Sunday, August 11, 2013

Doubt, Love, and Connection

Doubt is my constant companion. I used to think I had doubt, but that doubt was more inwardly focused: Am I really a Christian? Does God love me? Will God reject me if I give in to my same-sex attraction? That type of doubt assumed that the existence of God, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the evangelical doctrines of Jesus’ death and resurrection were beyond question.

Today, for me, nothing is beyond question.

A few months ago I started reading through the book of Matthew in an attempt to blog through the Gospels. I ran out of steam, primarily because of doubts about the Bible. I decided to pause that project in order to read other books. Books that dealt with my questions and fears. Books from people who also wrestle with these doubts.

One book I read was Amy Hollingworth’s Letters from the Closet, which I reviewed in detail on Amazon. The book is not a "how-to" manual on relationships or a story about how Jesus arrived to magically save the day. It's a book about authentic love and connection. It's a book where ongoing doubt is a necessary part of the story.

Three other books I've read recently further explore these themes of love and connection which transcend doubt:

The Road Less Traveled (M. Scott Peck)

I first started reading M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled in the mid-1990s. I couldn’t finish it because I don’t think I was ready for it at the time. I picked it up again a few months ago, and this time I was hungry for Peck’s message. This book provided the best argument for the existence of “God” I’ve ever read. The primary focus of the book is not an apologetic for God’s existence, but on the healing power of Love. To very briefly summarize: despite the law of entropy, the universe keeps striving for something better. Human beings also strive for improvement despite a desire to remain constant. Peck identifies this higher force for good as Love. Love is the power of the unknowable God—is the unknowable God.

For me, the leap of faith comes in choosing to understand this unknowable God through Jesus. But what is the best way to know and understand Jesus? The most accessible tool we have is the Bible. Yet the history of how the Bible was written and canonized is fraught with plagiarism and political corruption. Furthermore, after Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of Rome, Christianity transformed into just another kingdom of the world; it has rarely looked like the Kingdom of God (as described in the Bible!). And what about the mystery of the Holy Spirit?

The Heart of Christianity (Marcus Borg)

An author who has helped me sort through (and sit with) these questions and doubts is Marcus Borg. Borg is a respected scholar and Jesus historian. I put a lot of stock in what he has to say because his knowledge about what is known about Jesus the man goes way beyond what the Bible reveals. In The Heart of Christianity, Borg describes two paradigms of Christianity: the existing paradigm and the emerging paradigm.

Note: The emerging paradigm described by Borg shouldn’t be confused with the Emergent Church movement, although there are some ideas that overlap.

Borg argues that while the existing paradigm for Christianity (i.e., a traditional understanding of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible) has “worked” for many people in the past, it has less and less relevance for fewer and fewer people. He is careful not to disparage the existing paradigm, but instead describes the practice of an emerging paradigm of Christianity with topics such as Biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, Kingdom of God ideals, and the emphasis on (and the different definitions of) belief.

The book profoundly resonated with me. It helped me understand that even amidst a thick fog of doubt, one can still practice Christianity and find meaning and purpose. I cannot say it better than how the publisher describes it: “…the Christian life is essentially about opening one's heart to God and to others.”

Faitheist (Chris Stedman)

Connection with others is a major theme of the latest book I read: Faitheist by Chris Stedman. Stedman is young gay man who identified as an evangelical Christian for a time, but now identifies as an atheist. His passion for social justice, however, has been a constant. Today he works as a Humanist Chaplain and an advocate for interfaith organizations.

I loved this book so much. Stedman is incredibly generous to engage with those of us who enjoy "religious privilege" in the U.S. His message of love, connection with others, listening well, and solving social ills together is so desperately needed. He’s gotten some forceful pushback from anti-theists and some atheists—those who believe religion is a primary reason for the world’s problems. But in risking criticism, Stedman reaches out in an effort to understand those with whom he disagrees in order to find connection and to work side-by-side overcoming oppression and injustice in the world.

The other day I was walking downtown (where I work) in order to grab some lunch. The concepts of love and connection were running through my mind. As I passed a woman on the sidewalk, it occurred to me that I’m connected to her. I am part of her. She is part of me. I immediately felt great compassion for her. This all happened so quickly and the compassion I felt was so acute that it’s difficult to describe accurately. However, it was a glimpse into something very true. If we truly love someone, we feel a connection that binds us to that person. That connection is what could allow us to have an empathy that goes beyond just “feeling bad” and compels us to action. Not guilt, not duty, not gratitude. Love.

Love and connection is the common theme in these four books. Love and connection could heal the world. No matter what details I believe about it, if Christianity can’t help me love and connect with others, it’s worthless.

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