Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Maybe I'm Wrong: Part Two

I had two conversations over the holidays that made me really, really wistful for that good old time religion.

The first was with an old friend that I had lost track of about six years ago. About eight years ago we lived in the same city and were in the same large circle of people involved with a local church’s young adult group. At the time, we were both contemplating Catholicism. Like me, he had an evangelical type of upbringing but was finding the theology to be lacking in some ways. So we would sometimes trade notes and talk about various Catholic-Protestant topics.

When we caught up again last month, I learned that he had indeed converted to Catholicism. I asked him why, and he paused for a moment, looked off toward the ceiling thoughtfully, then said, “Beauty and truth. I could say more, but that’s pretty much it. Beauty and truth.” We proceeded to have a longer conversation about it, which left me ultimately envying the sense of certainty he had. Of safety, almost. He said he ultimately decided that he didn’t want to keep fighting Rome and while he wasn’t on board with everything, he had ultimately decided to put aside his pride and choose to trust the authority of the church. And he seemed confident, sure, and at peace.

The second conversation was with my high school friend who has remained quite evangelical and conservative over the years. Somehow, our friendship has survived my de-conversion even if we have had some difficult conversations along the way. This year over Christmas we spent an afternoon together, and in her typical way, she cut straight to the heart of things. We started talking about my breakup (which I am still really struggling to get past, to be quite honest about it) and wound our way around to what it was that really caused my crisis of faith. She then described her own crisis of faith, which happened a couple of years ago when her husband was plucked out of his National Guard unit and sent to Iraq. It was a scary time for them given the danger he was in, and she fought with God for a very long time about why he would allow this to happen. She grew up in a broken home and her entire life’s dream was to have an intact, loving family. She had it - happily married with two young kids - but then God seemed to take her husband away, possibly permanently.

She said at that moment of crisis, she faced a fork in the road: either God wasn’t at all who she had thought him to be, and perhaps he didn’t exist at all; or God wasn’t at all who she had thought him to be, and she needed to be open to a new, deeper understanding of who God is. She said as she faced down those two decision paths, she couldn’t fathom her life making sense without God in it. Her life would have no meaning whatsoever, and ultimately, she couldn’t face that life. So she decided that she just didn’t understand God’s purposes well enough and that this was a window to draw even closer to Him. [Conveniently, her story has a happy ending because her hubby is back safe and sound and is retired from the military now. I wonder what would have happened to her faith if he had been killed in action.]

My friend started asking me what meaning life holds for me now. And I couldn’t answer her. I had to be honest: it’s a huge loss in my life that I no longer have this narrative, this story, this Great Commission style purpose that directs and orders everything. I’m struggling to cobble something together that feels as coherent, as moving, as inspiring, as that once was to me.

Yet it’s not like I can simply back up the train and hop back on. If it makes me feel good, but isn't true, what's the point? I almost feel like a cursed person for asking so many questions and not being content with simple answers. It’s led me to this place that might well be impossible to recover any kind of faith from. At this point, I truly doubt the existence of any divine presence. And I’m not even sure it’s faith that I want back, so much as a sense of purpose in life – something bigger than myself that I can grab hold of with gusto – and a community within which to live out that purpose.

7 comments:

jennypo said...

I know how hard it is when everything that seems right takes you further and further away from what feels right. As I said before, I hope that this reconsidering means that you are willing to acknowledge that what is real and knowable is not the same as what is verifiable; and not that you are just tired of the struggle and ready to give in.

You can lay aside pride without laying aside your faith in truth. It has its own narrative, which perhaps you haven't yet discovered. But which of all of our grand and ancient stories doesn't have a long and dark and dangerous moment when all seems lost? Search for truth above all things.

In my own searching and finding, I too have lost that sense of community you talk about. Sometimes I miss it - the warm, safe, swaddled feeling of being part of something great and shared. The ease of discussion when you don't have to explain or defend anything because the base assumptions and understandings are more or less the same. The sense of being rooted in traditions; the freedom of not having to "figure things out"...

But there are compensations rich and rare. I have not the faintest smoke of regret. What I have found in the God who is there leaves me outside modern Christianity and hopelessly unsatisfied with its platitudes - but God himself is deeper and dearer than that "belonging" ever was.
A full soul loathes a honeycomb; but to a hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet. (Proverbs 27:7)

It isn't wrong to give up trying to "figure it all out" - but it is wrong by almost any standard to ignore what you know inside in order to be comfortable. The bliss of ignorance is the realm of children; as grown-ups we have both the responsibility of thinking and the vast privilege of understanding.

Slapdash said...

So Jenny, I can't quite tell what it is you think I am going to find... some new, different version of God or the divine, it sounds like? The version you've found?

I don't mean that antagonistically... I just don't see a recoverable concept of God in all of this.

jennypo said...

It's not a matter of "same thing, different color." What did you ditch your religion for anyway?

I wanted truth. The kind of truth that reached across my whole experience, not different truths for different parts of me. I found it, and I found that God was it.

I'm not encouraging you to go looking for a different kind of God. What is real and worth knowing (whether or not you want to say that it is God) doesn't demand that you shut yourself down and just say "I believe".

Not knowing is one thing, but choosing to ignore what you know is wrong whether you are a Christian or an atheist. Follow the best and the highest that you know, whether or not it means that you agree with me. The way might be difficult, but if there is anything to be found, it can only be at the end of such a road.

exrelayman said...

Hi Slapdash and Jennypo. My stance is one of doubt or skepticism. That said, the tone of what you Jennypo are saying here seems one of genuine caring, and I hope to maintain that tone while making inquiries and assertions here, all in the interests of each of us arriving at 'our truth'.

For I am confident that given a choice between a warm and comfortable delusion and a cold and harsh reality, we want reality (I could be wrong here, and of course I do not maintain that these are the only 2 choices (false dilemma) - maybe there is a warm and comfortable truth). Nonetheless, as the Iraq 'weapons of mass destruction' premise has shown us, accurate knowledge is critical.

So I would like to accurately know, for instance Jennypo, how you assess the non 'verifiable' component of 'what is real and knowable'. I have sought God, and prayed for my faith to be strengthened, and found nothing, experienced nothing (cue in Sounds of Silence). You say you have found God, I say I found nothing. What evidence are we evaluating differently, and why? As Slapdash said, 'maybe I'm wrong'. I too am willing to be shown wrong. So I would ask, since you have succeeded where we have failed (I quote you 'I found that God was it'), tell us how to find Him, other than reading the Bible and praying, which we have already sincerely done. You can perhaps lead us out of error.

But you see, in order to do that, you may be exposed to critical analysis destructive to your viewpoint. In other words, for a sincere dialogue, you must risk possibly being wrong also. So I at least make it OK for you to decline entering into telling us how you found God.

There is much at stake, but my stand is is that truth is true, and needs no faith. And I stand ready to show my reasoning also if requested, rather than simply asking your reasoning, but for now that is enough, for I think courtesy demands brevity in the comments. I wish to conclude this comment by extending my courtesy and best wishes to both of you. I so dislike the way some of the exchanges about this topic get heated, and will try to do my part to prevent that from happening here.

OneSmallStep said...

The thing that struck me about both examples was that it seems like the choices are between certainty and truth. Granted, I just have this post to go on, so I'm sure there's a lot I'm missing.

But in both cases, I don't see how God influenced their decisions, if that makes any sense. In the first case, the guy decided he was tired of fighting, and while there are things he disagreed with, he still became Catholic. In the second case, your friend decided that she couldn't live without God, and so she stuck to her faith. It's like they talked themselves into their sense of safety.

So I have no idea how you can have this sort of certainty. How could you choose to believe it at this point?

Plus, another thing to consider -- even if you do get a certainty back, there's no guarentee that you'd find the same sense of community. In reading Jenny's comments, it sounds like she could have either certainty or community, but not both. My belief is that churches almost have to cater to the lowest common denominator, in order to reach the largest amount of people. Given you de-conversion and the amount of research you've done, you might not find most churches to be satisfying, even if you regained your faith.

jennypo said...

Exrelayman,

Thanks for your gentle response.

I have tried my best to answer your questions without giving 'pat' answers or skimming the surface. Unfortunately, this has resulted in an answer that too long to post here, and in spots, a bit rambley. For these reasons, I have posted it on my own blog, jennypo.blogspot.com. If you wish, you can read it there.

Some of my experience is hard to explain because it too closely resembles its more commonly-known counterfeit. I am constantly faced with the need to clarify what I mean by "God", "faith", "truth" - since meanings have been superimposed on those words to the point that they are almost more trouble than they are worth.

Nate said...

Yeh, hHe wasnts you to get to know Him as he is, not as you have been taught he is. "Ask and you shall receive." "Sometimes he says no." "If you have faith, you can move mountains." etc. etc. etc. You have been spoonfed this crap for so long, it is like a prayer can solve all of your problems. God is a father, and many times fathers say no, they say, you have to solve this on your own to mature, they say, you don't always get what you want. There are many more things that God is completely different than the evangelical religious complex teaches. It is just a matter of learning who he is from those that have already gone through the deconversion experience. I can give you names of some very wonderful ladies that will understand where you came from, and are going to. Just follow the link back to my site, and hit the links that I follow. Only a couple of guys, and many women. Maybe women are just more percepteive. More likely, just like to talk about their troubles.