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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Quaker Worship and Love

Well, and here is the crux of the matter: an excellent explanation for why non-theists can worship with Quaker theists.  The bit that stands out is this:

Before letting George Fox speak to us about silent waiting, I want to help nontheists as well as theists to hear him — and to hear each other. Because, as 1 John 4 asserts, God is love and love is God, and because, as Paul asserts, Christ is “the image [in whom we are made; see Gen. 1:27] of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), we can define worship in a way that speaks to theists and nontheists by simply substituting the word “love” for “God” and “Christ” in the source texts. That substitution has been made (except when the meaning would not be clear, or when mythological agency is attributed) in the following passages from Fox.*

And this is to all that would learn silent waiting upon [love] and silent meeting; for none shall ever come to [love] … but as they do come to that of [love] in them, the light which [love] hath enlightened them withal; and that is it which must guide everyone’s mind up to [love], and to wait upon [love] to receive the spirit from [love], and the spirit leads to wait upon [love] in silence, and to receive from [love].

Other than waiting patiently and trustingly for the working of love in our hearts, then, we perform no action in Quaker worship. Our worship is essentially passive. Therefore there is no object toward which our worship is directed, toward which we proffer reverence. We’re simply waiting to feel the motions of love directing our lives. Thus do we avoid the error of attempting to objectify, to reify, God. And thus do we, if we are theists, avoid the error of secretly thinking that we are pleasing God by the work of worship.

Now that makes perfect sense to me. God/Goddess/Spirit is Love.  No scriptures required. No action. Just receive and live. Period.  End of story. Refreshing.

“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.

Advices, Queries, and Defining the Divine

I’ve made much in my blog about my spiritual path. I’ve wrestled with angels and wrestled with institutions. I’ve even fancied my de-conversion from Christianity, specifically the fundamentalist variety. All of these experiences has informed and defined my path in significant ways. On another blog, I’ve explored my Goddess-y self and I’ve tried to come to grips with what engaging with the Divine means to me.  All of these parts of me seemed like disparate bits trying to meld into a specific whole and not quite managing it. I felt that I had to keep my explorations secret, as if exploring the Divine was frowned upon, especially in today’s climate of religious and political extremism.

I did not like the God of fundamentalist Christianity much and have since turned my back on that chapter of my life. I found this male Father/God officious and meddling and reflective of the narrow mindset so inherent in such extremist faiths based on male power and control. I knew that I had to keep a distance from that God, just for my own mental health and spiritual integrity. Following that God brought out the worst elements in me and, I felt, in society. On the opposite pole, I explored the Goddess within and found much more peace and harmony with the Divine than I previously had before. I ascribe this mainly to my trading one gendered imagination for another, but it did help me mend the damaged views of the Divine that I had swirling in my soul due to my earlier experiences with the gendered Divine in religion. However, I found that in the Goddess realm there is also some extremism, but only in the political wing of this spiritual heritage. If one does not set all one’s store in political movements or invest oneself totally in one political figure, the spiritual call becomes clearer and the Divine can be heard through the clamorous politics. But attachment to such things in public life and culture left me feeling frustrated and angry most of the time. I knew this politicized path wasn’t the path for me either. I also found that one can so focus on the gender of the Divine that the essence of what the Divine means in real life gets completely subsumed. Pretty soon all we have is what particular groups and individual human beings want irrespective of what the total genderless Divine Spirit of the world may reflect.

Quaker Definition

Quaker Definition

Throughout this entire spiritual journey I’ve questioned my own participation in this world of faith and the Divine and what it is that I actually do believe. Not only that, where does it fit into my world? Some would say that that’s the wrong focus. I should find out where I fit into “it” whatever “it” is not the reverse. I don’t think that’s the answer for me. More and more I believe the Divine to be the best and highest of human love, potential, and will as expressed in the spirit of human beings committed to the good rather than those committed to narrow self interests and political movements. Now I’m sure some will disagree with me about the politics, but for me spirituality is about changing myself for the better and becoming a better person to live in this world whether that involves politics or not. Politics don’t change anything. Individuals do. I’ve come to realize that the old saw “people are the only hands God has” is really saying that there is no God/dess apart from human beings. It is really saying that the Divine is impotent without us. There would be no point to the Divine otherwise. The Divine is contingent on the human then. Would speculating that a Divine being exists otherwise be delving into an area that has no purpose and no relevance to human life? Where do humans end and the Divine begin?  If one wants to posit a god without reference to humans, my question would be; “to what purpose?”

Recently, in my own journey, the Quakers, or Friends as they are commonly called, have come to my attention. Far from being just another ecclesiastical movement, this group embodies all that the Divine and spirituality has come to mean for me precisely because it it undefined and open. I was skeptical at first, as I am always wont to be when it comes to being introduced to a religion. But the more I learned, the more intrigued I became, until finally, last Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit a Quaker Meeting House and experienced their worship for the first time. There were no hymns, no pastors, no sermon. There was a congenial time of visiting and friendly conversation before the time set for worship and then there was a quiet trek into the meeting house proper, where we all sat in a circle and quieted ourselves for an hour to listen to the Divine within us.

I thought I would have a tough time of it, considering that other attempts at meditation on my own never worked for me. My “monkey mind” as Buddhists call it could never quiet enough to reach a state of meditative silence. However, I found that immediately upon being seated and situated, I entered a quiet zone unlike I had before. I honestly felt my mind go blank (for anyone who knows me, this is quite a feat!) and a heavy, heavy peacefulness descended upon me. I almost fell asleep, but didn’t and found that no thoughts good or ill drifted through my brain. The meeting room had windows near the ceiling and one could see through glass doors to the outside. It was a windy and rainy day and I watched, mesmerized, as the branches of the leafless tree outside swayed and danced in the wind. Again, there were no thoughts. Someone stood to speak and quietly addressed the group for a couple minutes about the day being recognized in the Christian calendar as the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. Some ten minutes or so later, another person did the same with another similar message about “conversion” and what that meant for the Friends. Then after a larger gap, one woman, who exuded a spirit of calm and gentleness spoke of a friend she had met at a Quaker meeting over 40 years ago and how that impacted her life. Another two or three spoke as the Spirit moved them. Then after an hour, someone signaled the end of the meeting and we all went out into the foyer for coffee and conversation. While inside I had not thought of anything that normally occupied my mind and it was the most refreshing time of worship I’ve had in a long, long time. I don’t claim to know if I communed with anything, but a communal spirit of Love and humanity was strong.

All I can say is that after reading and studying and after the Friends worship experience, I’ve come to a refining point in my thoughts of the Divine. Rather than the Divine being the collective unconscious of humanity in all its best aspect, which indeed it very well could be, the Divine has come to mean something far less individually anthropomorphic and far more cosmically expansive and inclusive and all encompassing than the previous definitions of the Divine. This Divine Spirit exists in its own right and feeds on the spirits of all and processes and reflects back the best and most loving of all to us to use with and for each other. The Divine lives so in tune with humanity that, like water it can be stepped into and out of at any given moment, until finally, one begins to realize that we are already in the water of Spirit; it is we who unconsciously step in and out, not realizing that we just need to quiet down enough to realize where we are. We come back to ourselves in the silence. We come back to the Divine within the silence.

The experience has left me wondering more and more how to relate to this, how to incorporate this new type of experience into the many and varied ones that I’ve already had, or how this all fits into my beliefs about the Divine, but I’m sure I’ll be writing more about discovering this later. I’m still very much a work in progress. For now, I will leave you with a small tidbit of truth in the Advices and Queries of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain:

Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it…listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you… (point 17)

Blessings!

The Messiah Has Returned!

Oh, my goodness, this is too rich. A sampling:

And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

Please don’t miss it. (Thanks to the Weekly Standard for the link)

Faith in Faith Not Faith in God

I think I’ve figured out my recent change of heart about God and church. I am sure now that any faith I may “have” renewed or that I may have had previously stems not from an actual faith in a deity that I think is listening and “caring” for me, but a faith in those who have faith. In other words, a second hand kind of faith. The epiphany came to me while I was “Gone fishin.” Practicing what I call faith was never about a God that I personally believed in and trusted (the one christians posit that is), because even though I tried to believe, I never really trusted such an absent being. When I pray, it is now in a universal “Whoever is listening or acting” type of prayer and not to what Christians call “the One God.” When I worship, it’s a slowing down from the daily grind and communing with my own thoughts rather than “offering spiritual sacrifices” to a God who probably doesn’t give a whit about how I think of Divinity.

All along, what I’ve wanted is to get a sense of the larger universe, cosmos, whatever and feel that I was directly linked to it. I wanted to create my own religious core, not from what others believe, but from how others act. I find it difficult to explain why a church community can offer that despite my pagan leanings, but I’m going to try.

Frankly, my local church is a place, or niche, that I cannot find in political causes or in the workplace or even in various gatherings or clubs or secular organizations. The bond that glues a church community together is far tighter than any mere organization run around generic principles. Since there is nothing comparable to this bond where I live, church is the only alternative. I’ve not been good at being a solitary anything; be it mystic or pagan or non-dogmatic christian. I need to be in community. The nearest pagan tribe is miles away and I just don’t feel connected to others living in another community that far away. I find joy in solitude, but I need more than that; like feedback and common experiences. I’m ok with the choices I’ve made so far. I feel calmer than I’ve ever felt before. I no longer agonize over doctrine or dogma. I can tolerate others’ beliefs if I don’t hold them. I think I’ve reached a plateau where all my criticisms of systems stem not from whether the incarnation is true or whether the resurrection was literal or figurative, but from inequity or injustice or just downright ignorance of the facts. Really, the “finer points” of christian theology have nothing whatsoever to do with life as we live it here and now. We can create and expound upon elaborate dogmatical systems and hope and wish that life fits that scenario, but experience has taught me that it doesn’t. Life, as Dr. Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, always finds a way.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately and I realize that I’ve become stagnant at work and stagnant in my own life. I’ve lost that joi de vive that characterized my earlier years and I really, really want to cultivate it again. My best friend from high school called this week and urged me to go canoing with her. First, I said, “Are you insane? Have you seen the rivers lately?” She laughed and said she didn’t think of that, but we did make a date for July, hoping that the rivers would be more manageable. The point is that my best friend and I used to tear up the discos in our day. We used to party and party and then when others were pooped, party some more. We’d go water skiing (did I mention I can’t swim well?) on the lake, dirt biking in the country, and well, you name it. Of course, all good and senseless things must come to an end. Life intrudes and husbands and kids come along. Money is tight and that kind of youthful fun is nowhere to be had. Years of responsibilities and kids have a way of tamping down that youthful spontaneity. Then religion intrudes and you see things differently. Responsibility comes knocking at your door and you start thinking philosophically and politically. Health declines. Surgeries come and go and before you know it, you are older and worn down mentally and physically.

To hear me tell it you’d think I was 60, but I’m not! THIS is precisely why I need a change. Of work, of outlook, of a lot of things. Perhaps this is what spurs people to try new careers and to take risks. I’m at that stage, but I need support from my family and from community. I suppose I’ll take any community as long as they aren’t abusive. Which brings me back to faith. I’ve patched things up with the pastor of the church I attended and we have our friendship back, pretty much intact. In fact, I think now that we both realize that keeping church business out of it helps our friendship along. Now that I’m no longer an actual member it’s gone pretty well. I’ve attended church and reveled in that community’s faith. And you know what?? It doesn’t even matter that they believe differently than I do. It doesn’t even matter what their dogma is or what doctrine they espouse because I don’t care about it any longer. I have faith in their faith not faith in their god. Perhaps it’s the lazy way to approach it, but maybe this is what being caught up in a political cause is like. Everyone needs to be spurred along by something after all. Everyone needs their personal “messiah.” I don’t jump on the political bandwagon because I just can’t put much store in a political system that fails again and again. Religion probably isn’t much better in that regard, but it gives me a mythical language to define my world with that politics cannot. It gives me core images and ideas that resonate with me, and I don’t just mean christianity. All religions resonate in some sense or another. I know my “change of heart” about going to church has disappointed some people who read this blog, and I hope I didn’t trigger old emotions and fears because of it. I want to renew the focus of this blog once more: exposing iniquity wherever it may be found, in church and out. I hope that never changes.

So there you go. I’ve not gone around the bend and plunged neck deep in radical belief or faith again. All I want to do is find a community in which to explore my own thoughts and belief systems, yet stay connected with others. In a small town that hard to do. I’m simply settling into a support system that happens to be a church. It’s kind of like the internet and the world of blogs I’ve found here. If it weren’t for Kay, Zoe, Heather, and other faithful friends who’ve kept me sane and grounded in my meanderings, I would probably just give up the fight for sanity completely and go “to the dark side” whole hog (by that I mean the dark side of christianity). But I haven’t and I just wanted everyone to know that. (links removed due to asshole sploggers who stole this article).

Women in Ministry or Women in Silence?

Reposted from another blog of mine should someone think I “lifted it” :-):

A couple posts ago, I wondered if Scripture was contradictory, especially with Paul’s proclaiming of Jesus’ Gospel of inclusion. Apparently, I jumped the gun and didn’t read far enough. I’m so grateful for women who do exegesis so I don’t have to. Here is an excellent series (Parts One, Two, and Three) about Women in Ministry and particularly the explication of the problematic passage about women keeping silent in church found in 1 Corinthians. The posts and subsequent comments by readers are excellent. Thanks Tia!!