When I first met Jason, he had long curly hair and had already wallpapered his dorm room with Bob Marley posters. We couldn’t have been more different – he was a free spirit, a wild child, and I was pretty much a rule follower. But there was always something that drew me to him, some familiarity, like finding a long-lost brother (maybe it was simply the fact that we were born on the same day).
Our spiritual journeys have probably matched our exteriors: the free spirit and the rule follower. Yet the old familiarity remains, and our quests for truth, while often taking separate roads, criss cross with incredible regularity.
I once asked him, “Jay, are you a Buddhist or what?”
“No,” he said. “I’m a Christian in exile.”
These are some of the emails we exchange from time to time.
On why the “Christian in Exile” struggles to identify with modern Christianity…
Okay, so first thing is because “Christianity” is a man made socio/cultural/political invention. Many of the phrases and beliefs in Christianity, especially the Evangelical community, were not said by Jesus. Even if they were, I also find it hard to put all my faith in a book that was created by very politically-minded human beings. All Christians assume the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says so, quite circular reasoning. So I find truths in the Bible that help me live closer to God or what feels like God to me.
In my everyday life, I do not experience beliefs but actual lived experience. We all do. The experience of God in one’s life comes from sitting and listening as you described in your post about sitting under the tree. God, to me, would seem to be huge, and the aspect of only looking at the Bible seems narrow to me. I’m thinking broadly here. I’m not saying there is no use for Jesus or the Bible – I’m just saying they are not everything. I find that part of the reason the Christian community makes them everything is out of fear and anxiety. We all need something to hold on to in order to deal with existential anxiety, so we cling to things like organized beliefs.
I will have to say though that I do not spend disciplined time sitting with God. I’m even still unsure of the process of “you need to do such and such to be a such and such.” What actually makes a Christian a Christian? When one really looks at that, it all seems so silly.
In this day and age, Jesus would not be busy trying to make definitions about who is what, he would just be speaking truth. If he returned and spent time on earth, it would look like this: Christians from all denominations running up to him trying to confirm their beliefs. From what we know about the way Jesus responded to this in the Bible, he would come back at these people with questions that smash through the knowingness of their beliefs. This is why I don’t identify with Christianity as an organized religion. It has become convoluted and meaningless.
Why do Christians find it so important to believe the right thing and defend the Bible? What’s with all the certainty?
(Stay tuned for my response to Jason’s email tomorrow)
13 Replies to “Emails From a Christian in Exile: Today’s Christianity is Man Made”
Here’s a proposal….
It seems Jason wants certainty as well.
Sure, maybe not the garden variety kind we often see out there in Evangelicalism, as they search for truth. Rather Jason may desire the “certainty that there is no certainty.” (circular reasoning, also).
I think this points to a spiritual thirst he has in common with those he is questioning.
If we had certainty that there is no certainty, we could relax, and chill. Right? We’d know what we had to know.
But disputing the perspective of others, is one of those tell tale signs. It is what bothers him about others, that reflects those exasperating things he sees, in some respect, in himself. Like for instance….wanting to be right, or wanting to be authentic, or wanting to be sure of something.
I’m interested to hear your response, Shawn.
HI Lisa, I would love certainty, you are right but I don’t think it is possible or necessary, or even what Jesus asked of us. It is a modern invention that reason could bring us a definitive truth. Life is more mysterious and alive than that. But I was really addressing certainty so much directly as I was addressing the idea of right belief versus the lived experience of a spiritual life in the present moment. I’m sure I’ll have more time to get into it for my response to Shawn next week. : )
Great thoughts, Lisa. You wrote:
“I think this points to a spiritual thirst he has in common with those he is questioning.”
This is one thing I admire about Jason – he is one of the most spiritually thirsty people that I know.
I shared a lot of his concerns when I started asking the harder questions about the faith. How much of Christianity is based on solid ground rather than just the experiential turned existential turned doctrinal? The more I have looked so far however I have found that nearly all the branches of Christianity share a common core, and in most traditions a very well thought out cored(though there are lots of differences in the philosophical out-workings). For me the post modern approach tends toward self-refutation(there is no truth except my analysis of truth). In the end it seems you will have adopted a lens(theology even) though which you view the world and the church, the only new quality being that it has a different take on Christian doctrine that emphasizes the things you like, and mystifies the verses that doesn’t fit into your system. I think there is room for disagreement on a lot of points, but that does not warrant a response that obviates thorough reasoning and analysis, even if at the end there will be a chasm of uncertainty we cannot cross.
I would agree with your friend that most people believe the bible because they believe it is God’s word, and know little other than their experience how to tell someone why they believe that this collection of books is more than myth or nice stories. I hope he doesn’t stop his search with the normal man in the pew, my search with those who take these questions seriously(and with those who dissent from Christianity) has yielded incredible value. There is a Christian anti-intellectualism(and a focus on emotion) in the church that I feel really damages Christianity in some ways.
Your friends initial assessment of Christianity I don’t feel is helpful. It may be true that NOW in the mind of most evangelicals Christianity means lining up behind a certain political party, but that doesn’t say anything about the system itself. It also shows nothing about the original writers, whether their writings were written with political goals in mind, and if so, if we could still trust their message. It would be important to parse out what Christianity “is” (how it is now applied culturally) from what the bible says about ultimate reality and working then to how to even analyze culture. *Again, sorry for the length, my overly analytic tendencies seem to take over.*
Great thoughts, Nicholas, and please don’t apologize for the length. These topics are always difficult to delve into in writing. Your thoughts are well-presented and interesting. Thanks for writing.
Good thoughts Nicholas. I’m not talking about political in the sense of right wing republicans, but in the sense that the Bible was constructed by a group of human beings during a time when they wanted to ensure the right message was portrayed. Humans are fallible as we all know and I don’t believe that God, in one instance, changed that when the Bible was constructed. It was politically driven in the sense that power was involved. That group decided and others did not. It was also constructed within a cultural context which would have included a paradigm of thought. I think what I”m also trying to communicate is that even this discussion, what I”m writing, is meaningless. How does figuring any of this out help me live my life now? I’m not trying to communicate that I don’t believe that Jesus spoke truths or even that he was/is the son of God, whatever that truly means, I’m trying to communicate that the construction of this belief system has been altered and processed by human beings which means as an organized system, it is fallible and changeable. I think postmodernity is deconstructing the crap and a much more meaningful “Christianity” will emerge. It will still be imperfect but hopefully it will allow for more doubt, for less certainty, and for more open exploration and experience of faith, spirituality and communal living.
I agree with Nick in that the guys who assembled the Bible were exponentially more motivated by politics than those who wrote it. But we are all influenced by what is going on around us – not sure if that can ever be eliminated.
I love the last paragraph. It seems like the people who went to Jesus and had a belief confirmed were few and far between. Jesus simply will not let you confine him. He always finds a way to bust out of whatever box you try to put him in and leaves you wondering what the heck you are supposed to do next.
Thanks, Ben. I’m quoting you in my email back to J tomorrow.
well all i have to say to jason’s thoughts is
I enjoyed this article. I was raised in an inherited Christian fundamentalism, but have recently published a book:
“The Next Awakening: How Religion and Science are Both Wrong”.
Available at amazon.com
Christianity in its present form was invented by Paul, revised and extended by the Roman church and emperors. Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels of the NT represent 3 different theologies which were subjected to an attempt to sythesize them into one story in the canon.
If we have any confidence in any words being those of Jesus, we have to conclude that we come to earth as newborn babies with no deficiency or “sin”, and the newborn is closer to the image of God than is the Christian Church paradigm.
Thanks for good thoughts,
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