Deep damage

When you extricate yourself out of a less than good situation, I know it helps me to figure out what was damaging about it. Depending on how long I was in it, it might take a while to begin to do that.

I have grown up going to church. I knew a lot of the things a “good Christian” should do and should believe. Things like daily private devotions and certain things about the accuracy of the bible. As I got older, the message was not a lot different but I grew better at hearing the sub-text.

Church pastors and other teachers try to convince you that Christianity isn’t a list of “dos” and “don’ts”. They dress this up with phrases like “the mark of a Christian is…” and “… isn’t God-ly”. They lay down expectations of a daily quiet time, regular prayer and other personal practices that never work for everyone. They even explicitly say “it’s not a list of dos and don’ts”.

Except it is.

All religious and spiritual practices are. They can be as complex as modern Judaism, which even says you can’t prepare certain types of food together (so wealthy Jews have two kitchens). Or it can be as simple as the Wiccan Rede: do what you will without harming anyone. Most are somewhere in the middle. Like Christianity.

I’m learning that the Christianity that comes from following the Jesus remembered in the Bible starts with “don’t be a dickhead but love everyone, treating them all as valuable people”. The church over the centuries has added a lot to that. It is a lot of those additions I am extricating myself from.

It is a slow process.

 

Posted in Belief, Christianity, Church, Self, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grasping the Bible as a library

Quick post as I just want to dump some thoughts.

I’m partway through reading A New Kind Of Christianity by Brian McLaren. There are so many books out there for Christians (or just church-goers) looking for certainty in a world that seems to be turning away from the Bible. I’ve read a small sampling of them as I navigate recommendations and blurbs on websites. Some are just re-iterations of what passes for standard church teaching. Some ask questions about how we got here from there, and often have some good history, but have difficulty in presenting answers (which they don’t always want to do, anyway). And then a few successfully separate centuries of church-based teaching from the scriptures and manage to turn everything sideways.

McLaren is one of the latter. Currently I am in the part of the book where he argues the reader out of thinking of the Bible as an authoritative textbook. Because it is just not.

That’s where I am. McLaren has had scads of training in English Literature, not theology, and so his instinct is to see the Bible as a library of stories. I like that. It takes away the problem of whether it is literal history (I would argue not) and looks for the narrative and character traits.

It also puts the lie to attempts to distill a “single true answer” for any particular topic. The Bible is terrible at that, a fact too many church-goers do not grasp. Or maybe they’ve never been given encouragement to. This tendency is what underlies a lot of Fundamentalism, a fact I am not surprised by. It was a little distressing to hear a friend of mine in my previous bible study obliquely align to this stance, actually. His was far from the first study I had been a member of that did not tolerate dissenting views easily. Had everyone been conditioned to find a single correct answer? Possibly. Conservative church-teaching does that, I’ve noticed.

McLaren also talks about removing the later thinkers from the thinking. Just as we look at Jesus through Paul’s eyes, we also look at Paul looking at Jesus through Augustine’s eyes. And then there is Calvin, Luther, Graham, and many many many more scholars in between and off to the side. We should be aware of this so we can also look at Jesus without all that baggage. And that’s the same argument I’ve been making!

It’s good to find a writer who has been on a journey so similar to mine. :-)

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Church, History, Self | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

An open letter to the the churches all around me.

I’m wondering if I need to write an open letter to the churches where I live. It’d probably go something like this:

Dear churches,

I am looking for a new place to share fellowship with Christians. Such a place should, of course, be friendly and seeks to connect with the community around them, including the other nearby churches.

However, I am also looking for a place conducive for pushing the boundaries of what the church traditionally teaches. I am not interested in slavish devotion to the words of today’s preferred translation of the Bible. I am not looking for people that decry the degeneration or secularisation of modern society. I am not looking for people afraid of what they don’t know.

Instead, I am looking for a church that genuinely takes inspiration from Jesus’ actions. One that helps people in need rather than tries to make them “christian” first. One that seeks to right real wrongs rather than impose their own rules. One that values actions higher than statements of belief.

A church should be a refuge for the lost and scared, it should not be a haven for the ignorant. I have been church-going for all my life, and have partaken in church teaching for all of that. But I have recently come to the realisation that there is little I have not heard before. Instead, pulpit teaching is firmly rooted in the same conservative fundamentals that I learnt thirty years ago.

The type of church I am looking for is one that is willing to embrace a more progressive agenda. Such a church will not judge people when they don’t fit conservative church-teachings. Such a church will loudly and roundly condemn social injustice, systemic corruption and ecological destruction wherever it sees it. Such a church will seek to defend the weak against the strong. Such a church will constantly question what it believes.

Perhaps you are that kind of church. Perhaps you’re not. But perhaps you want to be.

Posted in Belief, Christianity, Church | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Watching a Younger Self

It is probably quite obvious to say it, but I don’t believe the same things now that I did twenty years ago. Many of those have changed in the last twenty-four months, but some have changed slowly over time. One of the more obvious is belief in literal six-day creation.

I’ve recently come across a young man I knew a few years ago just as he was entering high school. For reasons that are unimportant here, he and his family moved to a different church. I had lost contact with him, but one mutual friend did not. Turns out that young man has completed a Bible College course and has now started a blog about well, Christian concepts. (No link for reasons that will become clear.)

The term “earnest young man” was almost made for this guy. He says he’s studying science at University but I think he should be doing Philosophy. His blog is unashamaedly Christian Apologetics and is strong with the scent of one who places the modern bible on a pedestal above all other works. He is also somewhat inexperienced at writing. I imagine he will take a few years to see this. The current posts are littered with the sort of clumsy, self-important opinions that are often seen written by someone who is good at stringing words together but not yet so good at navigating through ideas. I recognise this because I used to do it. :-)

His first post was about Creation. It is a description of the three major points of view: the Young Earth theory (creation happened in six literal days and the earth is only a few thousand years old), the Day-Age theory (the Hebrew word translated “day” can also mean an unknown age) and the Literary Framework theory (it’s a story that tells us who created, not how). Nothing earth-shattering, to be honest. For all I know he could have posted it as a random starting point in a blog to collect his thoughts and beliefs.

Which sounds familiar, as that is what this blog is doing for me. I wish him well. And hope that his writing gets better sooner rather than later!

 

Posted in Belief, Bible | Leave a comment

I am not a Fundamentalist

Most people in western culture will be aware to some degree of a certain brand of church from the USA. I mean, of course, the people often, somewhat perjoratively, called “fundies”. Which is short for Fundamentalist.

Now, fundamentalism in and of itself shouldn’t be a bad thing. At its core it is an attempt to get back to the most basic, the most fundamental facts of a topic. However, what has happened is that various church movements in the last hundred years ago have taken this to some extremes. The Wikipedia article is informative.

One core belief held by Fundamentalists is of the accuracy and inerrancy of The Bible. It is one of the most hotly defended beliefs. It is the one that means people are taught the history of books of the Bible like Genesis really happened as recorded. What’s more, such beliefs are not restricted to the most conservative, the most visible or the most combative of Fundamentalists. Many evangelical churches who would never identify with the former also believe the historical stories in the Bible are accurate (if incomplete) historical records.

Unfortunately, this ignores modern scholarship.

Setting aside what science thinks about how the world came into being, scholars are pretty sure that most of the stories in the bible were never intended to be the sort of historical records we are accustomed to. And that’s largely for the simple reason that that idea just did not exist until a few hundred years ago. Evangelical, non-Fundamentalist Christians actually think they know this, curiously. That’s when you hear the reminder that the oldest stories were intended to tell who (and often why) and not how.

And still they forget.

For various unclear and largely half-thought-out reasons I went back to my (old) church tonight. The message was the first in a series about “God’s Big Stories”, and the first one was about the creation story. As a story demonstrating God’s power, this is a pretty big one! And pretty much what it was written for. And then I was disappointed to see a kind of quiz seeing how well the younger attendees remembered which days what acts of creation occurred.

I used to believe creation happened in six actual days just like in Genesis 1. It is, after all, what I was taught in the basically evangelical and reasonably conservative churches I attended whilst I was growing up. But ever since I got bored and frustrated with the same unsatisfying teaching going around in circles and went looking for myself, this has become a casualty of larger realizations.

In short, I’m not a fundamentalist. Not anymore. Not even the merely ignorant sort I was raised to be.

 

Posted in Belief, Bible, Christianity, History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Is the slope all that slippery?

The process of accepting one small change after another until you’re suddenly in a position far away from where you intended to go is colloquially known as “a slippery slope“. Especially as reflects how disturbingly easy subsequent changes are to make or accept. Those arguing for or against some idealism often cite this metaphor in defense. It has been used truly countless times throughout history. However, I wonder if all such slopes are really all that slippery. Or truly unwelcome. Or really “slippery slopes” at all. The definition in Wikipedia is informative in this respect. Conservative Christians are one group that is somewhat fond of using this type argument to argue against things they don’t want to accept.

I’ve been on a serious investigative bender in spirituality, christianity and the church for a few years now. A friend basically put me onto the term “progressive christianity” and “the emerging church”. What’s more, it has become much easier recently to find authors either quietly or overtly challenging some of the evangelical church’s most cherished points-of-view. Part of the reason for this is that the scholarship has been advancing even whilst the church teaching has not, and in a number of ways has rather left the traditional church teaching behind. And when you finally realize that the church teaching you’ve been receiving over the years has been going around in circles, the modern scholarship is a storm of fresh air.

I mentioned Brian McLaren in a previous post, and one particularly startling comparison between the die-hard churched and society at large that he made in a recent book. It is with some sadness that I can easily identify a number of people in my (former) church who would probably say the first things wrong with today’s society are sexual immorality and abandonment of God.

Sorry, but I rather disagree. Let me list a few examples that are rather more important than that:

  1. Our planet is on the verge of going to hell in a handbasket. Literally, in the case of global warming and climate change. And we keep voting in politicians who just do not have the balls to do anything about this, substantial or otherwise.
  2. Too many large businesses are focussed on making money at any cost. We have mining companies making obscene profits that they keep all to themselves by doing their upmost to steamroll all opposition. Thus we have fights in the courts over whether they can destroy historic towns, or priceless water catchments.
  3. The federal government is finding it has to make conditions for those seeking asylum here worse than what they are fleeing from in the first place in order to deter them. If this is not criminal, it should be.

Does an awareness for this brand me non-Christian? I dunno. It shouldn’t.

I’ve been watching the sorts of things I like and (re)share on Facebook recently. As well the humour and serious discussion, I also talk about (as a sampling) climate issues, human rights (female, racial, what-have-you), recovery from church abuse – there was even a recent post about de-criminalising drugs. All this is highly liberal and progressive. And almost exactly the opposite of the most staid of conservative church-going fundamentalism.

This is not the start of a slippery slope, partly because I’ve willingly gone down it but mostly because I’m not at the start of it anymore. And I want to be here. I am owning the fact that my spiritual journey is now bearing fruit that makes much more sense.

 

Posted in Belief, Church | 2 Comments

A changing picture

I’ve been reading a Brian McLaren book, Church On The Other Side. McLaren is a fairly progressive Christian, keen to help church-goers and churches to stop declining in number and relevance. It’s a challenging read, in some ways, and sad in others. I guess most Christians and church-goers that most readers would regard as needing to read this probably wouldn’t.

And that’s a real shame. McLaren’s book isn’t the easiest to read, though it could be a lot more difficult. The chapters are numerous and small, perhaps in lieu of better structure, or more well thought out “narrative”. But he is passionate about this topic. The church is (in the west) now arguably the most ineffective and most derided it has ever been since Emperor Constantine. And McLaren wants the church to change.

There is one horribly good example buried more then three quarters of the way through. It is provided in the context of long-term versus short-term viewpoints, which may be a way to get this example past certain types of thinking. But to my way of thinking, it is an example of insular, blinkered, “churchy” thinking versus an inclusive, world-connecting thinking. McLaren says that if you ask a typical Christian what are the most pressing issues today and you will get soundbites about abortion, breakdown of families and homosexuality. Ask a non-Christian and you’ll get quite different responses: over-population, climate-change, ethnic tribalism (including fundamentalism!), systemic poverty and ecological destruction.

This is quite a different list.

I don’t want to be part of a church that get’s it panties in knots over homosexuality. I’d rather my church gets constructively upset over climate change deniers, for instance.

Posted in Belief, Church, Community | Tagged , | Leave a comment