Carving Out Your Own Spiritual Space Among a Sea of Religionists

This week has been a particularly stress free spiritual week for me, until today. I started sensing this peace a couple of weeks ago by first carving out a new space on the web for my personal musings (somewhere secret and far away from here) and by attending Mass a couple of times at my local Catholic church.  The two experiences have melded very nicely together. However, my peace came to a screeching halt. I can’t believe how choosing to experience my spirituality in several different ways would be so bothersome to so many people! I’ve learned that there is great benefit in surrendering to whatever comes my way as spiritual food. I don’t question it. It’s all a gift.  But, for others who think they know me, it’s the height of absurdity.  I’m doing it all wrong! Increasingly, I am getting a sneaking suspicion that those who read this particular blog in a cursory manner might think that I am either just a religionist or a spineless agnostic unwilling to take the existential leap into the surety of unbelief. Either way, my blog has gotten wrested out of my hands in a most peculiar manner.  I almost feel as if I can’t be honest anymore without being attacked by men from every side. Some choose to leave anonymous barbs. Others choose to tackle what they see as a “stubborn woman.” Sadly, this is typical of women’s blogs. I’ve become cornered and corralled by men who would assume to know what is good for me in the faith and belief department or even in the no faith or belief department. I hope to set this straight right now.

I am a woman whose spirituality is eclectic and I am free to absorb the graces of all traditions. I am a cultural religionist, meaning that I like the trappings of all religions, especially the Pagan and Roman Catholic variety, but I also know that I am most definitely not committed to religion as a necessity of faith. Spirituality and religious institutions are poles apart. One is true faith. The other is a man-made attempt to trap the impossible and to dispense it’s forms of piety to humankind. the former is egalitarian and nurturing of all. The other is top-down, power-over hierarchy plain and simple. I am also most definitely a pagan theistic agnostic. I don’t believe that anyone can know for certain whether the doctrine they teach so assuredly about God is true. I believe that Godde is neither male nor female and that in order to nourish all souls, this genderless Godde must take precedence in our mass psyche. No one can possibly know that such a Godde exists because there is no proof beyond one’s own experience of Godde. Revelation to one person is that one person’s experience. All else is hearsay.

But! I am also a Christian, someone who believes in Christ.  I am not your definition of a Christian nor am I someone else’s definition of a Christian. One may have one’s own experience of Christ or one may take the word of other people who have had an experience of Christ. There is no other option.  I have had an experience with Christ. I do not, however, believe that every person who claims to have an experience has indeed had one.  People are free to think this of me as well. It’s my word against theirs after all. To me Christ is all of the grace of Godde embodied.  I do not believe in the Old Testament God. Israel’s experience with their God is very problematic, because it posits a male God who is hateful, vengeful, and spiteful to all other nations but Israel. This is how Israel experienced God because Israel had a personal stake in carving out their spiritual space among the plethora of religions rampant in that area during the formation of the their nation. However, Israel’s experience is by no means proof of who God really is, nor is it the God of the New Testament. All is speculative and unprovable.

Many, many folks seem to want to equate institutional religion as we know it today with spirituality. They think that just because you have faith, you MUST practice a religion of some kind. Not true. Many Buddhists have faith in a perfected soul or universe, but they have no religious practice. Yet other Buddhists do have religious practice. Many Muslims are practitioners of religion. Many other mystical Muslims are not. It’s the same for every religion. Protestant Christians especially believe that any other practice but their own is legalistic. They are usually pointing fingers at the Catholic church when they say this. Growing up in church, they will say, doesn’t mean you have faith. This is true. Church is a great place to grow some faith if you’re so inclined, but it’s not an automatic “in.” Going to church may also kill what faith you may have had to begin with (some of the people I know here such as me, and those at agnosticatheism’s blog, have had this happen to us). For us, religion gets in the way of faith and inserts its own agenda where there should be none. Some of these friends are in the process of deconversion from their religions, but some of us cling to what little faith we have, recognizing full well the tactics of religionists to get us within their clutches once again. Religion is merely a tool in the hands of the wise and a battering ram in the hands of the power hungry.

Conversely, NOT going to church does not mean I DON’T have faith. End of discussion.  I know that I am prone to assuming many things myself,  but really, how many times do I have to be hit with the same story or the same comments or the same accusations to know that the debate isn’t worth the trouble or that it will always lead to a stalemate or that it will always end the same way? It’s only a battle of wills and who’s more stubborn than who? When Christians debate non-Christians, or even other Christians, it’s very easy for them to assume things about their “opponent” that isn’t necessarily true and toss off comments meant to be scathing rather than those that promote dialogue. It’s been going on for thousands of years. It will continue to go on for thousands more and it will never be resolved. Our own pride often prevents us from listening. Much like the jockeying for position that takes place during my morning commute to work. All anyone wants to do is get in front of everyone else. There’s no discussion of why or how or no polite gestures of letting people go first. Everyone wants to go first! When Christians assume you don’t have faith because you don’t go to church any longer, they are really jockeying for position to be first by saying that you don’t have THEIR brand of faith, or you don’t go to THEIR church, or you don’t practice piety as THEY do. It’s not about respecting your faith at all, it’s about promoting their own. Submit to what we believe and only THEN will we rest.

You see what other people believe about the religion of Christianity are all moot points for me. I’ve decided to pick and choose what I practice, because the practice of religion is only for my spiritual nourishment, not a test of faith for others to judge me. Religion is not meant to be a “marker” of my piety, to somehow show others how far I’ve come up the spiritual ladder, so that they can judge my progress and report back to those in power. Practicing religion how and when I choose to has nothing to do with whether I even have faith or not. To me religion and the institutions that generate them are not faith but are only pretty ways to “practice piety before men to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1-6),” ways of jockeying for spiritual position.So, what feeds my faith? Many different things. By embracing all religions or none at all, I am bound by none. I know the difference between the definition of legalism and pure grace and I am no more convicted to confess to a priest that I missed Mass on Sunday, than I am to feel guilty that I have “forsaken the assembling of ourselves together” with my fellow Protestants. Both may pronounce me hell bound, but I know in heart that my fate is in Godde’s hands alone, if indeed there is a Godde who decides such mundane things or who even cares that humans down here are theoretically and actually killing each other over interpretations of such things. Who can know? But if I want to pray to the saints, speak in tongues, or prance naked in a coven full of wiccans, it’s my business and my spirituality. It’s what feeds me.

Bottom line is: I go to church or to coven or to Zen meditation to nurture the tiny amount of faith that is left in me, that hasn’t been squashed out of me by religious male zealots, but I am not bound by religious rules made by men. I’ve carved out my own spirituality, one that’s my own. That’s true freedom from legalism. That’s true grace. That’s true spirituality. But don’t assume, because I don’t believe as you do, because I don’t go to the same church you do, or even because I don’t go to church at all, that I am in need of “correction” or that I don’t properly “understand” the Gospel or even that I am inviting debate about it. I’m not. It’s my business. I don’t need men’s advice. I don’t need someone else telling me I’m doing it wrong. This is the hardest thing to get men to understand about why we create our own woman’s space on the web. You see, I’ve earned the rewards of my own spirituality through hard-won experience, faith in myself, confidence, and spiritual practice.  I’m not asking your permission. I’m telling you like it is.


Anti-Saint of the Day

I’ve been reading a lot (big surprise) and listening to some Catholic radio and heard just the other day about someone the Catholic church believes is a heretic: Marcion of Sinope. On Catholic radio, Fr. John Corapi made the interesting but arrogant comment that the Catholic church teaches that Protestantism stems from Marcion’s “heretical” teachings. (I put the word “heretical” in quotes because really, one person’s heretic is another person’s reformer). Specifically, Fr. Corapi cited the doctrine that some Calvinist believe: that the New Testament covenant has superseded the Old Testament covenant. Marcion also contended that Paul was the true founder of Protestantism and used only his epistles and the Gospel of Luke as true scriptures. Now the fact that the Catholic church can just make these pronouncements as blanket dismissals of those they deem heretical is astounding to me. The absolute certainty that they are right has always been the biggest turnoff when it comes to any religion (although political parties run a close second to such arrogance). When I think of the condemnation and sometimes death such “heretics” endured at the hands of monolithic religions, I cringe. But these “heretics” deserve mention precisely because they bucked the system.

Marcion was one of these heretics. So, I looked up good old Marcion on the internet and found some interesting facts (depending on whose article it is). Marcion, although not completely a Gnostic in the fullest sense, believed as the Gnostics did that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God that Jesus worshiped. This is interesting, because many, many atheists and agnostics contend this very thing. Even I have found a huge discrepancy between how the God of the Old Testament is perceived by the Jews and how the God of the New Testament is perceived by Jesus and the apostles. Of course this could be explained very easily. Our ideas about God evolve as naturally as nature does. The Jews’ God is one that protected their nation at all costs, even at the expense of other tribes and nations. War was a fact of life for them. They believed that God sanctioned their illegal entry into other nations’ territories. They also believed that God sanctioned the murder of these nations and tribes so that they could take over the land that they thought God gave them. However, they could have been wrong. They never admitted it, but they could have been wrong. Lots of people believe God talks to them and tells them to do things, but we don’t believe everything they say. Why should we then take the Old Testament at face value, as infallible? Why can it not just be a record of one people’s struggle to believe in God?

Apparently, Jesus believed God spoke to him directly and others attested to this fact at his baptism:

(Luk 3:22 GNB) and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”

Many believers accept this testimony as proof that Jesus was telling the truth. So, in order to accept the inspiration of the Scriptures, do you have to accept the God portrayed by the Jews or the God portrayed by Jesus, if indeed you believe they are different? Marcion believed that the latest revelation found in Jesus Christ was binding. Jesus’ ethics were obviously different enough from the Jews’ normal way of doing things or we would not have ever heard of him, let alone worship him. Jesus was surrounded by factions of Jews who believed different things about the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection, the Sadducees didn’t (Mark 12:18). Others believed you had to worship in synagogues. Others didn’t (John 4). I can see how Marcion came to the conclusion that the God Christians worshiped was different than the O.T. God, but what led him to question it and why can’t we question it too?

We too are free to believe that Jesus’ interpretation of God’s wishes were more charitable and more merciful than his own peoples’ historical view of God. Why could not Jesus have been the equivalent of the Progressive Christian today who sees God in a different light than those who only see the punishing and heartless God, as fundamentalists are prone to do? He came in the midst of controversies raging during his time; about the personality of God, about God’s mercy, about the end of times, about where we worship. It’s no different today. Like Marcion, every believer reserves the right to interpret the actions of God as attested to in the Old and New Testaments and they reserve the right to contest the religions in power as well.

I admire early heretics because of their courage to stand up to the established churches, usually at personal peril. Regardless of whether they were right or not, these early believers voiced their opinions against an already entrenched church system headed by paid clergy. Like these “heretics,” everyone today should have the same freedom to challenge established authorities without backlash. This obsession that churches and church leaders have with everyone believing the same things is hard to understand when we realize that this was never a reality in history. There has never been a time when believers all agreed about God. Pagans didn’t. The Jews didn’t. Native Americans didn’t. But they all agreed on one point. There was a Great Spirit that ruled the Universe. Why is this not enough for believers of all varieties? Why this obsession with raking in as many believers to your cause as you can get? Do they think it chalks up “brownie points” with God? Do they hope for big rewards, kind of like the green stamp program? Fill your books with converts and you can trade it in for heavenly things!!

Marcion went on to inspire a gnostic sect of his own but it’s doubtful that he intended to adhere to Gnosticism. He was a Christian bishop first who just happened to disagree with the establishment (sounds like Luther, doesn’t it?).  We read:

Thus, Marcion did contribute positively to the history of Christianity by providing the idea of a New Testament canon and forcing the orthodox church to establish its own list of texts. Marcion succeeded in building his own church which survived in the East until the fifth century.

You see? Even “heretics” can exert a positive influence in God’s grand scheme of things.  Why can’t believers just trust that all will work itself out in the end? Why, because of something called hubris.

Contrary to the Evidence

Mardi Gras

I almost went to the Baptist church I tried to resign from today. Almost. We invited my deacon friend and his wife over to dinner last night and had a good time talking and practicing for our town’s trivia night next Saturday. Discussion eventually turned to church and the problems with the pastor there. (see my earlier post) Something the deacon’s wife said on her way out the door after a full evening got me thinking. After we were saying goodbyes and I said I’d see them tomorrow, she was surprised because I’d voiced my opinion about how I didn’t like the pastor and didn’t want to come to church since she’s there. She said in jest, “Well, you’re not going to be causing any trouble are you?” Now if you knew her, you wouldn’t think that she meant anything mean by her offhand remark, she’s just not that way. But even the hint of my being the troublemaker in all this kind of steamed me a little. I mean, even they were saying how they don’t like her methods and how she twists their words around to make them look bad. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I get tired of always being the bad guy because I say what I think rather than be false.
Anyway, since we woke up on Sunday this morning, like a trained monkey, I felt the pull toward the two houses of worship I usually frequent, one of which exhibits very little worship and much fellowship and the other very little fellowship and much worship. Since I couldn’t decide between the two, I decided to do neither and stay home. Besides it’s too cold to go outside and I’m enjoying my romp around cyberspace. I’m also very, very tired of thinking about religion; and irreligion for that matter. Theists have valid arguments for God from experience. Atheists have valid intellectual arguments against God. Both convince me and both irritate the hell out of me with their aggressive and contrary ways. Both are equally unreasonable in style and approach. Both are also completely dichotomous and refuse to admit the value of the other. Neither would even exist without the other. They feed off each other symbiotically. As for me, why should I expend so much energy on something with so little reward? Because I like giving money to pastors who don’t deserve it? No. Do I like supporting institutions that use and abuse children because of a prurient need to hang on to medieval ethics? No.

Therefore, once again I’m trying to get back on the middle road. Or perhaps I’ll not take the road at all. I don’t like having the road chosen for me. It’s my life after all. Therefore, I think that for Lent this year, I’m going to give up religion and it’s favorite bedmate, atheism. Both are my besetting sins, therefore, both must go. I can’t say as I’ll be sorry to see them go. No doubt, I will have a lover’s quarrel with each and many reconciliations and regrets, but you have to start somewhere. It won’t be easy cause I work in a church. It’s like giving up porn while still working in a porn shop. But, I’m going to try. Wish me luck.

02/19/07 p.s. Ok, as some of my friends have wisely reminded me, I can no more give up religion than a duck can give up water. Let’s just say, I’m giving up institutional religion and will begin working on my spirituality.

Perpetuating Myths About Each Other

MassThe hubby and I went to Mass yesterday evening. I much prefer the Saturday evening Mass over Sunday morning in this small parish. It’s quieter, for one thing, and the singing, which is truly awful, is kept to a minimum. Now I love full liturgical music as much as the next person, but sometimes all the singing of the Glorias and Hosannahs and Alleluias and Amens is just a detraction from the simplicity of the rite. The simple beauty of the liturgy goes perfectly well when spoken in the hushed tones of the priest. Our parish priest, who is in his upper 80s, also barely speaks above a whisper when he delivers his homily and most of the time he rants on against the perceived enemies of the Catholic hierarchy, so it’s ok if the sermon is not too loud. Especially yesterday. Yesterday, he uttered an outright falsehood.

Railing on about how Catholics should believe every word uttered by the Pope and how the college of bishops and cardinals is the ultimate authority on earth, he actually said that Baptists recognize no authority but themselves when it came to biblical interpretation AND he actually said that Baptists deny the divinity of Christ!! I looked at my husband with a “Did he really say that?” look and sure enough, he repeated it. Now Baptists may very well not recognize any earthly authority like the Pope or the Church when it comes to personal interpretation. That’s a given. But to say Baptists deny Christ’s divinity is a lie. Now, this priest is old school, Pre-Vatican II, who still believes that the Baltimore Catechism is the latest and best scholarship out there for Catholic parents and their children. However, I can’t believe that lies like these are still being perpetuated by supposedly educated clergy. Baptists most certainly believe in the divinity of Christ, as much as any other Christian does, including the almighty Catholic church.

Now, I know I live in a small conservative farming town, but I thought at least some of the people were enlightened, especially the local pastors and priests. To be fair, lies about the Catholic church are uttered all the time in Baptist churches around the country, but it’s mostly out of ignorance of doctrine and the fine points of dogma surrounding Catholic statues and apocryphal horror stories about the confessional. I’ve never heard any of this nonsense in my local Baptist church though. The point is that the inflammatory statements are still being flung at each other by Christian denominations, seemingly without any responsibility to give anyone the truth of the matter.  All this mud-slinging serves each denomination’s own purpose; that of keeping the flock within their own denominational fold. It’s no secret that Catholics are losing members to Protestant churches at an alarming rate, especially to Charismatic churches, so I suppose priests feel compelled to say all kinds of things to keep members faithful to the magesterium. But, that, my friends, is spiritual pride.

Religious rituals and denominations are merely outward expressions of personal spirituality. I hate to break it to them, but neither the Catholics or Baptists have the Truth encapsulated and captured in their denominations. Neither do the Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, or any other denominational body. Nobody and no thing is infallible, not the Pope, not bishops, not the bible. We may all be wrong and we may all be right, we just don’t know and will never know as long as we are alive. But this denominational wrangling is ridiculous. Apparently, it was common in Paul’s day as well. Some followed the apostles, some followed other teachers of the new faith, but Paul wondered, why all the division?

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,d by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.e 12What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank Godf that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power (1 Corinthians 1)

Division is what people do, that’s why. People naturally break up into groups based on race, gender, faith, etc. We can’t seem to live without our own special group identities. These divisions are not going to be solved in my lifetime that’s for sure because dividing is how we convince ourselves that our particular group is right. But, at least we can expose the falsehoods each are saying about the other and call them on the carpet for it. Before any dialog can take place, each group needs to admit they may be wrong. Since the Catholic church will never admit it is wrong about any matter whatsoever, I know that we will never see a resolution. Much like politics in America and in the rest of the world, we will remain divided in the foreseeable future.

Christ Atones, So You Don’t Have To



I find it interesting that the most read post on my blog is the one where I compare Baptist and Catholic atonement theories. In no way did I do the subject justice with that little piece. In fact, the reason I write is to help ME sort out my feelings about a particular topic. If it helps others fine, but the intention in self-directed. I like to help spread information. What others do with it is their busines. The article was merely my own interpretation and my own slant on a pretty complicated doctrine. Yet, people seem to read it more than any other post.

What does this tell us? That people don’t really understand the Atonement and are looking for answers about it? I’m with them. I don’t particularly understand it either. Many others do a much better job of explaining it. Scot over at Jesus Creed begins a series on the atonement, defining the terms very nicely. The folks at have a veritable treasure trove of definitions and explanations from a Calvinist point of view. And don’t forget the Orthodox and Roman Catholic definitions, which are definately NOT the same. The KEY difference that I wanted to distinguish in my post about theories of Atonement is this: It’s either:

Christ + Nothing   (OR)    Christ + Your Effort


Atonement ( i.e. Your Justification)

Some would argue that Atonement and Justification aren’t even the same thing. Whatever! What all this proves is that studying the doctrine of Atonement could take awhile if you believe that you have to have others define it for you. It requires more effort than just a cursory reading of a blog to decide. My paltry attempt at understanding it in my earlier post should be taken with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of skepticism. But please, don’t merely accept other people’s versions either. Investigate and reason amongst yourselves. Doctrinal truth comes from the interplay of many voices reasoning together, trying to reach a common consensus (take that you foundationalists you 🙂 ) not from a hierarchy paid to study topics in order to dispense wisdom to others. Ekklesia is egalitarian not hierarchy.

Why Must Televangelists Use Scare Tactics to Sell Christianity?

Because people believe them, that’s why.

If you’ve ever been at home on any given day with a Directv remote in your hand and nothing to do but rest for hours, you’ve seen televangelists on TV. After flipping channels for the hundredth time, almost willing something else to be on since the last time I checked, I skimmed past a truly awful, home-made television show featuring none other than disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker. You remember him, or maybe you remember his wife Tammy Faye better. On this show, someone who would have been booted first thing on American Idol was strumming a guitar and singing repeatedly the chorus of a lousy song, until eventually I had to mute it out of sheer annoyance. I hadn’t heard anything that annoying since Mother Conehead’s bellow of outrage at her daughter’s cone tattoo. It was so awful, I had to watch to see what was up.

There were all these old people in the audience sitting around tables and others, obvious that the camera was focused on them, trying to look like they were enjoying themselves and clapping along (to what??). Bruce as ElvisAll of it was reminiscent of a lazy sunday afternoon at a tawdry nursing home. Picture Sebastian Haff’s existence in Bubba Ho-Tep and you’ll know what I mean (brilliantly campy Bruce Campbell flick, by the way). Anyway, all of these tables were centered around Jim Bakker like he was David Letterman or something and what was he doing? Hawking his wares of course! Not only was he selling cheap trinkets for $150 a whack, he was doing it while smilingly predicting the next HUGE hurricane that would decimate most of the southern United States if people didn’t repent their ways.

Immediately I was tired. OH PLEASE! Is there anyone that believes any of the bullshit that comes out of the mouths of these tele-doomsayers?? Aren’t the antics of Pat Robertson some kind of incentive to keep these people from polluting the airwaves? But people watch, believe, and send money to these people, and that’s what’s scary about it. If you flip over to the Church Channel you can see John Hagee spouting about ho-mo-sex-uals (in your best southern lisp please) and the downfall of society. Flip another channel and you have Paula White pointing her fashionably filedPaula fingernails at you and pleading that you “plant a seed” in her ministry or you will not prosper or succeed, you lazy bum! The predictions about doom and gloom are non-stop.

Then, I began to realize what it was that I hated so much about fundamentalism. It was its absolutely pessimistic, hateful, spiteful, and gloomy view of the world and society. Fundamentalists of this type so despise this world that all they see is evil and disaster. But you know what? The televangelists alone have the remedy! Believe in Jesus Christ (and send your money right now) and all will be well! All the bad people will go to hell and you will be saved from the boogeyman. Buy Jim Bakker’s trinkets, which unbelievably included a little statue in a suit of armor and some Protestant equivalent to miraculous medals, all meant to represent the “full armor of God” and you too will be safe from all harm! It’s simply magic folks. Buy Pastor Hagee’s books about the end times (they are sooooooo near you know) and you will feel so comforted that you can will want to embark on that Jesus cruise Hagee takes twice a year with his wife (he goes for free because of suckers like us, who pay full fare).

Forgive my facetiousness but when you’ve heard the fire and brimstone sermon and the doomsday machine in full force as much as I have, you get a little jaded. It’s all a show folks. It’s the Freak Show at the Carnival all over again. You know the one. Where you excitedly pay your ticket to get in, they scare the bejesus out of you with a man in a gorilla suit and you come out feeling better for having survived it, but faintly used, if you know what I mean. And I’m speaking to those who should know better; those blind, unreachable, Fundamentalist Christians. What is the motive of the Bakker’s and Hagee’s of the world? Why, to make money off of our fears and to support their “ministries.” We are exhorted to keep ’em on the air so we can be filled with more gloom and doom and feel better about our sorry lives. Oh, it’s all so sickening to me.

Is it any wonder that people are leaving churches in droves? I say, good for them. More should leave and put their support where it counts; the food bank, the Red Cross, soup kitchens, etc. But if you’re going to leave church, for God’s sake (and I do mean that) don’t use TV evangelists as your crutch to take its place. We don’t need this hyper-slick (and not even that), hyper-christianized, stylized, doomsday, yet-feel-good-about-yourself-Osteen-style televangelism. This does nothing to bring peace to the world, feed the poor, or free the oppressed. It’s band-aid christianity-light-and-easy and I hope their shows go the way of the dinosaur. Make way for something really valuable on TV, like Cops. 🙂