Saturday, February 13, 2016

Can You Believe People Really Believe That?

I don’t know about any of the rest of you out there, but, for me, things seem to come in seasons.  What I mean by that is that, if something comes up in my conversation in one situation, it’s likely to come up a few more times in the near future, often in totally unrelated settings.  That happened to me recently when two different people, only days apart, shared with me that they had found themselves engaged in conversations with people who believed the earth was only 6,000 years old.  They were both astounded that people actually believe that.  Never wanting to be intentionally inauthentic (hence the name of the blog), I shared with them that I had actually spent some time (and money) studying, considering, and even for a while believing this point of view...or trying to.

My life has given me a very diverse and interesting perspective on faith.  I grew up in a what I’ll call “believing from a distance” kind of household.  Both of my parents label themselves Christians, but neither of them feel the need to regularly incorporate attendance of worship services into their lives.  Then, as many of you know, I moved into a pretty hardcore non-denominational conservative phase where I felt that I had found Jesus, gotten saved, and accepted the atoning work of Jesus on the cross as the key to salvation.  Then, finding myself confronted by the unchangeable truth of my sexuality, I began searching, ultimately deciding to remain within the context of Christian life, but pushing my belief in an almost totally intellectual direction, wanting to place distance between myself and the more emotionally driven charismatic type of faith experiences that had wounded me. 

Now, my faith journey has led me to a place where I live in the tension of those two ways of being and believing, and let me clarify.  Often, when the word tension is used, it conjures up images of conflict and anxiety.  That is not at all what I mean.  For me, living in the tension means existing at an undefined indeterminate point in between the two extremes and being okay with that, being okay with not feeling like I have all the answers and, yet, not feeling like I have nothing to hold onto or believe in either. 

When, someone asks a question like, “Can you believe people really believe that?”, my first reaction is one of embarrassment because I have to admit that I did believe things like that or, at least, I tried to.  I honestly could never fully reconcile this one.  I attended lectures and read books by extremely intelligent, well-educated people who told me that they way science was going about things was a lie.  I heard stories about scientists purchasing clay pots at Wal-Mart, smashing them, and performing a carbon dating analysis on the fragments only to have the results show that they were millions of years old which seemed to indicate that carbon dating was grossly inaccurate.  I was told that Darwin and other scientists altered their data to fit their hypothesis.  I was pointed to scriptures that seemed to indicate that man co-existed with dinosaurs. 

I really struggled with many aspects of this way of thinking, but, when you are in a faith community such as the one I was in, any kind of thinking that strays from a strict literal understanding of the Bible is strongly discouraged.  Questioning the Bible and, therefore, in the eyes of those in church, God was often met with a quoting of Isaiah 55: 8-9, NKJV:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways.
And my thoughts  than your thoughts.”

Therefore, I was often left with the feeling that I was somehow failing.  It felt all right though because, of course, I could never fully understand that mind of God.  I intentionally chose the New King James translation of this scripture because that is the translation that I read most often back then, and, to many, even it was considered to be unacceptable because it softened some of the language from the King James version.

After the initial wave of embarrassment passes me, I find myself having a very different reaction.  I find myself experiencing a mixture of sadness, anger, and frustration.  It isn’t really focused at the person asking the question.  It really isn’t directed at anyone in particular.  I find myself becoming discouraged with our ways of being and believing.  Faith in our world, much like our broken and often ineffective political system is divided between two passionately divided extremes.  Even that is okay.  It’s the tendency of both extremes to look across at the other and say, “Would you look at them?  Are they ever stupid?  They are never gonna get it.”  This is frustrating to me.  Both sides have the sacred texts on their side.  They merely read them differently.  They both have ordained clergy as well as graduate level leaders and experts helping them to make sense of their faith and their world. 

This binary divide exists in all faith systems.  I write about Christianity because, of course, it’s what I know.  We pick the dumbest things to divide ourselves over, too.  At the end of the day, does it matter if the world is 4.5 billion years old or 6,000 years old?  If I believe one of those statements to be true, and you believe the other to be true, does that prevent us from being friends?  For some people, it does.  We divide ourselves over whether or not two consenting adults can marry and build a life together.  Why is the happiness, and apparently the marriages, of others so threatened by someone else attaining happiness?  There are honest to goodness real problems in the world.  There are people on our planet that need food, clean water,  shelter, education, and medicines, and we want to fight over whether or not The Flintstones could have been a more realistic depiction of life during the Stone Age than previously thought.  There is something wrong with us.

Please, even though I don’t always say it, thank you for reading!  I am amazed at the steady flow of traffic that this blog gets now, not only in the U.S., but also from all over the world.  Please, feel free to comment or drop me an e-mail.  I’d love to hear from you and learn more about your story as well.

~ Culbs

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