Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where I Am

I've really been struggling for the past few months. I've never felt like this before - I've always had doubts, but never of this magnitude. I'm just not sure where God is, or if he even is at all.

Growing up I believed in God first because my parents did. I was supposed to love Jesus because he died for my sins, so I dutifully loved Jesus, though it would probably be better described as acknowledging Jesus. It's hard for a child to love an unembodied concept of a person - I'd never seen Jesus, hugged Jesus, or held Jesus' hand like I did with the people in my life who I really loved - my Mom and Dad and Grandmas and little brother. The story of Jesus had weight for me chiefly because my parents said it was really important and I believed them. At three I prayed the sinner's prayer and accepted concept-of-Jesus into my heart.

In middle- and highschool I really believed. I finally really loved Jesus. The world was so beautiful and surely God must be so beautiful too, because He made the world. If only people would let God into their lives, they would be changed and transformed and joyful. There was such joy in the Lord! I was naive, but I was a true believer. I wasn't faking it or unsure. I believed.

In college I realized the world is very big. There are many people in it, and there is great, great suffering. It is not suffering of the "this will make me a stronger person and give me a better witness!" kind. It is suffering of the meaningless, incomprehensible, dull, aching kind, and it often ends only with death. Where is God in it? Where is God at all? I begin to realize that most of my beliefs come from never having thought another way. Why do I believe in this God who say He is present with us but never seems to show up?

I am a questioning person. I am a logical person. I want my ontological speculations and beliefs to make sense holistically. People often say, "you are too small to understand God. His ways are not your ways. His thoughts are not your thoughts." That's intellectual laziness. It's true that if God is real than He's far too big for the human mind to encompass, but that doesn't mean we don't have to have a belief in God that makes logical sense. Jesus clearly means us to: He says "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, MIND and strength." If belief in God is to be rational then it must be cognitively sound. You have to think things through - you can't just get out of it by saying "His ways are above our ways." Don't give me that. No one would take you seriously if you were talking about anything but God. "Hey, could you talk to me about this math question?" "Oh no, friend, math's ways are above our ways."

I hope, more than anything else I have ever hoped for, with all of my being, I hope that there's a God. But that's it. I hope. I don't know. Knowledge isn't faith - knowledge is fact. Knowledge is Thomas putting his fingers in Jesus' side - a concrete, observable, repeatable experience. Faith, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of observable, repeatable experience, and it's what the Christian belief system is all about.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. That's hard for me. I'm only a Thomas. I want to know.

I still pray, though prayer is actually a primary cause of my current spiritual upheaval. I hold a certain cognitive dissonance about prayer - I simultaneously believe that Jesus wasn't lying when he said "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” and I also believe that though I have many times agreed with others on what to ask God for, He has never done it for me. There is no time in my life that I have definitely felt the presence of God or heard Him speaking to me or had prayers consistently answered. Never. Not once.

I hope there's a God. I hope because without God, all this suffering is meaningless. It doesn't matter if the man who raped a three-year-old then set her on fire goes free. She dies, he'll die and it won't mean a thing. It doesn't matter that a woman in Darfur slowly bled to death after having been gang-raped and having her nose, ears and breasts cut off. It doesn't matter. Those people are dead. Soon anyone who remembers them will be dead. They are lost, and so are we, and my dear atheist friends try to give me this bullshit about everyone's lives actually mattering more now that we know there's no afterlife because it makes what we do now while we're alive so much more important. Bullshit. It makes it nothing. It makes us nothing.

I am only Thomas. I am no great champion of faith. I am only Thomas. Jesus told Thomas "You believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe," but He still let Thomas touch His hands and side. He let Thomas prove it to himself. I'm only Thomas! I'm only me! Let me touch your hands and side!

He never answers. I knock but the door doesn't open. I seek but I don't find. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

For the Love of God, Don't Get to Know Any Sinners

I was planning on writing a completely different blog post today but was stopped short in my tracks by a quote from Stacy McDonald, co-author of the book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. I haven't personally read the book and I had read only a few pieces by her before (most notably her very unfavorable and dismissive review of Quivering Daughters), so today I decided to find out more about her and her ministry. I found her blog, "Your Sacred Calling", and started reading, trying very hard to keep an open mind. All was going fairly well until I started reading the post, "Letter from a 17-year-old feminist."

Despite Stacy's self-assuredness that hers is the only right way, her appeal to a Pascal's-wager type situation as a means of convincing this girl ("Lisa") to believe in God, and her fairly annoying and extremely patronizing writing style ("Lisa, may the Lord give you the same mercy He has given me. May He melt your heart of stone, and reveal to you the beauty of His Truth. May He give you ears to hear and eyes to see. I will be praying for you"), it was not these things that most disturbed me. What actually did it was a brief sentence about a third of the way down the post:

"Men tend to be naturally (sinfully) lazy, passive, selfish, complacent, unfaithful oafs."

Um. Wow. Really? Men (there's no qualifier here, so I have to assume she means all men) tend to be naturally the scum of the earth? THIS is how godly, submissive women view the "natural" state of men? Really?

Now, I get what she's doing. She's trying to communicate that all people are fallen and therefore sinful, and that before a person has a saving relationship with Jesus they're naturally sinful. Once you know Jesus you're enabled to be the great, kind, wonderful leader and priest of the home that God meant for you to be. But there are several things wrong with this: first of all it's a false dichotomy and second, it just doesn't work this way in real life (and thirdly it's just plain sexist, but conveying that point is probably a lost cause). Lastly, it implies that humans in their "natural" state (non-Christians) are not really worthy of our respect, admiration or emulation.

A lot of conservative Christians preach that there are two kinds of people in the world: Christians and non-Christians. The first group have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into godly, strong, passionate and righteous people who go about doing good works, furthering the kingdom, and serving as examples of the power of Christ. Examples of this group would be Stacy and her husband (as used by Stacy in the post). The non-Christians are (if you're a man) "lazy, passive, selfish, complacent, unfaithful oafs," and (if you're a woman) "selfish, loud, pushy and obnoxious." Examples of this would be the 17-year-old girl Stacy is writing to.

This is a false dichotomy. It is simply untrue that non-Christians are "bad" people while Christians are "good" people. To view the world like this causes you to miss so much. I used to believe this. I used to believe that atheists, evolutionists, feminists and gay people were bad, that they were willfully and rebelliously rejecting God and His perfect plan. Then I met some. I think that's the problem: Stacy and others like her have never met any intelligent, kind, thoughtful people who think differently from them. Or maybe they have, and have simply rejected these good people as sinful and worldly and not worthy to be considered friends, but that's not a very charitable thing to think of Stacy so let's assume the first. Stacy needs to meet some people! I took a college prep class and met an atheist, who was the teacher. He's one of the kindest, nicest men I've ever met. He has the kind of love that Jesus taught we should have. I met evolutionists in online forums. It dawned on me that these were not people who were purposely rebelling against the truth of creationism simply to spite God and revel in their own wickedness (yes, that's what I used to think). I learned there were lots of different kinds of feminists and that they didn't all fall into the category of "feminazi" (thanks for that word go to Rush Limbaugh, the man I spent every lunch break of my childhood listening to). I got to college and met my first gay person. He's a Christian to boot! I had never considered this to be really possible. Actually, my views on gay people have been some of the most difficult to change and they have taken the longest to get remolded in the light of Christ's love, but the walls I built for myself are slowly coming down. It's very liberating. "The truth shall set you free," indeed. 

I don't think Stacy has ever had true, deep relationships with people who think differently from the way she thinks. If she had, she would not categorize non-Christians as lazy, passive, selfish, complacent, unfaithful oafs. Some of them doubtless are those things. But so are some Christians. You can't just draw a line in the sand with the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other, and then claim that all the good guys are Christians. That doesn't fit with reality. In fact, it's often directly opposed to reality.

It really bothers me that Stacy goes about her (very influential) life believing that godly Christians (read: those who agree with her) are so morally superior to everyone else. I mean, it really explains the moralistic and incredibly patronizing tone she uses when talking to anyone who falls outside the boundaries of faith that she and the patriarchal movement have made for themselves, but she's missing so much! So many relationships with so many good people! If you wouldn't eat with the prostitutes and tax collectors, you're doing it wrong. That's not Christianity, it's a club for righteous people. Maybe Stacy would do that, but it's not getting through to me from her blog.

I don't say this to attack Stacy. In all, she seems like a very nice person with some very human blind spots, just like everyone else. It's just that this way of thinking is very, very damaging. She's not doing herself or anyone else any favors. By making such an offensive and moralistic blanket statement about what non-Christian men are supposedly really like, she's making it ok to not respect those who have different beliefs. After all, if all non-Christian men are "oafs," why listen to what they have to say? If all non-Christian women are "pushy and obnoxious," well, who would really want to even try to get to know someone like that, let alone start to understand where they're coming from? Stacy has precluded any possibility of finding out that she's wrong. That's really sad. She's missing out.