What do I believe?
Now that I know the purpose of imagination – even though my understanding is just beginning – suddenly I find a further question pressing strongly on my mind: what do I believe? More properly stated: what do I confess? More pertinent: why would I post the question and my beginnings of an answer here?
I’ll start with that last question first.
My decision to post my working through this problem to Tribe.net was based on the fact that I have come back to these websites (facebook, belief.net, livejournal) again and again – always when this question plagues me most. I think the reason I find myself drawn to this venue is that here I can form a facade of objectivity. It’s basically an elaborate way of talking to myself but with the added benefit of having others talk to me at the same internal level without the pressures of our public identities. Sure there are problems involved, but this satisfies me so far as my purpose goes.
That purpose is to write an acount of what I believe – or perhaps how I determine what I believe – making use of the false sense of self-disassociation to begin working through this problem that I have come back to time and again. What is the problem? Basically the question is whether or not I can continue to call myself Christian.
I was raised Christian, primarily by my mother since my father really had no religion during my formative years, in the Methodist faith but joined the American Episcopal Church in college after singing with the college choir. My father was and still is staunchly anti-Catholic, but ever since I can remember wrestling with theological questions I have always been drawn to the Catholic faith – to the point of volunteering at Catholic soup kitchens until my ‘cover’ was blown and it was discovered that I was Episcopal. The recent schism forming in the Anglican confession has precipitated this crisis in me more than anything else. The issue is not over the ordination of homosexuals or even the issue of sexuality – I will post my views on that at another time – but an issue of divine grace.
The Christian church is founded on the doctrine of the apostolic succession: the transmission of divine grace across the generations of church leaders through the laying on of hands. By the very teaching of Jesus, this means that we should be able to see divine grace in the actions of our leaders (‘you will know them by their works’). I have seen little enough grace in the Episcopal leaders, and the one priest in whom I was certain of grace was subsequently defrocked by his Bishop. I have always drowned my conscience regarding the faults I percieved in the church by telling myself that personal and individual faith in God was enough, but this sort of Protestant Ethic of conscience cannot make me see God in the actions of those who in my eyes are some of the least godly individuals I know.
I know that many of my protestant friends, including several family members, would say that the church is founded first and foremost on the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Setting aside for now the obvious fallaciousness of that view (it was church tradition as determined by the bishops, after all, that set the canonical books of the Bible), it is worth considering the central issue that it raises .i. to be Christian is more to be a follower of the teachings of Christ and a believer in His risen majesty as incarnate God than it is to be a comfortable believer in the justified acts of current leaders. If I am filled with the certainty that Christ is God, Jesus the Risen Lord and His grace acts in this world, however mysteriously, what does it matter regarding the broken shards of our human attempts to understand or attain the divine?
Let’s back up a little.
My first thoughts on religion occurred after my grandfather gave me a large, red King James Bible for my birthday which I began to read in Highschool. I finished reading it all just after graduation and seriously started internalizing much of its teaching. There was a large amount of it at which I balked – huge passages of Paul’s epistles, about 68% of the Old Testament, and even a number of Jesus’ words. I then began a long process of working through these issues – and since resolved probably two thirds of them in various, excruciatingly creative ways (no need to get into them here). At the same time I began reading C.S. Lewis avidly and this helped to assuage the part of me that I was already then percieving to be ‘Pagan’.
When I was very young, I was always going off into the woods. I never really felt human and always felt out of place in human company. We raised chickens then and my family was always amused at how easily I could handle them. I felt most comfortable in the woods and I think my first real religious experience was on a trip to Main when I found myself eye to eye with a small doe. I remember being about twelve and running naked in the woods – an activity that would have shocked everyone in my conservative, rural-South world at the time, but one I continued even after we moved to the woods near Baltimore. I remember somehow getting a copy of ‘The Book of Runes’ when I was about ten and having what I would call now a religious crisis because I knew, even then, that it was not Christian – despite my mother’s efforts to comfort me by saying that God listened to all forms of prayer.
C.S. Lewis has a number of passages in various books (‘Lion, Witch & Wardrobe’, ‘That Hideous Strength’, ‘The Great Divorce’ et al.) where he makes the point that all forms of religion look to God in their own way, but Christianity is the clearest albeit flawed mirror of them all. This allowed me to look towards a certain amount of synchretism, and for almost twenty years now I have sought those areas where the Christian and non-Christian cultures overlapped. Now I believe that I am at a cross-roads and must find my confession. Is it that I am fundamentally Christian and, as I have done for many years, take Christ’s claim to be ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and End’ to mean that Christianity covers the top and bottom, but there is a whole alphabet of nymphs, dryads, unicorns, magicians, psychic powers, and all the other wild things in between, or do I abandon the attempt to make these traditions agree?