Archive for March, 2008

On doubt

I’ve been reading a couple of books lately that rock, which I’ll get to later, but in the meantime, this little Garrison Keillor essay about Easter and doubt is very much worth a look. Despite being sort of Minnesotan, I’ve never been a big Prairie Home Companion fan, but Keillor’s writing is almost always worth the time.


My Yom Kippur

For the Jews, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. I don’t pretend to know why, or what day Yom Kippur actually is. I’m also not a Jew, so technically, this might be cultural appropriation. But by cracky, today is my Yom Kippur.

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but I had an epiphany this evening that can’t be ignored. I was reading E. J. Dionne’s new book, Souled Out, which is one of the many books I was thinking about in my previous post, “A New Age.”


Souled Out is about “reclaiming faith and politics after the Religious Right,” according to the subtitle.  Dionne’s opinion is that the Religous Right (distinguished from those who are both faithful and political by their representation of religion as “a realm of cultural combat in which only abortion and gay marriage matter”) is done, and that people of faith are tired of being told that they must either hate gays or be unChristian.

“I would insist… that believers eventually get around to asking whether what they believe is true,” Dionne writes. “…few believers are blind automatons who never subject their beliefs to serious inquiry. Mother Teresa was not alone among believers in asking why she was not hearing from God.”

Here is the main point of my atonement. Without knowing it, I have always nursed a secret arrogance about believers. I have always believed (without realizing it) that I was smarter, stronger, more flexible and open than those who believed. Religion of all types has worried me, and I have taken that worry too far.

I don’t take back a single post I’ve ever written on this blog. I have believed and meant everything I’ve ever written, and that’s not what I feel I should atone for. What I feel I should atone for is the dark jewel of judgment that I’ve feared in others but tonight found in my own jewelry box. Why did I believe that most believers were judgmental morons, while knowing some of the most fantastic people in my life were believers? Julie, Tina, Mary, Wendy, Deb, Dawn, Sarah, Mike, Buddy, Michele, Gail, Heather! Why did I assume that all these people were exceptions to the rule, believers who questioned, that I had had the good fortune to meet, while still nursing this unexamined belief that believers never questioned?

I know some of the reasons, of course. Being agnostic means being told repeatedly that you’re not paying the least bit of attention to what’s all around you. Being unchurched means being told that if you’d just come to church… And being gay means being told that you’re bound for hell, hated by God, and have no choice but to change or deny who you truly are if you’re going to be re-embraced by God.

But that’s not the true reason I’ve felt this way. I’d love it if any of it were, and I’m sure that all of it helped me to justify it. But the fact is that I’ve been just as tribal as those I accused of tribalism. I assumed that those like me were intelligent and questioning while those not like me were not, even if they would like to be.

Without going on further, because that would sound like justification: I apologize. I atone. I ask forgiveness. I was wrong, and I hope to stop being wrong.

Christian agnostic?

I found a new blog that I might just love. It’s called The Christian Agnostic, and it’s written by Candace Chellew-Hodge, a self-described recovering Southern Baptist who is an associate pastor at a United Church of Christ church in South Carolina. Not only did she turn out as a liberal Quaker on the “What’s your theological worldview” quiz, as I did on the Belief-O-Matic quiz, she has read the Tony Jones book I just mentioned in my previous post. (By the way, I turned out as an emergent postmodern on the theological worldview quiz. I’m also being tested to determine whether I’m hypoglycemic. It’s self-knowledge day at the Agnostic household!)

Anyhoo, she seems irreverent and funny, like so many cool Southerners I know. Check out her post about heaven and hell, it’s good for a laugh (especially the last line).

A new age?

I was at the bookstore this morning with a bit of time to spare, and so I got to do what I love to do: wander the aisles and peruse the titles. I do it at the library, also. To wander among books just puts me at rest. Anyhoo, I included the religion section in my perambulations and I couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few books that had to do with the insufficiency of religion as it’s practiced today.

None of these were screeds against the faith in question. All were “why this isn’t working” kind of treatises. For example, Tony Jones’s book, The New Christians, caught my eye. It discusses the emergent church movement and how young evangelicals “have decided to recreate church for postmodern times.” Another book, Why I Am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq, explains where (in the opinion of the author) Islam went wrong. “It is well to bear in mind while reading this book the distinction between theory and practice; the distinction between what Muslims ought to do and what they in fact do; what they should have believed and done as opposed to what they actually believed and did,” Warraq begins.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but it’s nice to think of times like these as at least potentially groundbreaking. Karen Armstrong’s The Axial Age describes how religion changed massively and yielded monotheism, Confucianism, Greek philosophy and Buddhism. It was a time of massive religious and spiritual invention, and to this little agnostic, it seems like we could use a bit of that kind of thing today.

By the way, did anyone see “I Am Legend,” that movie with Will Smith about how a virus turns humans into rabid maniacs? I’m not sure I’d recommend it, but it had a neat little dialogue about God and science near the end. I don’t know if it meant to, but it left me with the impression that the author of the screenplay thinks science and religion can get along just fine.