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.

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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.

“A pious man ex…

“A pious man explained to his followers: ‘It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. “Don’t be scared,” I tell those fishes. “I am saving you from drowning.” Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes.”
― Amy Tan, Saving Fish from Drowning

This quote was brought up in a class, and I had so many reactions to it, that it took me a couple of days to sort it all out.

First- As someone who is working to help make the world a better place (I am a social worker!), this is a remarkable demonstration of how so many organizations go into a place and start “saving” people. They give them all the aid they can handle and they never ask what the community actually needs. Did we stop to think what use a hotel size bottle of shampoo would be to a person when we were sending them to Haiti? Or did we just unload and thank god it was so convenient to help people. They ignore the desires and talents and needs of the community and they impose their own expectation and vision onto them. I am as guilty as anyone else of convenient giving. The giving that serves my pocket and my ideals and my vision. But true, lasting, life-saving help is not convenient, and it has nothing to do with what I think is best for someone from another culture and experience. This irritates me more than I can say. To some extent, I think missionary work is guilty of this. Which leads to my next reaction…

Oh religion, religion, religion. Why do we expect so much of a man made construct. And in this quote I see so many of the problems with religious organizations. Now, let me be clear. I am specifically talking about the Church (big C), as an organization, the same way you would talk about the UN or United Way. The organization and man made, man lead agenda of the Church is probably the beginning of the end when it comes to keeping believers within the faith. I would hazard a guess that the Church has often been the reason people leave, or the reason they stay away. Because like this well meaning pious man in the quote, they blunder about doing their best to impose their ideas on others with no idea about what those others really want. And they never stop to wonder why they keep killing off fish, they never stop to educate themselves about the people they are trying to convert. They just keep fishing them out and leaving them there to gasp for breath.

Ignorance is irritating. But willful ignorance is not to be borne. This man may have been pious, but he was also ignorant. And willfully so.

Labels

Labels mean a lot. And they have always sat uncomfortably with me. Most of them anyway. I was reading The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry last night, and he devotes an entire chapter to his smoking habit and I deeply felt every loving description of it. I remember when I quit smoking how I disliked being a non-smoker. Smoking had become a part of my identity, a label I liked, and now I was leaving it behind. I was Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, “So I’m a… non… smoker?” 

Another label that is difficult is Army wife. My main struggle with it, is that it seems to preempt my own career identity. But I guess that would just lead to discussing another label, feminist. I like that one more, but it comes with serious historical baggage.

Speaking of historical baggage! Obviously, this post is leading to religious and non-religious labels. I have always chaffed at identifying as a Christian. Mostly because of how that label makes people see me. Now it’s because I am not sure it’s true, but initially, my discomfort with this and so many other labels was that it changed the way that people looked at me. It changed their expectation of me. And it changed the way they interacted with me.

Right now I like the labels, free-thinker, humanist, and I am interested in deist. Not sure if any of them are 100% accurate for me. But honestly, I am not a cell phone, nor am I car. You cannot personalize me with a specific label and think that you have defined me. And this is true for all people. We are all multi-colored, brightly, woven tapestries of experience and people and loves and hates and hidden things and thoughts.

I dislike labels, unless I can use them like sticky notes. Not permanent, not big, not all encompassing. But if you need an idea of who I am, here’s a few sticky notes: mother, sister, wife, sci-fi and fantasy loving, chocolate addicted, social worker that would rather watch British panel shows than do pretty much anything else. How’s that for a label?

AAACK!!!!

AAACK!!!!

Oh Cathy. You really do get me sometimes.

I keep upsetting myself because I am worrying about the future. As I am worrying about the future, the present is sapping me of my life force. FInals, kids, long ass deployment, crazy family, overcommitted on committees, and just normal irritations like dentists and ordering contacts.

In two weeks I will be sitting on a beach watching my children playing in the water. I just have to “ack” my way through two more weeks. Then I will have reached a well deserved break, before my last semester in grad school.

This blog was originally my outlet to talk about my spiritual struggles. As time has passed, I am realizing that there is so much wrapped up in that! Hence all the “ack”-ing. It isn’t just about me. It is my marriage, my children, my friends, my family, my community, and my future. This blog is indeed, about somuchandsomuch…

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.

prayer

prayer

Prayer. The power of prayer. It is an odd thing. An untouchable topic. And HIGHLY personal. So blog? Right?

First of all, when I have prayed, I certainly did not look like the beautiful, serene, women in the picture that I found on google. My favorite prayer spot for years, decades almost, has been in the shower whilst having a good cry. Not really a photo-op kind of situation.

I can remember a few distinct times when I would be overwhelmed by life, or depression, or whatever and find myself in that place. Either sobbing or inert. And prayer was something I did- not naturally, but in hopes that it would help; in hopes that I would begin to feel something again; in hopes that it would give me clarity; in hopes that it would just make me less sad and awful.

These sessions ended, inevitably, with me leaving the shower, exhausted, and empty of everything. Then, I would sleep, usually. So… was that the divine calm I was hoping for? Or was I just tired from the sheer exhaustion of the thing. Was I just drained from the depression itself.

I have not had one of those crying/praying/struggling moments in a LONG time. And since I began this journey of questioning and seeking answers, I have been more aware of my lack of a prayer life. But yesterday, I watched my son hop on a skateboard for the first time, and I thought to myself, “oh God, please don’t let him get badly hurt.” Whaaaa??? It would seem that for all my self-aware introspection, I still have a knee jerk reaction to appeal to the divine when something spins out of my control.

Not big things, because there are elements of my life that are wildly out of my control, and I just wait, hope, and anticipate the day when they reach resolution. But there was something about my baby on a skateboard that elicited a tiny prayer to the God I am not sure I believe in… It would seem I have a great deal of questioning ahead of me.