A man I knew, a scientist by profession and inclination, a man who attended the same church I did a long time ago, raised his eyebrows once and laughed a little during our conversation.
“The Resurrection,” he said. “I’m not too sure about that one.”
It was just a casual conversation about Christianity, about our feelings and thinking. And what surely sounds like heresy to many people – if you doubt that Jesus died on the cross at Calvary and then came back to life, then doesn’t the whole house of cards tumble down? – was just thoughtfulness on his part. He wasn’t picking and choosing; he was working his way through theology, and at the same time embracing the mystery of the known and unknown.
And teaching Sunday School, and leading adult discussions, and so on. A great guy, actually. And one who did his best to follow the teachings of Jesus, as far as I knew. He just had a little trouble with the resurrection of the body, particularly since it’s pretty unclear in the Gospels. You could read it if you wanted. A little unclear, at least.
But, of course, he hadn’t constructed a house of cards. He hadn’t built a faith system with a foundation of JUST BELIEVE THIS BECAUSE I SAY SO. He was too smart and thoughtful for that.
And still, there he was, in this church, every Sunday.
I want to say something, and I’m not quite sure how to do it without sounding snotty. But here we go anyway.
If you are one of those people, the people I know and care about, who are adamant in your disbelief, in your rejection of higher powers and designers of universes and ultimate observers – if you don’t believe in God, in other words, and you’re pretty impressed with this stand you’re taking, and you like to make jokes about superstition and evil practiced by the world’s religions – if you stare up at the sky and see wonder but don’t actually, y’know, wonder – if you’re like that, and I know and like you, I’d mention that I find this the least interesting thing about you.
Understand, please, that I’m speaking as a layman. And I’m speaking as a person of doubt, who has spent many years being skeptical about much when it comes to theology, particularly when it’s resected from history or cherry-picked to score points.
And yet I’ve had spiritual experiences that surprised me, shook me, changed me. And I’ve wandered around until I found some comfort, some explanation, some pathway to at least grasping the infinite nature of what is unknowable, of course.
I certainly respect your disbelief, if that’s what we’ll call it. I just don’t find it interesting. I find it simple, boring, incurious. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It’s just that we’d be better off talking about anything else, because I do wonder. And those conversations, with fellow wonderers, are too fascinating to spend time sighing over your militant rejection of faith. Or your deconstruction of faith, your attempts to define something you don’t experience.
None of this matters in my world of friendship. We all have our things, and most of them don’t intersect when we’re sharing a cup of coffee. We have too many things in common that we can talk about.
But the disconnect is nonexistent, at least in my world, and that’s what I see more of, now that we’re alive and well in social media, practicing our philosophies by reposting cartoons and making snide comments. My feelings aren’t hurt, and I know of no one’s whose are. But the people I hang around with in church see the same physical world that you do, the same evolution, the same stars being born and dying, the same laws of physics, and the same known history and the same unknown.
You rarely see them in what passes for conventional media in this country, because they don’t make sense in the careful blue-red divisions. But we’re there, in church on Sundays and other days, doing our best, taking care of each other and our communities, looking for hints of greater meaning found in ancient texts that are problematic and somehow survive.
Tonight is Good Friday, a somber moment of remembrance for those of the Christian faith. It reminds us of the horrible side of humanity, of mob rule, of fear, of sacrifice, of torture, of miscommunication, of abdication and of cowardice. We meet in sorrow to remember all the lives lost, and we prepare to remember hope.
I’m totally cool with your rejection of this. I’m just saying. If religious feeling altogether – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu – is anti-intellectual, fantasy for the blurry-eyed children who somehow missed the Enlightenment and the Industrial Age and the scientific method – if this allows you to poke fun at people who line up this week to remember and rejoice, then the logic is clear and the syllogism writes itself:
If all these are those
And if you are one of these
Then you are also one of those.
Include Einstein, whose belief system was pretty murky but spoke often of The Old One, who desperately believed in a deterministic universe, who rejected randomness his entire professional life.
Bill Moyers, God knows the liberal’s liberal, the possessor of a Masters of Divinity and a Baptist minister at one point.
George Washington, cantankerous when it came to liturgy but often found on his knees, deep in prayer.
Lincoln, also a rebel against organized religion but a great reader of the Bible and thinker of all things providential.
Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter – all political liberals, supposedly the enemy of Christianity, often heroes to those who profess their disbelief, and all, by all accounts, devout Christians.
You, of course, may be more enlightened than they are, or more intelligent. How would I know?
I am a Christian. I don’t consider myself a Christian, although I’ve heard those weasel words a lot. I am not a Christian because I am a literalist, or a transcendent human who has been touched by the supernatural, or because I’ve got faith in faith.
I’m a Christian because it’s easy to identify that way. I’m a Christian because it’s comfortable for me to be around people who explore the same ideas I like to explore, who try to practice a lifestyle that is at least hinted at in the Gospels, regardless of what you think about the Resurrection.
Those might appear weasel words to some of you, too. Sigh. Sometimes words fail.
I get it. Every time you see one of these bloviating Christians on TV, talking about the degradation of our society, misrepresenting our nation’s founding as based on Christianity instead of freedom to practice whatever we want, who cry out about the legal removal of mandatory prayer from our taxpayer-provided schools, ignoring our legal right to pray wherever the hell we want, including in schools and parks and offices – every time you witness these fools and decide that they represent all of us, you need to reexamine that syllogism. It needs some work.
As I say, my feelings aren’t hurt. And when I have conversations with like-minded people, and this subject comes up, this broad-brush sweeping of all things religious/spiritual into a political sphere of rejecting gay people and making shit up about the War on Christmas, we just sigh and shake our heads. If only you could hang out a little.
This is what I wish for you this weekend, my skeptical friends. A relaxing time, for sure, if you can pull that off. Maybe some sun, if you’re lucky. Being surrounded by those you love and who love you, definitely.
But really? I wish I could take you to church with me. Just to see. Not that I’m expecting a spiritual experience, although that’s possible. Just so that you could experience what I experience, when faced with the world, and its horrors and hassles, when I gather with a small group of wildly varying types of people, and we get silent for a moment, and we wonder.