What I Believe, Pt.1

Not too long ago, someone asked me, point-blank, what I believe. I did not know what to tell them. Mainly because I had no clue. Mind you, I had been in “professional ministry” in Christian churches for almost a decade (three years as youth minister at a small, rural church in Missouri, followed by five as pastor of another very small church outside of Waco, Texas). I had a Bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries (whatever that means) and a Master’s degree in church-state studies (don’t ask; nobody knows). Moreover, I am the son of Southern Baptist missionaries, a pastor’s kid–an MK/PK, for those in the know–and grew up surrounded by people who made religion and its transmission their life’s work. And with all that training, with that sort of resume up my sleeve, I had no clue how to tell someone what I believed.

This wasn’t always the case. For many, many years, I would have happily and concisely told you exactly what I believed. Just like I stood behind pulpits and in front of youth groups and told lots of folks exactly what I believed. I was absolutely sure, for a very long time, that I knew how things of faith worked, how a life of faith should look, who God was, how to talk to Him (Him, not Her–’cause that’d be wrong). I knew who was going to Heaven, who to Hell. I of course fell firmly into the first category. I had walked that aisle, the old Sawdust Trail, been through those cleansing waters, and come out a cock-sure, self-satisfied, born-again believer. I was in the Lord’s Army, sword and all.

So, what happened?

The short answer is, I started to think about things instead of just accepting them, instead of just doing and saying as I was told. When I did that, I began to realize what it means to believe, and to understand that “believing” is decidedly NOT what I had been doing for all those long, confident years. Because, you see, to really believe something, you have to test it, weigh it, roll it around on your tongue and get a sense for the bouquet, the vintage. You have to kick the tires, take it for a test drive. And when you’re out there on the highway and the fender falls off, you’ve got to seriously consider moving on to a different dealership.

Well, my fender fell off. And when it did, I had no choice but to start over from scratch, to go back to the drawing board. I was scared to death. I was also exhilarated, renewed. Excited at the possibilities; frightened at the prospect of a deconstructed worldview that, as it turns out, was inherited rather than chosen. And in the process, I was born again, again.

But this is not going where you may think. You see, I am now, as Divided Heaven would have it, a born-again non-believer–at least insofar as Christianity is concerned. I have been told time and again, by my former fellows, that I no longer have the right to call myself a Christian, and I’m tired of arguing with them. More importantly, whether or not I have the right to do so, I really no longer have the desire. For one thing, I’m not a huge fan of labels–more on that later; really, though, I’m tired of what that particular label has meant in my life, and of what I see it has meant in the lives of others, and I don’t care to be its advertising executive anymore.

Still, though, while I don’t believe a lot of the stuff I once would have claimed without a second thought, it’s important to me to know what it is that I do believe. For starters, I believe that life without belief is meaningless, purposeless, and a total waste of time. I also believe that we are defined by our beliefs, and when my entry comes up in the Webster’s, I want to be damn sure I can be proud of what it says. So, here I am on this journey of certain uncertainty, trying to figure it all out. And, since I think best when I think out loud (a fact which drives my co-workers bat-crap crazy), I’m taking you lot along with me.

I don’t know if anyone out there cares to meet this side of me, but here I am, in all my crazy, inconsistent mental milieu. I know where I’ve been. I’m not sure where I’m going. But, then, who ever is…?

9 thoughts on “What I Believe, Pt.1

  1. Firstly, great post! I found it intriguing that you say you had so much education in religion and over related subjects and yet end up finding your own explanation. When I read of Gerald Manley Hopkins at uni it seems that the further his poetry took him into the Natural world, the further it took him away from his teachings by the church. He was as devout as can be, and yet found another way that made him walk away from the church because he saw conflict between the two! Fascinating if you have time to read about him. Oh, I don’t believe in God either and am proud to stand up and admit it!

  2. Your skeptic agnosticism reminds me of the words of Chesterton:

    “But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.” (Orthodoxy)

      1. Yeah, not offended. In fact, I was just thinking the other day how much I miss our discussions from grad school. You keep me honest, you and your pesky ideas…:o)

    1. First, I don’t know that I’d call myself a skeptic, so much as a cynic (which is not necessarily a better thing, just different). I don’t doubt that the human race COULD come together as one and overcome some of those ongoing issues that plague us as a planet; I just have a hard time believing we ever WILL. A conundrum, granted, and a contradiction, but life is, I think, a contradiction unfolding.

      Still, in the midst of this internal contradiction, I am inspired to keep trying, to continue in the attempt to inspire others to bigger and greater things (quite a grandiose project for a tiny smudge such as myself). The people who concern me are those who insist on covering up their own inner turmoil, like maybe if they tout their “orthodoxy” at the top of their voices, all that (very real) doubt inside will go away. Therein lies my biggest beef with the institutional faith I once held: it asks me to bury my questions and pretend they’re not there, while telling the world that everything’s okay. “God” does not solve all problems; “God” simply serves as an excuse (for many, not for all) for not confronting them. I choose to be open about my doubts, my thoughts that strike somewhat south of “I’m fine,” and chew on them until I’m ready either to swallow them or spit them out.

      Is this “doubting everything”? I don’t know. I don’t doubt the journey, the search for truth; I do doubt my ability to find it, especially if I confine myself to one tradition, one political ideology, one economic ideal, to the exclusion of all others. So I question, and I explore, and I rarely answer questions because I’m so busy asking them. And there is no question in this life that has a simple answer: sometimes the answer is only another question. Maybe men trample morality by insisting on one version of it; maybe morality tramples men when those who insist on that one version attempt to force it on others; maybe both happen at the same time. And maybe the solution we seek is not one or the other, but a mixture of both.

      I do find it interesting that you use the father of distributism as a proponent of orthodoxy, though. I’m guessing there were quite a few “orthodox” thinkers in his day that found him to be quite the revolutionary rebel…

  3. One of the things I hope to encourage others to do is have the courage to “come out” on the subject, and to let them know that they’re not alone

    I think that is a noble endeavor. There are generally two types of people who’ve left the faith. Those who were not completely committed, and those who were. I was ‘sold out’, if you will. It’s still embarrassing to admit that because of what I’ve uncovered about the Bible, it’s origins, the horrific history, justifications of inhumanity, thousands of errors in the manuscripts, embellishments, alterations, etc., not to mention the fact that there are no original manuscripts that make up the Bible.

    But that being said, I was in love with Jesus, and neurologically speaking, I was literally blinded by this love. It wasn’t so much that I was in love with Jesus, per se, but the message of love, and empathy. Things that I’ve since learned are innate. Bottom line, I was deceived, and I played a major role in that by initially trusting my own cultural traditions, rather than questioning them. I agree, leaving the faith can be traumatic. It was for me, but I have never regretted it, and have since gained a greater appreciation of life.

  4. Your essence comes shining through in your writing (that’s a gift), an essence I think is quite cool. I appreciate your post and can relate to your journey. Blogs like yours inspire me to share more about myself, what makes me tick. It’s funny how I really enjoy reading about other people’s lives,,yet I feel that sharing my own is somehow being self-centered or self-absorbed. Probably due to years of religious indoctrination—being taught that everything should be god-centered, lest you rob god of ‘his’ glory. It’s been almost a decade since I left Christianity, and I’ve yet to atrophy some of those pesky neural pathways…not that I haven’t tried. 😉

    1. Thanks for sharing! I think there are a lot of folks out there who can relate to our sort of story. One of the things I hope to encourage others to do is have the courage to “come out” on the subject, and to let them know that they’re not alone. Leaving an entire worldview behind is a traumatic, albeit necessary, experience, and it helps to know we’re in good company, I think. It helps me, anyway…

  5. I’ve always thought of ‘I don’t know’ as an acceptable answer. No shame in admitting that we don’t know everything. I enjoyed this post a lot. 🙂

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