NOT TOO LONG AGO, I posted something on Facebook I feel needs some clarification. In a small fit of frustration with the state of religious affairs in our country, I said I was an atheist that follows Jesus.
While I still believe that to be true, I’m afraid I wasn’t clear. What I meant to say was I am, as writer Frank Schaeffer has said about himself, an atheist who still believes in God. First of all, let me begin by saying my problem with Christianity has to do with a very specific evangelical, fundamentalist view of what it means to be a Christian and even more specifically, what we are talking about when we are talking about God.
Over the last fifteen years or so, I have been exploring not only the language we use to talk about God but what this language means when we look at the Christian life as a whole. The evangelical tradition my family came to when I was thirteen has affected my worldview, my marriage, my relationship with my children, and my self-worth in ways too many to count.
I have had friends suggest I chuck the whole “religion thing” and just love my neighbor since that is the core message of the namesake of my faith. But I cannot do that. Religion, for me and for so many, is a language I use to try to make sense of that which is more than me. I know there is something beyond me, and what that is, continues to reside in mystery.
What I do know is that the “Mysterious More,” as the late writer, teacher, lecturer and theologian Dr. Marcus Borg puts it, is not what American Christianity has made it out to be, namely, “God.” I put God in quotes because I want to emphasize the problematic way in which many Christians in the United States refer to that mysterious more that cannot be named.
Western Christianity–specifically American Evangelicalism– often sees God as a Being, a being with a capital “B” who is “out there” somewhere, intervening (or not) in ways that never seem to make much sense and must be understood as mysterious. There is a mystery about God, yes, but only when an answer to some of the “big questions” cannot be given. In those cases, “it is not ours to question why.” (Ever heard that one from a church leader?)
For much of American Christianity, God and the Bible function as idols in the exact same way in which the Jews of the Old Testament gave in to foreign idols and were blinded by their false worship of them. When we talk about God in this way, as a Being, we are talking about God as a bigger version of ourselves—if we are finite, God is infinite; if we are mortal, God is immortal; if we are limited in our knowledge, God’s knowledge is infinite.
Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, said when we talk about God in this way, we are talking about ourselves with a megaphone. Thinking about God in this manner is a way of legitimizing our worldview and our system of beliefs. If we have the correct system and follow the rules of that system well enough, God will be happy with us and will let us into the place out there where “He” dwells after we die.
This God justifies our wars, our discriminations, our treatment of the Planet, and our way of life. When God is seen as a being (or, as Peter Rollins has said, a Super Being) God is a projection. We project a bigger version of our understanding and measure our worth and worthiness against that projection. I have come to understand God in my life not as a projection but as a projectile—a force that is constantly, and not always gently, smashing ideas of who is right and wrong, what is good and bad, what is just and unjust.
For me, as a follower of Christ, I see in Jesus what a life filled with God looks like. I see a man who was called the Messiah, but who, at the time, was one of many, many men who was called by that name (that’s a simple fact of history).
The difference between Jesus and the many other so-called messiahs was in how he ruptured the system in ways that didn’t make sense. He loved the poor, healed the sick, and counted the lowliest of the low as the most important among all who lived. How could one be a “king” and act in this way?
When I reached the crossroads of my faith, I knew I could no longer continue to see God through the lenses of my former evangelical spectacles. At the same time, I could not give up my quest to know God more fully and to try to live according to the ways of Jesus.
My desire is to help as many people as I can who are searching for a different understanding of God than the one that no longer makes sense to them. That is my quest for myself, and I hope you will join me along the way.
I implore you to not give up. You may feel broken and beaten, but you are valuable and useful. I am also worth it, and so are you. Continue to follow the ways of love and heed the tugging at your heartstrings by the one who is as close to you as the air you breathe.
Love is the only answer. Thus has it always been, and thus shall it ever be.