Once upon a time, in a land far away, across a vast ocean and in a small hamlet (or two) and in another life this Blogger was a preacher. Before that, he was a missionary, trying to convert Muslims to the Christian faith. Before that, he dabbled in this and that until one day he felt the nudge of something to go into Christian work. Now he is an atheist…of sorts. It’s complicated. So complicated and complex, in fact, that the Blogger has a difficult time reconciling his new life with the old one. He goes between shades of anger at the church and the silly doctrines of his old life to fond memories of people met, wisdom gained and good times had.
The problem with religion, all religion, is that it becomes exclusive. A corner on truth. Is truth a person, a lace, a thing? Is it all of them or none? Is truth quantifiable at all? Are there absolutes? And if there were, whose are they? Who or what sets them? See what I mean? To say you know for sure and that you have the corner on truth, what ever it may be, seems and has always appeared to me as being arrogant. I became weary as a Christian trying to reconcile inconsistencies in the faith I upheld against all comers. The Trinity, for example (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Making up all kinds of analogies and similes to explain what, in the end, goes back to the qualifying statement covering all such matters, “It requires faith”.
Faith. We all have to have it. In one form or another. I believe the sun will come out tomorrow. I believe in the inherent goodness in people or the opposite. I believe in fairies and unicorns, that the earth is flat or round or oblong. I believe some being made me or that I just evolved from a fish (both seem silly). I just don’t know any more. And to be honest with you, I don’t want to know. Well, part of me does, that’s why I read Richard Dawkins’ books and others of his ilk. Not that I agree with everything the man says. After all, the man is as much a theorist as a scientist as are all scientists and anyone who was never there in the mists of the past. But it all makes you think. And that’s the trouble with religion. It tells you what to think.
Now, I know I have old colleagues who may read this (but I doubt it) and would say there are many fine minds in Christendom. I’ve met a few who are still living. Then there are C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Malcolm Muggeridge, great philosophers, artists and even many scientists are all brilliant people who think Jesus is the truth. But it’s all so finite, so wrapped up neatish, so final and so boring to have all inquiries lead back to and up to some 2,000 year old Avatar.
The only stories we have about this particular Avatar are from the Bible….the New Testament anyway. Christians believe the Old Testament, God’s word to the Hebrews, points to Jesus. That is a belief debated even among Christians. Regardless, most Christians believe it and so give credence to Jesus (Yeshua actually….if we’re going to be picky, Jesus’ real name ought to be Joshua) as the promised Messiah of Israel. Most of you are probably at that, ‘Who gives a shit about any of this anyway’ stage, but a beg you read on. The stories we have about this saviour are contained in this one book. I and my colleagues had to be very creative in our interpretations of Jesus’ parables and Bible stories in general to make it all relevant for our time. What I did with the book of Job and the Book of Revelation during Bible studies could go down in the annals of imaginative fantasy to rival even Tolkien.
This Blogger is not going to take on all the world’s beliefs. Every one of them has at its core some version of what we call the Golden Rule. I am most familiar with the version from the Bible that says in two of the Gospels, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’. I find it much easier to take on my old belief system. I understand it. I used to defend it and feel sorry for those on the outside. I know all the arguments for why people ought to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. It’s a guaranteed escape route from this dangerous and often perilous world into another world of peace and perfection.
None of it does anything for me anymore. When people ask me why at 53 years old I did an about-face in my beliefs, I tell them I woke up. I don’t need a saviour. I don’t need redemption. I may need forgiveness from time to time, but that’ll have to come from you, not some being no one has ever seen. I get my love from you, my purpose from you and ultimately my salvation. Not everyone is going to let me down. I don’t need to waste a couple of hours on a Sunday morning feeling miserable about my poor, sinful self (please, those of you who still maintain a faith, don’t bore me with tales of ecstasy during your morning services….don’t forget I was a Presbyterian). For those who don’t think sin is the central doctrine of Christianity, you don’t get it. Without sin, there is no need for a God to redeem and forgive and no need for a Saviour. It all gets way too heavy and cumbersome. Throw it off and breathe.
Some religions teach of other things than sin, but they all have rules and dos and don’ts and rituals with meanings lost in the long forgotten past. People just follow them either out of the superstition that if they don’t, bad things shall befall them. We have wound ourselves up into a tight ball of convoluted nonsense. And we don’t seem able to stop. In fact, we don’t want to. I read a very interesting book not long ago. I recommend it, if you can find a copy, Daniel Quinn’s ‘The Story of B’. Gripping. Thought provoking and dangerous.
I have lost good friends because of my decision to leave the church. I really don’t have much good to say about my old Christian denomination, or any of them for that matter. Being a minister is the worst job in the world. Low pay for professionals (because, of course, you’re working for God so pay is not important), stupid hours, crazy congregants, pointless meetings. You do a hundred things right and never hear about it. Do one thing wrong and….BOOM! When my life fell apart and I was diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder, the church told me I was a sinner, to repent and be restored. They refused to pay for any treatment recommended by the clinic they had sent me to for assessment (Presbyterians come from a Scottish background….say no more). It wasn’t the illness that got me off-track. It was sin. Their exact words. They said to me,’Go get help and come back when you’re better. The only thing that saves the cheap bastards is that I am not the suing kind. For the moment.
So, the church means nothing to me. I met other clergy in the clinic who were also burned-out and treated horribly by their denominations. Some of them were more forgiving than I and some accepted they were sinners while I refused. One man’s story of self-redemption over another’s of compliance and seeking redemption from beyond. I am not bitter. I was, for a few years, but no longer. I’m just weary of Christians who judge all non-Christians as lost and wary of religious types.
This Blogger accepts all forms of human spirituality as valid as the next. It’s just that none of it is for me. I like feeling small in the universe and alone except for those I love around me. I know many Born-Again Christians who are so lonely. My mum was one. My dad too….another preacher. Most people go to church to find friendship. They really don’t care about the doctrines. One missionary told me once that he thought everyone was an Animist at heart, even Christians. If you don’t know what that is, Google it.
Suffice it to say, whatever you believe, in the end all you have is you and me. That’s what I know. When you are with me, that’s all that matters at that moment. Eternity means that moment. It’s really all we have. And I love it because it has no rules or doctrines, no organisation, no obligation, no pretense (unless one of us is pretending….can happen I grant you) no hymns other than the tunes we love (cue the Beach Boys here, it’s nearly summer) and no bloody Bible. Heaven.