So we must move to face our enemies — and to each of us his own.
Perspectives change across the board, as the last among us knows.
And I am proud of what I’ve sacrificed and I am proud of what I’ve saved:
In commitment to a greater good, strength grows from splintered faith.
Feet firmly planted in midair.
How do we really know anything for sure? The only informational sources we ever receive on which to base our beliefs are 1) our own experiences (which are easily prone to misinterpretation) and 2) secondhand information from people we trust to a) tell the truth and b) properly interpret the information they give us. We believe what we believe, and we’d better know why we believe it. But that doesn’t mean anyone who believes differently is stupid.
I recall seeing a book a few years ago called Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Midair. The premise being, as I recall, that there must be absolute standards to govern the universe of right-and-wrong, or chaos rules. And that sounds quite noble … until you start asking where we get those standards. From God/the Bible, of course … Why this God, this Bible? … Because of apologetics and doctrine, dummy! … But how do I know those apologetics and that doctrine is sound? … Ultimately, no matter what you found your belief in, it ALWAYS has to come back to the argument “because I believe it”. Unless there is a point past which you refuse to ask questions, sealing yourself inside a box that ceases to become your belief and instead becomes your identity.
I have a coworker who wholeheartedly believes in aliens. Don’t laugh. If you don’t laugh at moslems or buddhists or pantheists, how can you laugh at … for lack of a better term, alienologists? How is it any more incomprehensible than believing in any other god or supernatural being belonging to any other religion you don’t believe? I’ve had several conversations with this coworker, and there are reasons he believes what he does. Reasons that make sense. Reasons that raise questions I can’t answer.
Here are a few of the questions I’ve been struggling with. Some were raised or expanded on through conversations with my coworker; others I’ve considered for quite a while. I don’t expect answers to these questions; in fact, any “answers” proposed in comments on this post I will most likely tear apart. The fact that I’ve been struggling with them for a while makes it highly unlikely that a passing-through reader will have the grave wisdom to give a perfect answer that had never occurred to me.
The Problem of Pain
Here’s the age-old stumper. How do you reconcile a loving God with all the pain and death in the world? (Oh, sin, of course; Adam and Eve doomed us to a broken existence.) More to the point….
• Where is God when a “Christian” father forces his fourteen-year-old daughter to strip off her pants and underwear in front of all her siblings so he can spank her until she nearly passes out … simply because he didn’t like the expression on her face?
• Where is God when a teenager is forced to publicly apologize to her church and undergo church discipline for committing fornication … that is, for being raped?
• Where is God when parents across the country read verses in Proverbs that recommend teaching their children right from wrong … and infer that they are supposed to repeatedly (often in hours-long sessions) spank their two- and three-year-olds for disobeying commands they may not understand, or for neglecting to say “sorry” or “thank you” when they’ve scarcely learned the words?
• Where is God when his “sacred word” is used to cow precious souls into degradation and humility, into religious defense of their abusers … into a salvation not by grace or works but by fear?
• Where is God when thousands of precious, powerful women grow up crushed under the heels of their oppressors … and believe that it is their most sacred calling?
• Where the fuck is God when a woman, racked with emotional torment, finally begins to question the lies she’s been told her entire life, and screams in her soul for guidance … and is met with a silence filled with the crushing certainty that no, women CANNOT hear from God or interpret his word without the guidance of an oppressive male authority?
Did he oversleep his alarm clock? Is he on a business trip overseas? Is he having his nails done?
Or is he some sadistic, twisted chess-player who not only captures but tortures the pieces on his board?
If he’s infinitely loving AND infinitely powerful AND infinitely just … why the fuck does he let a woman drown her eight-day infant in a toilet? Why the fuck does he let an eight-month-old baby get raped? Why the fuck does he let a mother leave her three-year-old to cook in an abandoned car until he suffers permanent brain damage from heatstroke?
Why are millions of women around the world, just as they are beginning to flower into beautiful maturity, kidnapped and sold into a short drug-and-plague-ridden life of forced prostitution?
Why are entire female populations savagely mutilated by a crude, anaesthesia-free surgery, often with dull instruments, for absolutely no purpose other than to deny them any pleasure during sexual intercourse?
Why does this God, who obliterated one of the world’s largest cities simply because they refused to reach out to the poor and downtrodden, simply ignore the screams and pleas and muffled whimpers of crushed spirits around the globe … and in the house on the other side of your backyard fence?
What about hell? As I understand it, the concept we commonly name “hell” is a physical or metaphysical place of eternal punishment prepared for the devil and his angels but quite ready to include the rest of the damned who are not “saved” by belief in Jesus, wherein the unhappy tenants are incessantly subjected to the unbounded outpouring of the eternal wrath of an infinite God.
Okay. Pretty picture. Jesus called it “Gehenna” (which was, literally, a place outside Jerusalem’s city limits where the leftover from sacrifices were burned along with other rubbish and “unclean” things) and “the lake of fire” and “the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”. (There are also numerous Biblical references to Sheol, but that literally meant “the grave” or “the place of the dead”, which [as I recall] in Hebrew mythology referred to the plane beneath the four-pillared flat earth wherein dead souls, both good and bad, just floated around and mouldered. Kinda like the Asphodel meadows in the Greek underworld.)
So there’s a heaven, where those who accept God’s gift of salvation (by choice or destiny) spend eternity in bliss and fellowship. And there’s a hell, where those who reject God’s gift of salvation (by choice, destiny, or ignorance) spend eternity in unendurable shame and torment.
So if God loves us, why can’t he just save everyone? Oh, right, because sin entered the picture and fucked everything up. Now we’re born with an inherited sinful nature (even though God promises that the sins of the parents are not imputed to their children), from which we require salvation via Christ’s atonement. Even if we don’t sin ourselves (which inevitably we all do).
So what about people who have never heard of the “gospel message”? Sure, that’s why we send missionaries … but before they ever get there? Tribes of people in Africa or South America or uncharted Polynesian islands who have all died in their sins for hundreds of generations, who are all doomed to hell simply because no missionary has gotten there yet … um, that’s a bit of a reach.
Okay, how about we reach even further … what about infants who are miscarried or stillborn, or babies or toddlers who die of SIDS or infections or tragic car accidents? Children too young to comprehend (much less make a Decision about) the perilous crossroads facing them? Of course, predestination is a much nicer crutch to lean on when considering this point … at least it’s up to God to choose, not up to them, and so he might decide to save some (or all) of those little infants, rather than dooming them to an eternity of punishment for dying before they knew who their great*1020,000 grandparents sinned against. And don’t give me any of that “age of accountability” bullshit, either, because it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that infants or children are considered innocent up until a certain age. That’s a human invention to make us feel complacently happy with ourselves for putting our faith in a psychopathic sadist. What the Bible actually says is that we are not only born but CONCEIVED in sin. Whoops, there goes that sacred cow.
So now we’ve got a lake of fire filled with roasting demons and screaming babies. Delightful. This God is sounding more loving all the time.
Oh, but wait, what about all that “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction and vessels of mercy prepared for salvation” stuff? Sure, go ahead, try it. Here, I’ll even help you out. The passage is talking about God showing his power and glory by demonstrating that he can do whatever the hell he wants (pardon the pun) with his creation, and therefore destroys some of it and saves the rest. Yep, pouring out his eternal wrath and holy indignation on an infant sure makes him look powerful and glorified. And merciful, for preserving me from that horrid fate. Or maybe the mercy was simply that I didn’t die younger.
As if all of that weren’t enough, a whole landslide of questions has begun breaking through the fearsome door of “UNQUESTIONABLE TRUTHS” I was helpless to open. Questions like….
• If the OT penalty for gay sex was exactly the same as the penalty for intercourse with a woman on her period, and if we assume the latter restriction was lifted … why not the former?
• How do we KNOW that life begins at conception? Adam was a complete human being BEFORE God breathed the “breath of life” into him … how do we know the exact moment a human being receives an immortal soul? The Bible is silent on the subject; how can it be anything but a gamble to say definitively that it is the MOMENT of conception … rather than, say, the moment involuntary life systems (e.g. heartbeat) begin … or (my favorite) the moment the infant is capable of independent thought … or any number of other milestones of “becoming” something more than a group of stem cells with a supposed immortal soul (which will suffer eternal torment if the mother miscarries)?
• Why is fornication wrong? If we boil everything down to the two great commandments and the golden rule, gay sex, fornication, orgies, pornography, and all that stuff is perfectly acceptable as long as we aren’t damaging relationships, spreading diseases, or fathering children that can’t be provided for.
I apologize if portions of this post rambled. I apologize if my choice of language or subject matter was painful to some of my readers. But I’m putting my own pain into words, and even powerful words are feeble tools for communicating the groanings of the soul.
If I were to describe my beliefs right now, I would say I’m an agnostically inclined Christian who favors tenets of Wicca (do as you please and harm no one) and Buddhism (neither hurt others nor let others’ actions hurt you, but seek peace and unity) and considers a Reformed interpretation, with some modifications, to be the most accurate way of understanding the Bible.
I have not (yet) come to the conclusion that God does not exist, nor that he is not who he claims to be. But comparing who he claims to be to what I see of the real world, I’m not sure he’s the kind of God I want to trust or endorse.
And, on the other hand, as far as theological matters are concerned, I’m really not sure of anything.
Yet for some reason, at this time in my life, I feel more secure in my beliefs — whatever they are — than I ever have before.