Sunday, March 06, 2005

Being a Thinking Christian

I know, some people would say it's an oxymoron, but usually it's presented as an insult by people who don't want to believe the two can co-exist because that would threaten their little worldview.

I haven't been a Christian all my life. I was lukewarm at best growing up, and in high school, I was an agnostic because I couldn't make church make sense. Why? Because my pastor wouldn't answer my questions. I had a lot of them, and they were tough. I haven't answered them all by any means. Sometimes it really sucks to be a smart kid, because adults won't always take you seriously. It really came to a head when some folks that I was in church choir with wanted to circulate a petition for a state referendum to keep gays from having "special rights," as they put it. I had questions. Like, why was the right to not be discriminated against in jobs or housing "special." And how did this whole thing reconcile with Jesus' command to love our neighbors as ourselves. No one wanted to answer me, including the pastor. So I gave up on the church and Christianity in general because of stupid hypocrites. I still sang in the choir, because I liked the music, but I was all but pulling out a book during the sermons.

Then, in college, I met Colin. He's a wonderful man, and he really tries to be a good Christian. Like me, sometimes his thoughts would get in the way, but rather than giving up, he pushed for answers. He grew up Lutheran, and so we were married in a Lutheran church by a pastor who also was a thinker. In fact, he's probably a better thinker than a preacher, but he is called to do it even when getting up in public makes him physically ill. That's dedication. I was a German major at the time, so I was also exposed to a lot of Luther's thoughts and writings in German culture and history courses. And it struck me that Luther in particular, and the early protestants in general, were all advocating a thinking belief. That's why getting the Bible into the vernacular languages was so important--it unlocked the word of God so people didn't have to have it fed to them by Church authorities, and then they could examine it and really dig into the beliefs on their own.

I started reading voraciously. I wondered, more than once, if I was the only person who sat down and read the Bible cover to cover--including all the footnotes in my Concordia Self-Study Bible. I also borrowed a copy of the whole thing on audiotape from our pastor so I could listen in the car during my long commutes to school. And I really came to believe, and to believe that I was supposed to be constantly examining the church and the world to determine for myself what God wanted me (and the various communities I belonged to) are supposed to be doing.

Okay, I didn't quite get to CS Lewis this time, but I think that's enough pulpit time for one Sunday afternoon. Besides--Colin's barbecuing, and there's a dog to play with outside before the rain moves in.


Andy said...

See, I kind of did the opposite. I was really pretty devout all through high school, and had never honestly questioned too deeply, despite the fact that questioning is sort of what Protestantism is about in the end. It wasn't until I got into college and experienced a less narrow view of the world that I grasped the concept that Pascal's Wager only works if the two options are: "There is a God, and he is the Christian God" and "There is no God whatsoever." I consider myself basically an optimistic agnostic. I'm pretty sure there is some sort of God out there, in the good god creator sense rather than the tentacled horror from beyond sense. On the other hand, I'm convinced he's pretty unknowable, and I don't feel as though my life is particularly poorer without regular church attendance, especially since who knows if that's how He really wants to be worshipped anyway? Perhaps it's my naturally introverted nature that makes me turn inward for answers, but I'm still hoping that simply living a good life and trying not to hurt anyone unnecessarily is going to be enough to get me into the good side of the afterlife if there is one. I've got no patience for arcane and seemingly arbitrary rituals, and they don't bring me any particular comfort either, so why bother? To make my family happy? I think that hollow worship in the end would be worse than none at all, because then I'd feel as though I were being hypocritical.

Alan said...

That's really cool, the questions you asked your pastor!

I always seem to end up being friends with "thinking Christians", which is interesting because I am a hardcore atheist myself (an "atheist for Jesus" but an atheist all the same).

Still, I think church is, or can be, a valuable resource for people to belong to a kind of community. So, if and when we live in a place that has a Unitarian church (we are strongly thinking about relocating to Columbia when I get my teaching licence), we will go there. In the meantime, though, we are getting involved with the local Catholic church, as that is what my wife was raised in and they are a pretty good group of people. We were especially heartened to go to the Lenten Friday fish fry recently and see cars with Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers. There were still plenty of others with "Bush-Cheney" (unlike Unitarians who are at least 99% liberal), but at least there's a mix.