23 June 2010

Chapter 2 Turtles All the Way Down

I'm not going to "review" the book O Me of Little Faith by Jason Boyett.  Frankly, i think the book so good, all i can say is:  Buy it; read it.  I don't think any "review" i write would do it justice.  Jason is an excellent & intelligent writer.  Read.The.Book.  If you're not sure you want to read a book on doubt, get the book & read the last chapter first.  If you don't find it uplifting & helpful, well, enough said.  He doesn't come up with reasons not to doubt; he has fine reasons why doubt & faith walk hand in hand.  For many of us, at least.  

Check out his blog.  I recommend this post on The Problem with Asking Hard Questions.  The comment section is excellent, too.  (I will admit, however, that as much as i like the site, sometimes reading "doubt" day after day is a bit too much for me.  Rather like looking at the glass as half empty too many days in a row.)

Obviously, the book had much in it which resonated with me.  I wouldn't recommend it otherwise.  I will be posting on some highlights that touched me.

Frankly, i'd very much like to send G a copy, very anonymously.  (I don't think he'd read it coming from me.)  I think he must be struggling a lot with doubt to preach against it (& fear & other emotion) so strongly.  

In some ways i think my faith has grown to be quite strong.  In other ways, not so much.  I know a lot of people who see God in every moment of their lives.  They walk him, talk him, regurgitate scripture every moment, pray continually, see him everywhere, & refuse to take credit for choice they make (good ones, i mean) in order to give God the credit & glory.  I struggle with that thinking & mentality.  Can't they see that they made a choice to do X, Y or Z, even if they ultimately give God the glory?  And because this type of life/thought seems to be a "Christian standard" way of thinking, i can't help but wonder, "What is wrong with me?"

Anyway, in Chapter 2, Jason presents some of the arguments which "prove" God.  The Ontological Argument, the Transcendental Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Anthropic Argument.  (He covers them well enough in the book, but Google them if you wish.)  I studied some of these in Apologetics in college.   I find that my faith is based, in a large part, on what i would call a variation of the Transcendental Argument.  That one is that ethics & morals could not have evolved; they require God.  (Oh, go look it up!)  

I think that man/men/mankind/people/folks could not be good, probably would not know what "good" is, were there not a God.  I've never believed in "total depravity" for if that were so, the human race would have killed itself off long ago.  People would not have children & raise them; they would have children & eat them.  Amoral behaviors & wars would have killed off all the rest. 

I am not arguing about whether sin is real, or that there are truly evil people in the world.  It is, there are; that is obvious.  I'm not arguing against the idea that we needed Jesus to be our "bridge" to a relationship with God.  I'm not saying that people have the ability to "reach a divine state" apart from the grace of God.

What i am saying is that people know moral values.  They know "good."  A mother has a child & 99% of the time (i believe) falls in love with that child & wants all things good for him/her.  A father wants to protect that child as well.  Other folks admire the baby (they don't think, "Dinner!").  (Now, as the child grows, that ability to have patience can be another matter altogether! Oh, & yes, i know those feelings serve an "evolutionary purpose" - but that doesn't really sway me.)

People, all kinds of people - Christians, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhists, Muslim, "religious folk," Wiccan,  agnostics, atheists, non-spiritual, the lot - have the ability to show compassion, do "random acts of kindness," & come to the aid of their fellow human-beings, nature, animals, where they see a need.  I believe that is so because there is within us still part of the "image of God" & the "knowledge of good & evil" which tells us when our behaviors are good or not good.  We also know that we've fallen short of the impossible "perfect."

I know a few atheists personally.  They are "good," moral, ethical people.  In some ways they are much more consistent than many Christians i know.  Why would this be so?  Why would they not be "out for whatever they can get"?  Why are they proud of being good?

I believe it is a piece of the human race:  We know when we have done less than the best, when what we have done is not perfect.  We seem to be, the majority of society, motivated to aspire to be good.  I don't think society would survive were it not true of the majority, regardless of their beliefs. 

Now, i'm not saying that this argument would sway anyone else.  I'm saying, it works for me.  I also fall in line with some of the other arguments.  I like the argument of a designer (the Teleological Argument).  When i see the complexity of the world, it seems to me that someone must have done it - & is quite proud of it too!  But this one doesn't carry the weight that "people know enough to try to be good" has for me.  I just don't think this would be so apart from the imprint of God.  

For me, too, is the idea of personality.  Babies have personality from the very beginning.  I don't believe in the idea of tabula rasa.  To me, personality is equivalent with "soul."  From the very moment of birth, children have different ways of reacting, responding, different things upset or calm them, some have challenging personalities right from the beginning.  That, for me, leads in the direction of "soul" & it seems to me that, somehow, that is something that continues.  Of course, this idea gets a bit muddy when i see that most animals have personality as well.  That is, frankly, why i lean toward vegetarianism.  How can i eat something with personality (soul)?

Now, feeling i have bits of "a strong faith" doesn't mean i haven't doubts.  There are odd times when i think, "What if it is not so?  What if when we die there IS nothing more?"  Part of me thinks that i'll be very disappointed.  There are many places i've not gone here on Earth, because, quite frankly i'm content to wait & see them in the "New World" to come.  I would miss all of that.  I won't be meeting the children we've lost; i won't be seeing dear ones who have "gone before," i won't be meeting Jesus, i won't be seeing GOD.  But, of course, if there is nothing more i won't know all those things.  It won't matter.  

But those moments of strong doubt are brief.  In general, when i hear someone i know has died, my response has been, "They get to be with Jesus!  They are with God!"  Of course, very soon after that the reality  & sorrow of loss sets in.  But frankly i will admit, my first response is usually, "They are with Jesus!"  (And i'm jealous for that moment.)

However, this also doesn't stop me from seeing the cruel twists of life:  Cancer in children, & loss of young mothers; earthquakes & volcanoes, rain & floods that do so much damage & loss of life; serial killers & pedophiles; folks who don't want children have them, folks who desperately want them don't; some folks get to have 18 children & others none at all; chronic illnesses that devastate lives. I have some answers for some of this (usually very critical of people's choices) but in general, life of unfairness & death in innocents disturb me very much.

And if God really pulls all the strings as some folks claim, how can we understand so much of the unfairness?  It seems that the flip side of "the Lord provides" definitely is that "the Lord takes away."  For those he blesses with children, has he cursed those of us without?  The righteous & the unrighteous alike are mowed down & sometimes it seems the righteous get it harder than those who don't honor God.  How can we be intelligent, thinking beings & NOT question these things?

Yet our answer is no more than was given Job:  God is not in need of the approval of his creation.  He is free.  Jason did a good job in this chapter of talking of how Jesus, in many ways, did not elucidate God or the nature of God very well at all.  He essentially told us:  God is a mystery.  We cannot define him, box him, study him as we would nature, we cannot capture, hold, or pin him down.  We can, occasionally feel the effects of him, but beyond that we have very little to go on.  

It was my intent to write, as well, on belief systems, how & why we box ourselves &/or God into tight places.

But this is long enough.  

I will reiterate:  In some ways i feel i have a very strong, firm faith.  I'm very thankful for it.  Some of it is due to attending a church that doesn't believe as i do because it has helped me to refine/define/clarify what i do believe & what i feel is important.  Honestly, i don't believe that too much of what i believe is all that important.  The basic tenants of the Nicene creed do for me.  The rest simply comes down to obedience.  

G, when we joined the Lutheran church (this was my first red flag) wanted to insist that we MUST believe that at the moment of accepting communion, it was transformed to be both bread/wine & body/blood.  Frankly, i don't care either way & i don't consider it all that important.  I think the act of obedience to the command of Jesus, regardless of my belief, is what is important.  

This, plus my own doubts & weaknesses would damn me to hell in the thinking of G.  In his thinking, any fear or doubt or depression means lack of faith in God & is the path to hell.  This is why parts of my faith are strong:  I've spent over 2 years countering such thought.  

I've also disagreed with G that we need to convince other people that they are bad or evil.  My thought is, let them believe they are "good" all they want.  Why argue?  The reality is they probably ARE good people, as people standards go.  Kind of like someone who can broad jump 18 feet when most of us can only broad jump 8.  They are far & away better at it than the rest of us.  But will that extra 10 feet make a difference when trying to broad jump the Grand Canyon?  We all plummet without the saving grace of the sacrifice Jesus made.  G was "offended" by my argument because it flew in the face of everything he has believed, but he could find no fault with my reasoning.  It didn't change how he sees fallen man, however.  Nor his preaching that we are evil little people, not worthy of God's grace & probably won't "make it" anyway, due to our fears & doubts.

I've still my weak parts of faith, & that is why i so very much appreciate the book, O Me of Little Faith.  :)



LutheranChik said...

Hi, Kathryn...I found your blog via the "O Me of Little Faith" blog on Beliefnet.

All I can say is...wow. Just wow.

I was born and bred LCMS...after some early adulthood spiritual meandering that included several bitter years of a "Christianity vacation" I wound up in the ELCA (which I'm sure your pastor has inveighed against from the pulpit on numerous occasions.LOL) I'm actually a commissioned lay minister with my congregation -- something I certainly didn't see on the horizon back when I was spending my Sundays with the New York Times and a latte', completely alienated from the Church and the Christian faith altogether.;-)

Anyway, I'm well acquainted with the religious xenophobia of Missouri, because that's the environment I myself grew up in (for instance, our congregation wasn't allowed to take part in local CROP Walks for hunger because -- gasp -- other churches and clergy were involved and we might be sullied by their heretical ideas...and we couldn't join the Scouts either, because they were sponsored by a different church in the community); but your pastor sounds like a complete loose cannon, particularly in his idea that you have to "feel" saved to be saved. (I can tell you with some authority that that is NOT an element of Lutheran theology.) I truly think that you and your spouse are victims of pastoral abuse, withn the context of an equally dysfunctional congregation.

If your experience is at all like mine was after my own struggles with the institutional church you probably have no interest in this point in getting involved in another congregation -- once bitten, twice shy -- but if you love liturgical worship and the good things about Lutheran theology, you might find a happier church home in an ELCA congregation; Lord knows we have our problems, but not the kind you've described on your blog. Or you might try an Episcopal congregation. I suspect that you're more theologically/socially conservative than I am, but in my experience there is more theological and ideological wiggle room in progressive denominations.

I'd also invite you to visit my blog, http://lutheranchiklworddiary.blogspot.com -- unfortunately it's on somethign of a hiatus now because real life keeps encroaching upon my writing time, but maybe you'll enjoy the archived stuff.

And if you just need someone to talk to who is conversant in at least two dialects of "Lutheran" -- and who is, as Rilke put it, learning to love the questions -- just leave me a note on my blog.

God's grace and peace to you during what sounds like a tumultuous time in your household.


Jessica Renshaw said...

I have gotten to know you so much better--or rather, so much deeper-- through this blog, Kathryn. I so appreciate all that you share. You do a wonderful job articulating your faith. It is a rich one, an honest one, a thoughtful one, a God-honoring one.

I appreciated the comments of the person just before me, too. I think you two have found a kindred spirit in each other!

Kathryn said...

Hi LutheranChik - thank you so much for stopping by & blessing me! :)

I do appreciate what you've written more than i can say. I did visit your site & make a comment. For now i'm burned out on trying to join any one church. I'll be content to church hop for quite a while. There are still a couple i want to try that we've not been to yet. (There are 25 churches in our small mountain town!) We probably will jump from Catholic & ELCA & a Baptist & a few others too.

Thank you again for your encouragement.

Jes! So happy to see you. :) Thank you for the compliments. I try to be honest & thoughtful. I try to honor God.

I so appreciate your friendship thru the years. Some of your stories i've heard before (& forgotten) but others are brand new. I'm enjoying them so much. I enjoy blogging & am so glad you've found it too.

Shelly said...

I, too, found your blog via the "O Me of Little Faith" blog on Beliefnet. I wanted to thank you for appreciating my comment from the WaPo that began with "Wow." I found it tedious to scroll through so many polarizing and off-topic comments when all I was really looking for were a few wise comments that would give me a bit of insight from others who are trying to relate to God and others in an authentic, genuine way.

Roger said...

Hi Kathryn,

I found some of your comments quite interesting. But I disagree with your premise that because people have a tendency to be good, this justifies the existence of God. You have overlooked the fact that over several centuries Christians have brutally murdered hundreds of millions of innocent "savages" in the name of the church. Yes, Christians have generally been nice to other Christians, but the niceness ends there.

Now, why have Christians been so nice to each other the past 150 years or so in this country and in other industrialized nations? Initially it was because of the abundance of land in this country and then because of the abundance of coal and oil. For the most part Christians haven't been persecuted much over the past 150 years, and with few exceptions they haven't been starving.

The world is now rapidly changing, and energy from coal and oil is going to become more and more difficult to obtain for an ever-expanding world population. It will become increasingly difficult to grow, process, and transport adequate food to feed the masses in the expanding metropolitan areas around the world, including many U.S. cities. Many millions will begin to starve. You and I won't live to see the resulting anarchy, but our descendants will. People will suffer much more than they did during World War II. When mass starvation in underway, you will see the number of Christians and God believers plunge. When desperate savages are killing each other over dwindling food supplies, they will not be thinking much about all the nice things God has done for them lately.

I hope I'm wrong, but Christians best rejoice over the Utopia that cheap energy and technology has given them these past 150 years. Christians should pray for the next generations, because they will need all the help they can get.

Kathryn said...

Shelly, hi! So glad you found me. :)

I really do appreciate the things you said. It was tedious to run thru those comments, where it was clear to me that you are someone who would appreciate it & that it would be interesting to have a conversation with you. Folks who just throw insults are difficult to converse with.

Hi Roger - I appreciate your point of view, but we do disagree. "Several centuries of Christians" were largely just a few. The early Christians were known for their love for one another & for even strangers. That changed as time went on & folks learned that they could gain power using the church as the hammer. I'm sure i would have been one of those "savages" or burned as a witch. People have a history of twisting things to try & use it for power. We are seeing that in action in our gov't right now, if we've the eyes to see.

Besides, i'm not talking about Christians being good. I'm talking of folks from all walks of life. Yes, there are plenty of folks who will rob & steal & kill, but there are others who will stop & help a stranger if they have the opportunity. I don't think this is just cultural.

I AM praying for future generations (tho i'm not involved in raising the next generation myself) because i'm very concerned about what we have done to our world & what we continue to do. Greed is certainly well established.

Thanks for visiting & the comment. :)


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Wife, wanted to be a mama - not going to happen, massage therapist, child of God. I can be emailed at: 4Kat2009@gmail.com