Religion, Fundamentalism, and Choice

May 27, 2006

I've been in therapy for a few years– ever since my partner and I split up a few years ago.  Now that story is a whole separate Oprah, but my point is this…

My therapist said something to me a while back that I had a problem with.  We were talking about someone in my life and he said that this peron may not have the "raw materials" to move forward into a place where they could utilize all of their skills effectively, fully appreciating life, love, happiness, and effectively becoming a self-actualized, fully-functioning person.

Now to me, this is very important.  I see this as very tied to theology and spirituality.  I see our journey with God as very tied to our psychological health.  If we are not able to fully utilize all of our gifts, we will not be able to fully serve God in the way we are called to serve.  And I believe that our response to God's love and grace is to live and serve fully into God's call, so this was very problematic for me to hear this about this person.  After discussing it more fully with my therapist yesterday, we agreed that it isn't that he suffers the raw materials so much as it is that it is improbable (not impossible) that he will be able to tap into them given that he has such long established patterns of not tapping into them.  Of not tapping into the gifts which he has been given.

The question has been even more interesting to me as of late, as I have come to identify this issue more and more fully with the issue of religion.  This is a very touchy subject, I realize.  I've written on it before when I didn't have conservative readers, so let me try and broach it as delicately as I can.

My own journey through parenthood has reinforced to me what I knew in my childhood.  I knew in my childhood that my parents loved me very much.  I knew that while they hoped and wished me to do good, that even if I did bad they still loved me.  I knew that much as my parents loved me, God loved me even more.  I could not reconcile a God that would allow me to be punished eternally for any mistake I would make.  That didn't describe my experience of love as I understood it from my parents.  And so I began to explore this- would God condemn someone to eternal hellfire for being born into a place where the culture predisposed someone to a tradition that was non-Christian, especially if that person was a loving, peaceful, and benevolent person?  If this is a loving God, who cares for all of the creation, I could not believe so.  Would God condemn someone who, let's say was raised in a hateful environment, but Christian (I'm thinking Fred Phelps- see my post of a few days ago).  They would grow up believing and thinking, due to their upbringing, that hate-speech and hate-actions were the proper way of behaving.  Would God condemn someone to eternal hellfire for such behavior?  If belief in Jesus Christ is enough to mitigate these actions, how would that be a just solution when the peaceful, loving person who just didn't happen to be born in the right place at the right time would be condemned to eternal hellfire?

And so I don't believe in a God of judgement.  Now that in and of itself is a lot for some to process, but that isn't the point of my post.

Why do some Christians embrace the God of love, while some embrace the God of judgement?  That's not an either or.  I've met people who believe in a little of both, or something completely different – a hands-off God who is indifferent to us altogether.

I believe that the answer is in our psyche.  It is in the patterns that emerge from our childhood:  how we are raised, how we are nurtured, how we learn to expect the world and the universe to behave towards us and how we learn to expect that we are to behave towards the world.

That, my friends, is very big news to many people.  Some will say that I am claiming that God doesn't exist, that God is only a projection of our childhood relationship with our parents, and so on.  And that's not what I'm saying.

What I am saying is that there is sin in the world.  We are raised in that sin.  Parents aren't perfect.  Some parents are better than others.  But we do, to a certain degree, all carry forward the baggage of our childhood, knowingly or unknowingly, into our adulthood.  And our patterns form, and settle, and we rest into them.  We might have a strict father, full of rules, who is prone to scolding and punishment and "because I said so", so we settle into a pattern of expecting somewhat arbitrary rules and punishment.  We may have a know-it-all mother, who enjoys giving answers more than letting us find them ourselves, so we may settle into a pattern of looking for answers in a book instead of seeking the answers in a more open-ended way.  These are extremes, but hopefully you get the point.

It is our burden, our obligation, as dutiful adults, to find our true self.  Not to become the person we were expected to be as children, but to become the people God created us to be.  To find within us the gifts that God gave us.  To be free of that baggage.  To know and find "this little light of mine" and let it shine so that we may see the light within all others.

When we don't, the light of Christ does not shine within us.  Instead we are burdened with that baggage.  We carry forward the fears of childhood.  We seek childhood solutions to adult problems.  We seek a God who steps in and solves our problems for us with a rulebook/Bible so that we can get the answers to our incessant questioning, an adjucator/judge who steps into disputes as a parent would between squabbling toddlers, a God who would step into our lives and save us from ourselves so that we don't burn our hands in the fire.  We seek a God who would allow us to come into his kingdom so that we might find our own selfish gain in that kingdom.

Instead, I believe we must let the light shine.  We must free ourselves of the baggage so that we may run freely and lightly.  We may love all in the bigness of God and God's creation.  We must look for adult solutions to adult problems.  We must seek the God of truth, who calls us to find not the right answers, but calls us to ask the right questions.   We must seek the God who does not step into the middle of a childhood brawl, but calls on his children to get along like good siblings, because all disputes are trivial in the big picture.  We must seek the God who steps into our lives not to save us from burning our own hands in the fire, but who teaches us and encourages us to move forward with him, calling us to serve in his plan for justice and peace, love and righteousness, in all the days of his reign from here forward.  We must seek to work with and for God not so that we can get to heaven, but so that we can help God bring heaven to earth.  We must do that not so that we can find our own personal and selfish desire met, but so that the whole world, the whole creation can be lifted up in glory in the name of the one who saves us all.

Glory to God!

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2 Responses to “Religion, Fundamentalism, and Choice”

  1. Chip Says:

    Jeff,

    “I could not reconcile a God that would allow me to be punished eternally for any mistake I would make.”

    Bingo. Neither do the orthodox believe that, Jeff. God will not punish us for a mistake, but if we want to live apart from him, he will let us.

    “We must seek the God of truth, who calls us to find not the right answers, but calls us to ask the right questions.”

    God calls us to find the right answers as well, Jeff; he does not want to leave us with only questions. Now, of course, God is God and we are human beings; we will never totally understand God just by virtue of being human. So we will have some questions left throughout the course of this life. But God wants us to find answers to many of our deep questions in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.

    “We must seek the God who does not step into the middle of a childhood brawl, but calls on his children to get along like good siblings, because all disputes are trivial in the big picture.”

    But God DID step into the middle of us and became one of us, Jeff, and he did destroy the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile through his death on the cross.

    “We must seek the God who steps into our lives not to save us from burning our own hands in the fire, but who teaches us and encourages us to move forward with him.”

    Actually, God steps into our lives to do both, Jeff. He saves us from sin, and then, once we have turned in repentance and fath to him, then he bids us to come follow him.

    “We must seek to work with and for God not so that we can get to heaven, but so that we can help God bring heaven to earth.”

    The idea of getting into Heaven by our own works has always been rejected by the Christian church. We see to follow God for his own glory, not our own.

    Peace of Christ,
    Chip

  2. Jeff Says:

    Chip –

    Thanks for coming by.

    I’ll respond in the way I really don’t like– the “point/counterpoint” fashion. But it is clear to me that the underlying issue here is that we have completely different perspectives. In reading my post, you may have interpreted several of my comments completely differently than I intended, which is helpful to me as it shows me that I need to communicate my points differently to be more effective to a broad audience.

    “Bingo. Neither do the orthodox believe that, Jeff. God will not punish us for a mistake, but if we want to live apart from him, he will let us. ” – My point here is that there are so many socialogical and psychological factors that affect us here on this earth beyond our own control that I do not believe that a loving God eternally punishes us, or lets us live apart from him because of those issues- let’s say even a mistake of not believing in Christ. God is infinite. The God of judgement is based on a finite definition– a childhood definition that wants to seek boundaries for the infinite God.

    “God calls us to find the right answers as well, Jeff; he does not want to leave us with only questions. Now, of course, God is God and we are human beings; we will never totally understand God just by virtue of being human. So we will have some questions left throughout the course of this life. But God wants us to find answers to many of our deep questions in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.” — I don’t think I agree. I think God is more pleased in the process than in the destination. I rather think it is like the moth- always attracted to the light. If the moth ever actually reaches the light, he gets burned and dies. It is not the destination that is important to him but the journey. And so it is with our journey. It is the journey that matters, not the destination.

    “But God DID step into the middle of us and became one of us, Jeff, and he did destroy the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile through his death on the cross.” — Yes, and what have we learned from it? To split the church over a theological issue that is exactly the same as what Jesus criticized the pharisees, saducees, scribes, and other religious authorities for? No, Jesus taught us that is the wrong way. Jesus taught us that love is what all the law and the prophets hang off of. That the “least of these” is not to be ignored- the marginalized, the ones with the smallest voices, are not excluded. The wall remains. Not between Gentile and Jew (actually, I would say that wall still remains for many), but now even between Christian and Christian- “orthodox” and “progressive”, or “reappraiser” and “reasserter”, or whatever. The wall is still there. Jesus instructed us to tear it down. He did not succeed. That is one of our sins as the institution of the Church.

    “Actually, God steps into our lives to do both, Jeff. He saves us from sin, and then, once we have turned in repentance and fath to him, then he bids us to come follow him.” — I am in slight agreement with you. And, I think that it is not necessarily in that order. We are always on a journey. We are constantly learning from our failures, and from our successes. But in my post, I was quite literally talking about the fire of hell. I do not believe that God steps into our lives to give us a choice of a literal hell or heaven. God’s love is just too big, God is just too infinite for that.

    “The idea of getting into Heaven by our own works has always been rejected by the Christian church. We see to follow God for his own glory, not our own.” — Again, I don’t disagree. I believe we are all – and I do mean ALL- saved by grace and grace alone. But my point is that many preach that we should “get to know Jesus” that we might be saved and go to heaven. That is a selfish goal. I believe rather that we should not work to find Jesus so that we can get to heaven, but instead that we should fully live into the grace that we are given so that we can bring heaven to earth. That is our charge. That is our calling. In doing so, we serve God and our neighbors fully. We fully live into our baptismal covenant. We are altruistic. We are living as Jesus did. To accept Jesus as saviour only so that we may go to heaven is purely a self-serving objective. It is ego-centric. It is idolotry of self, to a certain degree. And that, I believe, misses the point.

    Wow. That’s a long-winded set of Q&A.

    Don’t know if that gets us anywhere, but hopefully it clarifies where we both stand!

    Blessings and peace,

    j


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