I have a B.A. in Religion. That was one result of looking for “the answer.” I eventually found my answer. And sometimes, as now, I have to talk with people very dear to me, whose answer is different.
It’s awkward to discuss matters of faith, religion, spirituality — whatever word one chooses — when there are differences in belief, even (maybe even especially) between people who care about one another. Beliefs are deeply held, and it can be too easy too get into arguments about which belief system is right or wrong in ways that hurt each other. But if we don’t risk the awkwardness, then instead there’s silence…which also hurts.
I’ve been having a conversation with someone dear to me about this religion stuff. It’s been a sporadic conversation, because it’s been an awkward one. But if argument is one way, and silence is another, there’s also a third way: to accept the awkwardness, while resisting the urge to argue. If I love someone, then I want to listen and to know what’s in her heart, his heart —and I want that person I love to be able to know what’s in mine. Not to argue, but simply to speak from one’s heart, in hopes that one’s interlocutor will listen, even if s/he disagrees.
This post is based upon things I’ve written on my side of the conversation.
I have been cautioned that it’s an unforgivable sin to deny Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our Savior. I don’t believe there is such a thing as an unforgivable sin, at least not in any ultimate sense. On a human level — just people being people, no god in the mix — some people will forgive each other for things that other people won’t. The thing that sticks out in my mind with Jesus was when he said, of the very men who were killing him, “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” That’s what I believe of Jesus, whom many call Christ — that he had compassion even for his own murderers (which is what they were, even if they had the “law” of their time and place to “justify” their execution of him), because he knew how confused and limited human understanding can be.
That’s where I place myself, too, as a limited human being often confused about this or that, and knowing I have no final answers for everything I meet or see in the world. But no other human being is any more empowered to give out final answers than I am: every one of us is limited. And so I don’t believe in any such thing as inerrancy of, say, the Bible, because the people who wrote down its words were human beings. So were the people who copied down the Bible’s words for later generations, so were those who translated those words into Latin or English or any other language. So were all those who spoke or wrote down and propagated the words and ideas of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and every other religion. And being human beings, however much they strove to know and understand the mystery that we call God, they made mistakes. Unfortunately, they also often institutionalized those mistakes in ways that brought uncountable harms to other people — often even to themselves.
I’m not a Christian, nor have I been one in at least since junior high, because I reject the notion that there is only one way to approach or to believe about god — a notion of exclusivity that is commonly held amongst Christians, as it is also by adherents of other religions. If I have a confession of belief, it’s the one I’ve used for years: God is the universe and everything in it. Illimitable god, I called it in a poem I wrote a couple of years ago: incapable of being limited or bounded, measureless — that is far beyond what I or any human being can completely comprehend or contain. As my calculus tutor in high school taught me: No system can contain a metasystem.
And so god shows it/him/herself in ways that are infinite in their variety. Jesus was and is a son of god, but so are all of us are children of god. And following from that, I believe that Jesus was not the savior, but was a savior: not for having died crucified for our sins but because he taught his followers (and all of us who still heed his teachings rather than only the circumstances and meaning of his death) an understanding and a compassion, even at the point of his own death, that few of us reach even on our best days. The thing he said that I love the best is: “The Kingdom of God is within you” — and within the limits of my own understanding, I do my best to live according to the goodness, the godness, that is within all of us to live by, if only we choose to. Righteousness is another word that some use: to live in right relationship with ourselves, with each other, and with illimitable god and the illimitable creation that is one with it.
Being limited, I may be wrong about any of the conclusions I’ve formed so far about the world and god. No “conclusion” that I can make can be final anyway. If it turns out I’ll be judged and damned for believing as I do by some specific God of some specific ideological belief system — well, mainly that’ll mean that, much to my disappointment, the universe is run by a Big Bully of the Sky who has all the morality of a Hitler, a Stalin, a Muammar Gadaffi, or even that putative enemy of the Christianist God, Satan.
But I don’t think so.
I will meantime try to base my judgments of other people on their actions — whether they do good or cause harm — not on the name by which their faith is called. When I have problems with some Christians, it’s when they attempt to justify behaving harmfully and hatefully towards others in the name of their religion — not because they are Christians per se. And so with Muslims, Buddhists, whoever — anyone who attempts to justify harmful behavior in the name of religion, and treat their religion as not religion, but ideology: not Muslims but Islamists, not Christians but Christianists. Religion become ideology has ceased to be religion: it’s just ideology, in all its nasty worldliness, used as a club to namecall, batter, murder, and war upon people who believe differently.
So many of the disagreements between people that lead to anger and hatred and war anyway are not really based in who and what they are fundamentally as people, but on the the names they’re called by — Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, whatever. Does god care more that call upon him (or her!) by one name rather than another? — or that we behave toward one another and toward the creation we have all been gifted to live within with respect, love, and the best effort of our hearts and minds? God has as many ways to enter into people, as there are people: we all have our own language, and god knows them all.
From another poem of mine,
God cannot be enclosed in a book
or in the miser’s soul
which portions out justice in dribbles
and rations out love in crumbs,
then wonders why we starve.
God is too wide and vast and long
and knows us for what we are
as is known the sky, the river, the rocks,
as is knows each creature that breathes.
God is too wide, too vast, too long
and knows us as we are.
Since I’m still engaged in the awkward & sporadic conversation that gave rise to this post, I’ve been thinking a lot more about religion again, and will probably be writing more about it too. Meanwhile, here are some of the other posts I’ve written about religion, religious/political ideologies, & my own personal god stuff.
- A brief spiritual history (27 Apr 2006)
- The god thing (30 Apr 2006)
- Hiisi (15 May 2006)
- Sermon (a poem) (17 May 2009; poem written in 1992)
- Religion v. belief (19 May 2009)
- Christianist, defined (23 Jun 2009)
- No Questions, Questions (poem) (24 Jun 2009)
- James Dobson’s God is a child abuser, & so is Jerry Prevo’s (22 Sep 2009)
- Job 42.13 (poem) (9 Jan 2010; poem written in 1995)
- Helping Haiti (& telling Pat Robertson to STFU) (13 Jan 2010)
- Integrity, violation, healing (21 Apr 2010)
- Metsän henki (poem) (30 Apr 2010; poem written in 2000)