conversation- not debate

I had lightbulb realization this morning. When talking with believers about my questions and doubts, I have a very specific list of things I want and don’t want in the conversation.

  1. I do not want you to try to save my soul. I do not want you to try and convince me of your viewpoint. Please stop. It sounds desperate, and irritating.
  2. I do want to hear why you believe what you believe. I am interested. I would not have asked otherwise. 
  3. I want to know specifics about why you think what you think, and how you came to draw these conclusions. Give me something tangible, measurable, concrete.
  4. I do not want to hear catchphrases and churchy platitudes. They are not well thought out. They are not real. They are not your words. Use your words.
  5. I want you to listen when it’s my turn to talk. I don’t want to debate you. I am not Christopher Hitchens. I want to have a nice conversation where we share our ideas and remain friendly and courteous.
  6. I do not want to convince you that you are wrong. Really. I don’t. 
  7. I do want you to acknowledge the times when faith does not make sense. I want you to honestly examine your faith and see the holes in it that I see. That doesn’t have to change your opinion, maybe you are still capable of faith at that point. But I am not. Can you just acknowledge that faith isn’t easy to have, it isn’t reasonable, and not believing is not a flaw in me? 

That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable list.

wishy washy

I am frustrated. I feel like I should know my own mind better. This faith questioning gig is hard. I need to prioritize my mind space. Finish school, then doubt God’s existence. Also, why do I feel compelled to make an all out, one time only, no going back decision? I need to give myself permission to not know things, and to change my mind. That might help.

can a good person be a bad Christian?

I was reading an article the other day, something about raising Christian children, and I strayed into the comments section. Always a dangerous place. One theme I noticed, and it rears it’s head on Christian articles all the time, is that Christians have this habit of saying, “Well, that person obviously does not believe in God like I do. Their faith is wrong.” Wait… what? 

How in the world do you know that you are being Christian the “right way” and they are being Christian “wrong”? Even when I was certain of my belief in God, I was still not convinced that I was absolutely right. I never viewed my beliefs as infallible, or the ideas I held to be true as universal. Maybe that’s why questioning it all has come about. Maybe my doubt was deeply seeded and inevitable.

But I am still curious. How can someone look at their religious beliefs, their faith, for which there is no empirical evidence, and say, “Oh, I am right. And that person is obviously wrong.” Why? Admittedly, I much prefer my Christian friends who love gay people, women’s rights to reproductive health care, and have a strong sense of social justice; as opposed to Christians who hate gays, oppress women, and talk incessantly about “teaching a man to fish” while children starve and die. But it is those very people that I love who are saying that other Christians are serving the wrong god or being too literal or giving Christianity a bad name or whatever. I think this misses an important point.

Faith is supposed to change you, right? God or Jesus is supposed to change your heart and make you a better person. Unfortunately, in a world where we can personalize everything from a kitchen mixer to our bath towels, remember- people personalize their faith too. I did. I made up my mind about how I felt about the world and then twisted my faith to make it fit my view. Therefore, if I was more conservative, more male, and WAY less tolerant of everyone who was not those things, I could probably tailor my faith to that world view. In short- maybe that person is not doing Christianity wrong. Maybe it isn’t that their beliefs are kind of asshole-ish. Maybe they are just assholes. And I am not convinced that belief in God has ever made someone who is an asshole suddenly stop being an asshole.

*side note- I am not dissing all conservative males, I was just referring to a particularly loud and irritating segment of people who fall into that category.

just me?

I desperately wish I knew more. I am learning everything I can about physics and evolution and natural selection, and I love it. It’s fascinating when I have time to plow through it. But philosophy? Gag me with spoon. It is quite a conundrum to be exploring my questions about gods and faiths and the universe, and I am avoiding philosophical arguments like the freaking plague. I just really don’t like philosophy. I never have. 

Also- side note, could some please organize the internet better. I am having trouble finding the good information.

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.

binge listening

I am feeling SUPER vulnerable and lonely and just… just crap. Depression sucks. No lie. And being constantly around people who really don’t know me nor do they understand the illness nor do I trust them to talk about it… it makes every day a panic attack waiting to happen. I don’t think I have breathed normally in two weeks. On top of that- I don’t believe in God… yeah, you can’t just tell people that. They will try to Jesus you. SO I am binge listening to The Thinking Atheist podcast. I LOVE IT! Love the one about you are not alone, you are not crazy. Love the placebo effect. Love Dogma. Love hope after faith. I have many books to buy that i will hopefully read after grad school.

It is smart, it is real, it is courteous, and it is one hell of a great comfort when you feel totally alone in the real and preverbal desert. Thanks Seth.

http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/

godless depression

I haven’t blogged in a while. I haven’t felt like it. I haven’t been able to collect my thoughts. I haven’t had the energy to try. Grad school is demanding and deployments are hard, but my current problems has more to do with the struggle I have had with depression for my entire adult life. I have only recently started to think about it outside of the tiny dark hole that my mind has been hiding in. I am carefully and continuously applying all of the tools that I have been given by counselors over the years. I am methodically and grudgingly starting to remember that depression lies. And I know that I will come out of this empty black hole eventually. Mostly that just makes me feel tired rather than hopeful, but hey, that’s okay.

The thing I have begun to think about in the past few days is how faith has played a role in my experiences with depression. I have done a lot of praying, reading, and waiting for my faith to make it better. I can’t honestly say that it has. I have come out of it eventually, but looking back, I don’t see the hand of God or his guidance or anything like that. I see me and my loved ones and good counselors doing hard work. That’s it.

I had the realization a few months ago that I no longer believed anything that was part of Christian doctrine, except that there was probably a God. And then I questioned that. And then it was like the doors on my mind got blown off their hinges and the whole world came rushing in. I have learned so much in just a few months. So much about science and history, but also about myself. Most importantly, I have learned that I have a great capacity for that most beloved-by-the-Army word, resiliency.

I am a resilient person. And it is not because of the hand of a supernatural being, picking me up and puppeting me into the places he wants me to go, or magically shoring me up and teaching me lessons. I am resilient because I have worked hard, and will continue to do so. I have learned that life sucks sometimes, and that I want to make life better for other people. I have learned that depression lies. My world is not empty or hopeless without faith, it is big and amazing and full of life and wonder, and I want to be in it. And that is a pretty fucking resilient outlook.

Personal-God-Life stuff

So I am struggling with my faith. I am not sure that I still believe in God. And the whole thing is quite a shock as I was raised by a pastor, married a man who wants to be a pastor, and he was raised by 2 pastors. So yeah. Can you say black sheep? But tonight, that is so NOT in the forefront of my mind.

Here are a few unasked for facts about me. I am a mom, I am in grad school working on my Masters in Social Work, and my husband is serving in the US Army. He is deployed right now. And that is really when I started to realize that I was in the midst of a full blown “crisis of faith.” My timing is impeccable. You don’t get a magnifying lens on your strength, faith, and beliefs quite like the combo of Graduate level Social Work and deployment. It’s a roller-coaster of fun I assure you. And this was the time when I started to realize that my source of comfort was not God, my peace was not found in Jesus, and my feelings of being lost were not healed by prayer. Crap.

So now, when I encounter a night like tonight (i.e., twenty page papers due, children wired, me exhausted, one too many glasses wine, and a bit too honest with myself) I put on some gloriously sad music (Radiohead mostly) and have myself a good cry at my computer while I look at old pictures. Depressing right? But honest. Or I call my sister, or I hang out with a friend, or I actually DO my homework, or I just watch TV. That is how I cope with the loneliness. That is how I cope with the stress. And it has taken me years to realize that I no longer see God in that. And I guess… right now… that’s fine. Because that works for me.

Christianity-o-meter

Can I be Christian and disagree with the Bible? Can I believe in God when the only link to his almighty plan and wisdom is a text I no longer have faith in?

I started disagreeing with the Bible pretty early on. When I first heard the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his own son I was a kid, maybe 8 or 9. The automatic leap was to wonder if God would test my parents faith with this demand and if I or my sibling might be on the receiving end of it. My dad is a preacher, so I felt my concern was valid. My parents assured me this was pretty unlikely, but I still thought it was a pretty awful thing to put- not only an innocent child- but Abraham through. 

As I got older I had to suspend disbelief pretty frequently with bible stories like Jonah and Noah and I think it was Elijah who got pulled up to heaven in a chariot. But I still felt that there was something under these “stories” that could be gleaned and learned from. I began to look at some parts of the Bible as I looked at other literature. It was a teacher about human nature, the nature of God, and faith, and how to live and be faithful despite hardships and challenges. It became more nebulous and interpretable this way, less of a historical document and more of a work literature to learn from.

However there are some things that I just flat out don’t agree with. It isn’t a question of historical accuracy, it is just saying, “No. I don’t agree.” One of the biggest is sin and homosexuality in the BIble. Basically, the Bible and I fell out over this and we have never been able to reconcile. 

It comes down to a dissolution of trust and the use of logic. I have interpreted and interpreted, and justified, and attempted to put the Bible in a culturally and historically relevant framework so much that I have constructed my own logical test for things! One question- does this “sin” hurt other people? Murder? Yes. Adultery? Yes. Theft? Yes. Jealousy? Sometimes… that one is more internal. Saying the word God? … no. not really. Being gay? Nope. Definitely not.

So. I disagree with the Bible. Regularly. Vehemently. How much of the structure of the Christian faith can wilt or be reasoned away before I am left with nothing? Luckily there is tons of structure to sift through :).

Morals… and finals

Morals... and finals

I haven’t posted in a while due to being buried in research and assignments and papers and expectations of myself. But I ran across this picture on facebook and I can’t get it out of my head. As someone involved in social work, the word “empathy” is huge important word for me. Having empathy for your clients is essential to the process, whether you provide counseling, case management, or manage programs.

Religion however, doesn’t play into that. My religion is not a matter for discussion, dissection, or influence over my work. My work is based on clear cut guidelines provided by scientific research and a code of ethics set forward by the NASW. And yes, I know ethics and morals are different. And no, I don’t want to discuss whether or not religion has a good moral base. That’s too much for my tired brain right now.

But for some reason people think that without religion, you have no moral base. I disagree, STRONGLY. But then where do the morals come from? They certainly aren’t instinctual… are they? I have no idea about the science around that, that will have to wait till after graduation. Dawkins is starting to address this in a book I am reading, but I haven’t gotten far enough to get to his point yet. So I like this picture. It is short, to the point, and probably as accurate as any other existential explanation or the basis of morality. Simple and straight to the point. Just how I like it.