Tag Archives: Christianity

The Loss of God*

The Loss of God

Having grown up in a good Christian home and now blundering my way through adulthood, marriage and parenting, I have happened upon several points in my life when I became aware that I don’t believe what I once did.  Belief is a funny thing like that.  One day it just dawns on you, “I don’t believe that anymore.”  I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.  Having inherited whatever matrix of values and concerns growing up, whether explicitly religious or not, we, at various points, emerging into adulthood, find ourselves reflecting on and navigating through what we have inherited (and continue to inherit). Then one day, it happens.  We realize that something we once thought was good and true just doesn’t fit anymore.

There has been a lot of movement on that front for me – a lot of those moments over and over again.  Since my late teenage years, I have attempted to consistently reflect critically about big questions. A lot of conversations, thinking, reading, and living later… I’m to a place today that I can say I am an atheist with respect to the God I grew up with.  That’s not to say that I don’t believe in God.  I do.  But with respect to the God that I believed in as a 19 year-old, I’m convinced that God does not exist.

I don’t mean to say that my thoughts about God have just changed significantly.  No, so radical has this movement been for me, that the God I once believed in looks nothing like the God I know today. If the God I once believed in were the only God I could believe in, I surely could not.

Blame it on persistent curiosity or a pernicious need to try to sort things out, I don’t know, but I do know that the God I once believed in, I can no longer abide.  I’m still as much of a Christ-follower as I ever have been, but the God that I now believe Jesus reveals is not the God I once believed in.

Kirk Out

 

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Truth, truth & “orthodoxy”

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What are Christians talking about when they’re talking about “orthodoxy?”  Or maybe more to the point, what ought Christians be talking about when they’re talking about “orthodoxy?”  Orthodoxy, broadly defined, is what the Church has claimed is true.  These are the claims that the Church (whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant) has historically affirmed.  The particulars of what those affirmations *are* aside, I want to talk about the relationship between Truth, truth and orthodoxy, and then suggest some reflections.

Capital T “Truth” is what is actually true.  To hold that there is such a thing as Truth is a faith claim, but one that I and most people that I know are comfortable with.  Lower-case “truth” is what I believe to be true.  Whether or not what I believe to be true is, in fact, Truth, I can’t know, but I can believe that it is true.

What then is “orthodoxy”?  Orthodoxy is not necessarily Truth.  The Church could be wrong about what it affirms.  Orthodoxy is not what *I* believe is true.  *I* don’t get to make up what the Church has affirmed.  We inherit it as a gift.  Orthodoxy is what the Church has believed and does believe is true. Whether or not it accords with Truth and whether or not it accords with me or you, are different questions.

Why might any of this matter?

I see a real tendency to blur these distinctions and enter into category confusion that isn’t helpful for dialog between Christians of differing traditions nor is it helpful for Christian’s dialog with the wider world.  If what *I* believe is synonymous with “orthodoxy” anyone who disagrees with *me* is a “heretic!”  If what *I* believe is synonymous with Truth, anyone who disagrees with *me* is flat wrong or worse, delusional.

Just as individuals don’t get to make up what orthodoxy is, individuals don’t get to make up what heresy is.  Heresy is NOT ‘things that I disagree with strongly.’  Heresy is that which is contrary to the received orthodoxy of the Church.  Individuals also don’t get to make up what Truth is.  Truth just *is* whether you or I affirm it or not, and since all we have is what we believe to be true, a healthy dose of humility is in order when making claims about we believe is Truth.

What shall we say then?

Any claim about anything has a particular starting point.  I want to suggest a few things…

  1. Christians ought to reflect on their beliefs as, first of all, ‘personal beliefs.’ What *I* think is true.  Before we claim “orthodoxy” or “Truth” we must claim “us” as the subjective and fallible beings that we are.
  2. Christians ought to reflect on their ‘personal beliefs’ as not ‘our own.’ Much history and various influences get us to place we are today, believing the things that we do.  We need to see that, appreciate it, and reflect on it often.
  3. Christians ought to reflect on orthodoxy as not ‘our own.’  We don’t get to adjust the content or the scope of Christian orthodoxy.  We reflect on whether or not what we believe is in accordance with it, and we do our best to recognize when what else we believe is not a matter of either orthodoxy or heresy.
  4. Christians ought to reflect on the pursuit of Truth as not ‘Our own.’  The Church doesn’t own the Truth.  We have orthodoxy and we have what else we affirm and we trust it’s Truth.  We have Christian community, Church tradition and its scriptures to help us along the way.

Kirk Out


On “inerrancy” by Kurt Johnson

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The dialog over biblical “inerrancy” (a Bible with or without “error”) is getting renewed attention lately among some circles of Christian leaders and scholars.  If you’ve followed some of the top Christian blogs or ran across books or articles that tangle with this sort of thing, you might have noticed.  If you haven’t, or are unfamiliar with the subject, you might benefit from this post, anyhow.

So, here’s the deal… (and give me some space to expand on this afterward)

“Error” vs. “no error” or “infalible” vs. “falible” is the wrong question regarding the Bible.  To assume that this is the question to ask of the Bible is to take a posture toward the Bible that is deeply informed by an inherited paradigm, that deserves to be called into question.

Before the question of “error” vs. “no error” can even be raised, a question that goes a level deeper needs to be asked.  “Error or no error, according to who?”  It seems that we have been conditioned to ask questions of the biblical text inside of a paradigm that gives us categories for what we consider might constitute an error or not an error.  Debate exists, for those operating on this paradigm, on what actually constitutes an “error.”  Those that defend an inerrantist (no error) position seek to harmonize the contradictions between accounts of events, lack of archeological evidence, and places where it seems the author takes on a view of the universe that doesn’t accord with “modern science,” just to name a couple examples.  On the other hand, others are comfortable with recognizing “errors” in the Bible, attributing them to the cultural conditioning, forgery, mis-information, embellishment, “pre-scientific” worldviews, and a range of other things at work in the author at the time of writing.

At the heart of what some call “conservative” or “liberal” ends of the spectrum, as hinted at above, there is an underlining similarity.  Or we might say, in order to get to the fork in the road where I must choose an inerrant view or another view, I would have already had to travel down a road.  The road of a paradigm that suggests the questions I want to ask of the text, the text is there to inform me.  But what if the Bible isn’t here to answer all of my questions, what if it’s here to tell its own story, and what if that story doesn’t answer the questions we’re asking?  Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions?  Maybe the biblical authors didn’t care how old the earth is, or whether the Exodus account or Israel’s conquest is “history” as we would like it, or whether there were different accounts of the same events, etc.

If we find ourselves preoccupied with questions about whether the Bible maps onto what we understand about history or science or ethics or whatever, maybe we’re missing something important about the Bible – What it is, or what is isn’t, or maybe, what it ought to be to us.  What it “ought” to be to us… See, that’s where the underlining paradigms come to play.

Kirk out!


Why I am an Atheist (part 2): “A-theism”

After my initial post, in March, on “Why I am an Atheist,” I received a few texts, calls, emails, etc. So much for punchy titles! (Click HERE for the original post.)

I thought I’d follow up with a little explanation…

By “atheism” I DON’T mean a denial of the existence of the god of Israel, or the denial of Jesus’ divinity, etc.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite!  My “atheism” is of a different sort.  Maybe, call it “a-theism.”  I deny the existence of the generic-god, the god with no name, the “higher-power” god, the god of theistic-feel-good facebook posts, the god referred to by some award winners of the latest top-40 tripe.  This “god” is a fabrication.  He (she?) only exists in the minds of people who settle for the generic up-there-somewhere-in-the-sky god.  That’s theism.  And that’s why I’m an “a-theist.”

Only the particular is believable.

Kirk out.


“What We Talk About When Talk About God” (a book review – Part 2)

We’re reviewing Rob Bell’s new book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” (See Part 1: Chapters 1 & 2)

Chapter 3 “Both” (pg. 81-96)

After exploring the universe that we live in, Bell now turns to “how we talk when we talk about God.”  Considering that we are speaking of a God who is infinite and transcendent, Bell is critical of speaking of God with too much certainty.  On the other hand, he is also critical of those who simply throw up their arms and claim there is nothing that we can really know about God.  Following this, Bell contrasts the notion of knowing God as the assembly of facts about God, over against a kind of knowledge that transcends even the language that we use to describe him.  “So when we talk about God we’re using language, language that employs a vast array of words and phrases and forms to describe a reality that is fundamentally beyond words and phrases and forms.” (pg. 87)  Every metaphor, every image, every word, every dogma, and every doctrine can point to God, but is not God.

The next move Bell makes is to introduce paradox (hence the chapter title: “Both”) and abandon some of the either/or categories.  Faith and doubt are not either/or.  Like religion and science from the previous chapter, they are “dancing partners.”  Conviction and humility are not either/or.  He finishes up this chapter with what I esteem to be soft-postmodern sensibilities about how we always have to have a certain amount of agnosticism regarding what we “know”… and be able to confess, “I could be wrong…”  But at the same time, “You can believe something with so much conviction that you’d die for that belief.” (pg. 93)

sidenote: It’s seems to me that Bell is NOT embracing Far-East “both/and” systems of logic here, but is instead, pointing us this understanding that some things that could seem to be opposites (faith and doubt – conviction and humility) are in fact complimentary realities.

Chapter 4 “With” (pg. 97-126)

This gets us to what, I think, Bell really wants to get at in this book, I saw the previous chapters as an attempt to clear some ground and provide some context for what he’s about say with, “With” “For” and “Ahead.”

“With” is an affirmation of the omnipresence of God, but it’s more than that.  Bell wants us to wake up to the presence of God.  God is not only present, but intimately involved in creation – the highs the lows, the good, the bad and the ugly… What is He doing?  “We’ll get to that” :)

Again, in poetic Bell-fashion going on about essence, energy, and cosmic electricity, he introduces the ancient Jewish concept of the “ruach” (life/spirit/breath) of God, and how it permeates and sustains all of creation.  Clearly, he’s not referring to pantheism, he makes that clear with, “(It’s important to note that the Hebrews were careful not to say that God is the flower or sunset… they didn’t say God is creation, because they understood that in giving life to everything, God also gives freedom to be whatever it’s going to be, with all the possibilites and potentials for good and bad and beauty and chaos and love and loss that that freedom might lead to.)”  This entire quote is in parenthesis, and suspect it’s an addition by the editors/collaborators to ward off the blogger-nazis from crying out “PANTHEIST!”

Not only is God “with” us, we need to be aware of it.  We need to slow down and notice and feel… “Kavod” (pg. 112)  Feeling the ‘weight’ of our situations – significance of everything therein.  Not that everything is equally important but there is always something going on in everything and we need to “Pay attention” (pg. 114)  God is in those moments.

Bell wants us to ‘see’… “what our experiences of God do at the most primal level of consciousness is jolt us into the affirmation that whatever this is, it matters.” (pg. 110) and “…we have an intuitive awareness that everything is ultimately connected to everything else, and I believe that is one more clue to who it is we’re talking about when we talk about God.” (pg. 116) and “…we’re talking about the very straightforward affirmation that everything has a singular, common source and is infinitely, endlessly, deeply connected.” (pg. 118) and “…that sense that you have – however stifled, faint, or repressed it is – that hope is real, that things are headed somewhere, and that that somewhere is good.” (pg. 121)  (Love Wins, anyone?)

He closes this chapter with one of my favorite moments of the book with, “everyone has faith.”  Whether it’s God or gods or “I believe in science” (think Nacho Libre), we’re all doing faith.  We’re all taking that ‘leap of faith’ over the chasm between our finitude and an infinitely deep and complex reality.

 


Why I am an Atheist (by Kurt Johnson)

If the choice I have before me is Theism vs. Atheism, then I choose Atheism.  If I must first decide that “God exists” and then decide, “what God is this?” then I have nothing but to believe in no God at all.

I wish that all the Theists, Deists, and “higher-power” believers would join me in my Atheism. I wish they would join me in my rejection of the generic-god.  For what is a belief like this?

But I want to be a certain kind of Atheist.  One that rejects the generic-god but embraces the particular, for it’s only the particular that is believable.  I believe in Jesus and this is what makes me an Atheist.  Yet, I am also an Agnostic, (see Why I am an Agnostic).


Why I am an Agnostic (by Kurt Johnson)

There is a tension between God and I.  Between the infinite and the finite.  Between the perfect and the unperfected.  What can I know of God?  What can I apprehend of the divine?  Who is this God, and what are these “facts” about God that can be conceived of?  In a world full of “answers,” I must confess that anything that I could conceive or say of God, I conceive and say as a mere approximation to God.

Even then, how might I ‘ground’ these approximations?  One says, “faith” and another says, “reason” and still another says, “faith and reason.”  And yet another says, “scripture, faith, reason, experience, tradition, etc…”  I find these “answers” disconcerting.  They speak of these things, but by approaching what they speak of, have I really “found God”?  Have I really begun to resolve the tension between God and I?  Have I moved on from approximations of God? Even by the Spirit living in me, telling me that I am His, have I resolved this tension?

No.  I must confess that I am an agnostic.  But, I am an agnostic because I can’t know, and I can’t show you what God is ‘really’ like.  When I speak of God, or I speak of Jesus, this is not who God IS, but yet it is something like who God is.  When I have a relationship with God, this is not who God IS, yet it is something like who God is.

There is a tension between God and I.  A tension that I’m OK with, and I think He’s OK with it too.