religion vs. faith

Whenever I talk about my belief questions with a select few people, I am reminded to separate those two things: religion and faith. Faith is personal, it is the quiet interior of your belief practice. While religion is the man-made structure or organization that creates the rules, gathers the money, and declares the wars. I get the difference. I understand why people want to separate the two. As a believer I was very outspoken about how religion was not my cup of tea. I preferred faith and the personal, self-defined system of beliefs that I had decided on. Ah but there’s the rub.

I may have had my own faith, my own system, and my own personalized structure of beliefs while I was attending church. But I was still in the church. I worked for the church! I was a part of the organization. I was clearly in the religion. As much as I did not want to call myself a Christian, (because of the way people would perceive me) I was still a Christian! What about people who believe but don’t go to church? Well, do they believe in God, the God of Abraham? Do they identify as Christians? Even a weird, vague, watered-down version? Then they are in the religion.

I think aversion to being part of the system is partly due to our American individuality coming out. We all want to be individuals, originals, unlike anything else, special. And we are in many ways. And in many ways we aren’t. And when someone decides that they believe even part of a system of beliefs, that has been decided on by a group, and called Christianity, then they are part of the religion.

Some Christians seem to think that if they are odd or different or outcast enough, then they are no longer part of the system. They have the impression that by not “being religious” they are not participating in the system. I thought the same thing. And I was wrong. Being a believer, even if you are a different kind of believer, automatically puts you into that club. Whether you like it or not. People might chafe at being in the “in crowd”, but that doesn’t make it less true. And rest assured, if you are in, someone else is out.

I am not sure why this bothered my suddenly. Maybe the fact that I saw myself buying into this disordered thought process. Maybe it’s the prevalence of it. But when I am trying to be bluntly honest with myself, learn more about the world and how it works, and put names to things that I have never bothered with before- I really want to see other people taking a more rigorous look at what they are saying. I don’t want others to buy into comforting half-truths, or self-delusion- I want them to be thinking critically about who they are and what they believe. And if it is still Christianity- okay. But just be honest about it. Stop fooling yourself into thinking you are a rebel when you are part of a hugely powerful organization.

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LGBTQ and the Pope and me

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Who has heard this before, “But, I have lots of gay friends!” Yeah, me too, and that is not an excuse for your opinion, nor does it make you an expert in anything. I have lifelong, close friends who identify with different sexualities and gender-definitions. But this does not make me special, it does not justify my opinions, it just makes me care more. It makes me deeply committed and intent on loving my friends and helping to create a world where they are safe and treated equally.

So what does this have to do with my “quest?” (I love quotes today!) (And parenthesis!) Well, the issue of equality for people who identify with different sexualities or genders is HUUUUUUUGE right now (hello Russia and the Olympics). With more and more states granting marriage rights to gay couples, with DOMA being struck down (yay!) there are segments of the Christian church that are going crazy trying to be “relevant” and yet maintain the ideological view that they hold to be “right.”

There are other churches (even in mainstream denominations), like one that I used to attend in Florida, that are fantastically progressive, overwhelmingly open, and constantly working toward equality and openness. I used to be employed at this church, and they also employed openly gay people in leadership roles (both paid staff and volunteer). The pastors repeatedly over the years have said (in somewhat blunted, but still definitive language) that they do not believe homosexuality is a sin. Recently, they started study groups specifically for the members of the church who are in the LGBTQ community, providing a place to invite friends, get comfortable, and study together. Yay! This church still holds my respect for it’s honesty, loving-ness, and work for social justice. But let’s be honest, it’s just not the norm.

Now the new pope has something to say about it. But frankly, it wasn’t much. I don’t expect him to come out of the Vatican, swinging a rainbow flag over his head, while Ru Paul preforms behind him, and proclaim that the Catholic church no longer sees homosexuality as a sin. But what did he say that got the world’s attention? Boil it down. He said, “shrug.” And while I am glad that he does not see himself as an arbiter or judge over mankind, that statement is not anything more than what the church SHOULD HAVE been saying for the past 2000 years. Color me unimpressed.

I am so done with half-assed statements of “support” to the LGBTQ community. Saying that you don’t judge people is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Because what you are really saying is, “I will not tell you to your face that I think you are going to hell, but you should pursue a relationship with Christ, cause if you don’t you will go to hell, and if you don’t stop being gay, you will go to hell.” or the classic “I don’t hate the person, I hate the sin.” BULLSHIT. If you call something a “sin” you are saying that people will go to hell for doing that thing. Don’t pretend that by watching GLEE or Ellen you are somehow safe from the logic of your theology. If you think something is a sin, then you think people will go to hell for it. There is no way to believe that, and not be judging them. So stop lying to yourself. It’s fucking irritating.