ROG answers Arthur's Question on Irreligiosity

One of my favorite people in Blogistan, Arthur@AmeriNZ, asks:

You know—of course you do—you had me scurrying for my dictionary to consider the relative merit of “gauntlet” v. “gantlet”. I give you the victory on points.

But that’s not my question. You are religious and at least some of your readers are not. How hard is it for you to overlook what I can only assume is, if not blasphemy, then as close as you can get? Some of us are a bit more stroppy in our irreligiousity than others, so I’m wondering how you reconcile that with you own faith. Or, is it that your faith allows for those who are of differing—even non-religious—beliefs?

This is something that I, as a heathen, have long wondered about.

Arthur, I hyperlinked “stroppy” for my American readers, because I had never heard of the word until I saw or heard you use it.

I think my faith journey has been helpful. I was “saved” watching Billy Graham at someone’s house on Oak Street in Binghamton, NY when I was nine years old. This house is about a half block from my church, a couple blocks from my house. I mention this because it wasn’t an event that took place either at home or my church.

Went to Friday Night Bible Club almost every week for years. Figured that I was destined to become a minister, and others felt similarly. But here’s when things went off track. The more I read and studied, the less the whole thing was making sense. Some of the Old Testament stuff, especially in Leviticus, was troubling and confusing. I had a very difficult time with the notion of missionaries needing to “save the savages” in other countries from their “inferior” religions. In particular, I was told that all the Hindus in India were going to go to hell, and I did (and still do) have some real difficulty with that.

So I started drifting away from Christianity in college, though I still hung out with the campus ministry occasionally. Around this time, I read a book about Mahatma Gandhi. There’s a quote in there, and I’m paraphrasing, but in response to the question why Gandhi didn’t become a Christian, since he was an admirer of the teachings of Jesus Christ, he replied, “I’d become a Christian if I had ever met one.” Think that was a great retort.

In my 20s, I drifted theologically, flirting with various faiths, including the Moonies, and occasionally no faith at all. When I found my way back to Christianity over time in my 30s, it was with a more – what’s the word? – adult (?) sensibility, better able to deal with seemingly inherent contradictions of a living faith and document.

As I was doing a Bible study in the mid-1990s, one of the exercises was to go to a faith tradition different from my own. I went to a now-defunct Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) church on Madison Avenue in Albany, and spent about three hours there. After the service, I was engaged in conversation with a member. He wanted to know my religious background was; I told him that I was a Protestant, a Methodist at the time. He said to me, as nicely as one can, “You do know you’re going to go to hell, don’t you?” This had to do with the fact that Protestants, unlike Catholics and Orthodox, do not subscribe to the literal belief in transubstantiation. That certainly helped my understanding of faith in the world from a different perspective, and how it felt to be the “other” theologically.

Indeed, I always engage people in religious conversations, if they want (and I have time), because all it can do is to hone my own faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door? Come on in!

So, Arthur, long answer to the question, is that irreligiosity bothers me far less than it seems to bug others, maybe because I’ve been there. “Opiate of the masses”? If that works for you. The late Christopher Hitchens’ tirade against the idea of God/faith? Fine. (Although this writer does have a valid point about Hitchens in a wider context.) Let’s face it, faith can be a bit scary, like stepping out into the void like Indiana Jones did in the third movie.

Actually, I’m more irritable with perversions of Christianity than I am with the irreligious. I think it’s because they are SUPPOSED to be on “my” team. So those Westboro Baptists tick me off far more than atheists. The peculiar intersection of Christianity and Americanism I find troubling because I believe Jesus was fighting the status quo, not embracing it.

I like many comedy movies about God. George Burns as God (Oh God), Morgan Freeman as God (Bruce Almighty). I love Monty Python’s Life of Brian so much that I bought it on DVD just this year.

Arthur, I’m not overlooking blasphemy; indeed, I happen to find it helpful to me. And yes, my faith allows room for those who are of differing— even non-religious— beliefs from me, because I think that is the Jesus message.

Sidebar: there was a discussion in adult Bible education at church a few weeks ago, and there was a conversation about whether people know you’re a Christian. One guy said that it would be unlikely. He didn’t wear a cross, carry around a Bible (like I did my first two years in high school – really), so how would anyone know? I suppose I DO want people to know – surely people at work know that, at least, I sing in a church choir. I mention faith periodically in this blog, I hope, but not TOO often. To proselytize would be anathema to me; this is what *I* believe, but I’m not saying that’s how someone else should feel. On the other hand, if you think, “he’s not so bad, for a Christian,” that’d be a plus.
Still taking questions.

0 thoughts on “ROG answers Arthur's Question on Irreligiosity”

  1. When I started blogging I was so surprised that American Bloggers always talked about God and religion and church and whatever. Even in politics they use the church and religion. In Europe it is completely different. I don’t even know if my neighbors go to church or not or if they believe in God or if they are Buddhist or something else. Nobody never talks about religion, it’s just a private thing which doesn’t concern others. I don’t know if our prime minister has a religion or not and our other politicians neither. I think if you don’t belong to a church in a small American town you are an outsider. It’s just a matter of lifestyle.


  2. Hmm… but are you a Christian because of the tenets of your faith, or because it is a comfortable family/cultural tradition? You have occasionally mentioned not being a literalist, considering portions of the bible as allegory; from my readings, there is a lot of downright nasty stuff in there. The Middle-Eastern religions tend to ADMIRE Abraham for his OBEDIENCE to his deity in being willing to sacrifice his son; Iself find his unquestioning response horrifying rather than admirable. Why were you attracted to Christianism rather than, say, Buddhism? Just curious.


    1. Well, as I indicated, while I did grow up in the faith, it became mighty UNCOMFORTABLE, and I had to find my way back. Now, it’s probably true that I found my way back to Christianity because of its basic cultural familiarity, as opposed to becoming a Buddhist, because it was a contextual language I comprehended.
      And yes, there are a lot of horrifying things in the monotheistic scriptures of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. I don’t pretend to understand them fully. Specifically, I find the Abraham-Isaac story rather icky too – Leonard Cohen wrote a great song about that, BTW, which Judy Collins and others have covered (Story of Isaac) – but, yes, the message there IS obedience to God, AND the fact that God will provide.
      But there’s some great stuff in there too, about loving others, and that in doing so, you are loving God.


  3. Roger, this is very interesting. Like you, I have less patience with those that profess being Christian, and act like they are anything but. The Westboro cult is a prime example, although I come across “Christians” that aren’t genuine every day. Wasn’t it St. Francis of Assisi that said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary.” Like you, I believe there’s a lot of allegory, poetry, and literal history in the books of the bible. Sometimes it’s hard to discern the difference. But that doesn’t change the overarching theme from beginning to end.


  4. People seem to lose track of the principles of scripture. Churches are filled with people who don’t get it. Christianity is a belief that goes against the grain of human nature. We are by our very nature self centered narcissistic creatures. So hold the principles you find there that are beneficial to you. I find there is great power in knowing this. I never judge a person by his appearance or what he says but by what he does.


  5. Thanks so much for taking on the question, Roger! One thing I particularly like about these sorts of posts is the opportunity to learn more about you as well as the specific subject at hand.

    You mentioned being irritated by certain Christians “because they are SUPPOSED to be on ‘my’ team.” I can certainly identify with that, and in the secular world, too.

    What did surprise me a little, I guess, is that our journeys have many parallels, though mine took me completely away from Christianity. Hm, I should probably blog about that!

    Seriously, though, thanks for taking on the question and the thorough reply!


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