Quitting Christianity a la Anne Rice: a Manifesto of sorts

Anne Rice

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I’ve gotten angry with religion quite often lately. Like being part of a nation or state which also angers you because of their stupid policies and marginalizing of certain groups, finding your religion consistently betraying its preached principles is very disheartening. And although I’ve claimed atheism at various times in my life, I can never willfully give up that part of me that convinces me personally through experience a belief in a Divine Will that operates in/throughout/above/below the Universe. Many times I throw my hands up in despair and say, “No more of this bullshit for me!” Yet, I always come back.

Anne Rice has gotten a lot of flack lately for quitting Christianity. Some say that quitting Christianity is not possible. I would agree with the semantics of that. If you believe Christianity is an institution, you can quit it. There are differing definitions of “church” although I believe the church is made up of Christians no matter where they are. Others are in agreement with her and have come out of their religious institutions as well. We all agree that the polarization Christians (and all religions) cause when they insist on following this or that dogma, tenet, doctrine, or “prophetic” saying are the prime motive for our coming out. On her Facebook page, Rice has posted the various responses and there are so many that I can’t single out just one. However, I can say that I agree with her 100%.

When I became a Christian, I was not evangelized nor did I “come forward” in an alter call at a church. I had my own experience of Jesus and “God” on my own time and in my own way through personal prayer and from reading parts of the new testament. The Divine manifested itself to me in terms I could understand. It just happened to be in Jesus’ form. My first mistake after this experience was searching out a church where I could meet with fellow believers and connect with others and perhaps compare notes about our experiences. That would have been great, had it stopped right there. Unfortunately, becoming part of a community such as that seems to imply that others can become your moral compass and tell you what you can and cannot do and what you can and cannot believe. This got me wondering what the church is for then. Is it primarily a place where others can compare experiences or is it a club where only those who pay the right amount or who follow all the rules others laid down for us by others, away from the secular world and all its contaminates? Is it supposed to welcome all who wish to come to it or is it primarily set up to exclude? You will find as many explanations as there are religious sects, so nothing can be decided either way. What’s left is the kind of individualism that Rice espouses and that church leaders so despise. It is fundamentally a lack of faith in people to do the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons. I think it’s time we grow up from that.

Church leaders argue that Jesus set up these rules, but of course there is no evidence of this. The bible cannot even be counted on to accurately record the words of Jesus or to set down the history of the church without those, who happened to win the power play of sects back then, redacting those portions that came down to us ahead of time.  The one thing that convinces me that religions as practiced in the world are not absolute truth is due to the confusing witness provided by the varied sects, churches, religions, and practices throughout the world. None are in agreement. If such dogmas were ABSOLUTE TRUTH, there would be consensus about these issues and there is not. Individualism is the only answer here. Actions such as peace, simplicity, and love are its evidence. What I think these so-called leaders fear most is being out of a job! Do they not think that a Divine Will can’t accomplish what it wants with or without us?

My individualism imposes no belief on anyone. My individualism does the most good and spends my money where I see fit. I don’t funnel funds through the church and expect it will go where I want it to go. I send it directly. I don’t evangelize nor do I believe every believer called to do that. This thinking is only an institutional tool to garner the most numbers. In this day and age, it isn’t necessary to evangelize. The information is out there. It’s up to the Divine to speak, not me.  Much like the Religious Society of Friends, I believe in the Light that is in every person. This is the Light of God and it has to be trusted that whoever or whatever Divine Will is accomplishing in the world, what is accomplished is what is meant to be accomplished. The church as a traditional institution has done irreparable harm in the world by not trusting this concept. They believe “truth” is funneled through authority and hierarchy. Judaism and Islam share in the harm done and in believing in imams, priests, prophets, or “special” people. The “big three” have a lot to answer for and I’m not going to blindly follow the herd and say “They told me to” because they claim authority over me. My only authority is my conscience informed by my spirit, however that comes to me (brain, soul, outside me, whatever), through a community I choose, if I choose, and through information garnered from experts in other fields; scientific, religious, or otherwise. Therefore, I will stand or fall on my own decisions, no one else’s.

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I’ll Take the Red Pill Please

I found this post at Scotteriology via Exploring Our Matrix. What an excellent analogy. The Matrix was a revolutionary movie for me. Like Fight Club it was one of the few movies that dared challenge how deeply humans are enmeshed in what we perceive as reality or what we have created for ourselves as a protective layer against the harshness of the world. Some of us are living lives pretty much on the surface of  reality, but biblical fundamentalists are buried beneath another layer called inerrancy. As a fundamentalist I felt pushed further and further back from the surface of reality as layer after layer of dogmatic belief was draped over me like blankets. The deeper one went in biblical theology according to inerrantists, the poorer the chances of ever waking up from it.

I’m not sure now what the “red pill” was for me back then. I think it was first discovering that so many different sects of Christianity interpreted the same set of scriptures in entirely different ways that set me on my way to questioning the “reality” fundamentalism claimed to construct for me. At least it got me out of a fundamentalist church. The final swallowing of the red pill was in a mythology class at university. There I discovered etiological myths. I learned that myths are so deeply ingrained in cultural consciousness that some cultures began to actually believe their own stories; those poetic stories told ’round a fire at the tribe’s center, stories about heroes and exploits of group salvation when the tribe began. These stories about gods and goddesses and supernatural phenomena, centered around the supposed origins of the world, were written down eventually and the very act of writing made them seem magically permanent somehow.

This germ of a thought opened every door for me. If I could claw my way out of the morass of inconsistent and self generating dogma that inerrancy provided, unplug myself from the “machine” of fundamentalism that was feeding me only what it wanted to make me serve it, then I could at least begin to see things clearly and make decisions closer to the surface of reality. All I had to do was handle the fear than engendered by facing the world as it was, not as fundamentalism told me it should be. Swallowing the red pill was the best thing that ever happened to me up to that point.

Religious Ambivalence

So what’s new, right? I’ve been the queen of religious ambivalence as long as I can remember since coming out of my christian fundamentalist daze. Some evangelicals label my kind of religiosity “non-committed” or they call us “church shoppers,” when really it comes down to disagreeing more with personal issues than that; namely dogma. I came across this article this morning and it explains exactly how I feel about religion. Some people feel it’s not possible to be of two religions. But I don’t see what difference it makes. Especially when institutional religion, for me, is more about style of worship than personal conviction. Since no one dogma/doctrine of institutional religion defines me and I can never wholly ascribe to a particular one, then why sign on to a brand of Christianity? One should just go to the church that fulfills one’s worship needs; silence, liturgy, music, etc. What has been your experience?

The Art of Making People Nervous

I’ve not blogged for a long time about my spiritual beliefs. I used to write quite a bit about them but I haven’t done so specifically for almost a year now, because, frankly, my beliefs have been all over the place lately. I did have a Quaker post, I’ll admit and very enjoyable it was too. However, even though being hard to pin down to a religious viewpoint makes some people nervous, I find that it doesn’t bother me all that much. Not being able to write down a journey that seems to coincide with some kind of road map of faith that others have drawn up bothers me not at all. It tells me that I’m on the right track, because more than anything, I hate following paths that are so well worn nobody steps off them any longer. I was on a path like that once, and I felt like a lemming heading toward the proverbial cliff!

The reason I started blogging was to explore my beliefs and process my university experience, along with just jotting down life’s quirks and foibles. It certainly has been a circuitous journey and I didn’t even realize I’d been writing it for so long until I looked back in the archive. Wow. I sure can bloviate! I’ve been sad, gotten mad, lost and found faith, moved in and moved out of places, and just meandered on and off the blog for a little over two years. But my main goal has always been to just lay all my thoughts out there in the hopes that others could relate to what I was saying, to kind of demystify that which others claim is so mysterious and unknowable to the average person, because that’s all I am, an average person who makes mistakes, who does good deeds occasionally for no other reason but because it’s needed, who occasionally treats other people like shit when angry, and who lives each day as best she can despite being such a moron most of the time. That’s it. Sometimes you get slammed to the ground and sometimes life seems incredibly beautiful. It’s all a spiraling journey that repeats and repeats until we can get it right. Or is it? Either way, it’s a mixed bag and the one thing keeping me on an even keel is connecting to something larger than myself, or as some call it, spirituality.

Notice I didn’t say “religion.” I’ve gone through religions believe me. I’ve been a fundamentalist non-denominational Christian, a scrupulous Roman Catholic (some would say I still am), Greek Orthodox, a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, American Baptist, and have been an eclectic spiritual dilettante in the Goddess religions and all of it suits me just fine. I’ve dispensed with the hateful God of fundamentalism which fuels so much hatred and replaced him with a more loving version; one (or many) who most resembles my idea of a loving merciful parent, if that’s the metaphor that fits at the moment. She/He/It contains all aspects of Supreme Love and Mercy to me and without my meanderings into those fertile religious areas, I would have given up on religion/spirituality completely. But I am convinced that some people need religion and/or spirituality. We are just wired that way, just as some people aren’t wired that way. I also feel that our upbringing, our “nurture” along with our “nature” contribute to this wiring and that some things are too ingrained to give up completely. I’ve made no bones about the fact that since I was a small child others have tried to pin me down and have made my life infinitely harder than a child’s should be. They’ve exerted psychological and physical force in order to make me conform to their ways, but something, something always kept me from giving in. Call it a scrappy spirit or downright stubbornness. If physically coerced, I would merely bide my time until such time as I could free myself again to follow my own way. That was pretty much my life during that period.

As I got older, I collected experiences that would form me and mold me into the person I am now. Some were good, some were not so good. But we all go through them and we learn. Hopefully, we learn. At a crucial point in my life I had a spiritual experience that I can’t deny. I don’t know whether I caused it myself or it came from outside me. It doesn’t matter. I know only that I needed it and it was there. It changed my life forever, and if I erase everything in my life that formed me for good or for ill, this experience I cannot forget. I’ve been processing it ever paulconversionsince. I’ve kept this experience with me pretty much inviolate, but looking back, going to church to sort it out was probably a bad move. I should have processed it on my own and in my own time before listening to what others told me it should mean. But, that’s all water under the bridge now. I went to church anyway and absorbed a lot of nonsense about my experience. But I also learned much more. I read the bible quite thoroughly, learned the art of setting aside time for meditation and reading, and garnered some good habits about thinking before speaking (yes, believe it or not, I did learn this in church!) I also wouldn’t trade my times at church simply because it’s made me better at being who I want to be .  I’ve met some wonderful people there, probably more wonderful than screwy. However, it has also shown me what I do not want to tolerate in my life.

So, to end where I began, I can’t honestly say what my beliefs are because I fully embrace all of them and fully embrace none of them. I find good things in all spiritualities. And, I find bad things in them. No one religion defines me. God worship doesn’t totally define me. Goddess worship doesn’t either. However, I find much good in both spiritual streams. Faith in one’s ability to lack faith certainly doesn’t define me and has it’s own peculiar fundamentalist traits. I’m one of those who is hardwired for faith I think and I’m really tired of resisting it. I think, over the years, I’ve found that my only wish is that Grace defines me. Divine Love defines me. The whole world is a Sacrament when you see it this way.  Love itself is a sacrament. Nothing is inherently this or abjectly that. We can all have good moments and bad moments and we can all help as well as hurt. Not a one of us is exempt. I have faith in that. I have faith in my Jesus experience as true for me, as a channel of grace for me. I have faith that others’ experiences are true for them as well. I have faith that those who hate, maim, kill, or do anything, even if it’s in the name of some God, will eventually be “rewarded” fully for it. It may not be the reward they are looking for or even the reward I’m looking for, but I have faith that things will even out in the end. Whatever the metaphor, I am open to the possibilities. It may make other people nervous, but it suits me just fine.

“The Errors of Inerrancy”

In all my searchings and wanderings and Christian/Agnostic days of reading and agonizing over the meaning of doctrines, dogmas, and scriptures I have rarely come across as succinct an explanation of why biblical inerrancy is wrongheaded as this post explains right here:

John Hobbins again rides out to rescue inerrancy. I remain unconvinced that the word is rescuable from the arid rationalism of the creationists and Baconian Enlightenment minded fundamentalists. The type of error they are so keen to declare scripture free of is actually often at the heart of the type of entirely different writing scripture often consists of. In a wooden-minded world where error means much more the sort of thing these writers and speakers mean, and where empirical fact is the only truth, I am inclined to think that we need, at the very least, to put the word into long-term storage, and use other language.

I note that John seeks to speak from his particular take on his Reformation heritage. I continue to think the reification of scripture as a word independent of and set over against the church, rather than a vehicle of God’s activity to, in, and through his church, which John expresses in relatively eirenic ways, is a problematic inheritance. It encourages the kind of mindset that ascribes inerrancy to (non-existent) original autographs, but never explores the living nature of the texts to engage in their own re-interpretation, nor reads the internal dialogue of the canonical collection. (Doug Chaplin)

If I wrote a thousand words a day for a thousand days, I couldn’t come up with something as good as that. Excellent. The doctrine of inerrancy was the chief reason I could no longer have faith in the doctrines and dogmas of Christian fundamentalism. I find the topic endlessly fascinating because it does color your faith in one way or another. In fact, giving up inerrancy helped to cure me of belief in an object (the bible) over and above belief in a person (Jesus/Holy Spirit). For me, this is the test of true religion; do we believe more in the channels of Grace or do we believe in the Grace itself?

Thanks to Kay at her site for the link. There is another good post about this subject here.

Divine Guidance Themes Circling Today

Around the Blogosphere I’ve found numerous posts about the issue of divine guidance and how this plays out in everyday affairs. Some of the best blogs can be found here and here. Others cloud the issue by throwing in the bible as a help, but as Thinking Man says over at deConversion blog,

….even those who advocate that the Holy Book’s teaching is clear, are inconsistent in the parts they seek to enforce and edit out parts that seem culturally unacceptable to many today. So for example, some Christians pounce on verses in Leviticus 18 to condemn homosexual practice, and yet fail to get excited about the commandments to refrain from sex during menstruation from the same chapter or the eating of blood from the same book. And few Christians today would advocate stoning those caught in adultery, the plucking out of eyes because of lust, or the regular washing of each other’s feet, or insist that Church services be held on Saturday rather than Sunday (despite many serious commands to honour the Sabbath). If we can pick and choose, how can the meaning be clear?

Here, the bible, is the point of contention for all who would debate religion. This is the ground on which evangelicals stand but on which others don’t see anything but shifting sand. Forget all the supposed arguments for “God” which can never be known or proven with any certainty whatsoever, I’m with Jon when he writes,

As I think back over my years sitting in churches, I can safely say that this was done upside down. The focus was on words (on the Word of God, in fact), which was elevated to near idolatrous proportions. What we could know about God and of God was focussed on this book they called the Bible, which they then renamed the “Word of God”. This was the central cog around which the entire christian machine turned.

I was taught in my church youth group that we were like a train: Faith was the locomotive, then Reason, and lastly Feelings. Feelings were last! If any of my feelings were telling me something different to my “Faith”, then my Feelings were not to be trusted, but coerced into line with the “Word of God”! Same with Experience. Everything had to be aligned (or forced to align) with the Word of God.

My feelings were telling me that we were all One, that God was in and around every person. Other people’s Words forced me to supress those feelings and accept another “truth” – that we were not all One, but Two. Saved and Dammed. Right and Wrong. Christian and Non-Christian.

No more!

I want to re-learn how to listen to my Feelings, learn to “hear” my Feelings, rebuild that bond of intimacy and trust.

Our own experiences are the only thing we are going to, and should, listen to anyway when all is said and done. We can find out what others say, read what others have said (in the bible), or even pray about it, but when the decision has to be made it’s up to us to make it based on our feelings. Silly Old Bear, in his blog reviewing Dawkins’ The God Delusion writes,

No two people experience their surroundings identically. That is simply not possible. But the same Aurora Borealis can very well evoke completely contradictory responses. To argue that similar experiences by necessity should lead to the same response in two different people only shows the Dawkins in his quest for proof that he is right, rather than a scientific exploration of the evidence – which at best would lead him down an agnostic path, is very much employing presuppositions about the nature of empirical data arrived through non-scientific means. Or in short – Dawkins assumes that the interpretation of the experience of the Anglican Priest, which lead him to belief in G-d is wrong, simply because it lead to something Dawkins cannot accept.

And so it goes with all of us who believe in Divine Guidance. We cannot accept how another person finds it, but we insist our own method is the answer. In fact, all of religion is like that. Live and let live and be confirmed in your own mind. That’s the method of true spiritual agnosticism.

The Gospel Coalition

Update: Interesting take on the formation of the Gospel Coalition by an Emerging Woman blogger. I don’t even confess to know what the emerging church is doing differently than any other churches down through the centuries except maybe to re-market the gospel (kind of like rebinding the bible in various formats to appeal to younger generations). But the blogger above is not necessarily pleased.

original post:

Finally! If you’re going to make a statement about your religion and if you’re going to make it broad, yet simple to understand, AND if you are going to give God pre-eminence rather than the bible (which always comes first in other churches’ creeds) then this is the Confession for you! I’m serious. It’s about time Protestant creeds took the bible out of the first place spot (see here and here) and put God back where He belongs–at the top. Because I mean really, if you’re going to have faith in a Savior, at least put Him above the Scriptures! This may seem picky, but it’s always bothered me that putting the bible first in a creed just smacks of bibliolatry.

However, I do take issue with this statement, “We confess that both our finitude and our sinfulness preclude the possibility of knowing God’s truth exhaustively, but we affirm that, enlightened by the Spirit of God, we can know God’s revealed truth truly.” And who decides that the interpretation of God’s words in the bible are known “truly?” I don’t believe that we can ever know this and even if we could, many, many faithful Christians differ on the interpretation of this truth, but overall, it’s a pretty good statement of beliefs.

Of course the confession leaves out any mention of men and women working together in ministry in any egalitarian fashion, “neither male nor female, etc,” but hey, these men didn’t ask us and DON’T EVEN get me started about women in the church!

No, I’m not being facetious!