I consider myself a Christian. I’m currently attending an Episcopal church about four weeks out of five. My political views are a direct response of my religious beliefs. I believe in God.
After reading that paragraph, most people would think that they know what I believe in. Depending on the individual person, some would be right and others wrong. That’s because when I talk about my beliefs, I don’t necessarily mean what others do. So, I’m going to explain my beliefs below to make them clearer. Note: I am not apologizing for my beliefs. I’m not trying to convert anyone else to my beliefs. I am describing what I believe.
My interests for as long as I can remember, my academic training, and my current interests are that of a scientist, or at least an educated non-scientist. I believe that reason, rationality, and logic are the best ways to understand the world around us, and the best ways to make decisions about the right thing to do. I won’t deny a fascination with non-scientific topics, but overall I believe that the world works along rational, scientific lines. That doesn’t mean we necessarily understand our universe–it’s big, complicated, and we’re still working on understanding the principles–but I believe that, ultimately, the explanation will hinge on reason and logic.
What does this mean for religious belief? First, I believe in God; however, I am the first to acknowledge that I can give no logical, rational basis for that belief. I was brought up to believe in God, it became part of my belief system, and I’ve never seen a reason to change it. At the same time, I have never seen a logical argument for the belief in God that didn’t have at least one hole in the argument.
I do not believe that Christianity is the only path to a relationship with the Divine. Although there are differences between different religions, I believe that most, if not all, of them point to the Divine. Since I was raised as a Christian, that is the path that is most comfortable, but it isn’t the only path and there are others that I also find comfortable.
I do not believe that the Bible is the literal truth, at least, not in its entirety. I believe it is filled with poetic, metaphorical, ethical and moral truths, but I do not consider it a primary source of literal truth. If there is a story in the Bible that can be taken literally or metaphorically, and the metaphorical explanation accords with scientific research, I will believe that the story is not literal, but metaphorical. The classic examples of this are the Creation story (Big Bang and Creationism) and Noah’s Ark . This has major implications when we discuss Jesus.
I am not sure if Jesus the Christ existed as an historical person. The New Testament, in and of itself, is not sufficient evidence that He existed, and the other documents typically used to “prove” His existence have issues with them. The Reverend John Shelby Spong used the term the “Easter Event”; something happened in the middle of the first century of the Common Era. We don’t know what it was, but Christianity grew from that event (or series of events). The understanding of a personal relationship with the Divine, and the forgiving of sins to reunite with the Divine, and the social justice from the Old Testament, are the key features of Christianity that arose from then that I follow.
Add to all of this that my beloved spouse of thirty years is an agnostic, and has been one since about twelve. At the same time, he is a very social person and is enjoying the church we’ve been attending; however, he won’t say what he doesn’t believe, so he doesn’t join in with the prayers, readings, and so forth. Nor does he go up to the Communion rail, although when attendance is especially sparse and our priest calls us all up to the altar, he does go up and ask for a blessing. To his mind, as a regular attendee, staying back is ruder than asking for a blessing is inappropriate. Yes, he has thought all of that out carefully. For those who ask why he attends in the first place, there are two reasons. First, in addition to being a believer, I’m painfully shy and wind up in a corner in this kind of social situation where I don’t know anyone. Second, he loves people in all of their many forms, loves me and wants to support me, and is growing to love the community we’re joining. He also believes in many of the ethics and morals that the church is teaching; he just can’t say he believes in God or Jesus.
With all of the above in mind, I’m working on two separate projects. The first one is going through the Bible and explaining, to myself and to anyone else who is interested, the meaning of the Bible, section by section. The four Gospels have 91 chapters with 3,779 verses and that’s where I’m starting. The second project is to take the standard things the congregant is expected to say in a typical church service and to try to understand them as a sympathetic non-believer, to try to find a way that someone like my spouse can say them without feeling that they are being dishonest. I may get nowhere with it, but I suspect it will leave me understanding them better, which is at least all to the good.
So, there you have it. I know I’m too serious, too academic, overly precise, and more than a little abnormal as a Christian for many of you out there. But that’s okay. The Bible tells me, literally, poetically, metaphorically, that I’m a beloved daughter of God/dess, and I’m doing the best that I can.
Blessings to you all.