the insights into the human and divine natures the biblical authors have to offer us, and while humbly and thoroughly subjecting those insights to all of the reconstructions and deconstructions suggested by critical inquiry, we do not lean on either understanding. We trust instead in the God for whom our souls yearn and without whom all the truths on the earth would be nothing more than clanging cymbals. Our faith is realized in an ethic intended to make those virtues manifest in our own lives, for the sake of others: we demonstrate our hope for the victory of love by acting faithfully, seeking to embody goodness, beauty, justice, meaning, and above all, Love. This is what we call serving God. We are Christians because we were – and are – taught these things by Jesus.
I’m not trying to pigeon-hole every human into these few categories. There are many others: most people are happily oblivious to all these debates; others are well aware of the debates, but have become fatigued and battle-weary, wanting to hope but struggling to find the will to wade through the divide between the different dogmatic positions. I hope to have something useful to say to those in both of those categories without becoming an obnoxious crusader. Although at times my temper has no doubt flared against certain egregious examples of problematic thinking among the groups I’ve described, I do not want to demonize anyone. I write this blog to offer another way of dealing with doubts, one which has the potential to heal the often bitter and vitriolic gash separating the Defenders and the bitter Disillusioned, for the sake especially of those caught in the middle. My hope is that by sharing my search for truth on this blog, stripping away what is false and shoring up what is true, I will eventually help motivate all, whether Christian, heretic, or apostate, who share the ethic of an overcoming goodness that I call Christianity in action.