soylent green

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+I'm often ashamed to admit I'm a Christian.+
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Well, let's face it. It's not exactly the IN thing. And with good reason. Who wants to be aligned with them. Or him? Or them? And most atheists are adamant that belief in God lands somewhere on a spectrum between psychologically weak to criminally sane.

It's uber-popular these days to call oneself spiritual, with the caveat that they're not faithful or religious. But I always have a tough time getting someone to describe to me what "spiritual" means, much less how it affects daily life. As a writer, as a Christian, and as someone fascinated by religion and faith, I really am interested. (Right now I think of "spiritual" as drinking without a hangover. Belief without the responsibility or commitment. But I'm wrong. I know I'm wrong. I just thought I'd throw that out there so you can get mad at me. Cuz apparently that's fun. Getting mad.)  Of course, their spirituality might be a personal thing and they just don't want to get into it. That's cool. Or they might lump me in with this nutjob. Not so cool. I suspect the latter; Christianity has a bad rap these days.

And yet...Christ was arguably one of the Good Guys. His life is pretty well documented for someone who was born a nobody 2000 years ago, and whether he was lying, insane, or right, people picked up on his his message.

Treat others well. Be kind to those less fortunate than you. Don't fight.

His message must have some small worth.  After all, it's still a primary focus of preschool and kindergarten.  

Treat others well. Be kind to those less fortunate than you. Don't fight. Treat others well. Be kind to those less fortunate than you. Don't fight. Treat others well. Be kind to those less fortunate than you. Don't fight...

I know that message makes me a better person. Church is my reminder, my tribe that tells me to shape up when I need and holds me up when I need that too. Call me weak or stupid, I need the reminder.

And apparently some other people need a reminder, too. Between kindergarten and now, it's a message a lot of Christians and many people of the world forget. When we shake a fist at another driver, when we make fun of someone for using a PC over a Mac, when we insist marriage is only between a man and a woman or declare someone bound for Hell or burn others' holy books or throw burning crosses or wear white hoods or make fun of the other kid at school, we have forgotten that message. And whether you think Christ is a son of man or son of God or both, his is still a pretty fucking worthwhile message to take into consideration when living life.

That it got distorted and manipulated by human beings over the intervening centuries has less to do with Christ and faith and much more to do with the widely acknowledged fallibility of people. (For the record, I believe religion is fallible; it's made of people. It's made of people!)

So no, I don't believe religion is the root of all evil.* People would find another excuse to fight if it didn't exist. I think the potential good that honest faith can do (be it Buddhism, Wicca, Islam, Christianity and so on) (and faith being that grey spot where God meets humans) outweighs the bad it has caused. The crusaders fought in the Holy Land and the Popes drove them there. But the people would have found another reason to fight. There was wealth and power to be had at Outremer.

True, some people wield religion like a weapon. But a gun doesn't pull its own trigger and you can kill with a cooking knife. If those people didn't have faith and religion, they'd wield something else every bit as effectively. I always think of the militant religious as people who need rules and boundaries to hem them in, poor saps, to keep themselves feeling safe. As well, those same people seem to need rules and boundaries to hem others in, to keep themselves feeling safe.

I'm not much for rules and boundaries. And I've said it before, my faith makes me a better person. It reminds me of the simple lessons of common decency. For instance, at yesterday's service, Blessing of the Animals, someone brought a chicken to be blessed. Now, I doubt I could love a chicken, but there's an obvious lesson there. I have some choices in my reaction, right?
  • I could laugh at them. 
  • I could protest with signs. "No Chickens in Church!" "Or in Town!" "Chicken Lover=Dog Hater!" "Chickens are for Eating!" (Okay, that's too fun. I could do a whole post on stupid chicken rhetoric.) 
  • Or, I can acknowledge and accept their love for their pet. The priests and the service reminded me with the simple act of blessing a chicken that all God's creatures are worthy of our respect and tolerance, at the least.

But enough of that. It's just a personal example. I'm not trying to convert anyone; never have, never will. There are many paths to Enlightenment. Or maybe I should say: There are many Paths to enlightenment. Billions of them, to be exact. The planet is finite. Our paths cross and join and split constantly. That's no excuse to stand in anyone's way.

*In a day or so I'm going to tackle The Root of All Evil.

19 comments:

carolwriter said...

Beautifully said, Bets. My sentiments exactly...so exactly, in fact, that I'm REALLY sorry I didn't write it.

Thanks for saying what a lot of us feel.

Carol, another tribe member

Todd Bradley said...

I'm not sure I believe your statement that "His life is pretty well documented for someone who was born a nobody 2000 years ago." I've read a lot of articles and books, and seen historical documentaries on TV that point out there is no hard evidence of Jesus of Nazareth until just a couple years before his death, and that the tiny bit of documentation from his time often conflicts with all the religious writings done decades later.

In other words, I'm not sure there is any more historically significant documentation of Jesus than there is of Paul Bunyan.

Put another way, the "message" is awesome: love each other, and so on. But we don't have much proof that it's really Jesus' personal message. And what if it isn't? Would it make it any less important or awesome?

Dominique said...

Well said.
I'm a spiritualist. I recognize that there must be some force animating the universe, but I don't know it.
My sister is a Christian. She believes in a personal relationship with god.
Somehow, we have peace at home. Most religions, it seems to me, agree love is what matters. Religious conflict drives me up the wall.

Bets said...

Oddly Todd I've heard much the opposite. And trust me, there was a time when I was looking. But I think you know The Message is more important to me than the man. If you didn't then you do now. Moreover, I think most humans need a vehicle for doing the right thing.

For me and others that's faith, along with a big side order of doubt and insecurity. But I also tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and it's tough for me to discount the beliefs of billions of faithful people.If that all makes Jesus as a man important to me than what's it to anybody else?

No offense, but atheists are some of the most righteous people I know and righteousness is something I'm tackling in my next post.

That's about what I've heard from other spiritualists, Dominique. But what I wonder about is their seeming lack of curiosity about the "force".

Bets said...

And I'm truly not trying to be mean or rude. I'm very curious about spiritualism and atheism.

Todd Bradley said...

"Righteous" or "self-righteous"? :-)

And if you've got some good (reasonably modern) books that examine the historical and archeological context of Jesus, I'd love some recommendations. The stuff I've read and seen on TV is pretty one-sided. And much of what I learned when I was in Israel was colored by the lens of Judaism.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I actually do mean righteous. I've never really agreed with the distinction between the two words. One just feels a bit more insult-y to me. Because all of the use of the word "moral" in all the definitions, and because moral is such a slippery word, I just think of righteous as "surety" in thought and deed.

Mom said her visit to the holy land was colored by all the Christians! (She was on a trip with churchy types.) I'll hunt around and see what I can find. It was a long time ago. Agreed, TV tends to lean too far one way or the other. My mom took a class on "historical Jesus" one time. Can't recall if it was through her church or the local college. She found it very interesting and was surprise to find that there's evidence for the historical man and his ministry - and I think some of that comes through Paul's letters. I'll have to ask her about it again. Maybe she has some book ideas.

At any rate, Christ and his following is a very intriguing phenomenon.

Erica Orloff said...

I don't know . . . not looking to fight here, and respect your POV, but . . . .

(Right now I think of "spiritual" as drinking without a hangover. Belief without the responsibility or commitment. But I'm wrong. I know I'm wrong. I just thought I'd throw that out there so you can get mad at me. Cuz apparently that's fun. Getting mad.)

I don't want to be mad. I just don't see this at all. I consider myself spiritual. I am a borderline theist (raised by an atheist) with Buddhist tendencies. My responsibility lies in kindness. It is my human duty to be kind to others. Some will argue altruism doesn't exist without religion; others will argue that altruistic tendencies don't exist naturally and therefore it's proof of the soul (C.S. Lewis has argued elements of that) and proof of God. But the bottom line is regardless of whether I think this Jesus guy was a son of God, or whether I think the Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of a deity, or whether I believe x or y . . . I have dark nights of the soul and suffer and wonder for my sense of right or wrong the same as you, and I am NO LESS committed to it. And it feels a little judgmental to make a pronouncement that without religion, a specific faith, that I lack responsibility for fellow human beings or that I lack a commitment to do good.

I could cite dozens of things I've done in serving mankind as a volunteer--but that would go against YOUR faith's caveat that a person not give alms while sounding the trumpet, lest that keep him or her from heaven. Soooo, suffice it say, I think I walk the walk regarding how I feel about humanity, and I don't feel someone who has a specific faith has a right to feel it's like drinking without a hangover--or rather, you have the right to believe that. But I do disagree with you.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

That's a general misconception about Christianity, Erica. Being saved only takes FAITH, not action. Literally, it only takes faith.

I put that statement in there on purpose to generate discussion. I WANT someone to prove me wrong. I, of course know you, so I know what you do. You would be who you are whether you believed in God or whatever or not. I really hope you didn't take it the way you said, that it takes faith or belief to be a good person. (Simple terms, but you know what I mean.) I absolutely do not believe that. I think my faith makes ME a better person. And I sometimes wonder if maybe that's cuz I'm weak. I mean, I like the service. I like doing what people have been doing for a thousand years. I like that connection to history and to humanity as much as I like the connection to God. But then, to me, they're pretty well the same damn thing.

I had a friend share her faith with me recently and she said she had no idea why she was doing it. She never does. But she said there was something about me...

I said: Curiosity?

And she said: YES!

I don't judge. Many paths. That's what I take from Wicca and Buddhism, from all religions, and those who don't believe too.

Erica Orloff said...

Starbucks:
Oddly enough. I used to take my children to a liberal Lutheran church, which preached faith and grace ALONE save you, so I hear what you are saying.

I actually visit St. Patrick's Cathedral every time I go to NYC (several times a year, I guess). I light candles and am HUGELY comforted there. For me, organized religion is, like you said, populated by humans, who seem to get it wrong. For a time, I was OK with going to churches and "taking what I liked the leaving the rest," but lately the hypocrisy of some of it has gotten to me, so I am more firmly in the go-it-alone but walk-the-walk camp.

I am enjoying your thought-provoking posts.

Erica Orloff said...

Starbucks:
P.S. YEARS ago, I read a Christopher Hitchens essay (he is now a pretty famous atheist--then he was less famous and it was less-known that he was an atheist) in which he said he would NEVER trust a person who had not suffered a "dark night of the soul" for their faith--that UNTIL your FAITH is TESTED . . . he didn't take much stock in it.

I feel like EACH of us, whatever we believe, are tested . . . and if in the face of agony, suffering, death, etc., we strengthen our beliefs, then we can talk, so to speak. Anyway, thought I would add that.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I think that's really valid, Erica. Dark night of the soul.

I don't think I'm there yet, honestly. My "come to jesus" meeting (literally) happened in a bar with a friend of mine. We just got to talking and I asked him if he believed, being raised Catholic but not practicing now. And he said, Yeah, he did. And I said, Yeah. I do too.

And there was one of those sort of passing moments of silence and we went on with our evening. But since then I've been unable to set aside Christ. He utterly fascinates me.

And at that point too, I realized my writing skirted around the issues of faith all along, and that I'd better just tackle it head on. Around then the idea of SCAR was born, too.

nancyhigh said...

Dang, how did I miss this post of yours on FB? Thanks for your writing. As a Christian in academia (who teaches the grotesque, no less, and in Boulder), I feel the tension when telling someone that I believe in Christ, and praying that they don't suddenly project a host of political cliches onto me. While I write fantasy fiction, all of my poetry revolves around Biblical narratives (I used to write liturgy for my church). To read your post right before Sunday morning--very encouraging.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Hey Nancy! Thx for dropping by! I never really knew what you taught. We'll have to catch up at MHC.

nancyhigh said...

Most definitely!

Todd Bradley said...

I'm interested in what you wrote:

"Being saved only takes FAITH, not action. Literally, it only takes faith. I put that statement in there on purpose to generate discussion. I WANT someone to prove me wrong."

I'm sure by now you've seen the Christian Science Monitor's article about how atheists know the most about religion of any group in the US. If you haven't seen their quiz "Are you smarter than an atheist" you can take it online here:

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2010/0928/In-US-atheists-know-religion-better-than-believers.-Is-that-bad

SPOILER ALERT - DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO TAKE THE QUIZ









The reason I bring all this up is one thing I didn't realize (and got wrong in the quiz) is that Protestants and Catholics have contrary views on the very topic you mentioned - what it takes to be saved.

Question 21 is:

21. Which of these religious groups traditionally teaches that salvation comes through faith alone?

The CS Monitor (and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life) say the correct answer is "only Protestants". I know next to nothing about Catholic doctrine, but the authors of the survey are pretty well educated about it.

So that may not "prove you wrong" but it's good evidence that your statement that "it only takes faith" is true only from a Protestant view.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

That's always been my understanding. And since I'm Protestant it makes sense to me. It's one of the deal-breakers I have with Catholicism, though at one time I considered converting.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Hey Todd, I also happened to ask Mom about the historical jesus class. She said the most recent talk she heard (in Israel) was they think Jesus' ministry lasted only 8 months! Crazy.

And she said she's taking a class on Galatians (Paul's letters) and that those are pretty well the earliest Christian writings. Even her teacher said it should be called "Paulism" not Christianity because of Paul's influence. They're pretty sure he never met Christ or he would have mentioned it, but it's accepted he knew people who did know/see Jesus.

His writings are also generally accepted to be in the 50s AD.

Todd Bradley said...

Pretty weird, eh? I hadn't heard 8 months. I thought it was more like 18 months, based on the places they say he visited and when. Either way, the whole glorified notion that Jesus had a life-long history of teaching and preaching is unsubstantiated. Heck, his career as a prophet lasted for less time than I've been working on my current film! (though I predict his work will be remembered longer)