Sent in by Lance
Let me start off by saying that I was a liberal Christian. I had gone through fundamentalist phases earlier in my 30 years as a Christian, but I moved to a somewhat liberal belief system before I ended up pitching the whole thing.
I rationalized hell by saying it was only a separation from God -- whatever that meant. But I did not think it was a literal lake of fire. I believed in evolution, and reconciled it with the bible by saying that just as Jesus spoke in parables, the god of the old testament used myth to convey truth. In the same way we humans can use fiction to convey truths about the human condition. I looked at the creation story in Genesis as if it was saying something like "The world, the stars, the physical universe in total, is just stuff that god made. We should worship god and not the stuff." That was enough for me. I did not try to make sense out of the 6-day creation, and thought it foolish to even try to twist an obvious myth into facts.
It got harder when I saw how the myth of Adam and Eve at the beginning of Genesis moved directly into what was obviously written as history in the later part of Genesis. I could not find a clean dividing line to separate the myth from the history. So I figured god must have used fallible humans to write the bible, so we did not need to treat it as if god dictated every word, and thus we could expect weirdness like that. But I still believed that god somehow was communicating his story to us through the bible in an imperfect and subtle way.
I had a even harder time when looking at the atrocities god commanded the Israelites to commit, but I kind of ignored that and figured he must have decided that was the best way to deal with such a primitive people. I just did not look too closely at this and chalked it up to the belief that we can't understand god's ways. To be honest, I simply did not think about it too much, and I would avoid reading those parts of the bible as they made me uncomfortable.
I thought the message of Jesus was about love and helping the poor, and not about hating gay people or forcing my opinions on others. I figured Paul was just an imperfect guy that god used for that time and place, so I did not need to listen to everything Paul wrote as if I was listening to god himself.
I think you get the idea. I had the same problems with fundamentalism and the bible that all of us have, but I was able to kind of wish them away and pretend they were not there, as I let what I thought was god's spirit guide my life.
It was a comfortable place to be, and I was able to maintain those beliefs for a long time. It was not until I left the liberal leaning San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Central Oregon that I was hit again with the fundamentalist belief system. As a Christian living near Stanford University, there were plenty of what I called "thinking Christians", who shared my "enlightened" way of trusting god and viewing the scriptures. (Kind of arrogant sounding, huh?)
At first I tried to reason with my new fundamentalist friends in Central Oregon, and explain my approach to finding biblical truth. But they explained how they had to believe the entire thing as literal truth, or else the salvation of Jesus was pointless. Why, they asked, would Jesus need to redeem the world that had fallen into sin because of Adam and Eve, if there had been no Adam and Eve? The long history of human evolution did not mesh with the concept of a fallen world in need of a Savior. If the world had always been like that, then what was the point of Jesus' sacrifice?
My fundy brother-in-law told me that if I did not believe in the 6000-year-old earth, and a real talking snake in the Garden of Eden, then the whole Christian religion would come crashing down. At first I said that no it did not. That we could still hold the Christian faith together even with an imperfect bible.
My liberal thinking did not mind leaving stuff like that in the realm of mystery, but my new friends got me to thinking more deeply about what exactly I did believe. I decided that if my brother-in-law was correct and if it did all come crashing down, then I was willing to let it crash if I was going to have to believe such craziness. I started to wonder why I was trying so hard to hold it all together when so much of it did not make sense.
I went back to the bible and started reading again. This time I looked at what ideas the myths were actually conveying, and I also wondered why I went to such extreme lengths to create such a convoluted mental framework where so many conflicting ideas could be forced to live together in my head. I decided that if god was real, then he would meet me on my honest quest for truth.
I prayed about it, then let it all come crashing down. I wanted to see if there was any core truth in the midst all my scaffolding, or to see if my belief system was nothing more than a lot of carefully laid duct tape and bailing wire. I wanted to know god in truth, not in some mental construct I had created.
In the end, god never showed up. All I found was nothing but the duct tape and bailing wire. The recent post here by David H called "Under His Robes" sums this up much better than I can.
I am so much more free now that I don't have to try to make sense out of the craziness. My brother-in-law was right, the whole thing does indeed come crashing down. But oh how wonderful when you can look at the rubble and see it for what it is. And then just walk away.
But now I have a minor dilemma. What do I do with other liberal Christians that I meet and know?
These are not the fundies that threaten us with fire and brimstone. These are not the people that want to tear down science and teach creationism in schools. These are not the people that try to shove their beliefs down our throats. These are not the people who think the world is going to end because Obama got elected. Hell, a lot of these folks voted for Obama.
I actually enjoy a theological discussion with a liberal Christian. Although they are infuriatingly difficult to pin down, as they mold and shift their beliefs when they find it necessary. I still have lunch with a couple of them I know. I don't mind living side by side with these folks. When I have a discussion with one of them I often feel as if they really are trying to understand my position, and they don't accuse me of running away from god. They accept that I went on a search for truth, even if they don't think I have found it yet.
But what they believe is still nuts. And they are not that far removed from the rest of Christendom.
So do I encourage them to take the path of reason and leave their comfortable faith, or do I just let them be?
What do you think of liberal Christians, and how do you deal with them?
Thanks for listening.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)