In a few recent posts, I've touched on articles of faith. I've alluded to various positions I hold dear, but have yet to actually define them. As it seems that I constantly have my sights aimed at radical, fundamentalist Christianity, I thought
I it would only be fair that I give them some idea as to where I am coming from ? other than their perceived communist gay-monger.
First off, it should be noted that I was raised in a relatively Christian household. I say relatively, because it wasn't considered the core of our existence. Additionally, the environment I was raised in was conducive to questioning. If something, or some teaching, didn't make sense my sister and I were taught to question it. Essentially, I was raised to believe in constantly asking the proverbial ?why??. In this diatribe, which I will warn you has become quite large, I will attempt to set the stage for how I felt compelled to leave the church.
So how did some did someone ?raised in the church? end up so far left of center when it comes to matters of religion? As I've traced that path in the last few days I've found its origins in the root of two events at the same church. As I entered the ?college aged? younger adults of the church, the classes the church was holding targeted toward me and my peers had completely lost my interest. I was interested in a more scholarly class that critically examined the faith, not the faith-by-numbers offered to the ?young? members of the church. For those of you not familiar with a ?faith-by-numbers? type of class, it is to the thinker what a paint-by-numbers class is to the painter, a complete and utter waste of time and energy as there is no room for growth ? you do what you are told and that is it.
I found solace in a small class filled with members twice my age, many of them the contemporaries of my own parents. Their purpose had been the comparison of Christianity to other world religions, but had recently shifted to the purpose of exploring the origins of Christianity. It wasn't to recount what the Bible said, but to explore what the contemporary historians, Josephus namely, had to say about the initial surge of the cult of Christianity. It was an excellent class with individuals who were open to questioning everything. They were all admitted Conservatives, but found themselves confounded when test after test showed them to be liberal. They were, in the original sense of the word. This was fertile ground for the expansion of knowledge.
During the course of one of our discussions, it was brought up the minister of the church, someone I considered to be a free-thinker ? well, as much as a minister normally would be ? warned the guy who started the class. ?Be careful when you start to explore the origins of Christianity. You might tear down someone's faith.? When I heard that, I was floored. Was a minister's job not to ensure the strongest faith possible for his ?flock?? Would the process of guided creative destruction not be better for someone than having a faith that could be destroyed simply by knowing its origins? How could the minister not applaud this attempt?
Needless to say... I was disappointed. My belief has been that a minister's job is to cultivate the members of their church to live the fullest life within the moral guidelines set down by their article of faith. This particular minister, who I had always assumed strove for this lofty ambition managed to destroy my faith in him in two sentences.
That was one event, the other occurred prior, but by how much I don't specifically remember. It would have probably been by a year or two, but it's occurrence rocked the church. An older member of the church choir had his 20-something son come back to town. His son was openly gay and had AIDS, which if memory serves he says he got during a blood transfusion. This was no big deal, but those two attributes of himself are how he defined himself. He wasn't an individual who happened to be gay and happened to have AIDS, rather he would introduce himself: ?Hi my name is Tim (not real name). I'm gay and have AIDS. I know that makes some people uncomfortable, so if it does you just let me know and I'll leave you alone.?
He was one of those types of guys ? gay or straight ? who could easily rub you the wrong way. Personally, I could tolerate him. He was a free thinker and enjoyed questioning things. That made us kindred spirits. He had a crush on me, but that wasn't my thing and we got along just fine as friends. As you can imagine, Tim rocked the boat at the church. Many were floored that someone they considered so openly contradicting the ?Word of God? could be allowed not only to attend church, but to participate in communion and act as an active member of the choir. Truth be told, he wasn't that great of a singer, but he enjoyed it and could definitely be considered to have raised a joyful ?noise? unto the Lord.
This came to a head with a special ?meeting? - much like the Salem Witch Trials, without the burning at the stake at the end, and the ?accused? had already been essentially told to leave the church rather than be forced to face his accused. The topic of the ?meeting? was the Bible's stance on homosexuality. After some initial guidance by the minister (the same one mentioned above), the group broke into smaller groups of a half dozen or so. Within the group I was in, I think I was the only one who was willing to read what the Bible said and come up with the conclusion that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality except in the Old Testament. I'm completely prepared to disregard the Old Testament and consider a good source of history for the origins of the the Jewish and Christian people. When I've read the Gospels I've come away from them with the understanding that one of Jesus' main objectives was to point out that reading the Torah (the Christian Old Testament) literally was dangerous and lead to the pharisee and their politically repressive grip over the people. I'll save the comparisons to today's political-religious situation for another time.
These two events in tandem are what caused my disillusionment with organized religion. The realization that a church's main goal was membership and not the development of its members and the insight that church members were more than willing to use ? rather abuse and distort ? their article of faith as a means of coping with something that felt unfamiliar or uncomfortable to their world-view made me realize that the path to inner peace did not include a weekly pilgrimage down the aisle with an hour or so spent in a pew.
The next time it's raining and quite here on a Sunday morning, I'll write out what I, as an ordained minister, actually do believe in.