The past few weeks I have spent re-acclimating myself to life in the Northeast burbs of the Twin Cities. Coming from both an academic institution focused on Christian theology and California, my reception from some close Christian friends has been met with some fear. I have been called a “California Liberal” due to my refusal to affirm that homosexuality is not God’s plan (PS If California is so gay-friendly why did it affirm prop 8, and if the Midwest got it right, then what’s up with Iowa? Corn-huskin’ ferries?).
I am finding that that which I so desperately wanted to affirm prior to my escape to California (the Christianity I was offered here in my home town), uses a rhetoric that disallows the very religion it attempts to affirm (I experienced why “God is dead”, in the Nietzschean sense). You see, I was given a religion that required my affirmation of certain propositions that when blatantly honest, I could not affirm. I had to confess with my mouth the certain dogmatics prior to being an acceptable follower of Christ. Words came first, action and ontological reality second.
But what of those who rightly act first and are completely ignorant of the existence of any tenets to believe? (See Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:14-15) This Christianity that I am revisiting here at home and having pushed on me as if it behooves me to make certain statements or worry about my salvation, I cannot accept. I have found intellectual freedom in the God that is beyond my conception. This is the God who transcends my mind and the propositional statements I can make about Her/Him; the God that allows me to explore and journey without ever seeking a tidy systematic destination; this God is the God I can attempt to follow.
I find it strikingly American to see the individualistic Christianity that now surronds me. This is a religion swimming in a sea of books deemed “Christian Self-help” and whose practitioners go to Sunday church without ever talking to another individual; a religion so self-oriented that Sunday church is more like the religious gas station where one goes to get filled up for the week; a religion that holds tight to the affirming of certain statements yet its individuals nervously worry that perhaps they might have missed something due to the annoying black cloud that hangs over their heads whispering of angst and tension, reminding that something still seems wrong, out-of-whack, and uneasy about this existence.
As I tried to live this religion in my past, I found that no set of affirmations–if I was able to muster up the self-delusion that I truly could undoubtedly affirm them–were enough to make me feel as if I was on the right track. I left for Pasadena on a journey to see if there was more. I ended up losing my religion completely, and de facto was able to regain a more robust faith by maintaining the simple affirmation that doubt is a necessary part of faith. It was in my agnosticism that I was able to regain faith. Though seemingly contradictory, I have not lost my agnosticism. It is my agnosticism that allows me to reconcile my mind with Christianity. I don’t know the God I seek. I have tidbits of revelation that allow me to experience the Divine, but for the most part, this God is beautifully mysterious; a majestic divinity that for some strange reason, I, like everyone else in the world, seek after. This God is not encompassed by factual statements. We don’t have any facts to speak about. This is why we call it “faith.” Let’s not confuse the two (facts and faith). How could we have faith without doubt? If we did, we would simply have facts.
Coming back and seeing friends, family, and church-goers attempt to find ways they can affirm statements in order to feel content about their status with God looks to me like a bunch of people throwing punches in the air, struggling with something that does not exist, or something that is ultimately unattainable. My antidote? Allow for a journey. Stop trying to arrive at a peaceful destination. There’s peace in rejecting the destination and embracing the journey. There is peace in the tension, contentment in accepting the discontentment, (After all, doesn’t contentment usually lead to a static and stale faith?). Stop trying to affirm something that you will always be wary of in the back of your mind. Allow God to be bigger than your conception. See Church as a community in which we struggle with the dubiousness of Christianity. Reject Church as a place where individuals go to spiritually “fuel up”.
Submitted by: Christopher Casselman