I can't explain this, but for a while I've had a strange inclination to try and live in relative poverty, just to see what it is like. Not extreme poverty, but "poverty" in comparison to the environment in which I was raised. When I was younger, I was convinced for many, many years that being a freelance writer was the only "career" I wanted to pursue. I have to admit, that lifestyle has a certain romantic/idealistic tinge that is very appealing to me. Now, however, after experiencing the academic world, I have fallen in love with its ideals and emphasis upon striving for excellence. Perhaps the only solution is to experience all of these spheres, one at a time, as a sort of existential nomad.
Speaking of existentialism, (Okay, that was a really crappy segue, I know), I had to do a lot of research on Soren Kierkegaard last week for my theology class, and was blown away by this man. I remember learning of him first in high school English - all that was said of him was that he was the father of Existentialism, a concept which wasn't explained in any sensical terms. Little did I know that he was not only a philosopher, but also a theologian and a writer. His existential theology actually matches up very closely with Eastern Orthodoxy, which is interesting since he lived at a time when Orthodoxy was fairly inaccessible in the West. Perhaps he would have identified much better with Orthodoxy than with the Western church which he so despised for legitimate reasons. In fact, reading some of his works, I found that most of his refutations still apply to the American church today, with which I am becoming increasingly disillusioned.
Upon researching Kierkegaard's life and thought, I realized that I can identify with Kierkegaard on many issues. In fact, it was almost frightening; I began to worry that, were I to pursue these issues to the same extent that he did, I would end up like him - incredibly lonely, depressed, and isolated right up to his very last days. However, I have realized as of late that I will not find happiness in trying to unlock the deep secrets and mysteries of life - in fact, the further I delve into them, the more complex they become, and the futile my task. Strange how existentialism emphasises experience over principles or theories, and yet it seems that, aside from his writings and thoughts, Kierkegaard never truly experienced life. He didn't allow himself to. I do not want to end up that way.
In my astronomy class the other day, we had a guest speaker come in and speak on the creation-evolution contraversy. He was very strongly a young-earth creationist, and could see no reason whatsoever to trust in evolution. Because of a few evidences, in the fossil record and other areas, and because of his absolutely ghastly theology including a 100% literal reading of the Old Testament, he came to the conclusion that evolution can in no way be true. Dispite my attempts to be tolerant of his opinions, I left that class very angry and disgusted with the Christian faith in general. Why is it, I wondered, that we believe so strongly in certain foundational principles that we never bother to question, and then proceed to allow those principles to form our opinions on other, more testable things, such as science?
A lot of this stems from how fundamentalist the evangelical church has become. It is ironic to me how sola scriptura is spouted so frequently in the rhetoric of evangelicals, to the point that they find fault in the authority with which the Catholic church regards tradition; and yet, the very principle of sola scriptura itself has its roots in tradition. In fact, many doctrines that were regarded as absolute truth in the church I grew up in are actually very recent theological developments rooted in the reformation. If I walked into that church and denied one of those tenets, I would probably be regarded as a heretic. And yet, when you look at the early church - from the Apostles down through the Great Schism in 1054, none of those doctrines had yet come to be. The fact that the biblical canon as we have it today wasn't solidified until long after the earliest church fathers and theologians were at work is quite telling. And when you look at their brilliant work, it is far more profound and worlds away from most of the shitty theology spouted from Evangelicals today. Origen, who is regarded as one of the fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church, held that all of the Old Testament Septuigent should be interpreted allegorically/metaphorically, not literally. He didn't even believe in the creation story; he had a totally seperate, albeit Gnostic-influenced, view of creation. Why, then, can't Christians today accept the far more verifiable tenets of science? They are more willing to cling to the very shaky and childish principle of interpreting everything in the Bible literally over and above logic, reason, and fact. The young-earth speaker even proudly admitted to doing this. He argued that one could either accept the scientific information and reinerpret the Biblical framework, or else rework the science and accept the "obvious" biblical framework. He chose the latter as being the more "Christian" approach, and coupled it with words like "normal" regarding biblical interpretation. How on earth can someone with any knowledge of church history claim that there is a "normal" or "obvious" interpretation of the Bible???? The ignorance of that assumption bothers me to no end.
Furthermore, he went on to proclaim that science is the search for ultimate truth. I am blown away as to how a respected scientist and chair of the physics department could proclaim that statement. How can science be any more than an investigation of the physical world, and the search for the best description of physical reality? How can science answer metaphysical questions? How can science uncover theological assumptions?
I do not understand why Christians are so narrow-minded. Even at Bethel, which is relatively theologically liberal and tolerant, there are many who would consider me heretical if I publicly voiced some of my doubts about evangelical theology. It is as though they need to have a set of fundamental beliefs on which to base all of their decisions, because that is what is most comfortable to them.
I have been looking into Eastern Orthodox theology more and more lately, and everything about it rings far more honest and genuine. Such as the via negativa, the Way of Unknowing - the idea that God is fundamentally unknowable in his infinacy, and the closer we progress, the more we realize this to be the case. Such a principle separates what we know of God - termed his "creative energies" - from his true essence, which we can never really know. Theology, the bible, and tradition, then, are not absolute truth, but rather mediums through which God's creative energies serve to reveal him to us. Thus, narrow-mindedness actually inhibits faith.
Despite my affinity for Eastern Orthodox theology, I often wonder if there is any truth in religion at all. There is obviously no way of knowing this, any more than one can know whether the material world encompasses all that exists. My frustration occurs with the fact that religion, especially Christianity, is often times far more inhibiting and destructive than it is helpful. This problem arises again from narrow-mindedness: when people become so convicted that everything they believe is right and everything everybody else believes is wrong, to the point that they think it is necessary to force their "correct" opinions upon others. Another thing that bothers me is when Christians neglect or alienate their human relationships in order to further one with God - failing to realize that the former is never necessary, and in fact contradicts much of what Christianity is all about.
However, contrasting this are the ideals of Christianity - love, harmony, justice, and the preservation of human rights, dignity, and liberty - when actually put into practice. If there is nothing beyond mere materialism of the universe, then those ideals are mere masks erected to preserve order and survival. If, however, there is transcendence, then those ideals are real and meaningful, and in fact every individual posesses value not as something earned or bestowed legally by society, but rather as an inherent core.
In trying to figure all this stuff out, I have to fundamentally admit that there is no way I will ever know what is true. I will never be able to get beyond my own limited perspective and subjetivity. Everything will always be fluid, shifting and changing, and I am okay with that. So long as I am not causing harm to others, I see no need to have a tightly-strung set of doctrines.
Growing up, I was often fearful. I would go through various phases in which I pinned my fear on different things - usually a variety of illnesses or physical ailments. Ultimately, however, I was afraid of death, because in my mind I posessed several very frightening images of hell. Even though, at that time, I felt assured by the church I attended that hell would not be my fate, the terror of these images was strong enough to compel great fear anyway. It was largely because of this fear, I think, that I was motivated to hold strongly to a fundamental set of beliefs.
I remember attending a Christian camp the summer before my freshman year of high school. At the end of the week, we had to go out to Como Park in St. Paul and walk around in groups of three or four and try to convert people. This was our duty, we were told, because these people were bound for eternal pain and damnation, and unless they said that magical formulaic prayer, they would end up as Satan's minions. I was absolutely devastated by the idea that the beautiful people I was looking at were in line for that fate. I remember thinking that this is too heavy a burden for anyone to bear; infinately more heavy than war, injustice, or death, since this was an infinate punishment.
We were often told various stories in order to reinforce this opinion. When I was younger, I often felt guilty that I didn't make much of an effort to evangelicize my friends; I would go to church and be told to imagine what it would be like if, after our deaths, I somehow met up with my friend who was bound for hell and who wailed and cried and demanded of me why I never warned them of this fate, why I betrayed them. In high school, I went to see a play at a local church about two families who were killed in a car accident. There was the typical image of the gates of heaven surrounded by angels, and a giant book balanced upon a pedastal. Each person stepped up to the pedastal, and the angel searched for their name. In one family, several of the teenagers' names did not appear in the book. The kids, screaming and crying in utter terror, were wrestled away by demon-like creatures to the implied fate of eternal fire. In another instance, a speaker compared hell to being eternally suspended in darkness, conscious and utterly alone, being eternally subject to torment by one's inner psyche, deprived of everything the mind, spirit, and emotions it yearns for.
How Christians can come up with those images, while ignoring the images of war, destruction, starvation, and suffering throughout the world, is unimaginable to me. Christianity should not be something one is compelled to believe in out of fear. I cannot express the extent of my disgust at that.
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