Saturday, August 09, 2008

One Small Step

I have decided to embrace the fact that I am an intellectual and not an academic (I'll define the differences between those words in a later post). No more time spent wondering why my grades didn't add up to my intelligence. It is time to stop wishing I was like everyone else (everyone "normal"). The time has come to face one of the ways in which I define myself.

If you have kept up with me at all then you have probably noticed the number of posts lately that suggest I am searching for something. Seeking is my theme of late. I have spent the last several months on a journey to understand my direction in life. It would have been nice to have discerned my place in the world a long time ago. However, I was not raised in a way that helped me come to terms with my talents and potential. For example, I mentioned I am an intellectual. There are many circles where it is not a good thing to be an intellectual. One of them often happens to be Protestant Christianity in the Midwestern United States. The herd mentality infiltrates all parts of society. In evangelical Christianity it encourages a certain reliance on experience rather than rational thought. Unless you're a Calvinist, that is. Then it encourages an arrogance about why no one else can understand how deep you are.

I was raised in a Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) church for a time then moved on to a less intellectual place. I was taught to disagree with Calvinists. Believe me, I have argued with the best of them from a very tender age. Anymore I just won't talk about the Calvinist idea of "predestination." Yet it shaped so much of my understanding of faith. You see I was taught to consider the intellectual Christians to be wrong and theology to be unnecessary. I learned to feel disgust toward those who consider or question the Bible's teachings in a non-dogmatic manner. You're just not supposed to do that as an evangelical -- it is shameful. Instead you just go out there, tell your story, knock on your doors, leave your tracts in restrooms, and get offended. When someone asks you to defend your faith you say, "But I found God in this way . . ."

Well, that's not good enough for some of us. Especially those of us who notice other possible reasons for quote unquote religious experiences. What if all that laughing and falling down were a psychologically induced response and not caused by the Holy Spirit? I know. I blaspheme. People always tell me not to "limit" God when I say things like this. I ask you, why doesn't it limit God to assume that you will always have an emotional high when you worship him? What about the days when he just feels far away? Am I supposed to interpret God based solely on my feelings about him? Some days I almost hate God. Some days I want to ask him a thousand angry questions. I am not Job. I cannot accept all of my sufferings without wondering how God could love me and let me go through some of the things I have been through.

Am I weak in my faith because I doubt God at times? Well, yeah. I'm only human after all. I recognize that I am finite. I have a strong intellect, but not infallible wisdom. Some things I do have to take on faith either because they are too big for the human mind or because I do not have enough knowledge to understand them. That is no easy task for a person who likes to be right.

It is okay. I accept that I am an intellectual about my faith, my life, my God. About the people around me and the ideas they espouse. It's not an evil thing to doubt and question. God gave me a brain, after all. Why should I be ashamed to use it? Perhaps he gave me a brain so I could weigh the evidence for and against his existence. So I could consider the logic of his judgments and actions. If so then he also gave me faith and hope. He gave me the need to rely on something bigger than myself. Myself can be a bit of a mess sometimes, after all.


Gino said...

"What if all that laughing and falling down were a psychologically induced response and not caused by the Holy Spirit? I know."

or, how do they know it was the 'holy' spirit?

i spent some time in fundie/evagelicalism, and came away wanting.

i then (re)entered catholicism.

try as i could, i couldnt not feel like them, but i DID know how to think my out of a paper bag.
before long, with some catholic study of a deeper,intellectual level (a level not offered thru the fundies), i was able to stump them with obvious (not to them) questions, and cause 'sword fights' with the simplest of queries.

i found a that a lfe of evangelicalism left one a sheep: spoon fed in the pastures of simple emotions and strongly worded pronouncements, but very little real understanding of the 10-15 scriptures verses they are all taught to memorize as justification for their faith.

scripture quoting is not apologetices, no more than verse slinging equals debate.

you know, when a roomful of lifelong fundies cant even come up with a logical, consistent answer for why baptism is necessary, or not, it really opens your eyes...

for Christ's sake,what can be more basic to christian faith and practice than baptism?
and they have no reliable answer.

thinking your way to God is, in my experience, much more real than any emotional reaction.

Tracy said...

Gino brings up a good point. Mainstream Protestants no longer teach theology and no longer use the catechism as a method of teaching fundamental elements of faith and practice. I'm firmly in the non-orthodox camp but I'm not a feeling evangelical by any means.

Do you realize Esther your post mirrors a piece of Luther's writing almost thought for thought? Reading this meant a great deal to me today. And as an Evenglical I can rely that it's good since it made me feel good...ha ha ha...I just wanted to say that.

Anonymous said...

"What if all that laughing and falling down were a psychologically induced response and not caused by the Holy Spirit?

You're right to ask this question. I'm not sure how much of it is. I've had people try to push me over. Annoying to say the least.

We can all be messy from time to time. You seem in a better place than you give yourself credit for

tully said...

I'd give this post an A- (:

Isn't it limiting this entity you call "God" to personify it- to call God "He" and "Him" and to have an emotional relationship (which, by its emotional nature is fleeting) with an entity whose very nature is supposedly non-emotive (unmovable, as opposed to the fleeting nature of emotions and matter)?

As far as your belief in "God," I wonder whether it is implicit in your doubting. Here's my reasoning at the moment: The way we often say "I doubt that Sasquatch exists" is the same as saying "I doubt that the system of ideas to which the word Sasquatch refers has no manifestation in space and time" No one doubts that there is a conceivable intertwining of the concepts "tall, long hair, ape, biped, etc." but they doubt that Sasquatch "becomes" in space and time- they say "he didn't, doesn't or won't walk the earth"

What I'm trying to say, very convolutedly at that, is that you've already assumed this system of ideas including "first cause, omnipotent, Creator, omniscient, highest good" but you doubt that it ever occurs in space and time, because you doubt what it is you really experience in space and time.

Am I somewhere near your position?

By the way, as I am an academic (though only under duress) feel free to grade my comment. I give it a C+. (:

tully said...

2nd Paragraph brainfart correction: "I doubt that the system of ideas to which the word Sasquatch refers has ANY manifestation in space and time"

Esther said...

Gino: Thanks so much for your comforting comment. I do enjoy well thought out Christian apologetics.

Tracy: I guess I need to read more Martin Luther. Maybe I should write some theses and nail them to the door of a mega-church. ;oD Yes, you are welcome to feel good about my writing.

RWG: Yeah, I'm too hard on myself. I'm working on that.

Tully: I am not making an assumption about the existence of God. I just didn't list all the reasons that I believe he exists. Furthermore, it is not God that I doubt at times. It is my own faith in him. I cannot actually stop believing in God's existence. I can, however, become a Deist or something like that.

I don't have a grade for your comment as I am not sure if I understood it entirely and hope I have answered it somewhat. :o)

tully said...

Essentially, the question is this: Is it possible to doubt or question the Flying Paprikash Monster's existence assuming we've never heard of him/her? Is it impossible to doubt something whose concept never occurred to us?

Possible consequences of not being able to doubt or question the Flying Paprikash Monster: Doubt or questioning presupposes some form (no matter how weak) of belief in the given concept. The only thing your questioning really puts on the line is whether the concept occurs in experience.

I, of course, take all the blame if my questions are unintelligible, because the job to which I aspire is to make concepts intelligible.

Xana Ender said...

There still are some thinkers and intellectuals out there and there are several writing today or in the past to feast from. I believe that God wants the whole person, not just the emotions and not just the intellect, but every part in submission to Him and worship of Him. However, many different varieties of Christianity strive for one or the other, which I believe is lopsided. This is probably often because of the schisms within the Church. All believers are supposed to form one body, but instead we have fed our differences and disagreements and everyone with a certain talent goes here and with another goes there and so forth. Because of this, you might be the only person with certain gifts and talents in a place where no one else has those gifts and talents AND THOSE GIFTS AND TALENTS ARE NOT APPRECIATED. I think this causes a desire for the same gifts and talents as everyone else and maybe even a tendency to work on gifts and talents you do not really have just to be appreciated and feel part of the church you are in. After all, who wants to feel unappreciated and like they have no gifts? This is a kind of a sick peer pressure. I feel this weekly, as an intellectual in a church where I would fit in a lot better if my gifts were different. God meant community as something powerful and good, but of course sin in our lives and in the world warps everything. To quench my intellectual thirst, I have found many books and authors. For all around great research, I suggest John R.W. Stott. He is very good at putting exactly what he's read and thought to come to where he is, so sometimes you might agree with the other point of view, but most of what he thinks has been well thought out. And he always soaks his topic in scripture (and not just proof-texts). I would suggest starting out with Assumptions That Affect Our Lives by Christian Overman or Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Capivity by Nancy Pearcey. Assumptions is very basic, but interesting because it points to some philosophical roots of things that are assumed by Christians and points to pagan Greek and Hebrew roots of them. However, I suggest more than any other book for you, Total Truth. Nancy Pearcey is an intellectual herself and later in the book discusses some evangelical roots that are anti-intellectual. She's not an evangelical-basher though, she also talks about strengths.

If you are interested in really intellectual stuff, you might be interested in reading Francis Schaeffer. I am currently reading a 3 book volume including The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. I got interested in reading him after reading Total Truth. She was at La Brea for a while, which is the community he started. If it is apologetics you start getting interested in, I suggest Defending Your Faith, The Consequences of Ideas, and Reason To Believe by RC Sproul. I am currently reading Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna about how paganism crept into Christian belief and practice over the last 2,000 years(I think they are house church guys...George Barna is a Christian pollster or statistician or something.) Anyway, those are my thoughts and suggestions.