Experiential religion in an ideological world

I want to start with two passages from the Christian scriptures; the first is from the Gospel of Matthew:

..the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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Human value and protecting God

I came across this post on Rational Doubt from a former pastor on how praising God often comes at the expense of denigrating humanity in many Christian circles.

I’d probably sung the song a hundred times, swaying to its gentle melodies with arms uplifted and eyes closed.  It was one of those praise choruses evangelical Christians love to sing, a few words repeated over and over again –

“You alone I long to worship.  You alone are worthy of praise.”

We sang until we were oblivious to our surroundings and open to the Spirit.  Having practiced this form of spiritual reflection often, I was startled when my inner voice said, “That can’t be true.”

[…] Every human life had worth.  Nearly everyone did something worthy of praise.

[…] Of all the religions I’ve studied, Christianity has the poorest opinion of human nature.  Christian theology, rhetoric and music often praises God’s magnificence at human expense.  According to orthodox theology, we are born into sin, doomed from our first breath.  Though Christianity says we were created in God’s image, that image was quickly and irrevocably broken and twisted by sin.

[…] When my children were born, I didn’t look at them and despair[…] While I knew they would make mistakes, I saw this not as a moral failing, but as a necessary process.  What I expected from them was not perfection, but eventual maturity, the ability to live life with wisdom and sensitivity[…] Eventually, I realized my opinion of my children was more praiseworthy than God’s opinion of me.

This was something I grappled with growing up Evangelical. Why do good things happen if humans could do no good? If no one could do good, why do we spend so much time shaming certain acts? If no one could do good, why do we spend time pushing for laws to try to force people into good acts? Why should I trust that my parents, or teachers, or pastors if they’re depraved humans like me? Continue reading

Catholicism was my transition

About a year ago, I read a blog post titled “How the Catholic Church Made Me a Progressive” that has helped me shape my narrative. The entire post is worth a read, but here are some parts that I definitely identified with:

I grew up in an evangelical bubble. When I left this bubble to attend college, I found my beliefs challenged. When my evangelical beliefs began slipping through my fingers, I grasped for something to hold onto. I found that in Catholicism. When I first converted I was extremely conservative in addition to being very fervent and devout. I read the early church fathers and the catechism, Catholic apologetic books and the lives of the saints. Of course, this didn’t last. All this is to preface the fact that a young woman I knew during the period I spent as a Catholic recently sent me a message. She had noticed something I posted affirming gay rights on facebook and wanted to know when I went from being socially conservative to socially liberal. As introspective as I tend to be, I had never asked myself that particular question. And so I thought about it. And you know what I realized? It was my time as a Catholic to did that to me.

[…] Just as I found the ritual of the Catholic Church appealing after the bare-bones evangelicalism of my youth and teen years, even so I soon found the Catholic Church’s focus on social justice enticing after the the-soul-is-all-that-matters evangelicalism of that same period. It was like water poured on parched ground.

[…] In addition, as a Catholic I began to widen my circle. For one thing, I began to see Catholics in Latin America, Africa, and around the globe as part of my family. There was something amazing about feeling that sort of oneness and belonging. Sure, as an evangelical I had seen myself as part of “the body of Christ,” but the evangelicalism I had belonged to was fraught with doctrinal splits. There was something amazing about knowing that I could go to a Catholic church in the next town, the next state, or even across the globe, and still hear the same mass and read the same catechism. I felt part of one great united body of humanity in a way I hadn’t as an evangelical.

[…] Catholicism allowed me to turn away from myself and away from the idea that I had a monopoly on truth, meaning, and beauty, and to fully embrace others in a way I never truly had as an evangelical. Catholicism gave me a passion for bettering people’s lives in the here and now and led me to set aside my focus on life after death. Catholicism gave me a passion for social justice, for the environment, and for progressive political goals like universal healthcare and an improved social safety net. Catholicism introduced me to the beauty of a society of interdependent individuals.

[…] The thing is, once Catholic teachings had inspired me to widen my circle and embrace humanity, once they loosened the “saved” and “damned” boxes I had sorted the world into, I couldn’t well limit my circle and shut my arms to my gay friends and colleagues. Once I had opened my arms and my heart, I could not close them. It was Catholicism, with its emphasis on social justice and ecumenism, that served as the catalyst for my transition from social conservative to a social progressive. And when the full results of that transition manifested themselves in me, I no longer felt that I had a home in the Catholic Church.

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When my faith clashed with my reality (Gay Edition Part I)

In addition to exploring intellectual issues I have with Christianity – whether Jesus claimed to be God, reliability of biblical sources, etc., I want to explore the events in my life that made me question my faith. Among these are LGBTQ people in my life, marriage and parenthood, sex and purity culture, and feelings/emotions in regards to religious experiences. This post is in regards to a couple of my gay friends – I’ll post more in the future about how LGBTQ people deeply impacted my faith given how big of a role it played.

James Davison Hunter, in his now classic Culture Wars,  notes of the American cultural conflicts:

The divisions of political consequence today are not theological and ecclesiastical in character but the result of differing worldviews. That is to say, they no longer revolve around specific doctrinal issues or style of practice and organization but around our most fundamental and cherished assumptions about how to order our lives–our own lives and our lives together in this society.

[…] It is the commitment to different and opposing bases of moral authority and the world views that derive from them that creates the deep cleavages between antagonists in the contemporary culture war. As we will see, this cleavage is so deep that it cuts across the old lines of conflict, making the distinctions that long divided Americans–those between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews–virtually irrelevant.

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Questioning: A Brief Intro

I’ve started this blog as an exercise in getting my thoughts out. Right now it’s just a monologue – I’m writing this stuff so I can start verbalizing what’s been rattling around in my head for the last two or three years. Maybe at some point I’ll share this blog, but for right now I’m just talking to myself (and any random stranger who happens upon this).

My Questions

Is there a god/goddess/gods/goddesses? Can we know? How much can we know about him/her/it/them? Is Jesus of Nazareth God? If not, should all of Christianity be discounted? If yes or no, how can/should the (supposed) words of Jesus of Nazareth impact our lives? Etc, etc.

How I Got Here (basic facts about me here)

I grew up religious. Although my dad was always kind of agnostic/nominally Christian, my mom was fervently Evangelical. I attended an Evangelical-leaning Christian school through my freshman year of high school. I always questioned some of the seemingly arbitrary and non-reasoned aspects of Evangelicalism. But, I never questioned the basic tenets of Christianity and had fear of hell and rapture instilled in me enough to be afraid of losing an emotional connection to an idea of Jesus.

I had my first discovery of Catholicism when we were assigned a paper about “Why the Catholic Church Isn’t Christian” for my 7th Grade World Geography class. But, the paper had the opposite of the intended effect – I became enamored by the rich tradition of the Catholic Church. This attraction never waned, and I converted to Catholicism not long after going to college.

Before I was officially received into the Catholic Church, I became very zealous about Catholicism and got involved in Traditionalist Catholicism – I was a proponent of the “Tridentine Mass” and opposed a lot of the changes that occurred after the Second Vatican Council. I had, what I like to call, “nostalgia without memory.” The city in which I was attending college didn’t have a Tridentine Mass, so in order to avoid a post-Vatican II Roman Catholic church, I was formally received into an Eastern Catholic Church (which, ultimately had a profound impact on my rejection of Traditionalism and conservative Christianity in general – something I hope to explore later on).

Like I said, upon entering Catholicism, I was very zealous. I managed to convert my then-girlfriend (now wife). All non-Catholics (and most Catholics) were heretics or infidels to me. I was a fundamentalist, if I’m being honest. I got married right after college and had a kid 9 months later. We were attending a Tridentine Mass, and our child was baptized in Latin 5 days after he was born. We dressed modestly and practiced Traditionalism fairly well. But, with “convertitis” comes burnout. A five-year shelf life seems to be an accurate estimate.

A number of factors blew up my faith. My best friend is gay. Come to find out, my wife is queer too (something she repressed until 4 years into our marriage). I had a difficult employment situation during the recession and I felt a lot of veiled shame from my co-religionists for essentially being a “taker.” We had a baby at a very inconvenient time – while I love my child, the timing could have been improved with contraception use (a no-no for practicing Catholics). And many other things, but in short, reality didn’t line up with the perfectly constructed paradigm of conservative Christianity.

And, that’s where I stand. Unsure of where to go now that I’ve let two to three years of reality set in.