Sunday, June 24, 2007

Becoming A Spiritual Orphan

I left off my last post with the questions that started pooling in my mind around Truth. Given the huge number of Protestant denominations that exist today (I don't know this number exactly, but something like 20,000 is in my head. (?) Anyway, a LOT.), how could I be sure that my childhood church had a lock on The Truth?

So began an incredibly painful and difficult period of time as I began to question some of the bedrock truths I had known my whole life. I kept a journal during that time, though unfortunately on a computer that has since died. So while I can't quote anymore the exact questions I was asking, I do remember spending tortured hours hunched over the computer, reading stories of evangelicals like me on the same search for the Truth -- and, incredibly, finding it in the Catholic church. I spent countless more hours reading books and praying earnestly for clarity and direction.

I was reading a lot of Catholic theology at the time (thanks to my Catholic boyfriend and his conversion ultimatum) and remember being both surprised and impressed with the depth and nuance of thinking within the RCC. In particular, I thought they fit faith and works together in a way more persuasive way than evangelicals do (who basically try to ignore works, though strangely they sure seem good at coming up with lots of rules to follow). And the Catholics seemed way, way, way closer to the Truth on the heaven/hell question. I was so happy the day I came across what seemed like the "loophole" that was totally absent in Protestantism: in Catholicism, it seemed that someone who had never heard the gospel might still have a chance of getting to heaven. It had something to do with a person believing as best they can, and God basically having mercy if their beliefs end up not being quite right. Something about it being okay, or forgiveable, if someone's conscience was malformed or they didn't hear the message of Christ, or couldn't understand it.

In evangelical Protestantism, you get stuck with these unanswerable and uncomfortable questions: if someone who professes Christ later renounces Him, what can that mean other than he/she was never a believer to begin with ("once saved, always saved")? What of those who never heard the gospel message? Well, the Bible is very clear on this matter: they are going to hell (except an evangelical is quite loathe to admit that, so they fall back on "well, God is perfectly loving and perfectly just, and only He knows our hearts.").

Oy. My brain by this time was really hurting, because I came to see that evangelical theology was too bound up in sola scriptura, too bound up in having to interpret everything literally, except you couldn't interpret everything literally, exactly, so you had to figure out all these work-arounds to make the stories fit. You couldn't admit that there actually are inconsistencies in the Scriptures, you couldn't admit that Genesis doesn't contain accurate creation accounts, you couldn't admit that God is a major monster in the Old Testament. "We are under the law of grace now - we no longer follow the old law" would be a typical response to any doubts about the OT God. Yet, how could that be, if God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow? If he was so terrible to people back then, what is stopping him from being so today? Why is the NT God painted primarily as our "loving heavenly Father" when that is not at all how one might describe the God of the Old Testament?

So I thought the Catholics were really onto something. And they had the weight of history behind them. But I couldn't sign on to all the Mary stuff and I couldn't sign on to papal infallibility. And because I couldn't say I really believed those two pieces of Catholic theology, I couldn't convert. Or so I believed, because to convert I had to get up in front of the church and say that I affirmed everything the Catholic church teaches. I couldn't do that honestly, and so I couldn't do it at all. And I carried around a chip on my shoulder for quite awhile on that front, because it seemed so unfair that all of these cradle Catholics could do their faith cafeteria-style, not even knowing what their church teaches, but in effect signing on to some stuff but not other stuff (eg using artificial birth control), but someone who was honestly seeking and who read and understood, in depth, the core theology of the church but had honest and deep disagreement on a couple of fronts, couldn't get into the club.

This all took place between 2000-2002, and by the end of the whole process I was exhausted, confused, alone, and very much feeling like a spiritual orphan. I could no longer attend my evangelical church because I had developed way too many problems with their approach to Scripture, but neither could I participate in Mass - which seemed like the only other logical place to go - because I had problems with some of their theology as well. I felt at sea, with no land in sight, and no guidance from God himself as to what direction I should go.


Cragar said...

"We are under the law of grace now - we no longer follow the old law" would be a typical response to any doubts about the OT God. Yet, how could that be, if God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow?

My brother is on the Protestant route. I have discussed with him my qualms about the OT, and he has had a similar response.

How can you discount the OT? Is this the same God or not? Never made sense to me.

Slapdash said...

Yeah, I don't get it, especially because Jesus also says in Matthew 5 that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it! Ugh - this is just one example of the many contradictions and mixed messages in the Bible that I can no longer gloss over. Thanks for visiting, by the way. I appreciate your comments.